HC Deb 04 June 1857 vol 145 cc1104-22

said, that in the outset he wished to correct a misapprehension which had got abroad, and to disclaim any intention of seeking to deal with the subject of the ballot, which he said would not be affected in one way or the other by the success of his Motion. He might also state, seeing that a hon. Gentleman opposite had given notice of his intention to move the previous question, that in asking the House to assent to his proposal, he was not calling upon it to legislate, but simply to inquire, and that therefore the argument that all questions relating to the elective franchise should be postponed until the whole subject came under consideration next year, was one which could not justly be urged in opposition to the course which he was about to ask the House to take. The fact that they were going to legislate on that great question next year, was a fair reason for inquiry now. He believed the adoption of the system of voting papers would remedy many of the defects in the present condition of the electoral franchise of which reformers complained. Those who were the advocates of Reform were opposed to the present state of things, because they did not think the franchise was sufficiently extended; but, while holding these sentiments, they did not seem to be quite alive to the circumstance that, in the case even of those who possessed the franchise, the privilege which it conferred was exercised by a comparatively small number out of the whole body of electors. To show, however, that such was the fact, he might state that, at the general election which took place in 1847, there had been contests in thirteen counties or divisions of counties, in which the number of registered electors had amounted to 90,400; the number who had not voted being 24,136, or about twenty-seven in every 100 persons. There were no returns on which reliance could be placed in connection with the general election of 1852; but it appeared from a high liberal authority—the Edinburgh Review—that fifty-five out of every 100 electors in large constituencies had, in that year, abstained from voting. The reason why the franchise had been exercised in so small a number of cases in the counties was to be accounted for by the distance which the voters had to go, by the expense which travelling entailed, and by the circumstance that many persons were so much engaged as not to be able to spare time to attend at the elections. In support of the last mentioned reason, he might observe that in Middlesex, a bustling and industrious county, and one where the polling-places were more numerous than in the other counties, there were forty-three out of every 100 electors who had not voted; and that while the total number of electors had amounted to 13,781, 5,950 had abstained from exercising the franchise. The present system, then, was evidently extremely imperfect in its operation; but, in his opinion, the Bill of the noble Lord opposite (Lord R. Grosvenor), which had for its object the rendering the payment of travelling expenses penal, would, if passed into a law, afford a still stronger reason than any which he (Lord R. Cecil) had advanced for the adoption of some such measure as he proposed. The question was one which must be settled in some way or the other. It had never yet been satisfactorily settled. The courts of law had given conflicting decisions on the subject, and it was matter of doubt in what light Committees of the House of Commons would regard the payment of the expenses of voters. The question, however, must be solved in one way or another, and the Bill proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex was so open to objection, and would disfranchise so large a number of voters, that he did not believe it would be adopted by Parliament. There was no other way of dealing with the question satisfactorily except by taking away the necessity of going to the poll at all, which could only be done by means of voting papers. An additional recommendation in favour of the plan he proposed was, in the diminution of the present expense of county, as compared with borough elections. These expenses frequently amounted to £4,000, £5,000, or £6,000. They might not always appear in the auditor's accounts, or in any public document, but they formed a heavy penalty, which prevented many men from going to Parliament; and many valuable and deserving Members were compelled to retire from the representation of counties because they were not able to meet the heavy expenses of a contested election. Another blemish was one which the House had made many futile attempts to remove. He referred to that which was the subject of frequent complaint—and, indeed, almost the only ground now remaining on which the petitions against the return of Members relied, namely, "treating." Bribery, although not abolished, was much diminished. The great offence was treating, and the system of voting papers would absolutely put an end to this abuse. "Treating" usually took place when voters were brought up to the poll; and when persons had put off their affairs, and had come a distance to vote, they very naturally expected some refreshment, and candidates and their friends had some difficulty in refusing their requests: but, if it were unnecessary for the voter to leave his home, the occasion for the offence would be taken away. Voting papers would also put an end to the inconvenience of collecting together large assemblies of persons in times of great political excitement, and would relieve us from the scandal of those occasional outbreaks