HC Deb 26 July 1858 vol 151 cc2115-24

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


The House might remember that early in the Session he had asked Her Majesty's Attorney General what he meant to do as regarded that Act then about to expire, and which had been deemed a failure, to which the Attorney General replied that he intended to submit it to a Select Committee; but now at the eleventh hour taking advantage of a panic caused by a stench in the Thames, of hon. Members' own creating, the Government were, to their great delight, shuffling measures through the House at double quick time, and the Attorney General's pledge has been forfeited. Now, if that Select Committee had been moved for, he should have been enabled to lay a body of evidence before it, which at once would have shown that the Bill had been a dead failure, but he believed that it had done all it bad ever been intended to do. And so thought the editor of The Times, who had published an admirable analysis of the Bill, when it first passed into a law, and pronounced it to be a "pompous profession meant to be inoperative." In 1854 he (Mr. Berkeley) had written to the late Mr. Coppock [ironical cheers]; aye, hon. Members might object to Mr. Coppock, but while they had no objection to his objectionable practices as applied to their own purposes, could they deny his great knowledge of the subject? That gentleman replies thus:— I have already fully given my opinion through the medium of the press as regards the Bill to which you call my attention. It is a mere tub for the whale, but you will find it greatly admired by the majority of the Members of your House, because it curtails all the legal expenses of candidates, facilitates bribery, and leaves intimidation just where it was. Had Mr. Coppock lived, a Committee might have had that evidence, which he (Mr. Berkeley) now tendered. He would offer them the opinion of another election agent, a person of great experience and knowledge in all election matters, and registration law, well known in the west of England, Mr. Gilbert, Secretary to the Bristol Liberal Association, and the following was that person's opinion of the Corrupt Practices Bill:— I have carefully gone through the Corrupt Practices Prevention Bill as you have desired. Members hare taken excellent care of themselves, and of candidates generally. This Bill very properly lowers the expenses of candidates, does away with banners, bands, and colours, and appoints an officer to assess the costs. All this is good, and seems to me to be a bit of sugar held out as a bait to tempt Members to stultify themselves—I must not, I suppose, use a stronger expression—by giving their sanction to clauses which have the direct effect of protecting candidates from the effects of bribery, and facilitating the sale of votes. Under this Bill there can be no difficulty in purchasing any borough open to sale. The intimidation clause is so much waste paper, The opinion of Mr. Clabon, solicitor to charities for the Attorney General, of the firm of Fearon and Clabon, eminent Parliamentary agents, from a paper read before a law association, was to the following effect:— Parliament has from time to time set to work with much apparent zeal, to give a remedy the the growing evil, bribery. Acts to prevent bribery and treating have been followed by Acts to amend Acts to prevent bribery and treating; and Parliament has done everything but one thing, but that one thing is the one thing needful. I am under the strong impression that the Members of the present Parliament presented themselves to the constituencies under the fear of consequences which were not likely to occur. The Corrupt Practices Prevention Act was a bugbear to them; but were their fears well founded? I think they were not well founded. I believe that a candidate intending to procure his return by all means, foul as well as fair, will not, now that the meaning of the Act is well known, be frightened by its provisions. In fact, what provisions are there to frighten him? What is there to prevent the candidate from sending the 'the man in the moon' with his bag of gold? What to deter the Ministerial or Opposition 'W. B.' from despatching his emissary from the Carlton or Reform with full pockets? The arrangements are made in secret at a distance. The 'man in the moon' returns to his distant home long before the day for petitions. The candidate takes good care to know nothing about the matter. Trusty friends only ask for his cheque at a remote day. Mr. Whitehurst, the deputy chairman of the Ballot Society, said that the society had tested the opinions of agents and reliable persons in almost all the boroughs and counties which had lately been contested, and the result was as thus described. Mr. Whitehurst says:— You ask me if the clauses in the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act