HC Deb 13 May 1857 vol 145 cc238-40

LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR moved for leave to bring in a Bill to release Candidates at Elections to Parliament from the expense of the booths and hustings, and to make payment for the conveyance of voters to the poll illegal. The noble Lord said the Bill was in the spirit of the legislation which had been adopted for the last thirty years, and the particular provisions of it had been recommended to the attention of the House by its own Committees, and might be said to be based on the Reform Act itself. The preamble of that Act recited that its object was for "taking effectual measures to cure divers abuses which have long prevailed in the election of Members and to diminish the expenses." The Committee of the House which sat on this subject in 1834 recommended that every election should be based on the broad principle that the Member returned to Parliament should be placed in the House free of expense, and that the expense of booths and polling places should be defrayed out of the county and borough funds, instead of being charged upon the candidates. Having brought these authoritative statements before the House, he thought that he had made a primâ facie case of the propriety of this Bill. As to the other question comprised in the Bill—namely, the conveyance of voters to the poll, it was a subject that was much discussed on the Corrupt Practices Bill of 1834, when great doubt was expressed whether it was a legal payment on the part of the candidates. It certainly was not one forbidden by any express statute, but it could not be justified under any constitutional theory whatever. If it were the case that the House believed that certain poor voters were unable to walk a short distance once in three or four years, it was a very low opinion indeed of them which the House entertained; but if they must be carried, let them be carried at the public expense, for there was no reason why candidates should be called on to bear such an expense. They had already passed Acts limiting the time for the county and the borough elections making treating illegal with such advantage that the last general election passed off without disturbance, and he thought the Bill which he proposed introducing was another step in the right direction. He did not anticipate any objection to the introduction of the Bill; but if it were thought better that the whole matter should be reserved for the consideration of the House when the Bill promised on behalf of the Government by the noble Lord at its head, and if he could learn that it was the intention of the Government to introduce clauses bearing on these points, he would not carry the Bill beyond a second reading. But it was a subject demanding attention. In 1834 with very defective returns, the Committee had discovered legal expenses charged at the general election of 1832, to the amount of £64,000, and he was sure it was not too much to say that £100,000 had been expended at the late elections.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to release Candidates at Elections of Members to serve in Parliament from the Expenses of Booths and taking the Poll, and to make the payment by Candidates of the Conveyance of Voters to the Poll illegal.


said, he did not object to the principle of the Bill, but if the object of it was to make the counties and boroughs pay the expenses mentioned, he did not think it would be productive of very much economy. If it became law, he did not think that any election in the country would be afterwards uncontested, and it must be remembered that the expenses of the hustings were the most immaterial part of the cost. He questioned whether true econony would be furthered by passing this Bill.


said, he did not rise to oppose the introduction of this Bill; but, if the noble Lord meant to apply it to the counties, the object of it really was to disfranchise the poor people. It would give additional predominance to the towns, and swamp the counties in the towns. But if there was a party of gentlemen connected with the metropolis who had so great a desire to moderate election expenses, what a pity it was that they did not consider that before the elections. No, these Marylebone tradesmen would not come up to vote for their beloved Lord Ebrington without £7,000 for cab expenses. The Bill, however, would not do much harm, if applied only to residents within the counties, and did not apply to persons coming from one county into another. As the noble Lord said, he did not object to throwing the Bill into the general hodge-podge of next year, its introduction or rejection now was not a matter of much importance.

Question put, "That leave," &c.

The House divided:—Ayes 151; Noes 58: Majority 93.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord R. GROSVENOR, Mr. BUTLER, and Mr. DILLWYN.

Bill presented, and read 1°.