of riotous and disorderly conduct which were a disgrace to our political system. Foreigners remarked with astonishment the disgraceful saturnalia that characterized an English election, and the system of voting papers would put a stop to the scenes of personal violence which sometimes occurred. Of course, as long as electors continued to be corrupt it would be impossible wholly to stop the selling and buying of votes; but one of the most common forms of bribery would be put an end to by voting papers. It was a species of bribery more common perhaps in towns than in counties, and depended upon the state of the poll, as it went on, being furnished to the respective candidates. When the numbers ran close at a critical period of the day, candidates or their friends were sometimes tempted to bribe in the heat of the moment, and the result was an election petition. This temptation would entirely be put a stop to by a system of voting papers, as under his plan the state of the poll would not be known till the election was over. These being the advantages of the plan he proposed, it seemed hard to find any objections to its adoption. But it was said that the plan had been tried and failed in the elections of guardians for poor law districts. It was alleged that the system had been productive of fraud and forgery in poor law elections, and that it was, therefore, unfit for Parliamentary contests. Now, he denied that as a general rule the system had failed in poor law elections, and he relied upon the authoritative Report which the Poor Law Commissioners had given of the working of the system. In the first Report of the Commissioners, which was signed, among others, by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, they stated the reasons which led to the adoption of the system in poor law voting— In the largest parishes, with the most numerous constituents, and with the greatest facilities hitherto offered to the ratepayers to exercise a general control over the management, we usually find that the greatest number of voters by whom any election is determined constitute only a minority, and usually a small minority, of the whole body of ratepayers; and in the rural parishes, where the population is widely scattered, we frequently found the management in the hands of a very small knot of individuals, whose residences enabled them to attend without inconvenience the place for the transaction of parochial business. The larger ratepayers and the persons most deeply interested—those engaged in trade or otherwise occupied—could not abandon their occupations to attend to their interests in parochial management without greater prejudice to their more immediate interests in the pursuit of their ordinary occupations. They added— As the progress of the votes is unknown, so are the motives to use undue means to affect the result diminished, and the voter is proportionately shielded from the use of those means. Again— At St. Martin's-in-the-fields there used to be only, at the utmost, 750 voters out of 1,500 ratepayers. At the first voting paper election out of 1,649, 1,522 voted, or not quite seven-eighths. Such an improvement was what they fairly might expect if the system were extended to Parliamentary elections. But did the experience of subsequent years falsify the expectations of the Commissioners? The only other allusion to the system which he had been able to find in the Reports of the Poor Law Commissioners was in their Report for 1839, where they said— By the voting paper on which the elector is to record his vote in his own handwriting being left one or two clear days at his residence he is enabled to give his vote in the most free and deliberate manner, undisturbed by the importunities of canvassers, or the tumult and clamour of the polling-booth ….. Hitherto this mode of election has given general satisfaction. Moreover, it has continued to be marked by greater numbers of votes being given than have been obtained for like objects under any other form of election. In the greater number of instances of contested elections the number of votes polled have been more than trebled. There was a later testimony in favour of the system in a paper laid upon the table two years ago by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, from which it would appear that the plan had worked well, and that in the few cases in which it had failed the failure could be traced to the wretched machinery employed, and the under-payment of collectors. Where, however, the police or other parties, over whom some check existed, were appointed to collect the papers, the results were most satisfactory. He should be told that the system had failed in Leeds. In 1852 there was a contested election there, and great frauds were practised; but on referring to the papers laid before Parliament at the time, it would be found that all the frauds turned upon the misconduct of the clerk who had the collection of the papers. The voting papers were returned to the clerk of the Board of Guardians, over whom no great check existed, and he selected a number of drunken and disreputable men for collectors by whom numbers of votes were tampered with in their passage. He did not think that the misconduct of a single official ought to be received as conclusive evidence against the working of the system. It might be an argument against legislation, but neither this incident nor any hypothetical suggestion of fraud could be an argument against inquiry. It would be for a Committee to consider whether any such liabilities to fraud might not he remedied by