HC Deb 23 July 1858 vol 151 cc2056-67

Order for Consideration read.

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [this day], "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, the question the House had to consider was, merely whether the Bill should be simply a continuance Bill? The right hon. Gentleman opposite said he was willing to take that view of it; and he (Mr. Duncombe) hoped that the House would likewise do so. This was an open question, and the first clause, instead of being a Government clause, was the child of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets, and he hoped the House would not dirty their hands with it. If they struck it out, they would get rid of other bad clauses, as for instance the fourth, which he considered abridged the constitutional rights of the electors. He thought the best course would be to make this a mere—what it pretended to be—a mere continuance Bill, leaving the Attorney General, who had bestowed so much attention upon the subject, to prepare a more comprehensive measure during the recess, and he would, therefore, support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield.


said, he did not consider the first clause perfect, but thought it was a considerable improvement of the law. He denied that there was any ground for the invidious language which had been lavished on the clause He did not think it undesirable to expect a candidate or his friends to make some sacrifice, He was quite prepared to admit that the average Cost of conveying voters in counties was a considerable sum; namely, £1,600; but he did not think that by adopting this clause they would be establishing a new form of bribery. He was far from desiring to exclude poor men from that House, but unless candidates for seats in Parliament possessed the confidence of their supporters to such an extent that they were ready to provide funds for the payment of the travelling expenses of voters, he thought such Members could not possess that feeling of independence which had hitherto been the boast of the Commons of England.


said, that although there were inconveniences on both sides, he thought it the best policy to put a stop entirely to the practice of paying the travelling expenses of voters. The clause was clearly a step in the wrong direction. It was said that by disallowing these ex- penses you would be practically disfranchising a large number of voters. Now, if conveyance to the poll was a part of the franchise conferred on every voter, he admitted the force of that argument; but the fact being that conveyance to the poll was not a part of the voter's vested right, he could not admit that this could in the proper sense of the term he called disfranchisement. The number of voters might, indeed, be diminished; but the same result was no doubt produced by prohibiting bribery, and would be produced by prohibiting paid canvassers, and yet no one could consider either of these measures as measures of disfranchisement. With respect to boroughs no hardship whatever would be inflicted by compelling voters to walk to the poll, and though perhaps some inconvenience might arise in counties, he thought on the whole it would be best to prohibit the payment of these travelling expenses. He was also induced to think that voters would value the franchise more if its exercise were attended with some trifling difficulty.


said, he thought that this was not a case on which the House should be theorizing. Let them come to practice, and they would find that out of the general body of voters, there was a large number who could not afford to pay for a conveyance to go some six, eight, or ten miles to vote. On what principle should such electors be disenfranchised? What, he might ask, were they to do in the case of a man who was sick? Would the house impose on such a person the chance of endangering his life or disenfranchisement? He contended, first of all, that it was right that they should provide a conveyance; and secondly, if it were not right, that human nature was so constituted people would still do it. Did the hon. and learned Member for Newcastle mean to say that any Gentleman would lose his election rather than provide a conveyance for his voters? Would the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, in case of a tie with his opponent, lose his election rather than send a carriage for a voter? The thing was nonsense; and any one who believed it would have a greater amount of credulity than he had ever been possessed of. Without intending, then, to advocate anything like corruption, let them make that the law which they knew would be the practice. The House already knew that it was not illegal to provide carriages for voters, and therefore it was unnecessary to discuss that question now. Did not every hon. Member at the last general election consult anxiously with their committees whether they should or should not provide means for a poor voter who could not provide means himself, or an opportunity to record his vote? The law was, however, at present a snare and a difficulty. He was for removing difficulties and uncertainties. Let them either pass an Act distinctly declaring the payment of expenses to be illegal, or agree to the clause now proposed. He heartily rejoiced that the House was about explicitly to declare that a conveyance might be provided.


said, he fully agreed that in principle it would be well to abolish expenses of every kind, but that would be most unfair to the voters until greater facilities were afforded to them for recording their votes. He saw no reason why they should not be allowed to send their votes through the post, without coming up to the poll. The franchise to a man who could not afford to go up to the poll to record it was practically no franchise at all.


