HC Deb 16 February 1854 vol 130 cc736-56

said, he would beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill to regulate the practice at the election of Members to serve in Parliament, and to prevent bribery, corruption, intimidation, and undue influence at such elections, and to diminish the expenses thereof. He believed that they all concurred in regretting the existence of that corruption which dis- graced our representative system, and that they only differed as to the best mode of applying a remedy to the evil, an evil at once great and grievous, and which had hitherto defied legislation. He contended that no extension of the franchise, especially in a downward direction, would have the effect of preventing or diminishing corruption, and the assumption that it would do so was altogether contradicted by experience of many boroughs, and unhappily we had yet no system of general education, to enlighten and purify the humbler classes of the elective body. In the borough of Cambridge, out of 111 persons who had accepted bribes at the last election, between thirty and forty, or about one-third of the entire number, were unable to write their names. The number of electors in this borough had been increased from less than fifty before the Reform Act to 1,800. In Liverpool, Hull, Norwich, among the largest, wealthiest, and most populous towns of the British Empire, corruption had been found most extensively to prevail. Neither did he think that they could look to the ballot for a removal of that crying evil. It might be well doubted whether the adoption of that mode of voting would tend to diminish rather than to encourage bribery at elections; and even though it should in many cases contribute to restrict the exercise of undue influence, it was the belief of many of the highest authorities upon the subject that it would introduce other evils into our constitutional system which neither the Parliament nor the people of this country were yet prepared to encounter. At any rate, looking to the great difference of opinion which prevailed in that House, and still more in the other House of Parliament, as to the wisdom or expediency of the introduction of the ballot, he thought it would be unwise to wait for the establishment of the ballot by law, before proceeding to deal with this great evil. The Bill which he was about to submit to the House contained provisions which he believed calculated to remedy the evil of bribery and corruption, and would, if adopted, introduce into our electoral system that purity which all parties professed to be desirous of obtaining. Now what was the precise nature of the evil which the House was called upon to deal with, and what ought to be the nature of the remedy proposed? With respect to bribery, by what means, in what manner, with what funds, and upon what system, was it that the evil, of which all persons so much complained, was practised at elections for Members of Parliament? After considering, as far as was practicable under the pressure of other occupations, the greater part of the Committee Reports and the Reports of Commissions, with which the table of the House of late years had been loaded, upon the subject of elections and electoral corruptions, he thought he might say that, amidst many circumstantial varieties, there was a substantial identity in the mode and system under which that extensive corruption had prevailed. Let them consider in what way it was, as far as they could judge from the information with which the Reports in question had supplied them, a corrupt election was, from its beginning to its end, conducted. A writ was issued for a borough election. Three or four gentlemen, the heads of a political party in the borough, came to London in search of a candidate, who of course was soon found. He was invited to stand for the borough. He inquired naturally into the numbers and state of the borough, and the prospects of success; and, being answered, then came the all-important question—what was the amount of the expenses? He was told 1,000l., or perhaps 1,500l., would cover all. He was content to pay that sum, and he paid it into the hands of an agent—some man of influence among the party in the borough—and all were satisfied. The candidate expressed a firm determination to avoid all bribery on every occasion; he enjoined his agent, and all those who were to act in the election, against resorting to any corrupt practice whatever; and he was assured that the funds which he had placed at the disposal of the agent should be fairly, honestly, and legally applied. Then he proceeded to the borough, and announced himself as a candidate, satisfied there would be no violation of the law, in respect either of the money he was about to spend, or the means by which he sought honestly and properly to procure his return to Parliament. A candidate so placed might, with a safe conscience, swear, either then or when the election should have been completed, that he had taken no part in bribery or in any other species of corruption. Yet within twenty-four hours of the time when he placed his 1,000l. or 1,500l. in the hands of an agent, a third part might go to pay some old election bill for treating or bribery; another third of it might be spent in his own election in bribery, in treating, or in other modes of corruption; and perhaps some 400l. or 500l., a little more or a little less, was fairly and properly spent in the legal expenses of the candidate. In the course of the canvass he was generally applied to for some 200l. or 300l. more. Well, the money was given, the election proceeded, and he was returned to Parliament. In due time a petition was presented against his return, together with extensively circulated rumours of bribery and corruption. The petition was either withdrawn or it was compromised, or it proceeded, and the member either retained his seat or he was unseated, Or it might be there was no petition at all, in which case, soon after the time for petitioning was past, the member was pretty generally waited upon by some of the heads of the party, by whom