HC Deb 15 July 1858 vol 151 cc1484-98

Order for Committee read.


said, he was desirous of calling attention to the mode in which the Government proposed to deal with this subject. He thought they ought to have contented themselves, especially at that period of the Session, with simply proposing a continuance Bill. Instead of this, however, they now sought to introduce a novel, and probably very mischievous principle into the measure. He alluded to the clause legalizing the payment of a voter's travelling expenses in going to the poll—a provision which could not now undergo adequate discussion, and which, moverover, was contrary to a recent decision of the House of Lords. This clause took a low view of the franchise, instead of regarding it as an important public trust which the voter was bound to fulfil independently. It also implied that the electors were apathetic and indifferent to the exercise of their privilege, and treated it as a means of paying a mere compliment to a candidate. Besides, the Government were soon to direct their attention to the general question of Parliamentary Reform, and therefore this point ought not now to be dealt with prematurely and by anticipation. Under all the circumstances, he would recommend them to rest satisfied with passing a simple continuance Bill for the present year.


said, the right hon. Gentleman was correct in one respect—that this was not simply a continuance Bill. There were three Amendments made in the Bill, arising from the state of the law, which, from its ambiguity, required legislation on the subject. If he, however, thought that he was introducing any principle into the Bill which was new to the House, he would be most reluctant to press it at that period of the Session. He should have no personal objection to make the Bill a mere continuance Bill; but he did not think he would be acting fairly to the House if he did not submit to the House the state in which he was of opinion the law ought to be put. There was a great deal of pressure put upon the Government to make alterations in the Act in respect to election auditors, and a good deal of difference existed on the point whether those officers should be mere ministerial officers, or whether they should exercise a certain amount of judicial authority in determining whether the expenses in particular cases should be allowed or otherwise. That was no doubt a grave question, which he thought ought not to be decided at the end of a Session. He had not, therefore, included any Amendment upon that question in the present Bill. Now, with reference to the three Amendments to which he referred, he would take the last first. The last had for its object to define what was a candidate at an election. The words of the Act were vague and ambiguous upon the question. The interpretation clause merely used the expression of a "candidate at an election." The question had never been settled, and he proposed that that ambiguity should be removed by a distinct definition of what was a candidate in this Bill. The next Amendment involved an alteration in the law as to the payments made to the election auditor. There were many complaints made to him that the auditor, under the existing law, received a large sum of money for doing little or nothing. He thought that those objections were reasonable; and he therefore introduced a clause declaring how that officer was to be remunerated. What he suggested was, that the fee of £10 allowed to this officer by the Act should cover any expenses which he might incur at an election, where the bills which he had to examine did not exceed £200, and that his percentage on the amount expended should commence after that limit had been passed, instead of, as at present, at the first pound. To those two Amendments he believed no exception would be taken. But the main question related to travelling expenses, whether they should be simply allowed or disallowed, or whether they should be allowed upon conditions—upon that point the state of the law was anything but satisfactory. In the very last contest which had taken place—namely, in the county of Norfolk—the advice of eminent lawyers was taken whether these expenses were or were not, under any circumstances, legal. The opinions of those authorities differed; and the fact was, that the law on this point now remained as unsettled, after the decision in the case of "Cooper v. Slade" by the House of Lords, as it was before that event. The question upon which that decision turned was, whether, assuming that a certain letter had been written to an elector stating that his expenses would be paid if he came to vote for a particular candidate, there was any evidence before the jury that the defendant had been guilty of bribery within the meaning of the Act. The decision did not say whether the mere offer to pay expenses was bribery; it simply declared, contrary to the judgment of the Court of Exchequer Chamber, that there was in that particular case a conditional promise held out, and that, as the vote was a conditional vote given under that promise, there had consequently been bribery. But whether it would have been bribery, if no such promise or condition had been previously made, was no more decided now than it ever had been. The matter which the House would therefore have to discuss, when it went into Committee, was, whether a voter's travelling expenses ought or ought not to be allowed.


observed, that the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northamptonshire was most irregular, as its consequence was to raise a discussion at this stage of the Bill.


