HC Deb 09 February 1860 vol 156 cc771-93

said, that in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to provide that at the next elections for the boroughs of Wakefield and Gloucester the votes of the electors might be taken by ballot, he would commence by presenting a petition from the Ballot Society, and another signed by 700 electors of Gloucester, in favour of the Motion. He was authorized to say that if the House agreed to the second reading of the Bill the signature of 1,000 out of the 1,500 electors of Gloucester would be procured to a similar petition. His object in making this Motion was to endeavour to convince the House, as he himself was convinced, that secret voting was the only remedy for the corruption which had been shown to exist at the various elections. To such an extent had that corruption been carried at the two places to which his Bill referred, that last year that House thought proper to address Her Majesty, praying Her to issue Commissions to inquire into the corrupt practices supposed to prevail in these two boroughs. The Commissions had been appointed, had inquired, and had presented their Reports. In 1854 similar Commissions were appointed for the boroughs of Canterbury, Hull, Cambridge, Maldon, and Barnstaple. In 1854 he pursued the same course as that which he was now pursuing—he had moved that the issuing of the writs for those places be deferred until provision had been made enabling the electors to give their votes by ballot. The Motion, however, was rejected. What was the consequence? Why, that nothing was done. The Commissioners for Canterbury reported that "corrupt practices had prevailed there at the last election and at previous elec- tions"—and one gentleman said the only way he could account for it was that Can terbury was a cathedral city. In the case of Cambridge the Commissioners reported that" bribery, treating, and other corrupt practices had systematically prevailed for a long period "in that borough. This was accounted for by another gentleman by the fact that Cambridge was a university town, where there were a number of young gentlemen being brought up for the Church. The Commissioners for Hull reported that "systematic corruption had uniformly prevailed at all elections for the borough of Hull, to which our attention has been directed." At Maldon they reported that "corrupt practices in various forms had prevailed," "that open and direct bribery was practised at the last election in a greater degree than at any previous election," "that the bribe was taken openly by all and unquestioned, and this shamelessness was in some cases increased by the electors so bribed being witnesses before the Commission as to their own bribery, and perjuring themselves." It appeared that the bribery was principally carried on among the poorer classes; "but," said the Commissioners, "the corruption did not lie so much with the lower classes as with their superiors by whom it was initiated." Again it was said "corrupt practices" at Barnstaple "prevailed extensively, 205 out out of 362 electors receiving bribes." But in that case the parties were not confined' to the lower class, many of them being most respectable, as far as their position in the town was concerned, tradesmen, and those men, the Commissioners said, "attempted to deny on oath the fact of their electoral corruption, apparently for the purpose of preserving their position in the eyes of their fellow-tradesmen and hiding their own shame." And yet those boroughs were still allowed to return Members, and those Reports to lie upon the table, nothing being done to cure such a state of things. Here were two more Reports—was the same course now to be pursued with regard to them? When he last made his Motion in 1854, what was called the "Corrupt Practices Prevention Act" had just passed, and the noble Lord the Member for the City (Lord John Russell), who seemed very proud of it, said "Let us grant the writs and see what this Act will do." It had been tried, and had it proved successful? Barnstaple, one of the boroughs in which delinquency from time immemorial had been established, was again about to be tried, notwithstanding the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act. But the noble Lord, he thought, must admit that the reason which he had given on the last occasion was undoubtedly had; and he hoped he would inform the House as to the nature of the remedy which he had now in store for Gloucester and Wakefield. Two Commissions had been issued last year and had made their Report; that of the Gloucester Commission extended over thirty-three pages, and that which had made inquiry into Wakefield consisted only of three pages, but these were very much to the point, and reflected great credit on the Commissioners by whom it had been drawn up. In the Gloucester case it was reported that bribery had been practised in that borough from time immemorial, and that with regard to all the accounts of expenses which went before the auditor, they were a mere farce, "the auditor and the agent only existed to deceive and delude the Legislature and the public." The Commissioners also stated that in 1816 Colonel Webb spent £27,000, and in 1818 Admiral Berkeley spent £16,000 in contesting elections at Gloucester; but it was to be observed that elections at that time were capable of being protracted for eight days. £3,000 a day was still about the rate of expenditure. A Reform Club was formed in that city, and on the retirement of Admiral Berkely they came up to London to look for a candidate. Mr. Price was one of the members who was chosen, and Mr. Monk was the other. The orders given by the city of Gloucester on that occasion were that the candidate, whoever he was, must be an advocate of the Ballot This, he thought, proved that the electors generally were in favour of vote by Ballot. [Laughter] Hon. Members who laughed might think that an evidence that the voters liked corruption, but that they were actuated by a desire to prevent corruption would be proved by a petition which was to be presented to the House, signed by 1,000 out of 1,500 electors of the borough, declaring that the Ballot was the only means of putting an end to the corruption which prevailed. He had received a letter from one of the inhabitants in forwarding the petition to him, in which it was staled that,— If two or three days further had been allowed, we might have strengthened our case. We are not inherently corrupt; the Conservatives are in a large minority, and if, for the sake of carrying their candidate, they will resort, as they do, to extensive bribery, the Liberals consider themselves morally justified in slightly resorting to the same practices, and this is the true solution of our present unfortunate position. He had also received a letter from Mr. Monk, one of the candidates, in which he said:— I am convinced in my own mind that if the votes bad been taken by ballot at the late election myself and my colleague would at this moment be the representatives of that city, instead of the victims of hypocrisy on the one side and of misplaced confidence on the other. I will not offer any remarks further than by stating that the result of my experience at the last election leads me to the conclusion that no amount of vigilance on the part of the candidate can prevent bribery, but that the best safeguard that can be devised against it is the Ballot. By getting in the thin end of the wedge in the cases of Gloucester and Wakefield, I believe you will do more for it than would be accomplished by ten years of agitation, and most heartily do I wish you success. Then what said the Commissioners? It appeared that Sir Robert Carden was the Conservative candidate. He knew nothing