he had been supported, and he was told that, besides the sum of money he had placed in their hands, there had been a further expenditure for his benefit and on his behalf of at least 1,000l. He of course became naturally anxious to know in what manner this money was expended, but then it was more or less obscurely intimated to him, that he had better not inquire into the precise particulars of that expenditure. Most persons placed in such circumstances were apt to treat such a claim as a debt of honour; but if the returned member hinted an objection, he was told that the money had been paid out by some friends without whose support he never could have been returned; that it had been employed—and not unsuccessfully—for his benefit, and that if he refused to repay it the loss would fall on the families of his staunchest supporters. That appeal was generally successful, and after some reluctance the 1,000l. was paid, a large proportion of it being spent in direct or indirect bribery, or in some other mode of corruption. It might be, however, that a member of a firmer character, or of a larger and, perhaps, harder experience, would refuse to satisfy such demands, in which case an intimation was very soon after conveyed to him that he need not appear again in the borough for which he had been returned; and when another election took place a fresh candidate was found who paid his 1,000l. or 1,500l., and with a portion of the sum which he so paid, the old election debt of the former member was liquidated. The system, and the amount of money, of course varied considerably; candidates often paid much larger sums than those he had stated; but he thought he had accurately described the mode in which, in a great many boroughs, elections for a number of years past had been invariably conducted. Sometimes the truth was brought to light, and those investigations followed which had furnished them with the information that he hoped would guide them in the path they had undertaken to pursue. Sometimes, however, these practices escaped detection at the moment. It might be that for an election or two no discovery took place; but sooner or later it was found by the proceedings before an Election Committee, or from the Report of a Commission, that such for many years had invariably been the practice in the boroughs in question. How, then, were they to prevent that practice—to remedy that great evil? It was quite obvious that, in all cases similar to that he had described, the candidates were legally innocent, and more or less morally innocent according to the degree in which they might suspect that their funds were illegally applied. But it was quite obvious that a gentleman who paid a larger or a smaller sum of money into the hands of persons of character and reputation, who assured him that not one farthing of it would be illegally applied, and whom he earnestly enjoined against any resort to corrupt practices, might fairly call upon an Election Committee, while they unseated him by reason of the acts of his agent, to declare him blameless. It was obvious, also, that so long as candidates were found to pay large sums of money into the hands of agents, sub-agents, or the heads of parties in boroughs—so long as there were no means of tracing the money from the hands of agents, sub-agents, and heads of parties, to the final application of every shilling of it—and so long as it was possible for agents to apply to illegal purposes large sums of money placed in their hands, with directions to apply them to legal purposes only—it was in vain to multiply penalties and punishments, to visit upon members the consequences of those acts by unseating them, and to charge the country with the cost of Reports and Commissions. So long as that state of things existed, whilst human nature remained as it was, and whilst the franchise was in the hands of the poorer and more helpless and dependent classes of the community, so long would bribery and corruption prevail. He would now proceed at once to state to the House the means by which he proposed to guard against this great evil, and to render the illegal spending and application of the money of a candidate, who did not himself desire or intend to violate the law, if not altogether impracticable, so difficult to practise, and so easy of detection, that he could not but think, at least as far as regarded candidates and their funds, the evil would be at once and effectually remedied. The case ought to be considered, first, as regarded the candidate; secondly, as regarded the agents; and thirdly, as regarded the electors. Now, first, as to the candidate. In the Bill which he proposed to submit to the House, he should provide for the appointment of a public officer at every election—a person of character and knowledge, and of habits and in a condition of life which would entitle him to confidence, and render him competent to the duty which he would have to perform. The Bill would provide further, by adequate provisions and machinery, that at every election in the kingdom the candidates should pay all moneys emanating from them, directly or indirectly necessary for the legitimate expenses of the election, into the hands of this election officer, and of him alone. If a candidate solemnly swore that he had not paid, and never would pay to the last moment of his life, directly or indirectly, one single guinea for any purpose connected with, or having relation to, the election, except into the hands of the election officer, why then it was manifest that no part of his money, either before or after the election, could be illegally applied, except the election officer became a party to the bribery and corruption. He proposed, therefore, that at a certain period in every year an election officer should be appointed; and he thought the person so appointed should be a barrister, the appointment to be made by the Judges in their respective circuits, for every place returning Members to Parliament. These election officers would have various duties to perform, which he should afterwards fully describe to the