the machinery employed. It was said that if voting papers for Members of Parliament were adopted, there would be great difficulty in preventing voters from being hustled in their own houses, and that the independence of the voter would be interfered with. That might be an objection which could be very fairly brought before the Committee, but which was not an objection against examination and inquiry. Two years ago a Bill was brought in by his hon. and learned Friend (Sir F. Kelly) which proposed to introduce a system of voting papers, by which voters would sign their voting papers in the presence of a justice of the peace or other person of official respectability, who should forward them to the returning officer. Such a system as that would be an antidote to the danger of any exercise of undue influence over the voter. But he was not concerned to bring forward any system in detail. All he asked for was inquiry, an inquiry into a subject never before investigated by that House. Many persons whose opinions were worthy of attention believed that this plan might be fitly applied to Parliamentary elections, and he, therefore, trusted that his present Motion would be acceded to. In conclusion, he would only add, that whatever might be said of the adoption of voting papers in boroughs or counties, there could be no objection to their application to Universities. The case of the University elector was generally a hard one. The barrister or poor clergyman who lived at a remote distance from the place where his vote had to be given—resident perhaps in Cornwall or Northumberland—was forced to travel several hundred miles there and back at great expense to himself, in order to do what might be done as well by letter without any such inconvenience. The noble Lord concluded by moving for a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of collecting the votes at elections in counties and universities by way of voting papers.


seconded the Motion. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of collecting the Votes at Elections in Counties and Universities by way of Voting Papers.


said, he rose to move the previous question. A considerable feeling existed that at this period of the Session, and in the present state of public business, it would neither he expedient nor reasonable to add to the number of Committees. He agreed that the subject was important, and that this was a question which went to the very root of our representative system, he should, therefore, be very sorry to see any inquiry by a Committee of the House of Commons on such a subject at a time when it could not be other than superficial, and, from the distraction of other business, comparatively valueless. It would be open to the noble Lord next Session to move for an inquiry into the system as it operated under the poor law; but he thought it would be extremely unadvisable that the House should by agreeing to such a Motion, under existing circumstances, inferentially commit itself to the extension of a system to Parliamentary elections, which, he maintained, had failed in the case of elections held under the poor law. The essential difference between the old system of personal voting, which he would call the manly system, and the new system, which he would call the feminine system—for it was intended that women should vote—was this, that the former, in giving the Parliamentary franchise, carries out the principle of the constitution in theory and practice, for no voter could be precluded from the exercise of his rights by any one, high or low. But as regarded the new system, it should be borne in mind that the testimony of the Poor Law Commissioners, to which the noble Lord had referred, was given at a time when the working of the system was as yet untried, and that it was rather to the expected fruits than to the actual results realized that the Reports pointed. The Report of 1835 was published when the voting paper system had been only a few months in operation; and although it bore the attesting signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir G. C. Lewis), subsequent experience of the more matured working of the system had proved it to be, in many important particulars, fallacious. But were they without evidence to show that the system of voting by papers had failed? Certainly not. He would show that there were five different contingencies in which, by the acts of other persons, and without any complicity, privity, or consciousness, on the part of the voter, he might be ousted of his right. First, it was possible that the voting paper might not be left at the house of the voter at all. This had happened during the poor law elections. In the Union of Swansea a complaint was made in 1855 of irregularities in the election of guardians, which the poor-law authorities, though reluctant to entertain such questions, ordered to be inquired into. The Inspector was sent down, and after full inquiry reported that there had been gross irregularities and informalities, and that there had been seventy-five persons in one locality who had never been served with voting papers at all—an omission which was found to be due to the influence of a motive proceeding from the circumstance that the locality where they resided was said to be inhabited by the "enemy." The election was declared "void." The same year a similar complaint was made respecting Banbury, and, for similar reasons, there also the election was declared void. Now, when he asked what security there was against such omissions in Parliamentary elections, the answer given him was