at all about corruption, bribery, or anything of that sort. It was true that through his means St. Albans had been disfranchised, and that at a former election he had spent a very large sum of money at Gloucester, and had succeeded in gaining his election. But, as was stated by the Commissioners,— Experience upon a nature so unsuspicious as Sir R. Garden's was wholly thrown away. He had been a candidate for St. Albans, the constituency of which he stigmatized as the most base and depraved probably in the whole of England, and was there made, as he told us, 'the victim of the hypocrisy of other people;' but the knowledge which he had acquired at St. Albans was, in his judgment, applicable only to St. Albans. The knowledge that St. Albans was venal afforded, he said, no reason why he should suppose that Gloucester was venal, nor did his experience of the corruption of St. Albans suggest the necessity or the propriety of making any inquiries as to the character of the expenditure at his election. The Report went on to say that Sir R. Carden denied all knowledge of the expenses of his election in 1857 as distinguished from the expense of the petitions, though he admitted having seen the election auditor's account, which represented his expenditure as £610 12s. 1d.,—the fact being that it exceeded £1,700. Mr. Lovegrove, his agent, when questioned upon the matter, stated that Sir R. Carden did inquire how much had been expended upon the election, and how much upon the petitions in 1857; that he supplied him with the information, and that Sir R. Carden, of whom Mr. Lovegrove said, "He is a man of business, and I should say 'understood figures as well as any man in England"—had the opportunity of seeing the subjoined account, which Mr. Lovegrove produced on the occasion of its final settlement in August, 1857. After this very candid evidence, given by a gentleman who, as ex-Lord Mayor and a member of the Stock-Exchange, must be supposed to know something of figures, the Commissioners still gave him a certificate of indemnity; but in summing up they found that W. P. Price and Charles J. Monk were not privy to or cognizant of the corrupt practices which they declared had prevailed extensively at the election of 1859. With regard to Sir R. Carden they were altogether silent. Finally, they reported that "corrupt practices have for a long period prevailed at contested elections for Members to serve in Parliament for the city of Gloucester." What was the remedy which was proposed for this state of things by the Government, or by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House? The proposals which they had yet heard were confined to making the Corrupt Practices Act more stringent. One hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Mellor) proposed to make bribery a misdemeanour, punishable with imprisonment and hard labour; and another hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Kelly) proposed that if this were insufficient the sentence should be changed to penal servitude. The case of Wakefield likewise went to show that some step on the part of the Legislature was imperatively called for. The freemen, to the extent of some 300 or 400, had been greatly blamed in the Gloucester report—he strongly suspected that the freemen were very often made the scapegoats for the iniquities of other persons; but in the case of Wakefield there could be no such allegation, that borough having been called into existence by the Reform Act of 1832. The Commissioners stated that at the last election Mr. Leatham, the Liberal candidate, spent at least £3,900, of which only £478 passed through the auditor's account, and the rest was disbursed in illegal payments; that Mr. Leatham provided the money with the intention that part of it at least should be employed in bribery and corruption, and that at least between £1,800 and £1,900 was expended in bribery. They found that Mr. Charles-worth, the Conservative candidate, spent £4,150, of which only £652 passed through the auditor's hands, and that £1,600 at least was expended in bribery. They also stated that Mr. Charlesworth having provided the fund out of which the bribery, in fact, was afterwards carried on in his behalf, designedly abstained up to the election from inquiring as to the manner in which that fund was being employed, having before the election the means of knowing and good grounds to suspect the manner of its disposal. The Commissioners added that ninety-eight persons were guilty of bribery in respect of the votes of other persons, that eighty-six persons were guilty of bribery in respect of their own votes, and that twelve others were guilty of bribery not on side only, but on both. He thought those twelve men were very likely the most honest men of all. One of the agents gave it as his opinion that with the Ballot, bribery at Wakefield would cease. The Commissioners, however, found that it was generally anticipated by the partizans on both sides, for some time before the election, that recourse would be had to bribery by their respective opponents; and they added— That the fact that bribery was being carried on on both sides was before the election a matter of common notoriety throughout the borough, and excited but a scanty measure of disapprobation even on the parts of those who did not actually join in the work of corruption. That was the state of moral feeling at Wakefield just before the election; and he (Mr. Duncombe) wished to know, when it was stated that the fact that bribery was being committed on both sides "excited but a scanty measure of disapprobation" among the upper and middle classes of the inhabitants, how it could be any matter of surprise that the humbler orders should have accepted bribes. The Commissioners found, lastly— Having regard to the length of time before the election at which the preparations for the work of corruption were commenced, to the large proportion (142 out of 866) of the whole constituency engaged in corrupt practices and guilty of bribery, to the number of persons (including fifty-six, themselves electors) who voluntarily joined in the work of offering and giving bribes, to the zeal and skill they exhibited, to the readiness with which their services were received and their acts adopted, to the open way in which bribery was carried on by the canvassers and discussed among all classes, and to the manner in which the voters received and bargained with the canvassers on both sides,—that large numbers of the electors were then not for the first time engaged in the like operations of gross corruption. Wakefield was a borough that was called into existence under the Reform Act. The House would probably think, with him, that the electors had made up for lost time in not being sooner admitted to the exercise of the franchise, and that in the matter of corruption they were more than a match for some of the older constituencies. He wanted to know what was the remedy of the House for such a state of things. Were they going to make the Corrupt Practices Act more stringent, when they found that, in places such as Wakefield, open and notorious bribery "excited even among the upper and middle classes of the inhabitants but a scanty measure of disapprobation." He submitted that the House ought to have recourse to a measure such as he was now asking for leave to introduce. They might limit its operation to one, two, or three elections; but let them at all events make the experiment. If it failed, they would be only just where they were. But if it succeeded, they would have the satisfaction of knowing that they had checked, if not altogether crushed, that system of bribery and intimidation which was a disgrace to our representative system.