said, he thought all the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins), as regarded the expenses of poor voters, would be equally applicable to the whole system of bribery. Indeed he (Mr. Gilpin) thought the Bill might more appropriately be called a Bribery Enactment Bill than be designated under its present title, if the clause under discussion were passed into a law. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department would make the measure simply a continuance Bill. For his own part, he should feel it to be his duty to oppose its passing at every stage if the clause were inserted. It was said it was unfair to expect that a poor man should go a particular distance to record his vote without having his expenses paid, but the manner in which any such inconvenience ought to be remedied was by multiplying the number of polling places. Be that as it might, however, believing, as he did, that the clause would open the door to an untold amount of bribery, and that its operation would not be limited simply to the payment of travelling expenses, he deemed it to be his duty to oppose it by every means in his power.


said, he was of opinion that the passing of the first clause, to which so much objection had been taken, instead of encouraging bribery, would render it much easier to put it down. Whatever they might say about its being right or wrong to pay the expenses of a voter who went to the poll, hon. Gentlemen would admit there was a great and material difference between the reimbursement of the voter's actual expenses, and, under cover of paying his expenses, giving him money for his vote. If they thought they could put an end altogether to the payment of expenses in any form they might be consistent in endeavouring to do so. In a county election last year, at which he was one of three candidates, there was a mutual agreement that the travelling expenses of voters from a distance should be paid, not by the candidate for whom he polled, but from a common fund contributed to by all the candidates. There was nothing corrupt in that arrangement, but there could be no doubt that it might be held to be an infringement of the law. The alternative, however, now presented to the House was either to pass the clause or simply enact a continuance Bill, and leave the law in its present unsettled state. In the latter case they might find that travelling expenses were paid where parties had no intention of bribing at all; and unless they were able to put down the system of paying travelling expenses altogether they ought to place the matter on such a footing that they could distinguish between what was corrupt and what was not, and he believed the clause referred to would enable them to make that distinction, Therefore, with no intention whatever to screen the briber, but wishing to put down bribery, he should support the clause.


said, he would remind the House that although provision might be made for conveying the poor voter to the poll there was none for conveying him back to his home.


said, he considered that the real object of the Bill was to assist, if not to extend, the power of the purse at elections. To that he would always give his hearty opposition. The less money considerations entered into elections the better it would be for all the parties concerned. The poor voter should be provided for either by additional polling places, or by relieving him from any travelling expenses, but these expenses should not be paid by the candidate. He had gone through five elections, at three of which there was a fierce contest, and they had not cost him 5s. From first to last the electors had acted on the principle that if a Member bought them, he would be liable to sell them. They returned him (Mr. Fox) on independent grounds, and they expected he would not compromise their independence by receiving favours from any party, or act otherwise than according to his conscience. And he had such faith in human nature that he thought such would be the conduct of constituencies throughout the country if they were only left to themselves. If the Ballot were adopted, and elections made really appeals to opinion, and not to fear or hope, much would be done towards the purification of that House, and the exaltation of its character.


Sir, there is much to be said on both sides of this question; but, on the whole, I am inclined to think that the clause as it stands is one that ought to be adopted. It is, no doubt, desirable to do away, as far as we can, with all unnecessary expenses at elections. I think it was quite right to prohibit bands and colours, and those other things which do not contribute in any way to the exercise of the franchise, and only afford a screen for bribery; but I do not myself see how furnishing conveyances for voters can be called a mode of bribery. If you are to give a voter money to pay his expenses, then you may give him double or three times the amount he has spent in travelling, and you will open a door for almost unlimited bribery; but if you are restricted to providing a conveyance for him, I do not see how that can amount in any case to bribery, because you only give a ticket for conveyance to the voter who has promised you his vote beforehand. No candidate would bring up to the poll an elector about whose vote he was uncertain, because in doing so he would expose himself to considerable danger; but if he brings up a voter who has promised his vote, I do not see that he will thereby exercise an improper influence on his mind. It is said the difficulty may be overcome by providing additional polling places. No doubt the multiplication of polling places would give additional facilities to voters, but that would not accomplish the purpose in counties. We cannot in counties have polling places in every village, or within walking distance of every voter. Multiply them as much as you will, you can only put them in towns; and then there will be a great number of voters who will be shut out from voting, unless the candidate for whom they have previously promised to vote is enabled to bring them up to the poll. If you prohibit conveyances, you will disfranchise a large majority of voters for Universities. I had the honour of sitting for a great many years for the University of Cambridge; I experienced three contests, and if the candidates on those occasions had not been allowed to provide conveyances for the voters, the contest would have been decided simply by the resident members, who form a very inconsiderable part of the voters. In that case a great number of the voters for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge would be disfranchised. I think there can be no greater evil than leaving a point of this sort undecided. As far as I understand the matter, no one can tell distinctly whether a candidate who provides conveyances is or is not liable to the penalty attaching to bribery. That is a great evil, and I would much rather that the Committee came to a wrong decision upon the question than that it come to none at all. I think the candidates ought to be allowed to provide conveyances; but however that may be, I entreat the Committee to declare what the state of the law is. If an election were to take place before August of next year, see what a state of peril the electors would be placed in from the present uncertainty. I shall give my support to the clause.


