§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
stated, that the inquiries before the Election Committees during the present Session had shown that the clause in the Act of last year against candidates paying travelling expenses was perfectly useless, and that under it bribery could be perpetrated with impunity. The clause simply stated that it was "illegal" to give money for the payment of travelling expenses, but the Act did not state that such payment was bribery and that it should invalidate any election. The Committees had, in fact, driven a coach and four through the clause. To say that it was illegal to pay travelling expenses was nothing more than might be said of an ordinary assault or any minor misdemeanor, such as giving a man a black eye. Unless the House made travelling expenses bribery they would never put that crime down.
§ MR. BRADY
said. he must enter his 1094 protest against this kind of legislation in toto. He could only characterize the existing Act as a cloak for covering all sorts of corrupt practices, and thought that it would be better for the present Continuance Bill to drop than to perpetuate an Act of so unsatisfactory a character. He thought that it would be very much better to adopt the plan of having the Members called to the table to state on oath the amount which they had expended, and that they had not committed or sanctioned any bribery whatever at the election. If two or three hon. Members were to be prosecuted for perjury, and sentenced to a few years' penal servitude, the House would soon put an end to the system of bribery.
§ MAJOR GAVIN
said, he thought that if the bribers were to be prosecuted, according to the strict letter of the law, as well as those who had been bribed, such a course would check the practice of bribery.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that so far from the Act of last year not being sufficiently strict to put down bribery, it was of so stringent a character, and would lead to so much hardship upon hon. Members, if carried out in its integrity, that the Election Committees declined to do their duty in carrying out the Act. If the Act were to be carried out in its stringency, it might be that an hon. Member returned by a very large majority might be unseated if it were known that he had given a pot of beer, or a paltry sum of 5s. to a voter on the day of election, although such acts were not done with the slightest wish to influence the return, nor had had any actual effect upon the election.
MR. SERJEANT DEASY
observed, that in his opinion the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was unfair in his remarks on the conduct of Election Committees for refusing to carry out the Act of Parliament. They had put a meaning on the Act which he (Mr. Deasy) considered to be a perfectly correct one.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, that the decisions of the Committees were often contradictory, and it was desirable that they should be guided by some general law. The House would remember that after a former election for Peterborough, an hon. Member (Mr. G. Whalley) was unsealed because at a dinner which was given after the election in the town which he represented, he had sent two dozen of champagne, That was carrying out the Act in all its stringency which no reasonable man could approve.
§ MR. G. CLIVE
said, that he believed that some of the disadvantages ascribed to the Act arose from the peculiar construction of the tribunals which administered it. There could be no doubt, however, that the Act of 1854 must be amended during the next Session; and in order to ensure the attention of Parliament to the subject, he would move as an Amendment that the words, "or until the end of the then next Session of Parliament" should be struck out, in order that the period of continuance of the Bill should expire on the 10th of August next.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he wished to inquire what necessity there could be for this Continuance Bill at all, seeing that the present Act would remain in force until the end of next Session.
§ MR. G. CLIVE
said, this Bill would provide for the emergency of an abrupt termination of the Session before the usual period in August next.
§ Bill passed through Committee.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock, till Monday next.