House when he came to deal with the other provisions of the Bill; but it was enough for his present purpose to state that the election officer, from the time of his appointment, or rather from the time of the writ for an election issuing, would have the sole management and control of the whole pecuniary concerns of the candidates, and the legal expenses of the election. The candidates would be required at the nomination, when first by law they could be said to be candidates, to pay over to the election officer in the terms which would be found in the sche- dule of the Bill, all the moneys which were necessary to pay the legal expenses of the election, and to swear that they had not paid any expenses or any money at all touching or concerning the election, except it might be unavoidable personal expenses before the day of nomination, and of which they must render a detailed account, upon oath, to the election officer. They must likewise swear that they would not pay, directly or indirectly, to any person whomsoever, any money whatsoever touching or concerning the election at any future time, except into the hands of the election officer, who would therefore be the single and sole agent between the candidates and their other agents, and the whole body of electors. All persons having any claims of any kind upon the candidates, whether those which might be common to the whole of the candidates, such as the expense of the hustings and the fees of the returning officer, or those which had relation to individual and particular candidates, must send in their accounts to the election officer, and to him only; and it was the election officer, and he only, who, having considered the accuracy, the legality, and the justice of such claims, was to pay them out of the funds placed in his hands for that purpose. He would now state to the House why it was he thought the election officer should be a member of the bar, though he might observe—and the remark would apply to every other provision in the Bill—that he had no personal predilection or preference whatsoever in favour of any particular mode or machinery, or of any particular class of persons, which he conceived to be matters for the consideration of the House. He had always thought that when, in any kind of legislation, they could move and act by the light of experience, they ought to avail themselves of that advantage. Now they had had for more than twenty years the experience of that class of persons so essential in our electoral system, the revising barristers, who had duties of the most important and sometimes of the most difficult character to discharge. They had, in fact, under their control the entire elective franchise of England and Wales; and yet from the time of the Reform Bill, which brought them into existence, to the present moment, although many warm political partisans were included in their number, he had never heard the shadow of an objection made to the impartiality with which they discharged their duties. He proposed, therefore, that the election offi- cers should be appointed in the same manner, and from the same class, as the revising barristers. The expense of these election officers would not amount to a very large sum, and would certainly be as nothing when divided among the candidates, compared with the immense expenditure under the present system. He knew of one or two instances of persons who, though they might be free from bribery with respect to the electors, had paid, or consented to pay, a considerable sum of money, with the view either of preventing other candidates from coming forward, or of inducing candidates already in the field to withdraw. He therefore, proposed, that in all cases—whether there was a contest or not, the election officer should attend at the nomination, and that in his presence the oath should be taken by the candidates, who should also be required, as previously stated, to pay into the hands of the election officer the legal expenses of the election. When there was a contest the effect of this payment would be, that the money being lodged in the hands of the election officer, who would take care to avoid paying any part of it for any illegal purpose, the funds of the candidates would be secured from illegal application. Another advantage which would result from his scheme, if carried into effect, would be this. He would not speak of the numerous cases of Election Committees that had occupied the attention of the House for many years past, nor point invidiously to particular instances, but he would allude to the six cases which might be said to be sub judice, and in which the writs had been suspended on the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for London. The remark which he was about to make with regard to those six boroughs would be found to apply to by far the greater proportion of boroughs in which bribery or corruption of any kind had been practised, and of which they had any detailed and satisfactory account. It was this—that in all those cases, whether the payment had been made in one sum or in many sums, or whether before, or during, or after the election—whether the corruption had been practised with or without the knowledge of the candidates—it was the money of the candidates which, sooner or later, paid for the corruption which had been practised. There were but one or two instances mentioned in the Committee Reports in which the funds that had been spent in bribery had ultimately come from other persons than the candidates. If, therefore, the effect of the measure of which he had now submitted the outline to the House would be to stop the sources of corruption as far as the funds of the candidates were concerned—if, in fact, after the passing of his Bill all the money proceeding from candidates would be legally expended—it would at once stop the stream from which flowed the greater part of the corruption which was practised in boroughs. If no money came, or was expected from, the candidate, and if the candidate were bound by oath to pay nothing towards the expenses of the election