against undue influence, as it is now called, have put down intimidation? My answer is brief but plain—Not in the least. Of course you do not expect me to give you in detail the proof of this, suffice it to say that our executive committee have carefully inquired into the intimidation practised at each election since 1854, and in no one case have we found that tenants, debtors, workmen, or other dependents, have voted more independently of their landlords, creditors, or employers, than before the Act. You of course have observed the utter failure of the remedy by legal proceedings against intimidators established by the Act. There have been three attempts to put the Act in force: one was an action—Thurston v. Sinkins—brought for the penalty for intimidating a voter at Frome: every species of intrigue was set on foot to prevent the action being tried, and successfully, for the record was withdrawn at the last moment, and what became of the action I could never make out. The Queen v. Barnwell, was an attempt to put the Act in force against a clergyman at Denbigh. There was hard swearing on both sides, and the Court of Queen's Bench refused to interfere. The last case was the Irish priests in Mayo, where in one case the jury were discharged without coming to a verdict, and in the other the Attorney General abandoned the prosecution. The Act has diminished the minor expenses of chairing, flags, music, &c., but has left untouched the greatest and most objectionable item of electioneering expenses, paid agents, especially lawyers, whose mischievous influence at elections Mr. Bright exposed in the last debate on your Motion for the ballot. The permission to candidates to name their agents, and the provision that none others could affect their seats by bribery but those named, was directly facilitating bribery. Brown, Jones, and Robinson, might be the named agents, and of course would keep themselves clear of bribery, but Hopkins, Simkins, and Perkins, the agents without a name, would do all the bribery requisite, and if found out would suffer the penalty, but the candidate's seat would be safe nevertheless. As for attempts to so legislate as to make a man keep his butcher and baker against his will, or retain a tenant, it was too gross a farce. Such attempts must fail; all that was requisite would be caution; a customer or landlord would not be fool enough to say to his tradesman or tenant, 'I'll get rid of you because you voted against my orders:' but he would say, 'your articles don't please me, I found alum in your bread;' or, 'you are a bad farmer:' or it would be sufficient to say, 'you are an ugly man and a bad Christain; I have done with you;' or to say nothing, and then how can you prove that a man is discharged because of his vote? If you were to make it penal for a customer or landlord to ask a tradesman or a customer for his vote, even that would be evaded, he would ask through somebody else. Legislation of this kind is founded on a rotten principle, and the promoters were not in earnest in their desire to put down corrupt practices. This was a Bill "How not to do it." Hon. Members in truth had been caught, many of them, by the bait that they were to save their pockets. Bands, banners, cockades, were put down and an auditor appointed. All very good, but while they served themselves in this way they ran into a danger more concealed but of greater import. They handed themselves over to the "man in the moon," who would descend upon their boroughs with Ids money bag, bribe the electors, and either compel them to put their bands deeply into their pockets, or turn out of their seats. Let them remember that the next election would be a regular Tugging and riving election of the old sort, the lords, lawyers, and squires, the outs trying to force themselves in. Ministers might be beaten at any moment, and then they might be sure that the truthful description of Dickens would be realized:—"My Lord Doodle would throw himself upon the country in the shape of sovereigns and beer," and the acts of the Doodles would be well emulated by those of the Foodles, the whole scenes of de-moralization and debauchery would be renewed, for which this Bill would be their warrant—their Magna Charta. With agency by this Bill let loose, because defined, he cared net whether they legalized travelling expenses or not. They might be sure those expenses would be raid, whether legal or illegal—not by named agents, but by nameless agent—and the candidate for counties who did not bring in the out voters, would have a poor chance with the candidates who did. The Bill was a snare and a delusion, and he felt it to be his duty, even at the eleventh hour, to denounce it.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word 'now' and at the and of the Question to add the words, 'upon (his day six weeks.'