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision that, at the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the City of Gloucester and Borough of Wakefield, the Electors thereof give their Votes by way of Ballot.


A short time ago I had occasion to ask the House to agree to a Motion for not issuing writs to these two boroughs of Gloucester and Wakefield without seven days' notice being previously given. That Motion was agreed to by the House, and the effect of it was that the writs for those two boroughs were to be suspended without due notice was given of the intention to move that they be issued. Upon that Motion some debate ensued. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) addressed himself generally to the corrupt practices reported to have taken place in those boroughs and expressed an opinion that it would be desirable to punish the electors there with the suspension of their electoral privilege for a certain number of years, or at all events for a single Parliament. I did not express any opinion on that proposal; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fins-bury now makes a Motion which in its tendency is diametrically opposed to the suggestion then made. His Motion contemplates the immediate issue of these writs. It assumes that the provisional measure taken by the House should not be acted on; that the writs should be issued; that when the elections take place an exceptional mode of voting should be introduced in those two boroughs, and that the votes should be taken secretly, and by way of Ballot. I am not prepared immediately—even if I were favourable to the general plan of voting by Ballot—to give my vote in favour of this narrow and exceptional measure. If the system of secret voting be good, why is it to be applied as a penal measure to those two boroughs exclusively? By the Motion before the House it is distinctly applied as a measure of punishment. ["No, no!"] I will not quarrel about the word "punishment;" but what is the effect of the Motion? It was proposed a short time ago to visit those two boroughs with suspension of the electoral privilege. The hon. Gentleman says, "Don't do that, but apply to them as an exception—not as a general measure, or leading to a general measure—vote by Ballot." If that be not a punishment, it is at all events a visitation upon them. There is great difficulty in distinguishing between this and a penal measure. But if the measure of vote by Ballot is good let it be applied simultaneously all over the country. If, on the other hand, it is to be regarded as something exceptional and penal, do not apply it at once to those two boroughs. Let them be the subjects of a more deliberate investigation, and let us consider whether some other means may not be found of subjecting them to penal consequences. Further, if we consider it as a local and limited remedy, instead of a punishment, is secret voting, even in the view of its more strenuous advocates, fitted for this particular mode of electoral corruption? I have always understood that the particular electoral vice to which the Ballot has been applied, and for which it is now propounded as a remedy, is not bribery but intimidation. [Cries of "Both!"] If the voter could effectually maintain his secret—a point about which I confess I entertain the greatest doubt—the system might lay claim to the merits ascribed to it by its advocates; but we know in that country where the system of voting by ballot has been in operation for the longest time—where it has had the widest trial, and where the institutions and character of the people most resemble that of the people of this country—I mean the United States—has not led to the practical preservation of the secret of the voter. It has often been the subject of discussion in this House, and I repeat, that the testimony of all whose opinions and statements are worthy of any consideration, and who have described the state of things in America, has concurred and does concur in affirming that the mode of voting in that country is not a system of secrecy. I defy any Member of this House to produce any valid testimony in contradiction of that position. No doubt the Ballot may get rid of some of the incidents of our system; it may get rid of our poll; it may get rid of the authentic register of votes; but it does not preserve the secrecy of the voter. If it does not do this, can it be contended, with any plausibility, that it will render bribery impossible, or even difficult? We know that in the United States, notwithstanding their larger constituencies, bribery does prevail to a considerable extent, How far the Ballot would be an effectual preventive against intimidation, by far the most plausible and solid ground on which it can be defended is a question we are not now called on to discuss. Intimidation is not reported as one of the prevalent vices at the Wakefield and Gloucester elections. The evil pointed out by the reports of the Commissions was bribery, and I cannot understand, nor did I collect from the speech of the hon Member for Finsbury, how the Ballot would furnish any effectual remedy for bribery. It might, on the contrary, be argued with considerable plausibility that secret voting would render bribery not more difficult, while it would insure impunity to the persons by whom it was committed. But without going into the general question, I think this experiment is inexpedient. If the Ballot is a preservative against bribery and intimidation, are you justified in stopping at two boroughs. If, on the other hand, you wish to deal in an exceptional manner with them and inflict some penalty for their abuse of their electoral privileges as you have done on Sudbury and other places, the success of the present Motion will preclude us hereafter from any proper consideration of the subject, and anticipate the decision the House might come to on this difficult question. I shall give my vote for these reasons against the Motion.


said, when the Ballot was proposed as a general measure the right hon. Gentleman had uniformly opposed it. Now they had proposed to limit it to the two worst boroughs among the cases that had come before them; the right hon. Gentleman opposed that Motion also, and said, Do not try it on those two bad boroughs alone; apply it generally. But if the right hon. Gentleman had so little faith in the Ballot, why not let them try it in this small way, and see if it would not answer? The right hon. Gentleman was illogical in his argument. If the Ballot were tried on a small scale and did not answer, it would be a stronger argument against applying it generally. There was a Gentleman, a Member of that House, Mr. Childers, who had himself been elected by ballot in Australia, who had filled the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer in Victoria, and who could tell the right hon. Gentleman that it was possible to vote by Ballot with perfect secrecy; and, if a scrutiny should be demanded, it could be shown how every man had voted. ["Oh!"] He could assure those who received this statement with some degree of incredulity that till a scrutiny took place the Ballot vote was quite secret; if a scrutiny was required the secrecy was at an end, and it was known how every man had voted. If hon. Gentlemen were in earnest in condemning bribery and intimidation, they could have no objection to vote with the hon. Member for Finsbury.