beyond the sum paid down to the election officer, then, in case of bribery and corruption, it became evident that the funds must be derived from some other source, not from the pockets of the candidates. He knew he was now treading upon tender ground. Whence were the sources from which, and what were the modes in which money might be obtained for bad purposes at an election without the knowledge of the candidates? He could not but think that, although they found sometimes that persons of local influence in a borough were willing to advance their own money for the sake of gaining an election and obtaining a triumph for their own political friend, trusting to the honour of the candidate to have the money paid back at a future period, if it were once known and established as a matter of perfect certainty that no money whatever would be forthcoming from candidates, except for defraying the legal expenses of the election, very few parties would be ready to apply their own funds to that purpose, at least to any considerable extent. He thought if the sources of corruption were stopped at once and for ever, on the part of the candidates, bribery would very soon wear itself out. He was bound to admit, however, that there had been cases in which bribery had been practised by the money of other persons than the candidates. It had been said, but he knew not whether truly or untruly, that it had been the practice of certain clubs to collect together sums of money, by subscription or otherwise, upon the eve of an election, and that those large sums had been divided and apportioned out to be spent in securing the return of candidates belonging to the same political party. That might, or might not, be so. But if the money thus raised for election purposes were only paid into the hands of the candidate himself, no harm would be done, because the candidate in his turn would be obliged to pay all the funds which were to be spent in the election into the hands of the election officer, and no portion of them could be used for illegal purposes. The same observation applied to cases in which not the candidate himself, but some wealthier relative or friend, paid the expenses of his election. But here another difficulty arose. Cases had occurred in which persons of no character, or of reckless character, had obtained from the relatives or friends of candidates, or even from candidates themselves, considerable sums of money to be spent at an election, had then gone to the borough and put themselves in communication with those who had local knowledge, and had finally disposed of money placed in their hands through the old and practised agents of bribery. Such cases were extremely difficult to deal with, because, though they might impose an oath upon a candidate, and upon those who were known to act as his agents in the election, and though they might require a declaration from the electors, yet they could not impose an oath upon all mankind—they could not send for the clubs of London, and the friends of the candidate, and impose an oath upon them. How, then, were such cases to be dealt with? It was obvious, in the first place, that, if the candidate should no longer be looked to as the source of the funds for election purposes, the cases would be few in which other persons would collect together a sufficient sum of money to practise corruption to any very considerable extent. It must likewise be remembered, that any one going down to a borough for such purposes would be vigilantly watched by the heads of parties and persons having local knowledge; and if it were quite certain that offenders against the law would be subjected to a severe punishment, inflicted with little mercy, he thought the number of such attempts would be very small indeed, and a repetition of them would scarcely be attempted. That consideration was the more important, because, although before Election Committees and under these Commissions it was sometimes impossible to trace out with particularity the various agents and subagents in the work of corruption, yet there were practised and experienced men connected with the local parties in every borough, who knew as well when bribery was going on, either on their own or the other side, as if it were done before their eyes, and practised in the broad daylight. Considering the vigilance with which they watched each other, he could not suppose a stranger from London or elsewhere could go down to the borough under the circumstances which he had suggested and yet escape detection; but in order to meet that danger as far as practicable by legislation, he should venture to propose certain provisions in the Bill, rendering it incumbent upon every candidate to declare to the election officer the names of the agents whom he employed. Those agents would also be called upon to take an oath before the election officer in conformity with that taken by the candidate, and which would have the like effect in regard to any funds in their hands, so that no money should be paid at all, but by the election officer, excepting in certain cases of necessity, for which the Bill provided, in which case the agent would be likewise bound to render a true account from time to time, as those minor and inconsiderable expenses were incurred. Having thus provided for the candidate and the agents, he came next to those who were the real, but not the avowed agents, and through whom alone, if the provisions he had mentioned were carried into effect, corruption of any kind could be practised. One man, and that man a stranger, never could commit bribery to any extent. He could not himself know who were the voters open to bribery; and any one, without precise information, going to offer a bribe, would incur the risk of being denounced at once, and brought to justice. Every one going on such an errand must receive local information from those who were on the spot, and who possessed all the knowledge necessary for the practice of corruption. Thus a great number of persons besides the one who actually gave the bribe must be engaged in these nefarious