said, he wished to enter his protest against the Bill, as being a retrograde and reactionary measure, inasmuch as it sanctioned expenses by Act of Parliament which even before the passing of the Reform Bill were contrary to law. He believed there was a much higher feeling prevailing among the constituent body than formerly existed; they had a far more correct appreciation of their duty, and of the responsibility resting upon them as electors; and if the House of Commons, on their part, fostered that feeling by doing their duty when they were elected, and preserving the purity of election as Members of Parliament, they would do more to put down corrupt practices than any measure of this kind.


contended that the Bill introduced no new law, but made the existing law clear, while it limited election expenses and controlled the expenditure of money for election purposes. He could not understand, therefore, how such a measure could be said to increase corruption.


said, that it was easy to talk of the improved tone of electors; but the fact was, that if the payment of travelling expenses were prohibited, it would in many counties be physically impossible for a large number of voters to go to the poll in consequence of the distance of the polling places from their dwellings. On the other hand, he would admit that the effect of the present Bill, legalizing the payment of those expenses, would be considerably to increase the expenditure for election purposes; for he thought that henceforth the payment of travelling expenses would be exacted as a right by the voters. The whole of the evil arose out of a persistence in the antiquated plan of carrying the voter to the poll, instead of the poll to the voter. The latter result might be attained by collecting the votes at the houses of the electors by means of voting papers, due precautions being taken against fraud; or by enormously multiplying the polling places, so that each elector should only have a limited distance to walk to the poll; or by enabling magistrates and certain officials throughout the country at present holding appointments under the Court of Chancery to receive the votes. Such means as these, which he had just indicated, would constitute the only solution of the dilemma which was pressing upon them.


remarked that the Bill would prove very prejudicial or at all events very expensive to candidates for large boroughs, and especially to candidates for counties. He anticipated that many country gentlemen would be ruined by the clause legalizing the payment of travelling expenses, and that the longest purse would henceforth carry the day in elections. It was said that without that clause the poor voter would be disfranchised, but that was a mere pretence, for the men whom it was difficult to get to the poll were not the poor voters, but those who were not allowed to vote conscientiously for the candidates of their own choice—namely, the £50 tenants at will. If the Bill became law the voters would require something more than the Bill gave them, and would say to the candidates, "As you have brought me all this way, you must give me something to eat." Thus the election expenditure would be still further increased. The clause he had referred to would throw the ballot back many years, because the candidates, who were compelled to convey voters to the poll, would naturally insist upon knowing how they voted. This was an important question, and there was no reason why it should not be deferred till next Session, a short, continuance Bill being passed in the meantime. Just as the three branches of the Legislature were about to adjourn to Cherbourg, the Commons were going to send the present Bill up to the Lords; but were the Lords to have no voice in the matter, and were they merely to register the decrees of the Commons, without discussion? He hoped and trusted that the Lords would understand that they could, do nothing more agreeable to the country at large, or more calculated to promote the purity and freedom of election, than by ejecting the measure.


said, he wished to, know why the fourth clause which, was a very important one, and had been carried, in Committee by a majority of four to one, had been withdrawn. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) was reported to have withdrawn it because it was not introduced by himself, but that was hardly a valid reason for the withdrawal of the clause, which would have afforded relief to one class of the community hardly dealt with by recent legislation—namely, returning officers. They were obliged to provide polling booths, clerks, and the necessary paraphernalia of an election, and were enabled to recover the amount of the expense from the candidates. Formerly, when the candidates possessed property, the returning officers, had something to fall back upon, but now that the property qualification was abolished it would be competent for any elector to propose a pauper in the workhouse or an insolvent debtor in gaol.


said, he was sorry that the Bill had reached its present stage in its present shape. He thought it would have been far better to have a mere continuance Bill than to have raised this question as to the conveyance of voters. He should object to a clause strictly prohibiting the conveyance of voters, because he thought that it would be evaded; but at the same he conceived that if the Bill had been sent to a Select Committee, several means might have been suggested by which the conveyance of voters would have been rendered almost unnecessary. He doubted whether there was any necessity in boroughs for the conveyance of voters at all; and with respect to counties, if there was, as the noble Lord opposite had suggested, a limited distance to each polling place, which the voter might walk, the providing conveyances for county voters would not he requisite. However, so long as there existed only the present limited number of polling places conveyance could not be strictly prohibited. He did not wish at the present stage of the Bill to throw an obstruction in the way of the continuance of the Corrupt Practices' Prevention Act, and therefore he should give his vote for the third reading of the Bill; but he wished the Government had confined themselves to the proposition of a simple continuance Bill for one year.


said, he understood that the Bill was intended not to extend the law but merely to remove certain doubts, and to continue the existing Act. That was the reason, he thought, for excluding the fourth clause, which went to add to the law. But would the Bill render the law more certain? If a voter were conveyed to the poll a distance of ten miles, he would, of course, wish to be conveyed home again; but under the Bill he could not be conveyed home again by the candidate. [Cries of "Yes!"] That question would be contested, and an uncertainty was created. It was alleged that the clause providing for the conveyance of voters was a provision in favour of poor electors, but it would increase election expenses to a fearful extent, and render it imperative upon every candidate who contested an election to carry up every voter to the poll. This would very much increase the difficulty of the poor man who aspired to a seat in that House. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Knightley) was a rich man, that was evident. The hon. Member did not, perhaps, think that any poor man ought to sit in that House. [Mr. KNIGHTLEY: No, no!] There were rich men in that House, but they were not its ornaments. If they excluded poor men they would exclude a great deal of common sense.