said, the perusal of the evidence given before the Wakefield and Gloucester Commissions had convinced him that they would not be justified in trying this experiment. The impression he had derived from their Reports differed widely from that of the hon. Member for Finsbury. The conclusion he drew from the evidence was this, that as long as there were Gentlemen ambitious of becoming Members of Parliament, and yet contented to represent nothing but strong beer and bank notes, no possible law, enactment, or machinery that could be devised by the House of Commons would prevent bribery and corruption at elections. No fact disclosed by the Reports of the Commissions appeared to shake this conclusion. So long as public opinion sanctioned the present system, all attempts to stop bribery would be utterly futile. The only remedy then was in a more elevated state of public feeling. The hon. Member for Finsbury, Mr. T. Duncombe, asked them to try the Ballot in these boroughs as an experiment, but the experiment had been tried; not long ago there was a contested election for the borough of Reigate. There were four or five Liberal candidates, and it was agreed that they should submit their claims to a sort of preliminary Ballot of the electors of their party. They did so, and one of the candidates who was rejected by it afterwards published an address to the electors, in which he distinctly stated that irregular and improper means had been resorted to to influence the result and secure the election. The Ballot had been for twenty-four years propounded to Parliament, and had been the subject of eighteen or twenty divisions in the House. It was now sought to apply it in a homoeopathic form—he did not know whether as a remedy or a penalty, but professedly for the purpose of trying whether it would succeed on a large scale. They knew that it had been tried in other countries. The Ballot had produced an iron despotism in France, and had not put an end to intimidation and bribery in the United States. He had been informed by a noble Lord not then in the House (Viscount Bury) that while in America a member of Congress had shown him his poll-book, a large octavo volume, containing the names of 25,000 electors, with a statement of how each man had voted during a period of ten years, and who had remained neutral. That was the system which it was proposed to introduce in this country. With respect to intimidation, public opinion had already wrought a vast change for the better since the days when Mr. Grote first brought this question under the notice of Parliament. In the face of an enlightened public opinion, it now required more courage to intimidate than to resist intimidation. He could only say that if any one would point out to him any country in the world where the system of the Ballot had acted as a preventive of bribery and intimidation he would support it, but until then he should continue to believe that the best remedy for these evils was to be found in a more elevated condition of public opinion.


said, that as one who was present at the Reigate case referred to by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke, he must contend that what then took place merely tended to show that the right system was not tried in the first instance. The Ballot meant secret voting, and anything by which secret voting was not assured was not the Ballot. The first experiment made at Reigate was to send a card to each elector with the names of-all the candidates inscribed thereon, leaving the elector to strike out all but his chosen candidate. But the consequence was, the weakest candidate bought up most of the tickets. That was not the Ballot, it was ticket-voting, quite a different thing. A better system was then adopted, that which had been successful in Australia. A card was given to the voter as he entered an outer room, and he wrote upon it the name of the candidate he wished to vote for. [An hon. MEMBER: "Which everybody saw him do."] He was endeavouring to inform the House from what he had himself witnessed, and he could state that this second experiment, wherein the voting was secret, perfectly succeeded, and all the candidates expressed themselves satisfied with the result.


said, it appeared to him that those hon. Members who were strongly opposed to the Ballot must have been highly gratified by the arguments they had heard adduced that evening in favour of the measure. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) said that the House must wish to screen bribery and corruption if it did not adopt his proposal. But he (Mr. Bentinck) contended that the adoption of the hon. Member's Motion would be really screening bribery and corruption. The hon. Member said his plan would prevent a repetition of the late bribery and perjury. It might, indeed, prevent perjury, because there would be no means of detecting the bribery. The hon. Member for Finsbury also said that the electors of Gloucester and Wakefield were in favour of the Ballot. Of course they were. They had been proved to be guilty of the grossest venality and corruption, and as a penalty the new writs had been suspended; but the hon. Member wished to give them a period of ten years' uninterrupted enjoyment of their favourite amusement at the expense of any candidates that might offer themselves. Then, the hon. Member said, if his plan succeeded, it would prove the success of the Ballot. It would be sure to succeed, for once the Ballot system was applied to Wakefield and Gloucester the bribery could be carried on without detection! The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Homo Department was wrong in saying that the hon. Member for Finsbury wished to inflict punishment upon those venal electors. On the contrary, it was a reward which he would bestow upon them. Upon a former occasion he (Mr. Bentinck) had stated, when the Ballot had been brought under the consideration of the House by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) that the result of the adoption of the Motion would be to prevent the detection of bribery, and he had suggested that the Bill of the hon. Gentleman should be called "a Bill to prevent the detection of bribery." He had never heard any advocate of the Ballot grapple with this question—how they were to detect or prevent bribery under the system of the Ballot, He wished also to call the attention of the House to the high authority of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whom he was sorry not to see in his place on the present occasion. That noble Lord followed him in the debate to which he alluded, and, as he found him reported in Hansard, he said he was convinced the argument of the hon. Member for West Norfolk was correct, that under the Ballot candidates would be found to offer £1,000 or £2,000 for their election, without inquiring how it was spent, and that thus more corruption would exist than before. That was the opinion expressed by the noble Lord on that occasion, and he only regretted that he was not present to add his powerful voice in favour of the same view now. But he (Mr. Bentinck) would like to ask whether the House, as at present constituted, was in a condition to take up this question with clean hands? He would like to ask whether there was more guilt in a poor and ignorant man who took £5 for his vote, or in some great and distinguished Statesman, who, abandoning all his former principles, acquired by gross acts of political tergiversation and political profligacy a place in the direction of the affairs of the country with a salary of £5,000 a year. [Cries of "Name."] Name! Why, their name was legion. It appeared to him the poor man only added a unit to swell the majority at a contested election, but that the distinguished public character to whom he had adverted, and who was guilty of the acts he had named, deceived and betrayed millions of his fellow-citizens who, by their confidence in his integrity and the principles he professed had elevated him to the position in which he was enabled to betray them. Was such a man as this fit to sit in judgment on the poor and ignorant fellow who accepted £5 for his vote? Why, it seemed to him very much as if a tiger that had destroyed human life, and ravaged flocks and herds, were to sit in judgment on the predatory habits of a mouse. But is long as the tigers were allowed to rang with impunity, it seemed to him that the mice must be let alone. He would offer one other suggestion. The hon. Member for Finsbury was fond of trying experiments. He brought forward this measure avowedly by way of experiment, which, if it succeeded, was to be more widely extended. Now, he would suggest to the hon. Member whether it would not be better to try the experiment upon themselves at first; and he would venture to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should bring in a Motion which he (Mr. Bentinck) would be happy to support, that they should test the advantages of vote by Ballot in that House by taking a division by Ballot whether it would be advisable this year to deal with the question of Reform. He thought that would be a very fair way of testing the experiment, and he believed the results of it would somewhat startle the hon. Member for Birmingham and his friends. The proposal of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duncombe) was so monstrous that the House could not entertain it, for it would, in fact, confer a reward, where the wish was to inflict a punishment.