schemes—a circumstance which he could not but deem improbable, having regard to the measure affecting the agents and candidates. But to meet this class of persons there was another provision in the Bill, by which it was competent to the returning officer, upon oath being made to his satisfaction that any person was in or about the borough, and acting in a manner that rendered it likely he meant to proceed to illegal practices, to call upon that party to take the agents' oath. For instance, if a person was seen going about the borough among the lower class of electors, who were most susceptible of corrupt influences, it was competent to the election officer to call upon him to take the agents' oath, and in all probability, in going through that form, he would be detected, and the threatened corruption prevented. He would not detain the House by more than alluding to a series of clauses designed to render illegal a number of practices, now the source of great expense and the cause of corruption, both direct and indirect, such as the employment of flag-men and flag-bearers, processions, and music, and chairings, which were the bad adjuncts and features of an election under the present system. He trusted, therefore, by this measure ample security would be provided against corruption of any kind, either by the candidates or agents; and the remaining and all-important consideration in any reform attempted to be effected in our electoral system was, what legislative safeguard should be attempted with regard to the protection of the voters. He approached this part of the subject with great diffidence, for whilst, on the one hand, the many persons in and out of that House with whom he had communicated—persons of great knowledge and ability, who had favoured him with their counsel, opinions, and suggestions—had, without exception, approved of the measure as to the election officer, he was bound to admit he had met with many doubts and much disapprobation of the other and not less important measure to which he was now about to call the attention of the House. It was his intention, then, to submit to their consideration a series of provisions to enable the voters throughout England and Wales to gives their votes by means of voting papers. He entreated the House not to be misled by the use of that term into supposing that the voting paper which he should suggest was at all in its form, or that the machinery by which it was accompanied was at all like any yet known in the election of Poor Law Guardians or any other proceedings in this country. He proposed to accompany the voting papers with machinery which he could not but believe would afford most perfect security against fabrication, mutilation, or fraud; and before he proceeded to detail the precise nature of the voting papers, he would enumerate the advantages which would be secured, if this part of the measure should be carried successfully into practical effect. If they could but provide some adequate means by which the votes of the electors of this country could be given by means of voting papers, in the first place they got rid of all the tumult, agitation, and violence, often attended with danger to human life, which unfortunately prevailed at so many elections. Instead of going to the poll, voters, whether timid, vacillating, bribed, coerced, treated, or intimidated, might give their votes at times and under circumstances when coercion, violence, intimidation, bribery, and corruption were all impossible; and even in the case of infirmity, age, or sickness, they might give their votes in their own bedrooms or in their own parlours. It was well known to those who heard him, that the item of travelling expenses alone in a contested county election amounted to from 5,000l. to 20,000l. It was difficult in the smallest county to carry on a contested election without that item of expense to each candidate being 4,000l. or 5,000l., and when they considered that in the larger counties (not to mention the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the amount must be terrific) vast sums were expended under that head alone, he could not but think they would agree with him it would be a benefit of the greatest magnitude and importance if they could at once annihilate and expunge that item of expenditure from the system altogether. But the evil did not stop there. The consequence of travelling expenses being paid and payable was this: a voter came perhaps 50, or it might be 500 miles, to vote, and he might ask 5l., 6l., 7l., or 8l. Who was to determine what was the proper sum? To provide a scale of charges by Act of Parliament was impossible. The difference even between a first and a second or third class fare on a railway rendered anything like the same sum being applicable to all the voters perfectly out of the question. The result of the impossibility to fix any sum, with certainty that justice should be done the voter and the law observed, was, that whatever the voter asked, unless it was manifestly extravagant, was paid, and thus the system became an indirect but common mode of bribery. If a man having spent 2l. or 3l., obtained double the sum, that was indirect but complete bribery, to the extent of the surplus. The evil was still greater; for whatever might be the intentions of those who had to satisfy these demands, however anxious they might be to conform to the law, and to pay only such sums as were reasonable, it was impossible to do so in all cases. They might unknowingly pay a man 10l. whose expenses only amounted to 5l., or even a smaller sum. An election petition followed, and although the candidate might come in by a thousand majority, and be as well entitled to represent the constituency as any Gentleman in that House, if the Committee found a man paid more than he was entitled to, and that the surplus was only an indirect means of bribery, they would, as a matter of course, declare the election void. The enormity of the expense, the danger to the candidates, however fairly and lawfully returned, of being unseated, and other considerations, rendered