that the voter could always personally go and tender his vote; in other words, the old system was prayed in aid to help out the new. The next step in the process was that the papers, if delivered, might afterwards be tampered with. In 1855, in the parish of Lambeth there was a complaint made before the magistrates that an agent of one of the candidates had violated the statute introduced by the late President of the Poor-law Board; and the person charged with this offence was sentenced to twenty-eight days' imprisonment. He also remembered the case of two respectable gentlemen, who were the candidates for the office of poor-law guardians for Lambeth, going to the house of a voter, in his absence, and, upon the authority of some member of his family, filling up the voting paper with their own names, and erasing the names which the voter had inserted. For this offence they were sentenced to fourteen days' imprisonment; and it was not unworthy of notice, that great excitement was described as having been manifested in the court when the sentence was pronounced, and the utmost astonishment having been displayed by the two gentlemen at being found guilty of a criminal offence. A deputation, headed by three Members of Parliament, waited upon the Home Secretary to remonstrate against the sentence. He would now refer to another case which occurred in the Union of West Bromwich, beside which the case at Lambeth paled. Upon an indictment for tampering with the voting papers, five agents were found guilty, and were sentenced to three months' imprisonment; and, upon, an examination of the voting papers, it was found that 342 papers had undergone that scandalous process. A gentleman who had had great experience, and possessed full means of forming an accurate judgment of the working of the Poor Law system, and who was present during the investigation, had addressed to him (Mr. M'Cullagh) a letter on the subject, in which he expressed his opinion, that "wherever there was a sufficiently strong motive, it would be wholly impossible to prevent or effectually check similar practices." But supposing the papers escaped the dangers to which he had referred, he would ask what security was offered against fraud or negligence on the part of the collector? At Bridport, in 1854, forty-nine cases were established in which the collector had either failed to collect the papers or to preserve them, and the authorities declared the election void. At Bridgend, a rural district in Glamorganshire, a similar state of things had occurred, and the inspector found that the candidates themselves had obtained the voting papers, and distributed them so irregularly, that it became necessary to declare the election void. It was clear, too, that the voter might be deprived of the franchise by the irregularity or neglect of others, over whose acts he had no control. In the case of the Westbourn Union, proceedings were taken to set aside an election on the ground that the voting papers were served upon the wrong men; and in 1855 a similar error was committed in the Newent Union, where the owners of property instead of the occupiers were served; and in both of these instances the election was declared void. The greatest objection, however, to the proposal of the noble Lord was the facilities which it would afford for direct and palpable forgery. That objection the noble Lord had endeavoured to anticipate by saying that the publicity which would be given to any such cases would be a sufficient guarantee against their occurrence. But experience proved the contrary. The noble Lord had referred to the Leeds case of 1852. In a single ward it was found upon inquiry that 111 cases were tainted with forgery, and many of those cases were substantiated by affidavit. One would have thought that the publicity of one exposure would be sufficient to deter offenders. But what was the fact? In this very year the same thing occurred at Leeds, and sixty cases of forgery were detected. He would also call attention to the element of delay, which was a very important matter. The election took place at Leeds in April, 1852, and it was not until February, 1853, after two inquiries, that the election was declared void. If this principle of voting was applied to counties, he did not see why it should not be extended to boroughs also. Indeed a noble Lord in another place, in 1853, had brought in a Bill to have voting papers used in boroughs but not in counties, and he believed that it was the wish and intention of the supporters of this principle to extend it to all cases of Parliamentary voting. It was said that there existed a number of easy-going, rather supercilious people who would not, under the present system, take the trouble of going to the poll. Now, he could see no reason why these individuals should not enjoy the advantage of voting; but he thought the House was bound to consider the majority of electors and the purity of elections generally in preference to a minority composed of these egotistic persons. It was said that this was half-way to vote by ballot; on the contrary, in his opinion, it was at right angles to it. He thought that the present was a very inopportune time for asking for a Committee of inquiry, because it was impossible, from the lateness of the Session, that any good could result from it; and, on the whole, considering the unlikelihood of any sufficient or fair examination of the subject, the failure of the system connected with the poor law, and its utter inapplicability to Parliamentary contests, he felt bound to move the previous Question.