said, he would not have troubled the House on this occasion, but for the circumstance that, in the year 1853, he had himself made a similar proposition to the House. He did not think the measure had been fairly characterized by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. For himself, he considered the proposition wise, just, and temperate. For years they had had a series of beliefs, convictions, and speculations upon this subject, and in the present Session six or seven different ways for dealing with the evil complained of had been proposed. Every hon. Member had his own idea as to the best mode of curing the evil. Some proposed to do so by declarations, some by penal enactments, some by the general adoption of the Ballot, and some by the moderate measure now before the House; but all seemed anxious to find means by which they might set themselves right not only before this country, but before the eyes of Europe. As to the Home Secretary's argument upon the result of the Ballot in America, the voting there was entirely devoid of secrecy, and they could draw no analogy between that which was an open act and that which his hon. Friend (Mr. Duncombe) was trying to render a secret one. The Home Secretary had not once alluded to the successful operation of the Ballot in our own colony of Australia, He was sorry to find that an hon. Member who was elected by the Ballot in Australia, was not present to give the testimony of his experience to the House; but he (Mr. Bonham-Carter) had had an opportunity of speaking the other day with a gentleman who lately held office in Australia—who was, in the first instance, an opponent of the Ballot, but who told him that its influence was very great in preserving order and quiet on the day of election. And this was no small matter. They all knew that it was about half-past three in the afternoon of the polling days that the Blue Lions and the Green Lambs congregated together, and watched when the poll was running close. But by the Ballot they could not tell how the poll was going, and there would, therefore, be no temptation to hold back their votes for the chance of disposing of them at the last minute for, perhaps, £40 or £50 a piece. Then it was said that the Ballot would prevent the detection of bribery. But that was a mistake. It was not necessary to know how a man voted in order to convict the briber, for even under the present system men were found to vote both ways; and it was the corrupt offer that constituted the crime, not the vote in consequence of the offer. Then it was argued that this measure must either be a reward or a punishment. He held that it was neither, but a remedy; and in considering the remedy proposed, the House ought not to forget the number of those electors who gave their votes honestly and fairly, and who sincerely regretted the existence of this corruption. Parliament should lose no opportunity of preventing the corrupt minority from overriding the opinions of the honest majority, and should put every difficulty in the way of their receiving bribes. He did not believe that the Ballot was a panacea for every possible evil that existed; but it would be of use in restraining both intimidation and bribery, and the House would do wisely and safely in giving leave to introduce this Bill. He wished it to be tried as an experiment, and he believed that if it had been tried in 1853, the question would not be under discussion now.


I wish to state, in a very few words, the reasons why I shall not be able to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend. I have always opposed the Ballot on general principles. Upon former occasions I have stated at sufficient length the grounds upon which I think that, instead of being an improve- ment in our electoral system, it would, on the contrary, tend to demoralize and to degrade our national character in the performance of important constitutional functions. I cannot, therefore, agree with my hon. Friend, in applying as a remedy that which I think is in itself an evil. We know very well that a poison administered in very small doses sometimes cures disease, but I do not think this kind of application will be at all adapted to the evil which my hon. Friend wishes to correct. And if I were disposed to acquiesce in any plausible proposal for the partial and local application of that to which upon general grounds I objected, any such disposition would be removed by the candour or the indiscretion of my hon. Friend, who, in reading that valuable communication received by him from one of the candidates at the last election, said that, if he could only now introduce the thin end of the wedge, it would do more to forward the cause of the Ballot generally than ten years of incessant agitation. That forms a perfectly good reason why my hon. Friend, who is a sincere advocate of the Ballot, should recommend the Motion which he has made to-night; but he will admit that it forms an equally good reason why I, entertaining different opinions on the general principle, should resist his Motion. Again, with regard to the effect which this measure would be calculated to have in the prevention of bribery, I must say that in my opinion there is another circumstance which my hon. Friend mentioned which shows that, so far from correcting the evil of which he complains, the operation of this Bill would be to generalize it. My hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, read an extract from the report of the Commissioners, which stated tha teight electors had been bribed by both sides. [Several hon. MEMBERS: Twelve]. Well, that makes my case so much the stronger, for if under a system of open voting, which compels every elector to declare for whom he desires that his vote should be recorded, men are found who are bribed by both the opposing candidates, you would, under a system of secret voting, have 100 electors who would be so bribed. In fact, all those electors who were disposed to take bribes would present themselves to each of the opposing candidates at an election, or communicate with each by means of an agent, would accept of a bribe from each, and would have no difficulty, at the same time, in promising to vote for both. After the election was over the same men would go to the successful candidate and make a merit of having given the vote for which they were paid. Now, in the case of open voting, the bad faith of those twelve electors to whom my hon. Friend alluded, became notorious, and thus far a check was imposed upon others—their number might be 1,2000—who, if a system of secret voting were established, would be quite ready to accept bribes from both parties. I shall not now enter into the general question of the merits or demerits of voting in secret; but, as the subject of the mode of voting in America has been alluded to in the course of the discussion, I may be permitted to observe that, frequently as the expediency of adopting the Ballot has in former years been pressed upon the consideration of the House of Commons, upon the ground of its existence in America, the example of America in this respect has not of late been very particularly relied upon by the supporters of the measure. The truth is, it has been discovered that the system which prevails in America of voting by Ballot is not secret voting, and the advocates of the Ballot have thrown overboard that system, and call upon us to establish in this country one of a different character. I am, however, prepared to maintain that you cannot establish here a system of secret voting unless you make a man liable to a penalty who discloses the way in which he happens to have voted. Any such proposal, therefore, as that which my hon. Friend has made, in order to be effectual, must not be simply permissive, and would, therefore, deserve to be characterized—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department has justly said—as a penal measure. It is, at all events, perfectly clear that if a vote given in secret may—and, as a matter of course, does—become matter of general notoriety, the arguments in favour of secret voting at once fall to the ground, and that in resorting to the Ballot you are only taking a roundabout way of perpetuating that publicity which now exists. For these reasons I feel it to be my duty to oppose the Motion under the consideration of the House.


