HC Deb 10 May 1854 vol 133 cc105-13

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he would now move that this Bill be read a second time. A Committee had sat to inquire into the subject of which the Bill treated, and their Report contained a detail of the expenses which were incurred by candidates in different districts, and affirmed the principle that individuals who wished to be elected representatives of the people ought to be placed in the House of Commons free of expense. That was the principle upon which this Bill was based. The Committee also recommended that in all contested elections an allowance should be made to the returning officer for the expenses he had incurred, which they thought ought to be borne by the district in which the election took place, and this Bill was intended to carry out the object of the Committee. At present, several notices had to be given by the sheriff for the expense, for which no provision was made; and although it was sometimes paid by candidates, payment could not be enforced. These and other details would be matters for discussion in Committee. All he asked the House at present was to adopt the principle that Members should be returned to Parliament free of expense, and that the constituencies they represented should bear the expense of their election. It was objected that if the check of election expenses were taken away, there would be a great increase in the number of candidates, but there were various modes in which this and other inconveniences might be obviated, and he should be ready, at a future stage of the Bill, to adopt any suggestions which would assist in carrying out its object. He, therefore, hoped the House would now agree to the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he would suggest that the hon. Member for Montrose should postpone the second reading of this Bill until the Committee which was now sitting upon the Bribery and Elections Bills should have given their Report, or else that this Bill should be referred to that Committee.


said, he hoped that his hon. Friend would not postpone the second reading, by agreeing to which the House would only affirm the important principle that those Gentlemen who came into that House for the purpose of discharging a public duty should not be put to any expense in doing so. He could not see what connection there could be between this Bill and those which had been referred to the Committee referred to by the hon. Member who last addressed them, except with regard to some of the details. One part of this question certainly raised a considerable difficulty. At present, persons were constantly coming forward as candidates without having the support of any great portion of a constituency, who delivered a speech upon the hustings, who were applauded by that portion of the constituency which possessed no votes, but who were checked in going to the poll from the circumstance that they would become liable for a considerable amount of expenses by so doing. The constituencies ought to have the choice of the best candidates, but he thought it would be worth while to introduce some provision into the Bill by which a candidate should be obliged to defray his share of the election expenses, unless he polled a given number of votes. He had obtained a return of the sums which were charged by returning officers to candidates at elections, which disclosed a system of extortion that the House ought to put a stop to. In one borough as much as 25l. had been charged as the fee for the return, and in the course of his professional experience a number of cases had come under his notice, in which similar charges, perfectly illegal, had been made; but it was generally to the interest of the candidate to pay them without dispute, as, otherwise, the person who made them might exercise his influence over the returning officer to induce him to fix the polling day, on a future occasion, at an inconvenient time. The charge that was made for the employment of special constables was also illegal, as the sheriff was bound to maintain the peace at all times. If bribery was to be suppressed, some measure of this kind ought to be passed, because if the constituencies saw that these charges were paid by candidates, they thought something good was to be obtained by getting into the House of Commons, and they considered that a person who canvassed them was soliciting them for some favour. The sooner the public mind was disabused upon the matter, and given to understand that a seat in that House involved great toil, without any pecuniary advantage, the better.


said, he should be unwilling to vote against the adoption of any proposition which had for its object the reduction of election expenses. He was bound, however, to say that he entertained very strong objections to the Bill as it then stood. If his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose would consent to allow the Bill to be read a second time that day, upon the understanding that it was to be referred to the Committee now sitting on the Bribery Bills, who would have the power of retaining such of its provisions as they deemed worthy of being passed into law, then he (Mr. Deedes) should have no hesitation in voting for the second reading; otherwise, he should deem it to be his duty to vote against the adoption of a principle of which he did not entirely approve.


said, he could not consent to refer it to that Committee, but would have no objection to refer it to a separate Committee, after the Report of that Committee had been laid before the House.


said, he was of opinion, from his experience as a county Member, that the Bill would add to, instead of diminishing, the expenses of gentlemen who came forward to represent counties. At present gentlemen frequently appeared as candidates, and made a speech which was much applauded by the non-constituents, as was just observed by the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Phinn); but, when it came to a question of being responsible for a share of the expenses, they bowed themselves out and no contest took place; whereas, if this Bill passed, the expensive process of canvassing would have to be gone through upon every such occasion. The hustings' expenses did not now amount to more than 37l. or 40l., and he, therefore, considered that the Bill was perfectly uncalled for, and hoped the House would give it a decided negative.