Whereupon, Previous Question proposed. "That that Question be now put."


seconded the Amendment.


said, that he had not intended to trouble the House, nor should he now had he not been alluded to by every preceding speaker. It was quite true that various abuses and frauds had taken place at the elections for poor law guardians under the present system of voting papers, but it appeared to him that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. M'Cullagh), while describing these frauds, had made out a clear case for inquiry into them. It would be easy to establish before a Committee of this House that most of these frauds arose from the cheapness and consequent inefficiency of the machinery employed under the poor law for the collection of votes. The police, who used most satisfactorily to collect the metropolitan voting papers, were now forbidden to do so. At present the returning officers were paid a very small sum for conducting the elections, and could not generally afford to pay the men they employed to collect the papers more than 2s. or 2s. 6d. for the day's work, but no rational man doubted that extra expense would give extra security against fraud. All this, however, was a question for a Committee, and he could not conceive a time for the deliberation of this Committee more appropriate than the present Session, so that the House and the country might be enabled to make up their minds as to the expediency of adopting some such plan as this in the Reform Bill which we were promised next year. This was not the only system of election under which abuses and frauds had taken place. The question was, under which system you would get the truest representation of the feeling of the electors. If by what might be termed a prohibitory duty of time and trouble you practically disfranchised from one quarter to one-half of a large constituency, it was worthy of consideration whether the putting an end to such a state of things was not cheaply purchased by some little extra liability to fraud. Since his return to the metropolis no less than three gentlemen connected with his borough, who all took an active part in parochial elections, had stated to him that the system of voting by voting papers was daily gaining in popularity here, from the experience gained by the working of the opposite plan under the Metropolitan Act; and for his own part, he hoped that the Motion of the noble Lord opposite, made at so seasonable a time, would be triumphantly carried.


not entirely agreeing with any of the speeches he had heard, wished very shortly to express his opinion on the subject before the House. In the first place, he thought his noble Friend (Lord R. Cecil) had mixed up two questions which, in their nature, were wholly distinct—the voting at university and at county elections. Now, the case of an academical constituency differed from any other. In every other constituency the mass of voters were resident, while in the universities the mass of the voters were not resident. In the universities, again, you had to deal with a class of electors who, by the accident of their social position were not exposed to intimidation, and were free from all temptation to accept bribes. These circumstances, taken together, did, as it seemed to him, create an exception in the case of the universities, and if his noble Friend's proposal had been merely to apply the voting paper system to university elections he did not know that he could honestly have opposed it. When, however, his noble Friend extended his plan so far as to embrace the counties, he (Lord Stanley) was compelled to think that that plan either went too far or not far enough. He could easily understand why his noble Friend should distinguish the case of university from other elections, but he did not understand why a distinction was to be drawn between the case of counties and of boroughs. Granting that the area of counties was far more extensive and the population more scattered, this was an evil which might be remedied by an increase in the number of polling places; and if the principle were once laid down that every person to whom it was not convenient to attend personally at the place of voting should be enabled to vote wherever he might be then residing, he did not see on what principle of justice or expediency you could exclude that large number of non-resident voters who were always to be found among the inhabitants of seaport and mercantile towns. It was well known that at borough elections large sums were often spent in bringing up voters from a distance. But