§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I rise, Sir, to ask for leave to bring in two Bills on the important subjects of bribery and treating, and the trial of contested elections, of which I have given notice. It, must be admitted on all sides that the corrupt practices which have prevailed of late at elections, have involved all parties concerned in them in disgrace, and have also tended materially to compromise the character of this House. The right hon. Gentleman whom I see opposite (Mr. Walpole) last year proposed to consolidate the laws on the subject of bribery, and I have derived great advantage from being able to study the proposals which he made on this subject. In explaining the course which I intend to pursue, I have first of all to remark that it is a very difficult task for the Legislature effectually to arrest the progress of bribery. With respect to that class of offences in which any person is directly concerned—such as assault or robbery—you have an individual who is interested, or who is at least impelled by his feelings to seek for redress, and upon whose assistance you may rely in carrying into effect the object and intent of the law. But with respect to other offences, such as that of smuggling, for instance, all the parties engaged in the offence have an interest in concealing the acts of which they are guilty. The person who sells the goods, the smuggler who conveys them across the water, and the customer who buys them, are all participators in the crime, and are all desirous of concealing the offence which they have committed. It is very much the same with respect to bribery. The candidate who engages in bribery, the party whom he employs as an agent, and the persons who receive the bribe, may all attain the object of their wishes, in the seat in Parliament, in the profit they receive, in the money which the voter obtains, and all are thus interested in concealing the bribery. I am happy, however, to say that, with respect to this subject we certainly may consider that we have made considerable progress in the last few years. The Acts which were passed to transfer the investigation of corrupt practices, where they extensively prevailed, from the Committees of this House to the places themselves where the offence was committed, and those Acts 413 of Parliament by which the persons chiefly concerned—the candidates and their agents, and the persons who have received bribes—are all forced to attend and give evidence; these Acts, I say, have thrown a light upon the corrupt practices which prevailed, at least in certain boroughs, which never was obtained before. I should say, likewise, that before Committees of this House there have been greater facilities in obtaining evidence with respect to bribery than existed until within the last few years. Sir, in laying my proposals before the House, I should perhaps state first what is the general nature of the Statutes which have been enacted upon this subject. The Act of the 7 Will. III. is directed against persons who have received any money, or who give any money, or who give or receive food, drink, and entertainment, and it disqualifies the persons who are guilty of those offences. By the Statute of the 2 Geo. II. any voter asking or taking money to give his vote, or to refrain from giving his vote, is liable to a penalty of 500l., and is for ever disabled from the exercise of the franchise, and the person bribing is disqualified from being elected. An Act which passed in the 49th year of Geo. III. inflicts various high penalties on persons who endeavour by improper means to procure a seat in Parliament, and who offer any gift or promise, any reward or office, to persons who assist in procuring such seat. The pecuniary penalties involved are very high—1,000l. for one offence, and 500l. for another, that of receiving any office so given. Now, Sir, in proposing to amend these laws, I should say that generally I leave the offence of bribery as subject to the punishment of a misdemeanour—that of fine and imprisonment—but do not propose to keep up these high pecuniary penalties. I believe the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Walpole) took the same view with respect to these high penalties, and agreed with me in thinking that the attempt to inflict a fine of 500l. upon a poor voter who perhaps receives some five shillings for his vote, would be utterly impracticable, and that no object would be gained by retaining these penalties. After proceeding to define the offence of bribery nearly according to the manner in which it is at present defined, with the addition of some offences which I think have been omitted, I propose to define the offence of treating, and to deal with it nearly in the same manner in which it is at present defined by law. I 414 then propose to define the offence of undue influence, and I will read to the House the clause which I shall propose, in case the House should allow this Bill to be brought in. The clause is in these words:—Every person who shall, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, make use of, or threaten to make use of, any force, violence, or restraint, or shall inflict or threaten to inflict any injury, harm, or loss, or in any other manner exercise intimidation towards any person on account of the manner of giving his votes, or in order to induce or compel such person to vote, or refrain from voting, shall be deemed to have committed the offence of undue influence, and to have incurred—penalty, [say of 50l.] together with full costs, to be awarded to any person who shall sue for the same.The right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), on a former night asked if I had considered that subject. I had already at that time given directions to have the clause drawn which I have now read to the House. Having thus defined these of fences, the mode in which I propose to check these practices, besides the one which I have already mentioned—that of misdemeanour, which is enforced as the law now stands for bribery—consists rather in debarring persons who aim to be elected by bribery, treating, and corrupt practices, from obtaining their object, than by the infliction of any very severe penalties. I think you are far more likely to attain your end by depriving such persons of the object at which they aim, than by the infliction of penalties which may perhaps never be enforced. I should propose, therefore, to deprive the candidate of the seat in Parliament, of which he is ambitious, and to deprive the voter of that vote of which he has made a corrupt use. I should propose, then, that persons guilty of bribery should be for ever incapable of being elected Members of Parliament; and that persons guilty of treating, or exercising undue influence, or making illegal payments, should be incapable of electing any Member for the same place and during the same Parliament. This is the penalty which now attaches by Statute to the offence of treating. I then propose that when there are any convictions for bribery and treating, a copy of these convictions should be sent to the Speaker and entered into the book of Parliamentary and election disqualifications. I propose, likewise, with regard to those electors who are guilty of bribery, that their names should be struck out of the register of voters, and, 415 as I believe I once mentioned to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) in conversation last year, that their names should not totally disappear from the register, but that there should be a separate list of names of persons disqualified for having received bribes, and that those names should be printed and publicly affixed in the same manner as those in the register of voters, so that they might for ever after appear as disqualified for the offence I have mentioned. I do not wish to go much into details with respect to these Bills, and therefore I will not go into various other provisions of the Bill to consolidate and amend the law with regard to bribery, treating, and undue influence. But the second Bill which I propose to bring in, and which I may as well explain at the present moment, is one of very great importance, the provisions of which are perhaps more susceptible of doubt and hesitation than those I have mentioned, but which, according to the view I entertain upon them, may be of considerable use in checking these debasing and degrading practices. I have frequently stated to this House (and it is an opinion to which I think all the Members of this House generally assent) that it is a great omission, at least in the spirit of our laws with respect to election petitions, that where a case is one of the highest public interest it is made one entirely of private concern; and thus candidates who have once by the most corrupt means obtained their return are very often, instead of being disqualified and rejected from this House, rendered secure in their seats by the inability of those who have opposed them to stand the litigation, the delay, and the very heavy expenses which must attend upon an application to this House for a Committee to try the validity of the return. Now, Sir, I do not find it easy to remedy that evil, because the House, I am sure, will at