said, he wished to add his testimony to that of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He had had great experience at county elections, and his opinion was that this Bill, so far from diminishing the expenses at elections, would greatly increase them. Its tendency would be to induce parties to present themselves as candidates at elections on very light grounds, and the consequence would be that there would be an infinitely greater number of contests than at present.


said, he thought that the effect of this Bill would be to impose an additional expense of 200l., or 3001., or 500l., upon every county Member. Some person always came forward upon the hustings, when every one in the place knew that he had no more intention of standing bonâ fide as a candidate than he had of flying, but that he merely wished to make a speech to the electors upon some popular subject. At the nomination some elector or some non-elector—for, in the crowded assemblages usually held on those occasions, it would be impossible to prevent such an occurrence—would propose this person. What would be the result? Why, the sheriff would at once proceed to hire rooms or to erect booths in which to take the poll; and, in the smallest counties there were eight or ten such places. He would also hire poll-clerks, check-clerks, and other necessary assistants. But in addition to the expense thus thrown upon the public, the candidate would also be obliged to hire proper persons to check the return; and thus he would be put to an expense which he now avoided, and which would be caused by an opposition which every human being knew was a sham fight from the beginning to the end. Then he would ask how they would levy the funds necessary to defray these expenses? Surely they could not throw it upon the poor rate? He thought the present system was an excellent check upon mere vexatious contests, and he should oppose the Bill.


said, he thought that the objection which the right hon. Gentleman had made to the Bill could be met in the manner pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Phinn); namely, by providing that in case a candidate did not poll 1–10th or 1–20th, or some certain proportion of the constituency, he should pay his quota of the expenses now paid by all the candidates. The principle of the Bill was, that where a nation set up a representative system of government, the machinery for working that government should be paid for by the nation. This principle was recognised in the case of municipal government, the machinery of which was paid for out of public funds, as were also the expenses of the election of boards of guardians. It was a great injustice to call upon candidates to pay their election expenses, as a person might wish to represent a county who was weak in purse, although strong in argument and in principle, and could not afford to bear the burden of one-third of the expenses of his election. He hoped the House would agree to the second reading.


said, he concurred in the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, but he thought that it ought not to be made the subject-matter of a clause in this Bill, but of a new Bill. The suggestion that hustings' and other expenses should be charged upon counties and boroughs was good in theory, if it could be connected in practice with the suggestion of the hon. Member for the West Riding, and he therefore hoped that this Bill would be withdrawn and another one substituted to carry that suggestion into effect. The borough which he represented was one of the largest in the empire; it contained nine polling places, and the election expenses were therefore proportionally great. In 1841, when there were 15,000 or 16,000 voters on the register, a gentleman had come forward as a candidate, and was duly proposed and seconded, but obtained only one vote, after having put him and his colleague to all the annoyance and expense of a contested election, as they did not think proper to call upon the unsuccessful candidate to pay his share. At the last election in 1852, when there were about 20,000 electors on the register, the constituency agreed that his noble Friend and himself should be returned without expense. Before the nomination a gentleman came forward and expressed his intention to stand for the borough, but the returning officer took the sensible course of getting rid of him by asking his noble Friend and himself for a check for their proportion of the expenses; and, as the other candidate could neither give a cheek nor security for the amount, he was obliged to retire. He would only add to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Phinn) that security ought to be given in the first instance before the nomination took place. He hoped his hon. Friend, therefore, would withdraw this Bill, in order that another one might be introduced.