said, he considered it was the duty of the Legislature to settle a question that was altogether left in doubt by the decision of the House of Lords.


believed that the clause as it stood would produce endless litigation. Some fixed scale of mileage ought to be established for a voter's travelling expenses. The returning officer ought to have some better security than he now enjoyed for the recovery from the candidate of the hustings and other expenses attendant upon an election. This was rendered indispensable by recent legislation on the property qualification of Members. Another defect in the present law was, that it was made the election auditor's interest, for the sake of his percentage, that the candidate's expenses should be as heavy as possible. When the House went into Committee, he should be prepared to submit such Amendments as he thought necessary.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was perfectly justified in raising the questions which he had done upon this continuance Bill, with a view to challenge the opinion of the House upon them. For the interest of candidates, as well as of the election officers, the law ought to be put into a more definite shape. With regard to the remuneration hitherto allowed to the auditor, he agreed that the complaints as to the amount paid were well grounded.


said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) had requested him, in his absence, to ask the Government whether they intended this Bill to last for a limited period, and meant next year to introduce a permanent measure on the same subject? In the latter event his hon. Friend would move the insertion of clauses establishing the ballot, as practised in Australia.


said, he thought it would be necessary next year to introduce another Bill on this subject. In regard to the other point noticed by the right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Walpole) need not remind the House that his opinions on the subject had been already distinctly declared.

House in Committee.

Mr. FITZROY in the Chair.

Clause 1 (Power to pay the actual travelling expenses bona fide incurred in bringing any voter to the poll).


said, he had gived notice of a Motion to omit the clause altogether, but he would now propose to accomplish the same object by inserting the word "not" before the word "lawful." He maintained that if they allowed the voter, upon any pretence whatever, to receive hard cash from the candidate, they opened the door to endless abuse. Baron Parke had expressed an opinion that such payment was bribery, and he understood that most of the Judges in "Cooper v. Slade," discountenanced the principle, though on appeal to the House of Lords the matter went off upon the ground that they could not connect the candidate with what had taken place. Lord Mansfield had also expressed an opinion against the principle of the clause now before them. If they legalized the payment of an elector's travelling expenses, they could neither, logically nor morally, refuse him the refreshment necessary to enable him to fulfil the object of his journey. Were they, for example, to pay a man's railway fare from London to Liverpool, and give him nothing to eat or drink on the way? In that case, in what condition could they expect him to reach the polling booth? But, assuming that he was to be allowed some sustenance, what must be the ingredients of his hotel bill? Was he to drink beer or wine? Morever, if they conceded all this, how could they deny the right of a hard-working mechanic, with a large family to support, to some compensation for his loss of time in going to vote? Where, then, were they to stop? And what would become of purity of election? Political purity ought to be as much the point of honour with public men as personal purity was with the other sex, and they ought not by their legislation to permit it to be endangered. Their maxim should be, "Principiis obsta."

Amendment proposed in page 1, line 15, after the word "shall" to insert the word "not."


said, that six weeks ago the decision in "Cooper v. Slade" was brought under the attention of the Home Secretary by the hon. Member for Durham, and he then stated, apparently in concurrence with the view of the House, that he intended to introduce the provision embodied in the clause now before the Committee. This was not, however, the first time that the subject had been brought under their notice. In the year 1854, Lord R. Grosvenor proposed that a clause should be inserted in the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill exposing the candidate paying these expenses to a certain penalty, and that proposition was discussed at considerable length, but on a division it was negatived by a majority of 101. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London then brought forward a different proposition—namely, a clause to remove doubts that existed, and to declare that a candidate might pay the reasonable expenses of an elector coming up to vote, but the Amendment was afterwards withdrawn, because the great lawyers in the House stood up one after another and assured them that by the existing law to pay the actual travelling expenses was not illegal. The case, however, now came before them under a different state of circumstances. There was much doubt and uncertainty created by the ambiguous language of the law, as shown in the decision in the case of Cooper v. Slade, which had been correctly described by the right hon. Secretary of State. Mr. Justice Willes gave it as his opinion that it was bribery within the meaning of the statute to promise to pay the voter's travelling expenses on the condition of his voting for a particular candidate. There was, however, some doubt whether it would have been bribery if there had been no such promise made beforehand. Whether travelling expenses should or should not be allowed was a minor question. The important matter was to have the point clearly settled on one side or the other. At the same time he could not see how purity or independence of elections could be sacrificed by merely reimbursing the voter in some shape or other for the expense of his conveyance to the poll. Whatever might be the case in England, it would be absolutely impossible in many Irish counties for a candidate to conduct his election without providing the means of conveyance for the voters.