once agree with me, that while we ought to take care that there shall be investigation into such cases, we ought not to encourage or give any countenance to frivolous petitions. What I propose is this—That, with regard to petitions which state that bribery, treating, corrupt practices, or undue influence have been used and have procured the return of the sitting Members, all such petitions should, according to the Bill I propose, be sent to a preliminary Committee, which Committee should be in the nature of a grand jury. This preliminary Committee would consist of fifteen Members, 416 to be chosen by the General Committee of Elections. They would hear the evidence on the part of the petitioners to prove the existence of malpractices. If they were satisfied that there was a sufficient case to proceed to an Election Committee, they would so report to the House, and an Election Committee would be appointed in the ordinary course. In proposing to consolidate this law, I do not mean to alter the general provisions. The Election Committee would then investigate the case, and, supposing they should find that the petitioner had proceeded with probable grounds, I should then propose that the cost should be defrayed at the public expense. If, on the contrary, they should find there was no ground, then the petitioner would be obliged to pay the expenses of the sitting Member whose seat was attacked. Sir, I think that by this method we should hold out some inducement to those who now in despair give up the prosecution of petitions to bring cases before the House where very flagrant bribery has occurred. No one who has watched the course of general elections can but be aware that, while there are a number of cases brought to trial, in certain cases where the candidate is rich, or where he thinks it worth his while to attempt to establish a permanent influence in the place, petitioning is carried on to its utmost result, and very great expenses are incurred; and that there are other cases in which bribery has been quite as flagrant, if not more so, in which there has been no investigation before this House, and no inquiry has taken place. But, Sir, beyond this proposal there is another method which I have in view, and which I once suggested before in another form, but which now in its amended shape may, I think, be entertained by the House. I mention these and other provisions, however, only as plans which I have endeavoured to form with the view to check these practices—not as plans which it is certain ought to be adopted by this House without very grave consideration. I propose, where it is declared by a candidate that he has reason to suppose that bribery and corrupt practices were used during the election, that in this case, if the numbers which he shall obtain at the poll amount to two-thirds of the number which the successful candidate shall obtain, and the successful candidate shall be proved to have been elected by means of bribery—in that case the Election Committee shall have power to return the candidate who peti- 417 tions to Parliament as the elected Member. I once proposed, but without this limitation of two thirds, that in such a case the course I have now indicated should be taken. It is a mode of giving at least some inducement to persons to petition this House in case they have been rejected, and at the same time have had the majority of legal and unbribed votes at the election. There is another proposal I have to make, which is an alteration—not a very great alteration—in the law as it at present exists, in consequence of Bills which have been introduced in former years. I propose, where the Election Committee shall report that bribery extensively prevailed in any borough, that then, without any Address from this House and the other House of Parliament, the Speaker shall communicate that Report to the Secretary of State for the Home Department; that that Report shall be laid before the Crown; and that the Crown shall thereupon have power to issue a Commission, in the same manner in which Commissions have been lately issued. I propose, likewise, to alter the manner in which Commissioners have been appointed. Hitherto these Commissioners have been nominated by the House, with a view to prevent jealousy as to the exercise of undue influence on the part of the Crown. But I cannot help thinking that the dispersion among so large a number of the responsibility of naming these Commissioners, tends a great deal to prevent that due selection of persons which is necessary. I therefore propose, restricting the choice in England to revising barristers, or persons who have been nominated by the Judges in some former year to the office of revising barrister, to give the Crown the power of nominating these Commissioners. I believe that the Minister, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, acting under a sense of responsibility, is much more likely to make good appointments than can be made by this House in its collective capacity. There are various other provisions in the Bill with respect to the law of petitions, which are alterations of the present law of considerable importance, but which are too much matters of detail to make it necessary for me to enter into them now. But there is one very considerable alteration which, if I am allowed to bring in a Bill to consolidate the present law, we propose to make with respect to Election Committees. I have been always very much opposed to withdrawing the power of judg- 418 ing of the persons elected to sit in this House from the house itself; but I think the law has been so much improved in that respect, and especially by the amendments introduced into it by the late Sir Robert Peel, that at least there is not any well-founded complaint at the present time of there being any party or corrupt influence in the decisions of Election Committees. I do think, however, there is still some reason to complain of the want of uniformity of decision, and of the want of that legal knowledge which would enable the Committees to decide in each case according to the known principles of law. In order to obtain that advantage, I propose that upon a dissolution of Parliament the Crown shall appoint ten barristers of ten years' standing to be assessors, for the purpose of being appointed to act in the capacity of assessors to Election Committees; that in every subsequent year one person shall be so appointed, which, probably, will be quite enough for this purpose; and that the General Committee of Elections, in nominating the Election Committee, shall at the same time name the particular assessor who shall attend that Committee. I propose to repeal the provision, of which I was myself the original author, that there should be a separate chairman's panel, and now I propose that the General Committee of Elections shall choose the whole Committee. In that way, and with the assistance of assessors, I think there would be a far greater uniformity of decision than there has hitherto been. With respect to prosecutions for bribery, I likewise propose, when a Committee has reported that any persons have been guilty of bribery, that, upon communication to the Speaker of the fact of such report, the Attorney General should at once prosecute the persons so reported as having committed this offence. I think it is desirable as far as possible to remove these questions from discussion and debate in this House, when we once have appointed a tribunal which is reputed efficient, and which has come to a decision upon the subject. These, Sir, are the general provisions which I propose to introduce in these Bills; but the House will have a far better view of them when they have seen the Bills and consulted their provisions. I can only say, for my part, that I shall be quite ready, when the discussion of them comes on, to listen to any suggestions which can arise, because I believe that the great majority of this House think 419 that the time is come when we ought to endeavour, as far as possible, effectually to prevent and check these degrading practices; and if we succeed in that object, we shall succeed, likewise, in raising the character of this House. The noble Lord then moved for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Bribery, Treating, and undue influence at Elections of Members of Parliament.