said, he thought the proposal of the hon. Baronet who had spoken last for the withdrawal of this Bill was a sound and valid proposal; because undoubtedly the changes which had been proposed went so much to the substance of the Bill that they appeared to be of a character which ought to be contained in a Bill upon its introduction, rather than introduced in Committee. He must confess that he was not much disposed to support the present Bill. As a general principle, no doubt it was desirable to limit the expenses of candidates as much as possible; but that they should be entirely relieved from all expense was, he was afraid, however desirable it might be thought by some persons, impossible. Even if it were possible however, or desirable, to relieve candidates from all expense, it would be found that the Bill of his hon. Friend applied only to the smallest portion of the expenses which were incurred by a candidate at an election, and that it would go but a very little way towards establishing the principle which he had in view. The expense which his hon. Friend proposed to relieve candidates of was either a small one, or it might be a considerable one. If small, it was obvious that the relief which it would afford was trifling; if large, he asked, was it fair to saddle such an expense upon the counties and boroughs where elections took place? His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Phinn) had suggested, in order to prevent frivolous and vexatious contests, that the candidate might be required to pay his portion of the expenses, unless he polled a certain proportion of the votes recorded. He thought, however, that there might be considerable difficulty in carrying that suggestion into practice. They must fix, for example, upon some proportion of votes. It might happen, if they made it large, that a bonâ fide candidate might by some accident fall short of the proportion esta- blished. If, on the other hand, the proportion were small, it might not prevent frivolous and vexatious contests. For the reasons, then, which had been stated, he thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose would do best to accede to what appeared to be the feelings of the majority of the House, and withdraw his Bill. If his hon. Friend should find, upon reconsidering the matter, that he could propose a Bill free from the objections which had been stated, and which he thought were fatal to the accomplishment of the very principles proposed, he was quite sure that the House would give it their most attentive and favourable consideration. If his hon. Friend persisted, therefore, in pressing his Bill, he should feel obliged to vote against its second reading.


said, he entirely agreed in the advice which had been given by his hon. Friend (Sir B. Hall) not to press this Motion; but he could not concur in advising him to bring in a second Bill embodying the suggestions which had been made. He objected in toto to the principle of the Bill, and could not agree with the preamble, that it was expedient that all Members of Parliament should be relieved from the expenses consequent upon their election. It was, he thought, an ungracious thing for them, sitting there, to pass a Bill transferring a charge from themselves to their constituents. The expenses of hustings formed a very inconsiderable part of the expenses of a contested election, and the Bill, therefore, only went a very short way in assertion of its principle. But beyond that, was there really any practical evil to be remedied which demanded this measure? He thought that there was not, and he was therefore not prepared to accede to the principle of the Bill. He certainly could not agree to the suggestion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath for obviating the effect of this Bill in encouraging contested elections, if it passed in its present shape. He thought if a man could find a proposer and seconder among a constituency, that he had a right, if he liked, to demand a poll, and they were not justified in saying that he should be fined if he did not find a certain proportion of supporters. The Bill would also have the effect of preventing candidates from withdrawing, and was altogether so objectionable, both in its principle and details, that he must oppose its second reading, and protest at the same time against the introduction of another Bill founded upon similar principles.


said, he objected to the Bill, because it called upon persons who were ratepayers, but might have no votes, to contribute a share towards the expense of elections in which they took no part.


said, he should support the Bill, for in the county which he represented the hustings' expenses formed no inconsiderable part of the whole cost of an election; but, beyond this, these hustings' charges were very frequently made the instrument of corruption. His belief was, that all the Bribery Bills would be perfectly useless unless a Bill were brought in to exempt candidates from paying the expenses of hustings, of treating, and of out-voters. As for the objection about compelling persons who had no votes to pay their share, he thought that it was perfectly frivolous, because he looked upon a Member of Parliament as the representative, not of the electors only, but of the non-electors also of the district which he represented.


said, he could not admit that the hustings' expenses could have any corrupt influence upon the election. They were always ordered by the returning officer, who was usually the sub-sheriff of the county, and he knew that that official carefully abstained from taking part in the elections. The hustings' expenses were very trifling, and he believed that the Bill would only have the effect of increasing the number of contested elections. For this reason he should vote against it.


said, he approved of the principle of the Bill, but thought it essential that some means should be taken to provide against fictitious candidates.


said, lie would beg to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


in reply, said he had no personal interest in the question; but the indisposition which had been manifested to accept his Bill only proved to him the truth of what he had so often said, namely, that that House had never shown itself really anxious to put a stop to corrupt practices in the election of its own Members.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 154: Majority 97.

Words added; Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.