it a matter of great importance to do away altogether with the system of travelling expenses, and that would be one of the consequences of the adoption of voting by voting papers. The same observation applied to treating. Distant voters, who came 200 or 300 miles to vote, whether at a borough or county election, must eat and drink somewhere till their return, and the door consequently was opened wide for treating without limit. If, then, they could do away with the system of voting in person, and enable the absent and distant voter to vote at well where he was as if he came to the polling-place where the election was going on, they would at once annihilate the evils of indirect bribery by travelling expenses and treating at elections. Another evil, of a different character, but an evil of serious magnitude, would be mitigated, if not altogether remedied, should that system of voting by papers succeed—he meant that evil which was the subject of so much complaint in that House—the procuring votes by intimidation and the exercise of undue influence. He hoped that some good would be done in all these respects, and that something like freedom and purity of election would take the place of the bribery, intimidation, and corruption which now so extensively prevailed. He would as briefly and perspicuously as possible state to the House the machinery by which these provisions would be accompanied, and the mode proposed by which votes would be given by these voting papers. In the first place, he proposed that the giving of the vote itself should be the act of signing the voting paper and the declaration which it contained, and the delivery of that paper so signed and declared to some public officer competent to take the declaration and transmit the paper to the returning officer. He proposed, therefore, that at certain periods—once in every year—the magistrates in every county as to county elections, and the magistrates in every city and borough as to city and borough elections, and the returning officers and certain other assistants in respect to those boroughs which, like the metropolitan boroughs, had no municipal corporation and no local magistrates, should meet and determine upon the number of places, and the places themselves, within the counties and within the cities and boroughs at which the magistrates or other public officers competent to administer and take this declaration should sit for some three or four days before the day of election, in order to take the declarations of the voters, to receive their votes, and to transmit their votes to the returning officer. These places must be sufficiently numerous, and so situated, in counties, that one should be within one, or two, or three miles, at most, of every resident voter. With regard to every voter in counties, they would have three or four days after nomination to give their votes; they would be supplied with voting papers, and they could go to some place appointed, in their own neighbourhood, to which every man in good health could walk without difficulty or loss of time, to give their votes. With regard to absent and distant voters, the provisions of the Bill being that any magistrate in any part of England or Wales, whether in the part for which he was magistrate or not, might take the declaration, they might go to a magistrate or to a barrister and there deliver the declaration, to be by him transmitted by post or otherwise to the returning officer, and thus the vote would be complete. Even in the most numerous constituencies, it was his belief that the greatest number of votes could be given at a very early period of the election, without pressure and without difficulty, and nothing would remain but that the votes should be enumerated. With regard to the voting paper itself, he proposed it should consist of a declaration by the voter of the place for which he was entitled to vote, and that he was the person named on the register. He also proposed that it should contain a solemn declaration, with all the sanctity, though not in the form, of an oath, that he had not received, and would not receive, any species of bribe, reward, or consideration in respect of the vote which he gave. He might as well, perhaps, allude to a few words in it which might have some effect on intimidation. He proposed that the voter, besides abjuring bribery and any species of corruption, should declare, in direct and solemn terms, that he gave his vote freely and willingly, and according to the best of his judgment and conscience, and not under any intimidation or coercion or undue influence whatsoever. He could not but think that the introduction of those words into such a declaration would have a beneficial effect, and that, when men of power and influence, whether landlords or employers, went to canvass a voter, and the voter said, "My principles are the other way, and you know I have to make a declaration, with all the sanctity of an oath, that I give my vote freely and willingly, and according to the best of my judgment and conscience," the answer would, he conscientiously believed, prevent any pressure of undue influence. That was the nature of the declaration; and to complete the subject, he need only say he proposed that the Queen's printer should print a sufficient number of them, that they should he transmitted to the election officer, and that the election officer, having power under the Bill to obtain the assistance of persons of local knowledge, should transmit them to all the voters on the register. In case of miscarriage, they would be sold at or ½d. or ¼d. at every stationer's shop in the Kingdom, so that if a paper failed to reach any voter, he could buy one for a trifling sum, go make his declaration, and transmit it to the election officer. The election officer would then be bound, on the return of the whole of the voting papers, to examine them by the register, and with the assistance of check clerks, employed on behalf of the various candidates, as under the present system, and then the votes would be recorded, and the return made. He did not propose