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he should not presume to go into the details of the two measures now submitted to the House, but there were two points which had caught his attention in the course of the noble Lord's address, upon which he wished to offer a few observations. The first related to the question of bribery. The noble Lord—so far as he understood—proposed that if a sitting Member should be deprived of his seat in consequence of his having carried on bribery at the election, or of his agents having carried it on for him, the Committee should have the power to seat the opposing candidate in every case where he had obtained two-thirds of the number of the votes of the sitting Member. Now, he very much doubted whether that could be called an entirely constitutional mode of election, because he considered the fact of a sitting Member losing his seat for bribery was no proof that the candidate opposed to him had a majority of the votes of the electors, and it was only on the ground that a person had a majority of the votes of the electors in favour of him that he could be entitled to sit in Parliament. He feared it would be extremely difficult to say that because A had been unseated for bribery, B therefore had a majority of the votes of the electors. He thought, also that considerable difficulty would arise with regard to the clause which attempted to define what was to be called "undue influence." Why, they all knew that sometimes a look or a frown was sufficient to influence a voter. It was perfectly impossible to define in the clause of an Act of Parliament what was undue influence, and the attempt would lead only to litigation of a very disagreeable character, without any successful result. Upon the question of undue influence and litigation he would refer the Government to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay), who had laid it down most forcibly, that it was impossible to find any statutory remedy for intimidation, and that there was only one mode of meeting the evil, and that was to 420 adopt vote by ballot. He would also refer the noble Lord most confidently on this question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Sir W. Moles-worth), his colleague in the Cabinet—and he was sure that that right hon. Gentleman must be of opinion that all attempts to deal with undue influence by the mere penalties in an Act of Parliament would be unsuccessful. He was glad, however, to find that efforts were to be made this Session to put down bribery. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly)—the county in which he (Mr. Gibson) resided—who, therefore, represented him in Parliament—had given notice of a Bill to put down bribery; and with the great legal knowledge of that hon. and learned Gentleman employed on it, he was sure that the subject would be discussed with considerable advantage. Bribery, perhaps, was more capable of being dealt with by legislation than intimidation; but still he had great doubts whether the real remedy for the whole mass of these evils was not to be found in vote by ballot.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY
said, that the existence of bribery and corrupt practices at elections was so clear and undeniable that he considered the country ought to be grateful to the noble Lord for having devoted his attention to this important subject. It would be easily supposed that he did not offer any opposition to the plan now propounded; on the contrary, he was rather desirous to assure the noble Lord, on his own behalf and on that of those around him, that every assistance would be given to the measures now proposed. He wished, however, to suggest to the House, even upon this early opportunity, some difficulties and objections which must have occurred to the noble Lord himself in relation to some parts of the plan which he had submitted to them. He agreed with the noble Lord that it was quite useless to add to the penalties by which the commission of bribery was now followed, either with respect to the voter or the candidate. They had seen that imprisonment, unlimited except by the discretion or mercy of the Judge, heavy pecuniary penalties, disfranchisement, disqualification to hold office, to vote or to sit in Parliament, and even the punishment of transportation where perjury had accompanied bribery, had been all inadequate to repress the offence; for they had found that the bribery and every species of corruption which prevailed at 421 the last general election equalled, if they did not exceed, that which had ever been known at any former period of our history. Under these circumstances, he thought they must endeavour to prevent crime by affording at once to candidates, to agents, and even to voters, the means of easily performing their duties, and, yet, in such a manner, that if they violated the law, detection became certain. The definition of the offences would go far not only to facilitate the observance of the law, but also to aid and assist the Election Committees of that House in determining what were the offences which came under their jurisdiction, and which could be punished by them. There was much to commend in the measure as proposed by the noble Lord, but he thought that that part of the Bill which gave power to a Committee to seat an opposing candidate who had obtained two-thirds of the votes given to the sitting Member, in cases where the sitting Member was declared to have been elected by means of bribery, was a provision inconsistent with the constitution of this country. He could not but think that that would be a most dangerous power to in-trust to any tribunal, and it was nothing less than transferring the franchise itself from the electoral body to a Select Committee of that House. He must, however, express his satisfaction that the noble Lord had introduced at length into the constitution of Election Committees an element which he was sure would greatly raise their character—namely, the appointment of an assessor. It had been his misfortune to differ from many of the highest authorities on this subject—from the late Sir Robert Peel, and oven from the noble Lord himself—whether or not the extensive jurisdiction of these Committees should be transferred to Courts of Law. It was in vain, however, to contend against the prevailing opinion of successive majorities in that House; but the plan proposed by the noble Lord in this Bill, of appointing assessors to assist Election Committees, would go far to remove the objections which he entertained to the present mode of proceeding. There was nothing in the noble Lord's project which would at all interfere with the measure of which he (Sir F. Kelly) had given notice, and which he meant to submit to the House in the course of the ensuing week. He believed every one who had a seat in that House, or, indeed, any one who had paid any attention to the subject, would now be dis- 422 posed to unite in one common effort to remove what he believed to be the greatest evil which existed in the constitution of this country.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, that, although he entertained great respect for the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, he had no intention of joining in the flattering compliment to the noble Lord opposite which the hon. and learned Gentleman had thought fit to pay him. Whatever might be the opinion and feelings of the self-called Peace Society, he thought the present was the most inopportune time that could possibly have been selected for the introduction of these measures. He considered this nothing more than a mode of evading that inquiry and that discussion which ought to have taken place previous to all others, with regard to what he would go so far as to call the gross misconduct of Her Majesty's Government in neglecting the measures proper for preventing—what he believed might have been prevented—a most unnecessary war. He looked upon it as an attempt to screen themselves behind these Bills. It was a manœuvre got up by the Government to screen their base and cowardly policy; but he would tear away the flimsy veil, and expose them in their true colours. Before the Government talked of purifying others, he should like them to look at home. When they began to stop their patronage and pensions, then he would believe that the noble Lord had some intention to put an end to bribery and corruption. Talk of bribery and corruption!—why the Treasury bench stunk of bribery; and yet they wanted to prevent men, such as himself, from performing the common Christian duties of life, except at the risk of being charged with bribery and corruption! If he saved a fellow creature from starving, he was to be held to be corrupting him! Thank God, however, he had feelings in his breast, and he told the noble Lord, in the face of a British House of Commons, and in face of the Treasury bench, that he had exercised Christian charity during the last winter, and that he would do it again, in spite of him and his bribery Bills. They were told by the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson), that the ballot was the only remedy for bribery and corruption; but of all the dirty things in this world, of all the un-English, disgraceful things, the ballot was the worst. He hoped that no constituent of the city which he represent- 423 ed would consent to screen himself under such a mean cloak; he certainly would not thank such a man for his vote. He regretted to find that that side of the House intended to allow the Bill to be brought in without opposition. His motto was Principiis obsta, and he thought that the best thing would have been to throw it out at once. He hoped the Bills would all end in smoke, and he believed they would. As for the occupants of the Treasury bench, he protested against their paltry, disreputable mode of evading the more important question of our foreign relations; and he looked upon their conduct as an act of political cowardice which rendered them unfit to hold office, and unworthy to draw the public money, which might be far more profitably expended than when applied to their support.