said, he trusted that the Government would give way to the objections made to the clause respecting the conveyance of voters, and substitute a simple continuance Bill for the present measure. He believed that the Bill, as it stood, would legalize treating. [Cries of "No, no!"] Conveyance was nothing but treating. It was treating the voters to a ride, and that might have the effect of gaining votes. He should, therefore, vote against the Bill in its present form.


said, he omitted the fourth clause, not because it was not introduced by himself but because he was much pressed in debate not to introduce any material alterations in the law except such as might be absolutely necessary. He originally proposed the Bill as a continuance Bill, together with a declaration of the existing law, so that the law might not remain in uncertainty; but he added at the same time that the whole question must be brought under the consideration of the House very early next Session, and he should then be prepared to support such a clause as that which was now withdrawn, because he thought it an extremely good one. In reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) lie had hoped to bring in a Bill on the whole subject in time to refer it to a Select Committee, but as the Session was drawing so near to a close he thought it better to defer doing so until next Session, when he would undertake to lay on the table a proposition for a permanent measure, and refer it to a Select Committee. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London wished that the present Bill was a mere continuance Bill; but it was not right that the law should remain uncertain, and, unless the law were made in conformity with public feeling, it would only be evaded. Therefore the only alternative left was to declare, under proper guards and restrictions, that those expenses which no one could contend would corrupt a voter, and those only, should be allowed. At the time the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act was passing the noble Lord himself proposed a very similar clause, which was carried in that House, but rejected by the House of Lords. This matter had now been amply discussed, and the sense of the House had been taken upon it in several divisions, and it would be disrespectful to the House rather than otherwise if be at the last moment declined to persevere in the course so sanctioned.


said, he wished to inquire whether the clause would be sufficient to allow the payment of the voter's expenses of conveyance from the polling place to his home as well from his home to the polling place?


I believe the words are quite sufficient for that purpose.


said, he could not but object to the introduction of an important clause legalising expenses which were now contrary to law in what they were told was a mere continuance Bill.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 93; Noes 60; Majority 33.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3o.

On Question "That the Bill do pass,"


said, he could not but express his surprise that the noble Lord the Member for London should have voted for the Bill after having objected to it. If the noble Lord thought the Government was in danger and wanted to save them, he might have recommended them to adopt Resolutions. He wished to state that the reason why the Opposition threw out the clause from the noble Lord's (Lord J. Russell) Bill in 1854 for legalising travelling expenses was that it was opposed to the opinion of all the great legal authorities of the Lords. Lord Mansfield had ruled that the payment of travelling expenses was bribery, and that ruling had had never been contravened. He could not understand why the Bill had been brought forward in its present shape. At an earlier period of the Session he had inaugurated an opposition to Her Majesty's Government, but since then that Government had done very great things. He was serious. He wished to give honour to those to whom honour was due. The right hon. Gentleman, the leader of that House, deserved the highest credit for the temperate, able, and judicious course he had pursued in office, and for the reforms which he had instituted since he had taken his seat on the Ministerial bench. He (Mr. B. Osborne) did not believe that the leader of the House would have allowed this conveyance clause to be inserted in the Bill if his attention had been called to it; because he did not think the right hon. Gentleman wished to legalise refreshments. He had observed the high spirit displayed by Her Majesty's Government on several occasions. They had passed many good measures; and he could not but have good feeling towards a Government which not only advocated, but what was much better, passed into law measures which he himself supported. He thought, however, that the present measure detracted, in some degree, from their merits. They were in this matter entering on a retrograde course, which he trusted the House would not sanction. At all events he would give the House another opportunity, by opposing the Motion for the passing the Bill, of expressing its opinion.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. B. Osborne) in the opinion he had expressed of the present Bill. He thought that unless travelling expenses were allowed they would, in effect, disfranchise the poor voters. He had voted, by mistake, in the last division with his hon. Friends near him, he should now have the opportunity of repairing his error, by voting against them.


remarked, that they could not have a better test of the qualification of the voter than his going up to the poll without assistance. He recommended the consideration of this point to the Government in their promised Reform Bill.


said, he thought if the Bill had not been brought in at so late a period of the Session it would not have passed so readily. The Secretary of State had given an incontestable argument against the Bill when he admitted that the measure was incomplete, and that he intended next Session to deal with the whole question.

Motion made and Question put, "That the Bill do pass."

House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 59: Majority 33.—Bill passed.