what were the abuses mainly existing in the case of elections? They were, as he conceived, the risk of rioting, of intimidation, of bribery, and of personation. As regarded rioting, he admitted that, to a certain extent, his noble Friend had some plea for his measure. He granted that a system of voting by papers would tend to diminish the number of persons gathered together in one place, and would consequently lessen the danger of disturbance. That danger, however, might be equally diminished by increasing the number of polling places; and after all, wherever there were nominations, wherever there were hustings, wherever candidates came to address their constituencies, there masses of men would be gathered together, often in a state of excitement, so that though this kind of legislation might diminish the temptation to riot, it would not altogether remove it. When he passed from this part of the question to the danger of intimidation, he confessed it appeared to him that this abuse would be infinitely aggravated by a Bill which should carry out the proposition of his noble Friend. What could be easier, under any system that could be devised of voting by papers, than for an employer of labour, or creditor, or person possessing, by whatever means, power over another, to go to that other person, being a voter, or to send an agent to him, and, in the interest of some candidate, to insist on the voter signing his voting-paper in his, or in his agent's presence? Supposing it to be admitted, then, that intimidation must exist under every system of open voting, it seemed to him that the proposition of his noble Friend was calculated not to diminish, but to increase that practice. And when he came to look at the effect of the proposition upon bribery, he thought that that evil would be increased in a still greater degree. At present, whenever bribery took place, one party or the other ran some risk of being deceived. If the bribe were given before the vote was given, there was a risk that the voter who had received it might not fulfil his part of the contract, while, if the bribe were promised to be given after the vote, the voter was exposed to the risk of losing that by the promise of which he had been corrupted. But the proposition of his noble Friend made the thing quite safe—the voter would receive his voting paper, sign it, receive his five-pound note, and then hand over the signed voting paper, so that the agent for the candidate would obtain, on the spot, not merely a promise—not merely security for the vote, but the vote itself. Next as to personation:—At present it was a difficult and a dangerous thing for a non-elector to personate an elector, or for one elector to personate another; he could not do it except by appearing in person at the poll, and he put himself thereby in peril of the law. It was evidently much easier to sign a paper and then put it into the post, or deliver it to the person waiting to take charge of it. It might be said that a person signing a paper in the name of a voter would be liable to a charge of forgery; but the forgery would be committed by a person unknown, there would be no clue to the guilty party, and, practically, he believed that it had been found, in elections under the Poor Law, that personation had gone on to a very great extent. But even if it had been shown, as it had not, that in Poor Law elections the system of voting by papers had worked satisfactorily, he should still refuse to admit that that afforded any guarantee that it would work satisfactorily in the case of Parliamentary elections. There was an immense difference between the amount of temptation in the one case and the other; and the difficulties of detail, moreover, would increase, to an almost incalculable extent, in the case of elections carried on on a scale so much larger. With respect to the particular Motion for a Select Committee, he thought that there would be great practical inconvenience in the attempt of carrying out such an inquiry. The Session would not endure probably more than two months longer; a great number of election Committees had to be appointed, and he did not see that it would be possible to give to this subject that full and complete investigation in the course of the present Session which its importance demanded. If his noble Friend would introduce a Motion restricting his proposition to university elections, he would give it his best consideration and might be inclined to support it, but he was persuaded that the plan would not answer in the case of any other constituency.