to prevent anybody going openly to the poll on that which was happily now the single day of election throughout the Kingdom. Every one who preferred the notoriety of open voting might go, and openly make their declaration, and deliver their vote as publicly as under the existing law. He might finally observe, that it would be necessary to reserve the power, in cases of personation, forgery, and fraud, of laying aside any of these voting papers objected to by the check clerks or inspectors, either on the ground that the person was dead or the signature fabricated. If the return was not affected by the number of voting papers so objected to, the return would be made; but if, on the contrary, it was affected, the returning officer would have power to investigate the validity of such voting papers; the personated voter could be called before him, and he would have the means of determining at once the question of the validity or invalidity of the vote. Under those circumstances, personation, fabrication, and fraud would be almost impracticable, but, wherever practicable, certain of detection; and he could not think any one would incur the severe penalty imposed by law for such an offence when it was certain the return would not be influenced thereby. Such was an outline of the measure he had the honour to submit to the House. He ought to observe, that with respect to the expenses of the election, and in order that the election officer should well discharge the duty he undertook, and that justice should be done to those who had clear and just demands, and also that there should be no excuse for the application of money by or through any one but the election officer, he proposed that that functionary should exact from every candidate a deposit of the amount deemed necessary, according to the prospect of contest or no contest, not exceeding 300l. for counties and 200l. for boroughs, which he trusted would soon become the largest sum to be expended at any election; and that he should likewise make each candidate give two sufficient securities in 1,000l. to meet the expenses of the election. If the House permitted him, in the event of the present Bill receiving its sanction, he proposed by another and a separate Bill to abolish at once the law of property qualification for Members of Parliament. He was not sorry to find the task had fallen into abler hands than his, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Tufnell) had, as he understood, given notice of his intention to bring that question before the House. He (Sir F. Kelly) could only say that should this Bill receive the approbation of Parliament, they would enjoy security for the proceedings at elections, and for the respectability and independence of every candidate for a seat in that House, and he should be very happy to lend his assistance to the right hon. Gentleman in carrying through the House the measure of which he had given notice. He had now given the House an outline of the measure he should have the honour to introduce. He felt he had entered upon a task for which his humble abilities were altogether inadequate, unless he was supported and encouraged by the assistance and approbation of the Members of that House. With that assistance he did not despair of effecting a very great good, and of putting an end to a very great evil in the constitution of that House. Such were the provisions and such the object of the measure he now asked leave to introduce. He had brought it forward with no party views. He had prepared it in all its details without the slightest regard or reference to party considerations. If it should receive the sanction of Parliament, and should conduce to the great end which he had laboured to attain, he should rejoice that he had lent his humble assistance in giving freedom and purity to that part of our constitution upon which the liberties and the well-being of the people of this country depended.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing this Bill. He had listened with very great attention to the whole of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, and he had come to one conclusion, namely, that such a system as had been proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman was impracticable in its machinery, would be futile in its results, and was by no means calculated to put an end to the existing evils connected with the election of Members of Parliament, admitting that such evils existed. A variety of measures had been proposed in that House for removing these evils, but they had proved to be of little avail. He was happy to say that the constituency which he had the honour of representing was free from charges of intimidation and corruption. He had never yet been able to arrive at a knowledge of what bribery really was. Let the whole of the Treasury bench be closely examined and purified before they talked about putting down bribery outside of that House. If that were done, there might be some hopes of arriving at purity of election. If a more liberal system were carried on at elections, he should have better company in that House, and paupers would not ask to be sent to Parliament. There were persons then in that House, who, he did not hesitate to say, ought never to have been permitted to sit there. Gentlemen of local influence and authority, who exercised Christian charity towards their fellow men, and not paupers, ought to sit in that House. With regard to the officer whom the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to empower to put impudent questions to voters on tendering their votes, he (Colonel Sibthorp) must say, that to such a Mr. Tomkins or Mr. Jenkins he should be inclined to apply the argumentum baculinum for asking such questions. The whole of the machinery proposed by this Bill was mean, from the beginning to the end. He hoped that this Bill would never pass, but that every liberty would be given to gentlemen of local influence to exercise liberality towards their fellow-creatures, and that that House might be composed of hon. Gentlemen, and not paupers.