said, he thought the House and the country were greatly indebted to any man who brought forward a measure to put down bribery and corruption at elections, because the value of that House consisted in a thorough conviction on the part of the people that it was a true representation of the whole country. No man in the House had made more efforts in this direction than the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), and he hoped that he would profit by the experience of former attempts. There were two points to which he wished to call attention. He held that, in cases where pecuniary payments were made in the way of bribery, unless the agent acting on behalf of the candidate for whom the money was paid was punished, the principle the House was anxious to lay down would continue to be violated. He therefore approved that clause in the Bill of the noble Lord by which it was proposed to punish any man employed as an agent, who should be proved to be guilty of bribery. He also believed that it would tend to remedy the evil if a court could be established with summary jurisdiction, where offenders might be dealt with instanter, and he thought the punishment inflicted should be to deprive a person convicted of any voice in the election of Parliamentary representatives for a period of ten or twelve years. The proposition of the noble Lord to select gentlemen from among the revising barristers to act as Commissioners, was, in his opinion, weak and unsatisfactory. The revising barristers were generally young and inexperienced men, with little or no practice, and it would be improper to place them in the situation of 424 judges of most vital and important questions. He submitted, also, that if it was desirable to appoint assessors, they should be men of experience and acknowledged ability, as he believed that would be the best means of promoting a uniformity in the decisions arrived at by the assessors. With regard, however, to bribery by pecuniary payments, he held that no measure could be adopted which would so effectually put an end to it as extending the number of voters and granting the protection of the vote by ballot. The noble Lord the Member for London had introduced most of the great and important measures tending to a reform of the representation of the country since he (Mr. Hume) had been a Member of the House, and he appealed to the noble Lord now to add a crowning triumph to his Parliamentary career by giving the country an opportunity of fairly trying the vote by ballot. He would suggest to the noble Lord the propriety of introducing a clause into the proposed Bill to enable the constituency to make a fair trial of the vote by ballot, providing two-thirds of the electors of such constituency requested a trial to be made. By pursuing such a course the House would have an opportunity of seeing how the vote by ballot would act, and the result of the experience thus gained would enable the House to decide finally upon the question hereafter. He himself had great confidence that the vote by ballot would be found far preferable to the complicated and expensive proceedings proposed by the noble Lord. By his experience, as the oldest Member of that House, he warned the noble Lord that the proceedings proposed to be taken would prove delusive, and that they would not procure the benefits desired by the country—namely, an honest, fair, and independent representation of the people.
§ MR. PACKE
said, he perfectly coincided with the noble Lord the Member for London that it was the duty of that House to endeavour to put an end to the monstrous evils which the Election Committees of last Session had brought to light. Difficult questions of law frequently arose during the inquiries of those Committees, and be thought that the noble Lord's proposition to introduce assessors into them would greatly improve their construction; but he was opposed to the adoption of a principle by which the duties now entrusted to Election Committees would be entirely taken out of that House, From his 425 experience of Election Committees, he honestly believed there had never been an improper feeling on the part of any Committee in conducting the duties entrusted to it, and if any error had been made, it had always been upon a point of law. With regard to the offence of treating at elections, the evidence generally given before Election Committees came principally from the landlords and barmaids of public-houses. An election now only occupied two days—one for the nomination, and the other for the election; and he would suggest for the consideration of the noble Lord the Member for London, whether the treating usually accompanying an election, and the attendant rioting, drunkenness, and dissipation, might not be prevented to a considerable extent if the public-houses and beershops were closed upon the two days of nomination and election.
MR. H. BERKELEY
said, that he could not avoid thanking the noble Lord the Member for the City of London whenever he saw him taking the least progressive step towards reform, but was sorry to see that the strides of the noble Lord were so extremely scanty. In dealing with this question of the malversation of the franchise, it appeared to him extraordinary that the noble Lord, with his great intellect and his natural acuteness, could venture in the face of the intimidation constantly going on, to confine himself in the measure which he had brought before the House to merely physical intimidation. When the noble Lord talked of making punishable acts of violence, did he think that there was no other species of intimidation? Did not the noble Lord recollect the intimidation of landlords over their tenantry, and of customers over their tradesmen? and could he venture, after the proofs which had been laid before the House of this species of tyranny, to come forward with a remedy of so trivial a nature as that which he offered in his Bill? The noble Lord appeared to him to consider intimidation to be a constitutional proceeding, and to set his face against any attempt to put it down. The noble Lord had been three or four times upon the very brink of that measure which he (Mr. Berkeley) had so often advocated in the House; but he appeared to be afraid of Stepping forward, and never lost the occasion of drawing back whenever circumstances would allow him. He was fully Convinced that for intimidation there could 426 be but one remedy, and that was by giving the voter the protection of secrecy at the polling booth. Intimidation could never be completely put down or eradicated, but a great deal might be done to diminish its extent and efficiency. No person who had studied the proceedings before the Election Committees of the last Session could fail to be struck with the circumstance that no person was proved to have received a bribe until after he had voted. The men who bribed would never trust those who were bribed. A stronger proof could not be afforded of the necessity which existed, in order to put an end to bribery, of taking away the means of knowing in what way the vote was given. In the course of the discussion which would take place upon the Reform Bill of the noble Lord, he would take occasion once again to lay before the House the question of the ballot. He felt convinced that the ballot was a measure of time—he knew it was a measure of justice, and felt certain that the day would arrive—it might not be in his time—when the people of this country would be only astonished that such an act of justice should have been so long denied.
§ MR. PHINN
said, he thought both sides of the House would admit that the noble Lord the Member for London was entitled to their greatest thanks for his present steps, limited though they might be, to put down bribery at elections. He would call the attention of the noble Lord to one or two topics which he had, and to one or two topics which he had not, adverted to in his address to the House that evening. The noble Lord, he regretted, had not proposed to allow an Election Committee to go into proof of treating without discussing the question of agency first. The want of power to deal in that mode with charges of treating, very often paralysed the action of Election Committees. A measure of that kind was once carried, he believed, in that, but rejected by the other House of Parliament. He trusted, therefore, that the noble Lord would embody it in his proposed Bill. With regard, however, to the question of intimidation, he trusted that the noble Lord would reconsider the determination he had come to, and make intimidation an indictable offence. If it could be proved that any persons leagued and conspired together—he cared not whether by religious or any other sort of influence to be brought upon a voter—such a proceeding he held to be a crime and a misdemeanour, which ought to be severely 427 punished by the law, not by pecuniary fine, but by bodily imprisonment. Such an offence ought to be dealt with more severely than bribery, for he believed that intimidation had a greater tendency than bribery to degrade a man; because the man who received a bribe gave his vote voluntarily, but in that of intimidation it was given compulsorily, and with rancorous feelings against the intimidator, which were most prejudicial to the interests of society. As one means of preventing intimidation, he hoped that the noble Lord would consent to the introduction of a clause in his proposed Bill which would prohibit the publication of the polling books until six or twelve months after the heat of party contests at elections had passed away. Some of his own constituents had informed him that their customers resorted to the polling books after the elections for the purpose of ascertaining how their tradesmen voted, and punishing them for voting contrary to their, the customers', political creed, by withdrawing their custom from them. Now, the withholding of the records of the votes at elections for a considerable time after the elections, might go a great way towards putting an end to that kind of secret intimidation, With regard to the second Bill of the noble Lord, he apprehended that the proposed introduction of a quasi grand jury system, as a preliminary to inquiry by Committees into charges of corruption at elections, would be