* Sir, I have been in the course of this debate so pointedly appealed to by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Bonham-Carter), and by my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Crossley), that I cannot refuse, even at this late hour, to give the House some information relative to the nature and working of the Ballot in Australia. At the same time I must throw myself upon the indulgence of hon. Members, not only because I now for the first time address them, but because until within the last half hour I had no idea that I should be called upon to do so. I trust that I shall receive that generous forbearance which, under similar circumstances, has been so often granted; and I anticipate it the more confidently because in the few remarks which I intend to make I shall confine myself to facts within my own personal experience.

Ever since the first concession of representative institutions to Australia, vote by Ballot had been one of the measures of reform, agitated in the Colonies and their Legislatures. It was not, however, until the eve of the introduction of what is called "Responsible" or Parliamentary Government, that it met with general advocacy. About that time public attention was directed to the corrupt practices which there, as in this country, too frequently attended Parliamentary elections. The prevailing evil was not so much intimidation as bribery. In a comparatively new country, without a landed aristocracy, and with greater facilities for personal independence than are found among our poorer voters, intimidation was, as might be expected, comparatively rare. Indeed, the only undue influence which was feared to any extent came rather from below than from above. But bribery and treating, in the vulgar forms in which we know them, were rife in the town constituencies; and to check them and at the same time to reduce the excitement and expense of contested elections, the Ballot was proposed. The first colony that took up the question was Victoria, and as I was at the time a Member of the Legislative Council, I think the House will permit me to give some details as to its introduction and machinery in that colony.

The Ballot was not in Victoria as in England exclusively advocated by the popular or liberal party, and opposed by conservatives. On the contrary, some of its most strenuous advocates sat on the conservative side of the house, and unquestionably its most formidable opponents were the leaders of the extreme democratic party. And to this, I think, much of its success is due. For not being a party measure, its details were honestly discussed and settled by the ablest men in the house; and if it is not perfect in its operation, at any rate it is consistent and simple. But before I explain to you, Sir, what it is, I will tell you what it is not In the first place it is not the American Ballot. There is, I think, no greater popular delusion than that the Ballot in America has generally had for either its object or its result secrecy in voting. It was really established not for secrecy but for speed. With frequent elections, not only to the Legislatures, but to offices of all kinds; with almost if not quite universal suffrage; and without those means which we in an older country have for fairly proportioning the number of booths to voters, oral voting was impracticable, and it became absolutely necessary to devise a more expeditious machinery. This was called Ballot; and, although in a few States, and within the last few years, secret, as distinguished from open, Ballot has been proposed and even put in practice, these are only exceptions, and the change is not, so far as I can learn, likely to be generally adopted. This open or American Ballot then, as giving no protection to the voter, was not established in Victoria.

Nor, Sir, on the other hand, did any of those systems, which Mr. Grote used to offer for the consideration of this House, meet with favour in Australia. For they all appeared to us open to the objection, that they would afford encouragement to personation and to the recording, without remedy, of bad votes. I believe that no plan had ever been proposed in this country which admitted of a scrutiny on petition before an Election Committee. The vote once given, however bad it might be, the mischief was done; and whether the voter were convicted of personation or bribery, or for any other cause were proved incapable to elect, as there was no means of ascertaining how his vote was cast, so it could not be struck off. We felt, Sir, that with an extended suffrage, and consequently increased facilities for personation, under whatever system we might establish, the evil would be greatly aggravated under the Ballot in its usual form; and we, therefore, by a very large majority, decided to reject that form.

But we did introduce a machinery obnoxious to neither of the evils to which I have alluded. And I will now describe it to the House: premising that in every other respect, as to the registration of voters, as to nominations, the regulation of expenses and petitions, elections in Aus- tralia are conducted almost exactly on the English model. After the nomination, the returning officer sends to a public officer—I think the Clerk of the Peace—a requisition for a number of voting papers equal to that of voters on the roll. On the face of each paper is printed a list of the candidates, with instructions to the voter to strike off those for whom he does not poll; and on the back the returning officer signs his name. When the elector comes up to vote, and after the usual questions have been put to him, the returning officer writes at the back of a voting paper the number of the elector on the roll, and hands it to him. The voter takes the paper to a table, not overlooked by the poll clerks or the public, and after erasing the necessary number of names, folds it, brings it back, and drops it into the ballot box in front of the returning officer. At the close of the poll the box is opened, and the voting papers are, in the presence of the scrutineers, unfolded by the returning officer, placed on their backs so that the numbers cannot be seen, and the result is recorded. They are then sealed up in a separate packet, and sent to the clerk of the Parliaments with the return, and with two other packets containing respectively the unused and informal papers; and until an Election Committee orders the seals to be broken, every vote is protected by the most complete secrecy. Even then no vote is ascertained, unless the voter's name he included in the scrutiny list as objected to. I think, Sir, that my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding most correctly described this process as one combining perfect secrecy with a simple means of testing any vote, in the event of a scrutiny.