said, that perhaps he might be allowed to state, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that it was not their intention to oppose the introduction of the Bill, but it must not be inferred from this that they in any way assented to its provisions. He was quite ready to admit, however, that there was much in the Bill which deserved the serious consideration and attention of the House, while, on the other hand, there were parts in it which he could not help thinking were doubtful, both in policy and detail. For instance, it would be a very doubtful policy to allow votes to be taken through the medium of voting papers. For, if such a plan were agreed to, it would be renewing again what they had flattered themselves was got rid of—namely, the system of protracted polling and scrutiny at elections. The Bill proposed to make a sort of four days' scrutiny, which would be productive of great injury; but it was perhaps premature to enter into a discussion of the provisions now, and he would therefore abstain from touching upon the other parts of the scheme. Still he was bound to confess that the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend was novel alike in principle and details; and on that account it was well deserving the best attention of the House. They could all have but one common object in view, and that was—not as the hon. and gallant Member seemed to suppose, to put down charity—but to put a stop to that tendency to corruption which unhappily had so largely prevailed at elections, and which all men who took a reasonable view of the subject—he meant no disrespect to the hon. and gallant Member—could not but feel was sapping the very vitals of our representative system.


said, he was of opinion that very many of the provisions of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for East Suffolk would only add to the evils which it professed to remedy. But, if the House was really determined to put down bribery and extravagant expenditure at elections, why not take the simple and the only effectual mode of doing it? He had introduced a Bill in the year 1826, which was founded on the Report of a Committee, and by which he proposed to provide that no candidate should be subject to any expense whatever. That counties, in the case of county elections, and boroughs, in the case of borough elections, should provide the polling places, and pay every necessary expense; that any man should be at liberty to appear as a candidate; and that every candidate should be called upon to take an oath that he had not applied, and would not apply, a single shilling in the payment of election expenses. The present system was entirely at variance with the course which every man pursued in private life in the employment of servants; and the Members of that House were the servants of the public. It had been hitherto considered that men entered Parliament to serve their own purposes; but that was not the object for which they were elected, and it ought not to be so in practice. The Member of Parliament was the servant of the county or borough which he was elected to represent, and it was his duty to watch over and protect the interests of his constituents and of the country at large. Was it not contrary to all sound principles to place a man in the position of a servant, and to call upon him to incur great expenses before he entered upon his duties? How could they expect him, if they did that, to discharge his duty honestly? So long as they made the Members pay election expenses, how could they hope to escape venality? If Members of that House were beggared by these expenses at the outset, how could they expect them to stand out against the temptation to indemnify themselves in one way or the other? He wished, therefore, that the present system should be altogether done away with, and that every Member returned to that House, whether by a borough or a county, should be returned free of expense. He had already said that he had introduced a Bill which had that object in view, and which also contained a provision that the poll at every election should be taken in one day. This latter provision, rejected at the time, had since become law, and he hoped, if he lived long enough, to see the common sense of Parliament adopting the other also. With respect to the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, he would remind the House that there was already an election officer, called a returning officer, appointed; that he took from the candidates a deposit, for the payment of such expenses as were recognised by law; and that the money so deposited was expended under his direction, and by his authority. He did not say how the system had worked; he knew that in many instances these officers had taken five times as much as they ought to have done for expenses; but there, at all events, the system was. He thought that the simple protection of the ballot, with a considerable extension of the suffrage, would be the most effectual protection against intimidation and undue influence. He had no wish to destroy that fair and proper influence which the man who was kind as a landlord and as a member of society, who stood high and was respected in his station, and who endeavoured to benefit his fellow man and to promote the welfare of his neighbours—he had no wish to destroy the influence which such a man must have when an event like an election came round. It was the bribery which was a great evil, and he thought they would be putting an important check on that by adopting the simple mode which he had proposed of putting an end to all expenses, and imposing an oath on every individual Member before he took his seat that he had not paid, and would not pay, any.


said, he was not about to oppose the introduction of this Bill; but he must express his opinion that it would not only not stop intimidation, but would give increased means to the intimidator; neither was it calculated to stop bribery. If a very stringent oath would stop bribery, he would admit that his hon. and learned Friend had invented one which was very stringent indeed; but they all knew that those who had done wrong would swear they had done right; and he was satisfied that no oath, however stringent, would have the desired effect. He trusted that hon. Members would make themselves masters of the measure before it came on for a second reading; but, giving his hon. and learned Friend full credit for the sincerity of his intentions, he must express his opinion that the House would be neglecting its duty in permitting it to pass another stage.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Fitzroy Kelly, Mr. Packe, and Mr. George Butt.