a great impediment to public justice. It was a matter which required a most careful consideration before it should be adopted. Every one who had had experience on Election Committees must know that if there were to be ex parte secret tribunals to ascertain whether or not a trial should take place, the Committee would be deprived of the advantage of having reluctant witnesses subjected to cross-examination by counsel. He believed that the result of the noble Lord's proposition in that respect would be a most cumbrous innovation—that it would be a practical disservice instead of an advantage. But there was one most important omission in the noble Lord's Bill—it was altogether silent as to the prevention of compromising election petitions. It was most scandalous to see at the commencement of the present Parliament the election agents of both sides of the House presenting petition after petition. As one petition was presented against the return of a Gentleman on one side of the House, another petition 428 was presented against the return of a Gentleman on the opposite side of the House. Those who knew the secret mechanism by which those gentlemen worked, knew that that was their best method of compelling a compromise, and preventing a fair inquiry into charges of bribery and corruption. He thought that the noble Lord would agree with him that the presentation of those petitions was a matter of public concern, and that there ought to be a public prosecutor to sift those charges to the bottom. People ought to be no more able to compromise election petitions, than they could compromise charges of felony. Those who made charges of bribery and corruption at elections, ought to be compelled to enter into recognisances to prosecute, and then the public would be enabled to know whether these charges were well-founded, or merely frivolous and unjust accusations. He believed that the moment in which the Legislature should have declared that such charges must be publicly investigated, and that the persons proved to be guilty of them should be punished not simply pecuniarily, they would have advanced a great way in the direction of Parliamentary reform. He hoped that the noble Lord would not give the proposed election assessors any voice in the decisions of the Committees as to matters of fact. From the experience which he had had on these Committees, he must say that questions of fact were as ably and fairly decided by them as by any legal tribunal in this country. He hoped that the noble Lord would permit the proposed assessors to decide questions of law only. He objected to the noble Lord's proposition to take these assessors out of the class of lawyers called revising barristers. It was true, that, in many instances, the revising barristers were men of very considerable standing; but they would find on the Election Committees Gentlemen much better qualified than themselves to decide upon such legal questions as might arise in the course of the Committees proceedings. As there were many legal Gentlemen who were Members of that House, he did not see why they should not be made useful; and he would suggest that when an Election Committee was appointed, an hon. Member who had practised the law should be named upon it, possessing no vote or power except upon questions of law. The different legal Members of the House might draw up some regulations which should produce a uniformity in their 429 decisions, such as never could be arrived at by the revising barristers. There was another point to which he would venture to direct the attention of the noble Lord. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly), had stated their intentions to introduce, during the present Session, measures for reforming Parliamentary representation. Now, in his (Mr. Phinn's) opinion, those Bills, as well as that proposed by the noble Lord, ought to be referred to a Select Committee, with the view of producing one good measure. A committee-room was a much better place than that House for the discussion of the details of those several measures. Having had some experience in acting as a Commissioner at St. Albans, he would suggest to the noble Lord the propriety of establishing local tribunal, for taking the evidence of country witnesses, in cases of controverted elections. The expense of bringing witnesses from a great distance to London was enormous, and the temptations to which they were subjected, on their arrival, were great. He hoped that a remedy would be provided to meet these evils.
said, that on listening to the noble Lord while reading his intimidation clause, it had struck him (Mr. Miles) that it made no provision against spiritual intimidation. In the previous Session he had been obliged, as Chairman of an Election Committee, to bring the question before the House, and he then understood the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department to say that, although bygones were to be bygones, such intimidations as had disgraced the Sligo and Clare elections must never again disgrace the representation. He trusted that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) would take particular care in the wording of this clause so as to meet the case of spiritual intimidation. He quite agreed with the noble Lord with respect to the assessors: he thought that they should be men of high standing and legal knowledge; and with these gentlemen deciding on law, and the Committee on points of fact, he thought that decisions would be obtained which would at length satisfy the country. He begged to thank the noble Lord for bringing in his Bill and hoped that he would consider the Bills of the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), and that of the hon. and learned Member for East 430 Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly), at the same time, trusting that amongst them all a law might be obtained stringent enough to prevent such bribery and intimidation as had disgraced the last general election.
§ MR. RICH
said, he must congratulate the House on the proposition of the noble Lord as to the appointment of assessors to aid the Members of Election Committees; but he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Bath in thinking that the assessors should be men of greater legal standing than the generality of revising barristers. But he was afraid that, if there were to be so many as ten assessors, the Election Committees would not arrive at that uniformity of decision which was one of the great desiderata with regard to their proceedings. He believed that the reduction of Members "serving" on Election Committees to five, was a very beneficial change; since it had taken place, these Committees had discharged their important functions in a praiseworthy manner, but the great objection to their constitution was the want of legal knowledge to guide them in their decision, and he was glad to find that the noble Lord proposed to supply this want by means of an assessor. He regretted, however, to hear that their decision was not to be final, for he was afraid, if it were not, room would still be left for those party conflicts which were now carried on before Committees. He thought it would be a very useful arrangement to appoint a kind of Court of Assessors, to sit in the same way as a grand jury, and make a preliminary inquiry into a case before it could be submitted to the Committee, in order to ascertain whether there were bonâ fide grounds for investigation. This would put an end to all frivolous petitions. Three or four assessors, in his opinion, would be sufficient to go through the business satisfactorily, and being gentlemen of legal attainments and experience, they might prepare a code of precedents for the guidance of Committees which would enable petitioners to judge of the probable way in which cases would be decided, and do away with that uncertainty which now attended proceedings before these Committees.
§ MR. WARNER
said, that though he was glad the noble Lord had attempted to grapple with the evil of bribery and corruption at elections, he was afraid that his measures would not reach the more serious difficulties connected with the subject. He regretted that the noble Lord had not 431 transferred the jurisdiction of the House with regard to election petitions to some more permanent tribunal. Every one knew the difficulty, if not impossibility, of eliciting at Westminster the truth in relation to matters which had arisen at places very far distant; and if the House would not part with its jurisdiction, all difficulties should be made to give way before the important object of an inquiry on the spot. The Members of the Election Committee themselves should go down, however inconvenient, and enter on the inquiry in the same manner and with the same powers as a Royal commission. He had no doubt some good would result from the appointment of assessors; and he hoped the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, for the selection of gentlemen of higher legal standing than was proposed, would be taken into consideration. He did not think the second measure of the noble Lord would put a stop to intimidation. His firm conviction was, that the only possible remedy for intimidation was the ballot. It might not be so complete a remedy for bribery as for intimidation, but still it would greatly tend to discourage bribery. Another way of preventing improper influences being used was, not to allow the state of the polling books to be known during the day of the election, or until the declaration of the numbers; for, generally, the most bribery took place towards the middle of the day, when the parties could estimate by means of the returns the relative positions in which they stood. For this reason, as well as others, it would be desirable to adopt some other mode of taking votes than compelling electors to go to a booth, and there give in their names before, perhaps, mobs of people. Why not let a vote be taken at the voter's house, or allow him, on obtaining a proper certificate from the returning officer, on some day before the election, to fill it up and send it through the post or otherwise? Some such plan as this must be devised, if they wished to do away with bribery; but the ballot alone would put an end to intimidation.