said, he was sorry to differ from his noble Friend on any point, but he must say his noble Friend's success at elections had been so great that he could not be said to have had the experience of contested elections which had fallen to the lot of many other Members of that House. [Viscount PALMERSTON: Well, I don't know; I have stood six of them.] He thought he had always seen that his noble Friend had been returned by acclamation wherever he had presented himself as a candidate. When, therefore, his noble Friend asked how it could be bribery to pay for the conveyance of a voter to the poll, he (Mr. Osborne) could acquit him of having had much knowledge of the practices at a contested election; but the truth was, that the system of conveying voters to the poll had a direct tendency to bribe a whole host of livery-stable keepers, stage-coach proprietors, and the like, at every contested election, and the electors generally, whatever their political opinions might be. He did not hesitate to say that if the House legalized travelling expenses, the outlay of candidates at elections would be increased three-fold. The result would be to present a bad example to the electoral body throughout the country, for it would be doubted whether the House was sincere in its desire to obtain purity of election. It was plain that they still wanted to maintain the influence of the purse, and that, though they had removed the property qualification, still they were determined to take care that no poor man should contest a seat. The hon. Gentleman who had just been returned to that House (Sir Stafford Northcote) talked of a joint-stock purse having been provided by the candidates, of whom the hen. Gentleman was one, to defray the expense of conveying the voters to the poll at a contested election for Devonshire a few years ago. He believed the expense at that election was such that it nearly ruined the hon. Gentleman, so much so that he had been obliged to fall back on a borough where there was no need of the services of stagecoach proprietors and livery stable-keepers at elections. It was merely hypocrisy in that House to say that they wished to put down bribery. His (Mr. Osborne's) opinion was, that the prevalent desire in that House was to admit none but men of large property within its walls, and this Bill would be one of the instruments by which that would be attained. He held that the whole tendency of the measure would be to demoralise the constituencies, and therefore he should vote with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield.


said, he thought if they were to sanction the expenses of conveying voters to the poll, the clause under consideration was the most convenient form in which they could do it; but he could not conceal from himself that its tendency would be more or less in the direction of bribery. He wished, also, to call the attention of the House to the fact, that this clause, if it passed, would very seriously enhance the cost of elections. At present, in the uncertain state of the law, and while the legality of conveyances was doubtful, their cost at an election was admitted to be tenfold what it was on ordinary occasions. But if this clause passed, they might be sure that everybody would be conveyed to the poll, and they might reckon that the cost would be at least double what it was now.


said, persons were compelled to attend the assizes at the county towns of England and Ireland, and why should not ratepayers do so, not once or twice a year, but once in four or five years? He would call this Bill the Tower Hamlets Patent Safety Corruption Bill. He would give the measure all the opposition in his power.


said, he believed that every hon. Member who had been unseated for bribery or intimidation during the present Parliament sat on the opposite side of the House.