And what, Sir, has been the result? That I conceive to be the real question, and indeed the only one which would justify my addressing you this evening. Why, by the common consent of almost every public man who has seen its working, the Ballot has been thoroughly successful. It came into operation in the year 1856, when I was myself elected under its provisions. I cannot speak to the number of elections in other Colonies; but in Victoria I understand that about 200 have taken place since that time. They have been distinguished by the almost entire absence of those practices which were previously so prevalent. I believe that in only two cases have petitions been presented, complaining of illegal returns. Not that it is more difficult to proceed on petition there than here, for as I have ex- plained, the voter can always be connected with his vote before an Election Committee, and in other respects the proceedings are identical with ours in England. In one of these cases the member was accused of treating, and he was unseated. In the other, I think, some two or three voters were bribed; and this also was proved without difficulty. There was also at the last general election a complaint of intimidation; and this undoubtedly existed, and arose from the notorious and deep-seated religious animosity in a rural district between the Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, which no system of voting could have concealed or suppressed. But, as a whole, elections have been conducted with a regularity and quiet altogether unknown before; and this in a population far more excitable, and during the agitation of questions far more exciting, than you have in this country.

I admit, Sir, that the Ballot has its weak points. I have no wish to conceal from the House what I have myself observed to its disadvantage, and I will state them to you candidly. It is unfavourable to candidates against whom local or private prejudices exist, prejudices which, with open voting, would he often concealed; and it unquestionably works better in a constituency represented by one than by more members. In the latter case, as the state of the poll is not known through the day, decided partizans of individual candidates are induced to plump rather than to vote for the whole list of their own party, when it is expected that the contest will be close; although with open voting they might have no reason, and indeed would be ashamed, to do so. I remember that at the first election for the city of Melbourne under the Ballot, although there were ten candidates and five members to be returned, the average number of votes given by each elector was barely over two. By this defect less prominent men are frequently placed at a disadvantage when standing with leaders, although their party may have a small majority on the roll; an inconvenience easily cured by subdividing the electoral districts and giving to none more than one, or at most two, members. But on the other band, and for precisely the same reason, the Ballot altogether puts a stop to what I will call afternoon bribery. I allude to what many borough Members, who have had the misfortune of being engaged in a close contest, must know well,—the temptation to bribe arising from organizations of corrupt electors, who at two, three, or half-past three o'clock in the afternoon, offer themselves to the best bidder at prices which rise as the poll approaches its close, This the Ballot manifestly intends to stop; for as the state of the poll cannot be known through the day, a vote is as valuable at half-past eight in the morning as at half-past three in the afternoon; and in practice it has been found, that by thus removing all the food for excitement, and by reducing the value of unpolled votes, bribery, on the day of polling, at least, becomes useless and obsolete. In this respect the success of the Ballot in Australia is unquestioned by its most determined opponents.

I trust, Sir, that I have now shown you that the Ballot is not so impracticable as the hon. Member opposite confidently informed us; but I would, in conclusion, venture to allude to the special case under discussion. I take it that the constituencies of Gloucester and Wakefield have, in fact, committed political suicide. Like many instances, which will at once occur to you, of men highly distinguished in politics or science, whose better principles have been momentarily overthrown by some morbid over-excitement, these two boroughs have been brought down, by a small and corrupt minority in their bodies corporate, to the disgrace and the political death which has now justly overtaken them. They lie, as it were, on our dissecting table; and it is for us to deal with them as we think fit. Whether or not the Ballot be un-English and degrading, so far at any rate as their interests are concerned, we need not determine. But if, as I have endeavoured to show, the Ballot may be and has-been carried out in a British community, and by the side of British institutions, not only without mischief, but with the most perfect success; if the evils which were predicted of it have been unknown, and the good which it was designed to bring about has been accomplished; then I say it becomes our duty, in the interest of society and of our constitution, to test by experiment, under our own eyes, this problem in political science, which cannot in any other way be satisfactorily solved. When the advocates of the Ballot, instead of demanding it for universal adoption, generously offer to abide by the result of its trial on such constituencies as Gloucester and Wakefield, it is, I will not say unjust, but impolitic in its opponents to decline the experiment. For my part, I hope the House will agree to give practical appli- cation to a principle which is dear, not only to the greater part of those who sit on this side, but to the majority of the people; and I shall therefore give the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury my most cordial support.


appealed to the Government, after the speech they had just heard, showing the entire success of the ballot in Australia, to withdraw their opposition to a Motion which was supported by the Liberal party in that House. Everything said by the Home Secretary had been contradicted by what had fallen from the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers).


replied, he was sure the House felt exceedingly indebted to the hon. Member for Pontefract for the very able and interesting statement he had made in reference to the Ballot, and he personally begged to thank him for the valuable support he had given to his Motion. With regard to the argument of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, he had only to say that he put this forward as an experiment, and nothing else. He wanted the experiment to be tried, and he used the expression of one of the candidates for Gloucester when he said that he wanted to get in the thin edge of the wedge, hoping that he would soon be able to drive it home. Great measures were not carried in a day. They must proceed by slow degrees. It was thus they carried Jewish emancipation. It was by taking Baron Rothschild from behind the bar and placing him in one of their Committees and to meet the Peers in conference that they were enabled to convince all rational men that the contest was at an end, and the result was, they had now four hon. and distinguished Members of the Jewish persuasion representing in that House large and important constituencies, while the British constitution and the Established Church, which it was said would perish the day a Jew took his seat, stood exactly where they were; and so it would be with their representative system after the Ballot was introduced. Its effect would be equally harmless.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 149: Majority 31.