§ MR. J. PHILLIMORE
said, he also begged to congratulate the noble Lord on bringing forward a Bill which, whatever might be its results, must command the approbation of every one who was desirous that the House of Commons should preserve that respect and confidence which would alone enable it to perform its legislative functions satisfactorily. As to the 432 objects of the Bill, all lovers of truth and honour, to whatever party they belonged, must be united. There, were, however, points in connexion with the measure, in regard to which some difficulties might arise. In the first place, the appointment of assessors would not, in his opinion, answer the expectations of the noble Lord. The House always contained within it a certain number of men eminent in the legal profession, and it would be easy to select those of a certain standing, and form them into a body, and let one of them sit in each Election Committee, having previously agreed upon the points which should regulate their decisions. This would be less liable to objection than the introduction of assessors into these Committees, more particularly if they were to be taken as proposed by the noble Lord from the revising barristers. The noble Lord had proposed several stringent regulations against persons bribed, but he regretted to find that no notice was taken of those who bribed. In this respect the noble Lord had failed. He ought to have made every man who came into that House declare, on his honour as a gentleman, that there had been no bribery or intimidation on his part, or, according to his belief, on that of his agents, in order to secure his election. As long as measures were confined to the voter, the desired object would never be attained. He was not one who believed that it was possible to prevent bribery and intimidation altogether. Such was the state of society, that they would always more or less exist; but still, it behoved them to do their utmost to extirpate as much as they could an evil which was now eating into the very vitals of the community, and was deplored by all who valued the institutions of their country.
§ MR. E. BALL
said, he was, perhaps, not well qualified to take a part in the present discussion, as there was scarcely a single Member of that House who had had so little experience of bribery as himself. Whatever the expenses of his election had been, they were defrayed by his constituents. He agreed with the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Warner) in some respects, but, as a Member of an Election Committee, he was under the impression that there was no town where more wholesale bribery had been committed than in Norwich. He considered that the suggestion of the hon. Member (Mr. J. Phillimore), requiring a declaration from every hon. Member, upon taking his seat, that he 433 had, neither himself nor by his agents, been guilty of bribery or corruption during his election, would tend to create a degree of confidence in the House throughout the country, which, unhappily, did not at present exist. If such a declaration were required to be made, it would have the effect of raising that House more in the estimation of the country than any measure they could enact. He was glad that the noble Lord proposed to establish a preliminary investigation before a sort of grand jury for the purpose of conducting an inquiry into the merits of election petitions. If that was not a good plan, then the system adopted through the whole country, of having a grand jury in criminal cases, was not a good one. He believed, however, that everybody conversant with criminal trials knew how admirably the grand jury system operated in saving expense, reducing labour, and forwarding the ends of justice. The hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Phinn) had suggested that assessors should be selected from Members of the House, and really, seeing there were so many professional men in the House, he did not see why the House should refuse to make use of them. Now, one of the worst features connected with Election Committees was the enormous expense and procrastination occasioned by the long and exhausting speeches of the lawyers engaged on either side; and what he would suggest, therefore, was, that the professional men in the House should take the part of counsel on those occasions. He really thought that his recommendation, if carried out, would be productive of beneficial results, for not only would it secure to sitting Members the best possible advocacy, but it would prevent a great deal of unnecessary delay, and also give a useful occupation to the multitude of professional gentlemen in that House.
§ MR. WARNER
said, he must complain of the attack made by the hon. Member on the city of Norwich, and would beg to explain that last Session nothing had been proved before a Committee of the House with regard to the existence of bribery at the last election.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, he must tender his thanks to the noble Lord for the introduction of these Bills. He agreed with him upon all points except that touched upon by the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) as to putting down intimidation. This he did not think would be accomplished by the noble 434 Lord's Bill. The noble Lord was also too lenient with regard to agents. These persons ought to be punished severely for their acts, which frequently compromised Members without their knowledge. There was also a class of persons known at all elections, but, thank God, they were unknown in the metropolitan boroughs, who were called the attorneys of the town, and he would suggest the insertion of a clause, whereby these gentlemen might be struck off the rolls in the event of their being proved to be parties to bribery, corruption, or treating. Having frequently served on Election Committees, and also acted as Chairman, he could appreciate the value of the noble Lord's proposition to provide legal advisers to assist Committees in the prosecution of their inquiries. It had been stated before by an hon. Member that strict justice was done in these Committees with regard to the facts of a case, but when any difficult points of law arose, they frequently had to seek advice from counsel as to the course they should pursue—that very advice which the noble Lord intended to supply by his Bill. But, above all things, the noble Lord should avoid adopting the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. Don't let them have an assessor who was a Member of that House. Let them have a person whom they could look to for legal advice only—a paid legal adviser. Before he sat down, he wished to make a suggestion to the noble Lord. As they had all one view in common, that of abolishing these practices, they should be desirous of obtaining all the information they could on the subject. Now, it appeared that the hon. and learned Member for East Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly) intended bringing in a Bill on the same subject in the course of the ensuing week. He (Sir B. Hall) would express a hope that the noble Lord would not take the second reading of his Bill until they had the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, so that they might see what his views were, and, if possible, produce a more perfect and effective measure by the amalgamation of both.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he wished to say a few words, in order to set the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. E. Ball) right with regard to the Election Committee which sat last year upon the return for the city of Norwich. No Committee sat last year with reference to bribery taking place in Norwich. The only Committee was one of which he himself was Chairman; 435 but the subject of its inquiries was the withdrawal of the Norwich Election Petition. Certainly, it was stated before that Committee that great bribery had taken place in Norwich, and if the petition had been gone into, perhaps the charge would have been proved. So far bribery was referred to, but in point of fact no charge of bribery was tried. It was very satisfactory to hear that there was at least one Simon Pure in the House, and that he appeared in the person of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. But because his constituents returned him free of expense, it did not at all follow that there was no bribery at the last election in Cambridgeshire. The other party might have bribed, or the friends of the hon. Gentleman opposite might themselves have resorted to illegal means to procure his return. Cambridge, at all events, was not a very pure borough. It did not stand high in the list of boroughs which returned Members to that House; and it was just possible that some of the country people—some of the freeholders, for example—might have been tainted by what took place in the learned town of Cambridge. With regard to the propositions which had been laid before the House, the noble Lord had not clearly stated whether he intended to permit petitions complaining of bribery, when presented, to be withdrawn. It was proved before the Norwich Committee, last Session, that there were ten petitions "paired off" against each other, and he was afraid that such would be the case so long as they allowed petitions to be withdrawn at all. When a petition was once presented, it should be brought to an issue in some way or other; or, at all events, there should be another petition upon which that House, and that House only, might decide whether the original petition should be withdrawn or not. It ought not to be left to a Parliamentary agent, by merely writing a letter to Mr. Speaker, to say that a petition was to be withdrawn. The system was for Mr. Coppock to take a letter from Mr. Brown, and Mr. Brown to take a letter from Mr. Coppock; then these letters were sent to Mr. Speaker, and the House heard no