said, he wished to submit to the Committee what was his view of what the law as it now stood. It had not been decided that the payment of money for the line of carriages to carry voters to the poll was illegal. If it were illegal, there was no Member of the House who had not been guilty of illegality, except those who had been so fortunate as to have no opposition. There was no doubt that, providing food for a voter was illegal, and therefore the only question now was confined strictly to travelling expenses. On the one hand they were asked to declare the conveyance of voters to the poll illegal, which would lead to such absurdities as this, that a candidate who, going along in his carriage, overtook a voter and asked him to ride with him, would do an illegal act. On the other hand, if candidates, however, were allowed to pay money to voters for conveyance, a number of subsequent questions would arise such as whether an elector who always travelled third class would be allowed to charge first class? It would be utterly impracticable for the candidate or his agent to investigate minutely every claim of this kind which might be made upon him. Thus the clause would open a door to corruption and to the plundering of candidates, and would eventuate in the establishment of a regular system of mileage and head money, wholly disproportionate to the sums which electors were really out of pocket by their journey to the polling place. Under these circumstances he thought that they could neither affirm nor negative the proposition before the Committee. The proper way of meeting the difficulty was by a clause such as he had placed on the paper, which was to the effect that a candidate might provide conveyance for any voter for the purpose of an election, but that it should not be lawful to pay any money or to give any valuable consideration to a voter for or in respect of his travelling expenses for such purpose.


believed the clause in its present shape would not attain its object. The question of the legality of travelling expenses had long been doubtful; and that doubt had not been removed by the decision in "Cooper v. Slade." The Judges had declined to express an opinion whether travelling expenses per se were legal or illegal; but they held that the promise to pay them on the condition that the person receiving the money voted for a given candidate constituted bribery. Even Mr. Justice Coleridge, who thought such expenses legal, regarded this promise as a corrupt inducement, and as contrary to the 17 and 18 Vict. Therefore, though the Legislature were now to declare travelling expenses per se to be legal, no candidate could venture to pay them, because it would be next to impossible to satisfy a Committee of that House that there had not been either a tacit or an express understanding between the voters and the person who had paid them. The candidate would therefore be liable to be unseated, and to all the penalties of the statute. The only effectual mode of getting rid of the consequences of the decision in "Cooper v. Slade" would be by declaring in express terms that neither the offer nor promise of payment of travelling expenses, whether conditional or not on the elector's voting for a particular candidate, nor the payment of such expenses on account of having voted, should be taken to be bribery within the sense of the Act. But if they passed such a clause as that, the time, he thought, would not be far distant when the voters in such large towns as Liverpool or Manchester would put in a claim for loss of time, which could not consistently be repudiated.