said, it appeared to him that the admission of his noble Friend who had just sat down, that the system of voting papers might be productive of benefit in elections for the universities ought to be conclusive in favour of the Motion of his noble Friend the Member for Stamford. Let him remind the House that his noble Friend did not propose to introduce a Bill, but that he asked their assent merely to the granting of a Committee, by which an inquiry would be made into a question of the highest and most general importance in relation to the election of Members of Parliament. He thought that they had only to call to mind the great evils which would be completely remedied if means could be devised for taking votes by voting papers in county elections, to induce the House to agree to the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry. In the first place, there was the vexata quœstio of the legality of allowing travelling expenses to voters; and if the investigations of the Committee should be attended with no other benefit than the setting of that one question at rest, it ought to be sufficient to induce the House to agree to the Motion. Let them see how that question was left now. It had been held by Lord Wensleydale, although no condition had been imposed upon the voter, on paying, or promising to pay, his travelling expenses, as to the particular candidate for whom he should vote, that such payment, or promise to pay, was illegal, and that if made by the candidate his election would be void. On an appeal to a Court of Error, the majority of the Judges arrived at an opposite conclusion. The decision of the Court of Exchequer Chamber was now about to be carried, by a writ of error, to the House of Lords, and until the decision of that tribunal should be pronounced, the state of the law on this important subject would remain so uncertain that no counsel could advise, and no Committee of the House could decide with confidence upon such a question if raised before them. That question would be at once and for ever set at rest if the votes were taken by means of voting papers. Beyond this, it must be remembered that the great bulk of the expense at county elections, amounting sometimes, when there was a contest, to many thousand pounds, would be altogether saved, if the votes were taken in the way proposed. Again, great and crying evils arose at all elections from the system of "treating," which the law hitherto had been quite inadequate to suppress; but if the votes were taken by papers, as proposed, it would be quite impossible, except by such a glaring and open violation of the law as few would resort to, that the system of treating could continue to be practised at elections in this country. Under these circumstances, he thought that it would be most unwise to refuse to take evidence before a Committee upon the details of this question, merely because it had been suggested that in some elections, by means of voting papers under the poor law, frauds and forgeries had been committed. That was in reality no valid objection to the Motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman who moved the previous question had referred to the Leeds and West Brom-wich cases, but he (Sir F. Kelly) collected from his statement that wherever inquiries had been instituted into these forgeries there had been no difficulty in detecting them and in bringing the offenders to justice, so that it would be extremely easy to obviate the objections which had been urged, by an improved system of machinery, as applied to Parliamentary elections. Under the poor law, the important duty of leaving the voting papers at the houses of the electors and of collecting them after they were sighed, had been entrusted to a class of persons who, from their station and from the mere accidental character of their employment, were unworthy of the confidence reposed in them, and were not competent to discharge the duties which they undertook. Nothing would be easier, however, than to provide the returning officer with adequate assistance—which might be furnished by the State at the ultimate expense, perhaps, of the candidates—for sending by post, accompanied by all necessary safeguards, the voting papers to the addresses of the electors; and then a mode might be devised by which the elector should fill up his voting paper in presence of a justice of the peace, or a commissioner for taking affidavits, or of some other trustworthy and honourable person. He would not enter further into the details of the matter, which would more properly be considered by the Committee; but, looking at the saving of money which the adoption of such a system would effect, and at the evils which it would cure, he was sure that the subject would be thought one worthy of inquiry. Indeed, the matter had been inquired into by a Committee, but that Committee was appointed at so late a period of the Session, that the inquiry was laid aside; but as the subject was now brought forward again, he trusted that the Government would advise the House to grant the Motion for a Committee to inquire into and take evidence upon it.