more about the petitions, though they might contain charges of the grossest bribery against Members of the House. Some of the petitions might be frivolous; but he believed many real and bonâ fide charges of corruption had been paired off one against the other in the way he had described. How could the House hope to 436 put down bribery so long as this system was kept up? The recognisance system also required reform. The Parliamentary agents said, "We don't care about your preventing the withdrawal of petitions; we will beat you with the recognisance system, if you allow it to remain as it is." The law required that recognisances should be entered into; but the agents would agree not to perfect the recognisances, and then when the examiner of recognisances reported that the recognisances had not been completed, the petition would be virtually withdrawn. Whatever they required, should be in the shape of a sum of money lodged in the Bank of England in the name of Mr. Speaker, and not allowed to be withdrawn until the petition had been tried, and some decision come to by the House as to whom the money belonged. He was sorry to hear that assessors were to be appointed. He thought that much of the delay which occurred in Election Committees was occasioned by so many lawyers coming before them, for all the mystification in Election Committees assuredly came from the lawyers. He was satisfied that five Members of that House would decide a case better than any lawyer whatever. In point of fact there never was a greater mistake than when they passed what was called the Grenville Act. Previous to that Act they possessed full power to remedy such defects by a Resolution of the House; but by the Grenville Act they had parted with that power, and, in point of fact, had submitted very valuable privileges to the House of Lords by requiring their assent to that Act, and made the subject much more complicated than before. Such was his opinion, and such was the opinion of many Members who opposed the Grenville Act; it was the opinion of Mr. Pitt and others who had no doubt with reference to it, and who stated that the House had lost the power over and the control of their own Committees. But if the noble Lord, even now, would repeal what was called the Election Petitions Act, and place the House where it was before the Grenville Act, the Resolutions of the House would be so framed for the trial and conduct of election petitions, that much more would be done in the way of preventing bribery, corruption, and intimidation, than if they were to continue the complicated machinery now in existence. With respect to the ballot, he did not see how that would be a cure; but it was supposed to be, at all events, some 437 remedy against corruption and intimidation, though he did not believe it would be that effectual one that some hon. Members seemed to suppose. At the same time, he should like to see it tried; and, as the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had suggested, let it be permissive. Infinitely superior, however, to the ballot would be very large constituencies and frequent elections—constituencies so large that few would have the power of bribing them; and even if they had the power of bribing them, it would hardly be worth their while, in consequence of the frequency of elections. He believed that would be as good a cure for bribery and corruption as any that had been suggested; and if the noble Lord would introduce it into the new Reform Bill which he was to bring forward next Monday, he would save himself a great deal of trouble in connexion with the Bills which he now proposed.
§ SIR JOHN TROLLOPE
said, that having had some experience in the working of the present laws for the trial of controverted elections, he thought a much better method of trying those election petitions might be obtained, simply by adopting a suggestion which had been proposed—that recognisances should be abandoned, and a sum of money be deposited which should abide the decision of the Committee. They would thus obviate altogether the machinery which the noble Lord now proposed for the first time to create, introducing what he called a grand jury system into the trial of controverted elections. The action of such a grand jury system would be very dissimilar to the mode in which it acted in criminal cases. In those cases the grand jury Were simply called upon to decide whether sufficient cause appeared against a prisoner to justify sending him for trial; but in the case of a controverted election, the proposed grand jury would have the power of inflicting penal consequences, and would saddle parties with costs if they did not think there was sufficient cause to go on with the petition. If a jury of fifteen persons assembled, with closed doors, to inquire into the allegations of a petition, and hear evidence which was not upon oath, their proceeding would appear of such a doubtful character that it would be a dangerous principle to allow such a body to have the power of inflicting costs upon parties, without their having the power of appealing to the justice of the House. He thought the more efficient and simple course would be to 438 adopt the plan suggested by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe). It could not be denied that there were many defects in the existing law, although he was aware that the Act of Parliament was drawn up with very great care and under the immediate superintendence of the late Sir Robert Peel; but during the last Session it was found in many instances to be defective, and he thought, in the outset, that the allowing a petition to be withdrawn, by simply writing a letter to Mr. Speaker, was one of the most glaring imperfections. The great principle which the House ought to uphold with regard to its own dignity was, that it should never be appealed to in vain, or upon frivolous pretences. It was quite clear that during the last Session a great number of petitions was presented with no other intention than that of pairing off; and although, probably, in some cases there were no grounds for the petition, in others there existed very serious grounds, which if the House had been made aware of they could never have permitted to have been withdrawn. Allusion had been made to the withdrawal of the Norwich petition. It was very doubtful whether a serious result would not have followed an inquiry into that matter, and he thought its withdrawal a most objectionable proceeding. Desiring again to express his concurrence in the suggestions of the hon. Member for Finsbury, he should conclude by observing that they would tend very much to simplify the proceedings and save trouble to the House, many of the Members of which, during the last Session, sat six months together on Election Committees four days in the week. He approved of some preliminary machinery, and begged to express his concurrence in many of the propositions of the noble Lord, being assured that any sound measure which had for its object the purification of that House and of the country in regard to election proceedings would meet with general assent.
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
said, there could be no doubt the object of the noble Lord was a good one. His Bill proposed to reduce the penalties, and although he (Sir J. Walmsley) doubted whether the lowest mentioned was not a great deal too much, yet he thought the proposition was one in the right direction. It was also proposed to strike off from the register any person who might be convicted at any time of bribery. That was another sound reform at which he felt gratified; but ho would venture to suggest whether, in these 439 propositions, three entire questions had not been mingled. So long as it was expensive to get rid of bribery, they never would be able to do so. The mode of proceeding was to apply to the House by an election petition, which cost a very large and extravagant sum of money. The petition was to be discussed in Committee, and, on the decision of that Committee, measures would be taken for a Commission to issue to inquire into the state of the borough and the Dumber of persons who had been bribed. He apprehended the simple and easy course—if it were really intended to get rid of bribery—would be to afford facilities for an inexpensive inquiry. He thought there was sufficient intelligence and independence among borough constituencies themselves to remove bribery and corruption, provided the Legislature gave them a simple, easy, and cheap mode of removing the corrupt voters from the register. It might be done by an inquiry in a County Court, before the Judge alone, or before the Judge and a jury. Such a proposition might meet with objections from hon. and learned Members; but he apprehended it would be a simple and easy mode of proceeding, and he was persuaded in his own mind, from his experience in these matters, that it would prove a most effectual mode of removing bribery and corruption to a very great extent. Every hon. Gentleman present knew that in any borough there was a certain number of electors on each side. If a borough consisted of 1,200 electors, there might be 500 on each side who could not be bought, whom no persuasion or intimidation could induce to act otherwise than from their own convictions; but the lowest and smallest number, the remaining 200, who were open to corrupt influences, would turn the balance, and so elect the Member. Now, it would be the interest of every one of the independent persons in that borough, of the Members themselves, and of all connected with it, that those persons should be removed from the register; and if they could effect that in a simple, cheap, and easy mode, such machinery as might be required to effect that mode would be the best means of preventing bribery, and corruption. He should give the suggestions of the noble Lord a fair and candid consideration.