said, as the discussion had been raised by an Amendment involving a distinct declaration of the illegality of those expenses, he thought it might be convenient to consider the three points of the question. The first was, whether the travelling expenses should in no case be allowed. The second, whether the travelling expenses merely should be, under all circumstances, allowed; and the third was, whether those expenses might not be allowed or disallowed, under certain conditions or restrictions. As to the first point, he would venture to say that the Committee could not assent to it, and for this reason, that the House would be, for the first time, making an absolute declaration that it was illegal, under any circumstances, to pay the travelling expenses of a voter. It would follow as a natural consequence that it would be a misdemeanour under the Act for any person to take his friend to the polling place in his carriage, or to convey him to the poll in any way. [Cries of "No, no!"] Hon. Members cried "No!" but he apprehended it was quite obvious that if by Act of Parliament they declared that a certain thing should not be done, the doing of it afterwards would be a misdemeanour. In many places in Scotland and Ireland it was necessary that such expenses should be paid. Take the case of an election for Invernesshire or for the Orkneys, where the electors had to cross the sea in order to reach the polling-place. Ought it to be made illegal for them to have their expenses paid, when many of the voters would be utterly unable to exercise their franchise unless some means were provided to convey them to the mainland. He, therefore, could never accede to the recognition of such a principle. He now came to the question whether they should allow these expenses under all circumstances, as his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Kinglake) opposite said would be the effect of passing the clause as it stood. Now, if the clause were to have really that effect, he thought it would be wise to guard against such a general application of it. His right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) whose opinion upon the clauses of an Act of Parliament was, perhaps, more shrewd than that of any other man in that House, had suggested a slight alteration in this provision to prevent colourable payments which might have taken place under its original wording. The words proposed to be substituted at the instance of his right hon. Friend were these:— It shall be lawful for any candidate to pay the actual cost of conveyance bone fide incurred in bringing any voter to or from the poll. The effect of this was, that the mere payment of the cost of conveyance should not be bribery. The whole principle of their legislation had been, that where the payment was colourable, so as to enable the person making it to exercise a corrupt influence over the voter, there was a case of bribery. But the simple payment of expenses actually incurred had not been held to be bribery by any Committee or Court of Law of which he was aware. If they went beyond this limit, and sought to make the law too rigid, they would shock the feelings of the community, and defeat their own object. He should, therefore, propose at the proper time to amend the clause in the way he had stated. He should also, in order to obviate the doubt suggested by his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Serjeant Kinglake) propose a proviso, declaring that the payment of those expenses was not bribery within the meaning of the Act, and another proviso, that all such expenses should be paid through the election auditor.


aaid, he objected to the clause, which he wished to see entirely omitted, instead of being nullified by the insertion of the word "not." It was unconstitutional to require the candidate to bring the voters up to the poll; and if the voters would not take the trouble to exercise their constitutional privilege, they were virtually self-disfranchised, and he felt no sympathy for them. The difficulties suggested might be obviated by increasing the number of polling places, so that no voter should have to go more than two or three miles to give his vote. If a candidate were allowed to pay travelling expenses, he would be entrapped into the payment of illegal expenses; and therefore, if the candidate was to be under the necessity of providing conveyance, the payments ought not to be made to each voter individually, but directly by the candidate himself or his agents.


said, he could confirm what had been stated by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole), as to the difficulty which the voters of Invernessshire and the Orkneys had to encounter in attending their elections. The voters from the Orkneys had to travel twenty, thirty, or even forty miles to reach the mainland. They could not cross those seas in open boats, and it was the practice for the candidates to hire steamers for their conveyance. The case was the same with the electors of the Western Isles and of Invernessshire; and if some such clause as this were not adopted, they would be all practically disfranchised. In dealing with a question of this kind, then, they must have regard to the peculiarities of Scotland and Ireland, as well as to the circumstances of England.


said, what had taken place convinced him that he was right in the suggestion that he had made that such a principle as this should not be introduced in a continuance Bill. They were laying down for the first time this rule, that it was a favour and an act of grace for a constituent to vote for a candidate, and not an honourable privilege. Indeed, he defied them to prevent bribery or check abuse, with such a clause as this. If the clause had remained as it originally stood, including the words "actual travelling expenses," there would have been the difficulty of saying what such expenses were. if a man took a two days' journey, his travelling expenses would include his bed at the inn. The term now proposed was, "actual cost of conveyance;" but would it not be bribery to take a man in a first class carriage whose proper position was in the third class? If voters bad great distances to travel, let the number of polling places he multiplied. A citizen had other duties to perform to the State at his own charge, and why should the exercise of his franchise form an exception to the general rule? He called the attention of his Radical friends to one point. They talked of abolishing the property qualification, but here was a proposal creating a new and more aristocratic qualification than ever. No man who was not possessed of very considerable property could contest a county, for the cost of carriage under this system would form one of the heaviest items in election expenses. If this Bill passed they would, in fact, have a property qualification of £1,000 a year, which would be about the expense to which candidates would be put, considering that each Parliament lasted on an average only three or four years. He could not, however, vote for the Amendment; but what be would suggest was, that the Committee should negative the present clause, and leave the Secretary of State to bring up an amended one, in accordance with the views be had that day expressed upon the Report.