said, he wished to make an observation in reply to certain personal remarks which had been made on him by the hon. and learned Members for Southwark and Sheffield, and especially by the former (Mr. John Locke), who suggested that the clause suited him. Now, at his election he began by proposing that no conveyances should be provided at all, but that was declined by the other candidates, and he was obliged to employ them; but that item of his expenses was smaller than those of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark, though his constituency was much larger than that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He could not claim the merit of having invented the clause. It only occurred to his mind as a means of giving a practical exposition of the law as it had been recently defined. In the returns of the election auditors he found that almost every candidate had an item for carriage hire. This showed that whatever the law might be the practice of conveying voters to the poll was all but universal. Then he found that the law did not declare the conveyance of voters to the poll illegal; it only condemned the payment of conveyance expenses with corrupt intent, and his clause was in harmony with that declaration of the law. The law was, however, in an unsatisfactory state, and this House could not leave it as it stood. They were bound to declare either that the conveyance of voters was legal or illegal. He had thought that if no conveyance were provided, the effect would be to throw the elections more than ever into the hands of the rich. There was nothing to prevent the rich from taking voters to the poll in their own carriages, and at elections all the rich friends of a candidate might place their carriages at his disposal. He wished to provide for the poor voter, and he thought that this was a provision in the interest of the poor voter. Was he, who was in favour of extending the franchise, to say that the people were so base and miserable as to be bribed by the offer of conveyance to the poll. A poor man forfeited his wages if he did not get to the poll and back within a short time. Affording facilities to the poor voter to go to the poll enabled him to exercise the franchise. The House was bound to settle the law, which was now unsettled.


said, he wished the hon. Gentleman had only carried his argument one step further. If the poor man was to be carried to the poll, lest he should lose his wages, why not authorise the candidate to pay him for the wages he lost. But the hon. and learned Gentleman said that was a mere declaration of the existing law. If so, what need was there for a declaration of the law at all? The declaration would introduce not clearness, but confusion. Besides, it was not a declaration of the law, but an alteration. According to the hon. and learned Gentleman, the law at that the voters' conveyance expenses might be paid. This clause said no; the expenses shall not be paid, but the conveyances may be furnished. He wished that this question had been made an open one. If the Government had not adopted this measure he ventured to say that there would be a large majority against this clause. It appeared to him most marvellous that the Government should press a clause like this. There must be some reason which did not meet the eye. He trusted, if they went to a division, they would be able to expunge one of the most objectionable pieces of legislation ever attempted.


declared, from practical experience, that the greatest advantage had been gained by the measure which increased the number of polling places, and he considered that the adoption of the present clause would still further benefit the country.

Question put,

The House divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 66: Majority 28.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 3.

MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN moved an Amendment to the effect that persons who are candidates at an election shall be exempt from penalties or expenses if he did not go to the poll.


said, he must object to the Amendment as a material alteration of the clause. The object of the clause was that every person who offered himself as a candidate, and incurred expenses—or at least should put his opponent to expenses—should be liable for his expenses. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment.

Amendment negatived, and the clause agreed to.


said, he would propose to add at the end of Clause 3 a proviso that nothing contained in the Act should be construed to impose any liability on any person nominated without his consent.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4.


said, he had explained on previous occasions his intention that the Act should be both a declaratory and a continuance Act. It had been objected that this clause effected neither one nor the other of those objects, and, feeling the force of this objection, he thought, as the clause had not been introduced by himself, that it had better form part of the permanent measure which would be introduced next Session. He proposed, therefore, to omit this section from the Bill.

Clause struck out.


said, he would then move that the Bill be recommitted. The House had determined to keep in the first clause, and to allow the travelling expenses of voters, the whole of which would therefore fall upon the candidate. In taking this course, he understood the intention of the Government to be, that the poorer voters should be saved from expense, and from being disfranchised. Now, he took this to be a public object, and in that case he thought the public ought to pay for it. He did not hold that the position of a Member of Parliament was a personal object to attain. He had to perform responsible and onerous duties, and ought not to be called upon to pay any expense. He should move that the Bill be recommitted, in order that he might have the opportunity of adding at the end of the clause that any candidate having paid expenses to bring voters to the poll should be reimbursed from the county rates.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That the Bill be read the third time upon Monday next, at Twelve of the clock.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "Bill" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "be re-committed," instead thereof.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 46: Majority 46.

Main Question put, and agreed to.


said he would appeal to the Government not to put the third reading for a morning sitting.


said, he must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the question had been debated and decided three or four times, and, considering the period of the Session, and that an important question would be raised on Monday evening, he hoped there would be no objection to proceeding at twelve o'clock on Monday.


said, that after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought there was no ground to object to the early sitting.

Bill to be read 3o on Monday next at Twelve o'clock.

House adjourned at Twelve o'clock.