§ MR. NAPIER
said, that the education of the people would be a more effectual cure for bribery than any that had yet been suggested. They might depend upon it that where the evil was moral, the remedy 440 must be moral also. But legislation might do something, and they ought not to despise that something because they could not accomplish everything. By a late change in the law in Ireland, parties there were compelled to accept the franchise, and it was most important, therefore, that the electors should be protected at the poll in giving their votes freely. With regard to the subject of spiritual interference and influence, whether they could cope with it by legislation was a question of great difficulty and delicacy; but at all events they ought to adopt such measures as would enable men when they came forward at the poll to give their votes freely. He remembered a few years ago being down at an election in the county of Louth. Nobody was allowed to go about the town but himself, and the reason why he was permitted to do so was, that he had a short time before obtained the acquittal of several of the town's people in a Court of Justice. He observed that all the people were armed with sticks, and when the voters came forward to the poll, escorted by a military force, they were pelted and hooted by the mob, and suffered great violence. He hoped that such scenes would be prevented in future, and that voters would, at all events, be protected at the poll. He would give the Bills his best attention, and would be glad to assist the noble Lord in every way he could.
§ MR. ALCOCK
said, he was rather surprised to find the noble Lord had not taken the trouble to define what "treating" was, He thought the greater part of the House considered treating to a small extent was nothing at all, and he had seen it stated "that treating at Liverpool was not of a very extravagant nature." He did not know how any Gentleman could read those words without coming to the conclusion that treating to a small extent was not so illegal or objectionable as if done to a great extent. He was sorry, also, the noble Lord had said nothing with respect to the compromising of election petitions, a most important point which ought not to be forgotten. Last year an election petition was presented against his colleague and himself on what he considered perfectly frivolous and groundless circumstances, and for three months that petition was hanging over their heads, without the chance of disproving its allegations, until at length; without his knowledge or consent, it was withdrawn. Now, although the House and every one in it was desirous that all pos- 441 sible facility should be given to the presentation of petitions against the return of any Member, he thought it ought to shut the door with jealousy against compromising and capricious withdrawing petitions after they had been presented, except after an explanation to both the House and the Member against whom a frivolous petition had been presented. He considered the present system of recognisances most unfair and absurd. For a petition against one Member, a recognisance of 1,000l. might be required, to be paid in cash, or sureties to be given; but, for a petition against two or against three Members, the same sum of 1,000l., or the same amount of recongnisances from sureties, was alone required. Surely it was only reasonable to suppose the sum in such cases ought to be increased; and it was ridiculous to imagine that if 1,000l. were required for a scrutiny of the votes in a place where the constituency was small, a larger sum would not be necessary where there were many thousands of voters. He must complain that while the sureties were taken without inquiry, the sitting Member had to employ counsel, and go to great expense to prove that such sureties were not substantial or proper men. As the law at present stood, a Member of Parliament was subject to accusations in a manner in which no other subject in the realm could be subject. He was charged with bribery and corruption, and at the end of many months the petition against him was withdrawn, without giving him the opportunity of vindicating his character, which was allowed to the greatest criminal. He believed there was not a single county contested at the last election in which theme was not treating to some extent, with time exception of East Surrey, the one for which he sat. In that county there was no treating, even to the extent of 6d., and he consequently felt exceedingly disgusted at the proceedings against him.
said, the whole matter was a question of agency, which it was absolutely necessary the noble Lord should clearly define. He did not mean the legal agency of one man acting at the request of another, but that description of agency which Committees had established, where persons had actively employed themselves on behalf of a candidate. That ought to be made more clear than it was at present, and it was the more necessary, as it had been held that a man was an agent who had been shouting in the same street with 442 the candidate; and upon that, or very little more, a Member of the House had been unseated. He trusted that as the noble Lord proposed to disqualify any Member from holding a scat after he had been convicted of bribery by himself or his agents, he (the noble Lord) would guard candidates against the possibility of a man constituting himself an agent without any authority for doing so. He trusted the noble Lord would turn his attention to that point.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, his hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Alcock) had stated very truly that the petition presented against him last Session was without any ground whatever; but he had not stated why and how it was withdrawn. The fact was, that when the parties who presented it, found they could not substantiate the charges contained in it, they immediately caused a petition to be presented against the Member for West Surrey, for no object whatever but that the two might be paired off against each other. He believed that one of the very best Reform Bills that could possibly be framed would be to summon Parliaments annually, as they were originally—as they were in all times, till the Whigs came in with their Septennial Bill.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
said, that though differing on most points with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier), he was happy to agree with him in the claim he had preferred to-night for the protection of the Irish voters; but the agreement was not likely to go further, because the protection he desired was the protection of the ballot. Some years ago, at a county election in Ireland, he saw voters brought to the poll, surrounded by the agents of the landlords, and intimidated and deterred from voting, except in a particular way. As he took no part whatever in the last general election, he was not very conversant with what occurred then; but he was quite sure the most excited partisans of the Liberal party would not have the least objection to the ballot taking away any advantages they now possessed from public agitation, if it only got rid, at the same time, of landlord intimidation. They might go on legislating, year after year, but he was convinced they must come at last to the ballot, as the only remedy for the evils which now existed in the system of popular elections.
MR. LOCKE KING
said, he would advise the House to receive the suggestion 443 of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) in regard to recognisances, with some caution. If adopted, he was inclined to think there would be great difficulty in presenting any election petition at all, because few men had 1,000l. unemployed to pay down as security, though they might render themselves liable to that amount for the prosecution of a petition.
§ MR. KENNEDY
said, that during the election at which he was returned, he had been obliged to retire from two towns in consequence of the intimidation exercised by paid bands of men in the adverse interest. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. O'Connell) that the best remedy for such a state of things was the ballot. He was satisfied that many of the evils of Ireland emanated from a corrupt and bad system of representation.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
, in reply, said, that as several hon. Members had alluded to the withdrawal of petitions, he begged to state that the Bill would contain a provision on that subject. He could not say whether that provision would be satisfactory to the hon. Member for Finsbury, but he believed it would remedy the evils that at present existed. He also proposed, with regard to expenses at elections, that every candidate should appoint in writing one agent; that such agent should be the only person authorised to pay any money for the legal expenses of the election; and that he should be compelled to produce before an Election Committee an account of the whole expenses of the contest.
§ Leave given; Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord John Russell and Sir James Graham.
§ Leave was also given to bring in the Controverted Elections, &c. Bill.