said, he must deny that the carriage of voters formed the greatest clement of expense in county elections. If they multiplied polling places, they would very much increase the expense of elections by rendering a greater number of; agents necessary, who even at present; were a greater source of expense than the conveyance of voters.


said, he would suggest that the clause making it lawful for "any person" to pay the actual travelling expenses of bringing any voters to the poll should be so altered that "any candidate by his appointed election agent" should be substituted for "any person."


said, he believed the Bill to be a sham, and should therefore oppose it at every stage. He contended, in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley), that carriage did form a very large item in the expense of a county election contest, knowing, as he did, that several county Members had expended upwards of £600 in that way at one election.


said, he apprehended the effect of the clause under consideration would be to legalize bribery. If he believed that the giving a vote for a candidate fur a seat in that House was a personal service, he should say it was right that that candidate should compensate the elector for that personal service; but if it was a great constitutional privilege for the elector to appear in the House of Commons by his representative, since he could not appear there himself, he ought to discharge the public duty of polling for the candidate whom he wished to represent him at his own costs and charges; and if he was too poor, or too lukewarm, the country ought to dispense with his services altogether.


said, the right hon. Gentleman was under a mistake in supposing that the Committee was about to establish a novel principle. It had never yet been decided that the simple payment of the expenses of a voter going to the poll by a candidate at an election was illegal; and that being so, if the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster was a good one, bribery must have been practised at every election in this country from time immemorial. He did not think any Judge would ever listen to the question, whether a third, a second, or a first-class carriage, was fit for a particular voter, if the matter were brought forward as a charge of bribery. The law, however, being in a most uncertain state, he submitted it was the duty of the Legislature to settle this question by a distinct enactment. The clause, as proposed to be amended by his right hon. Friend, removed all uncertainty on the matter; and the Government, in adopting it, left it to the common sense of the country to form its opinion upon it.


contended that by the clause under consideration candidates at an election might not stand on equal terms. A good man, though poor, might say he was prepared to pay all the necessary legal expenses; but another, possessing great wealth, might say he was determined to carry the election, cost what it might, and therefore was ready to spend large sums of money in bringing his voters to the poll. It would be easy to foresee the result of so unequal a contest. The poor man would retire or be beaten, and the rich candidate would carry his election.


said, he did not agree with the hon. Member who had just sat down. In a borough like Kidderminster nothing could be more easy or proper than to prohibit the system of conveying voters to the poll; but in counties, where the freeholders were scattered over an extensive area, it was obvious that great numbers of them would be practically disfranchised if they were not furnished with the means of travelling to the poll. He thought that the proposition of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was the one which would best meet the case; but with regard to the proposition made that all these payments should be illegal, he should have no hesitation in negativing that.


said, he would suggest that the risk of the allowance of travelling expenses being used as an instrument of bribery might be prevented by making the payment of such expenses through an impartial medium, rather than through an agent of any of the candidates.


insisted, on the very principle enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), that the poor or infirm voter ought to be conveyed to the poll, and to be placed in a position to express his opinions in that House, through the representative of his choice, as well as his richer neighbour. He denied that in counties they would ever do away with the necessity of the voters having to travel some distance to the poll, however much they might multiply the number of polling places; besides, by multiplying polling places, almost as many poll clerks might be required as there were voters.


said, the proposition now before them was to insert the word "not;" but he trusted that the Committee would permit him to put the question upon its real merits. If not, and the Amendment was carried, he should have to amend the rest of the clause according to his own views.


said, he thought this clause would introduce a system of ruinous expense into elections for counties; and that where travelling was not really necessary a charge would be made by voters. He thought that the course suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) was the best that could be taken.


said, he would ask permission to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "No, no!"]