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman supported the Motion because the noble Lord who proposed it did not ask for leave to bring in a Bill, but simply wished to have a Committee to institute an inquiry. Now, that was the reason which weighed with him (Sir G. Grey) most strongly, in inducing him to oppose the Motion. The question involved in it was one of no small magnitude, because, if the plan suggested was adopted, it would alter the law of elections with regard to counties and universities to a very great extent, not only in the mode of taking votes, but in the duration of elections. If, as was proposed, the votes of absent and non-resident voters were to be taken, time must be allowed for the purpose. A considerable period, for instance, would elapse before a voting paper could be sent to and received from a non-resident elector staying in the Orkneys or Shetland islands, or some other part of the United Kingdom far distant from the place where the election was to take place. But that was only one inconvenience which would arise from the adoption of the proposition. There were evils of far greater magnitude which had been mentioned by his hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. M'Cullagh), and the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley). It would very much increase the facilities for fraud, and greatly diminish the security which was now given to bonâ fide voters. But without himself expressing any final opinion upon the question now, he thought it right to observe that it was one which the House ought to determine for itself, and which it ought not to devolve upon a Committee. Supposing a Committee reported, by a majority of one, or even by a large majority, that it was expedient that this change ought to take place, what effect would that have upon the House? The objections urged that evening against the change, would be urged again in the House; the question would be debated over again in the House, and not one Member would feel himself bound by the opinion expressed by the Committee, no—not even if it were unanimous. The House could not refer the question to the Committee without abdicating its proper functions. If it adopted the principle contended for by the noble Lord, and entertained doubts as to the best machinery for carrying it into operation, then there might be a fit subject for the inquiry of a Committee; but he understood that this Committee was to consider the whole question and determine whether it was expedient that the change should be made or not. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Kelly) seemed to go further than the noble Lord. The noble Lord in making the Motion advocated his plan chiefly in respect to non-resident voters; but the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to contemplate the use of voting papers in all cases in which votes were now given openly, and thus to abolish all those guards which the law had provided against improper voting. Now, he must say the gravest objections existed to a proposal of that kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, it would abolish all bribery and treating. Unless you abolished nominations, and assembling of voters for the purpose of expressing their opinions by a show of hands, he (Sir G. Grey) could not see how votes given by means of voting papers was a security against treating; and he thought it was very likely that, after the nomination, there would be the same temptations held out as at present to electors to come to public-houses, where, of course, attempts would be made to induce them to insert the names of particular candidates upon their voting papers. Although, however, he differed from the hon. and learned Gentleman, he was prepared to say that, if the noble Lord would, with the assistance of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who seemed to have all the requisite machinery ready in his mind, draw up a Bill showing how the evils which had been pointed out might be obviated in some safe and unobjectionable manner, he would assent to its being laid on the table of the House, for further consideration, but he was not prepared to vote for a Motion for referring to a Select Committee a question as to the expediency of making an important change in election law, and thus commit the House to the principle of this proposition.


trusted that no hon. Member would imagine that this proposition of the noble Lord was a measure of Reform, or even an instalment towards Reform. It was just such a measure as that passed by the late Parliament under the title of the "Corrupt Practices Prevention Bill." That Act had proved a perfect ignis fatuus, and this was a proposal of a similar sort. He must, however, congratulate hon. Gentlemen opposite on the new sort of feeling which had risen among them. At the present moment there was some approach to the footpath of Reform to be seen on their side of the House. They seemed to him like timorous bathers standing at the outside of a machine, just wetting a foot but afraid to plunge in, Hon. Gentlemen would have to make the plunge, but this Bill was a mere puddle, and not the wholesome sea into which he would have them jump. He trusted that, as the feeling of the House seemed to be so much against this proposal, the noble Lord would withdraw his Motion.


could not agree with his noble Friend that the evils of which he complained could only be remedied by the plan which he had proposed. On the contrary, there were many other remedies suggested, and he himself had in his pocket a very ingenious plan which, if this subject were referred to a Select Committee, he should like to see fully considered. Having heard that the Government would not support the appointment of this Committee, and considering the state of public business, he hoped that his noble Friend would not press his Motion to a division.


said, that as he understood no one would, on principle, object to taking votes by papers if the details could be so arranged that no mischief would arise from such a plan; therefore it was obvious that all which the Committee for which he asked would have to consider would be a question of detail. But knowing how undesirable it was that any Member on that side of the House should press a measure in the teeth of Her Majesty's Government, he should take the course which had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. He would, with the permission of the House, withdraw this Motion. He believed it would be more satisfactory to proceed by a Bill which he hoped at some future period, with the assistance of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Suffolk, to submit for the approval of the House.

Previous Question, and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.