Question put, "That the word 'not' be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 165: Majority 95.


said, he proposed in Clause 1, after the word "lawful," to insert "in election of knights of the shire, but shall not be lawful in elections of burgesses." The object of his Amendment was to prevent the clause applying to cities and boroughs where he thought it was not necessary that conveyances should be provided for voters, in consequence of their having but a very short distance to go.


said, he must oppose the Amendment, on the ground that what was good for the counties was also applicable to the boroughs. He had never witnessed an election going on in a metropolitan borough without seeing omnibuses and cabs provided without number for the purpose of bringing voters to the poll.


said, Shoreham was a borough which was sixteen miles in length, and Oldham, which he represented, was also very large, many of the voters living in outlying townships. If this Amendment were agreed to, it would disfranchise half the constituents of Oldham. He thought that the course proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) was the best that could be adopted.


said, there were many boroughs in the kingdom in which it would be quite impossible for some of the electors, living at a distance, to come to the poll unless a means of conveyance were supplied to them. He had, however, the utmost contempt for everything in the shape of bribery.


said, he thought the question in dispute was really whether the Members of that House were to pay for their seats or not; and, considering how hon. Members sat there night after night throughout half the year, and often far into the morning, to their own personal inconvenience, it was not too much to ask the constituencies to make some little sacrifice in the exercise of the franchise. There was a feeling however that if they could only make elections expensive, they would prevent persons who were not rich from getting into the House.


said, he was in favour of legalizing bare travelling expenses, and therefore he wished to see an express de- claration of the legality of such expenses in the Bill.


contended that, after the decision in "Cooper v. Slade," which was a proper and righteous one, if the Committee now interfered to legalize travelling expenses they would reopen the whole question, and put it in the power of any one to make a corrupt bargain with a voter.

Amendment negatived.


said, he would now move to amend the clause, so as to make it lawful for "any candidate, or his agents by him appointed in writing, according to the provisions of the first-mentioned Act" (the 17 & 18 Vict. c. 102), instead of "any person," as the clause originally stood, to pay the actual travelling expenses bonâ fide incurred in bringing any voter to the poll.

Amendment agreed to.


said, the question between him and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) was, whether candidates should pay voters money, or only provide them with the means of conveyance. He now rose to propose the Amendment to which he had alluded, and to move the omission of the words "to pay the actual travelling expenses," and the substitution of the words "to provide conveyance for any voter for the purpose of an election, but it shall not be lawful to pay any money or give any valuable consideration to a voter for or in respect of his travelling expenses for such purpose." He proposed that Amendment in the Radical interest, because he wanted the poor voters to come to the poll, and the rich gentlemen to understand that there were poor people whose interests required protection.


said, he wished to call attention to an Amendment he had put upon the paper, which was in Clause 1, line 15, to leave out all after "pay," and insert "travelling expenses to voters resident above one mile from their place of polling; provided always, that such payments should not exceed ls. per mile to every such voter for any distance less than ten miles, and 6d. per mile for every additional mile; provided also, that if the distance to be travelled by any such voter exceed ten miles, and there be available railway accommodation, the payment of travelling expenses shall not exceed the maximum rate of fare chargeable on such railway for such dis- tance." if the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets were rejected, he would take the sense of the Committee upon his (Mr. Hugessen's) proposition, and under that arrangement no advantage could be taken by one candidate over another.


said, he thought this Amendment would more legitimately come before the Committee after the clause proposed by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had been disposed of. With regard to that proposition, he should be prepared at once to adopt it, as he thought it was an improvement on the original clause. If they put the money into the hands of a voter, they ran the risk of its being otherwise used than for his conveyance to the poll, but there could be no objection to pay the bonâ fide cost of such conveyance.


said, if this Amendment were agreed to, they would require to have an agent at every railway station.


said, arrangements might be made to get rid of the inconvenience suggested in a hundred ways; there would be no real difficulty in carrying his Amendment into execution.


suggested that the terms of the clause should be "reasonable" conveyance.


said, he thought that there would be great difficulty in carrying this Amendment into effect. The hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) was bound to show how it could be worked in practice. He was prepared to resist this Bill in every possible way. This clause was an attempt to upset a solemn decision in the House of Lords, which was calculated to protect them against bribery. If this Bill passed, it would be clear that the House was not honest in trying to put down bribery.

House resumed; Committee report progress; to sit again this day.