List of the AYES.
Adam, W. P. Baines, E.
Alcock, T. Bass, M. T.
Atherton, W. Baxter, W. E.
Bazley, T. MacEvoy, E.
Beale, S. Marjoribanks, D. C.
Bellew, R. M. Marshall, W.
Biddulph, Col. Martin, P. W.
Biggs, J. Mellor, J.
Black, A. Merry, J.
Bonham-Carter, J. Mitchell, T. A.
Brocklehurst, J. Monson, hon. W. J.
Buller, Sir A. W. Morris, D.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Napier, Sir C.
Childers, H. C. E. Noble, J. W.
Clay, J. Norris, J. T.
Clifford, C. C. North, F.
Clive, G. O'Brien, P.
Collier, R. P. Osborne, R. B.
Craufurd, E. H. J. Paget, C.
Crawford, R. W. Paxton, Sir J.
Crook, J. Pease, H.
Crossley, F. Peto, Sir S. M.
Dalglish, R. Pilkington, J.
Davey, R. Pollard-Urquhart, W.
Deasy, R. Redmond, J. E.
Douglas, Sir C. Robertson, D.
Duke, Sir J. Roebuck, J. A.
Ellice, E. (St. Andrews). Rothschild, Baron L. de
Esmonde, J. Rothschild, Baron M. de
Ewin, H. E. C. Roupell, W.
Ferguson, Col. Russell, A.
FitzGerald.rt. hn. J.D. St. Aubyn, J.
Foley, Henry W. Salomons, Mr. Ald.
Forster, C. Salt, T.
Freeland, H.W. Scholefield, W.
Gavin, Major Scott, Sir W.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Scully, V.
Gifford, Earl Seymour, Sir M.
Goldsmid, Sir F. H. Seymour, W. D.
Gower, hon. F. L. Shelley, Sir J. V.
Hadfield, G. Smith, J. B.
Hankey, T. Smith, Augustus
Hanmer, Sir J. Stansfeld, J.
Hennessy, J. P. Sullivan, M.
Ingram, H. Sykes, Col. W. H.
Jackson, W. Talbot, C. R. M.
James, E. Tite, W.
Kershaw, J. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Kinglake, A. W. Trelawny, Sir J. S.
Kinglake, J. A. Villiers, rt. hn. C. P.
Kinnaird. hon. A. F. Vivian, H. H.
KnatchbullHugessen, E. Watkins, Col. L.
Laing, S. Westhead, J. P. B.
Langston, J. H. Whalley, G. H.
Lanigan, J. Wickham, H. W.
Laslett, W. Williams, W.
Lawson, W. Wyld, J.
Leatham, E. A.
Lindsay, W. S. TELLERS.
Locke, John Duncombe, T.
M'Cann, J. Ayrton, A. S.
List of the NOES.
Archdall, Capt, M. Browne, Lord J. T.
Baillie, H. J. Bruce, Major C.
Baring, T. Burghley, Lord
Barrow, W. H. Carnac, Sir J. R.
Bathurst, A. A. Cartwright, Col.
Beecroft, G. S. Cave, S.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Cavendish, Lord G.
Bentinck, G. C. Cecil, Lord R.
Blackburn, P. Clinton, Lord R.
Botfield, B. Close, M. C.
Bridges, Sir B. W. Codrington, Sir W.
Brooks, R. Cole, hon. Col.
Collins, T. Mackie, J.
Denman, hon. G. Martin, J.
Dickson, Col. Matheson, A.
Disraeli, rt. hon. B. Miller, T. J.
Du Cane, C. Montagu, Lord R.
Duncombe, hon. W. E. Morgan, O.
Dunne, Col. Mowbray, rt. hon. J. R.
Edwards, Major Mure, D.
Elmley, Visct. Naas, Lord
Elphinstone, Sir J. D. Northcote, Sir S. H.
Estcourt, rt. hn.T.H.S. Packe, G. H.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Pakington, rt. hon.Sir J.
Filmer, Sir E Palk, L.
Finlay, A. S. Palmerston, Visct.
Forde, Col. Papillon, P. O.
Forster, Sir G. Parker, Major W.
Foster, W. O. Patten, Col. W.
Gard, R. S. Paull, H.
Garnett, W. J. Peacocke, G. M. W.
Gaskell, J. M. Philipps, J. H.
George, J. Powys, P. L.
Gladstone, C. Puller, C. W. G.
Goff, T. W. Quinn, P.
Gordon, C. W. Repton, G. W. J.
Gore, J. R. O. Ridley, Sir M. W.
Gray, Capt. Rogers, J. J.
Grogan, Sir E. Sclater-Booth, G.
Haliburton, T. C. Selwyn, C. J.
Hardy, G. Seymer, H. K.
Hartopp, E. B. Shirley, E. P.
Henley, rt. hon. J. W. Sibthorp, Major
Herbert, Col. P. Smith, Montagu
Hervey, Lord A. Smith, Abel
Hood, Sir A. A. Smith, S. G.
Hope, G. W. Smollett, P. B.
Hopwood, J. T. Spooner, R.
Horsfall, T. B. Stanhope, J. B.
Hotham, Lord Steuart, A.
Howard, hon. C. W. G. Stewart, Sir M. R. S.
Howes, E. Sturt, H. G.
Hume, W. W. F. Taylor, Col.
Hunt, G. W. Tempest, Lord A. V.
Jermyn, Earl Thompson, H. S.
Johnstone, hon. H. B. Thynne, Lord E.
Jolliffe, rt. hon. Sir W. G. H. Thynne, Lord H.
Tollemache, J.
Kekewich, S. T Torrens, R.
Kelly, Sir F. Trefusis, hon. C. H. R.
Kendall, N. Valletort, Visct.
King, J. K. Vance, J.
Knatchbull, W. F. Vandeleur, Col.
Knox, Col. Vansittart, W.
Lacon, Sir E. Vernon, L. V.
Leeke, Sir H. Walker, J. R.
Lefroy, A. Walsh, Sir J.
Legh, W. J. Watlington, J. W. P.
Leighton, Sir B. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Lewis, rt. hon. Sir G. C. Wise, J. A.
Liddell, hon. H. G. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Longfield, R. Wyndham, hon. H.
Lopes, Sir M. Wynn, Col.
Lovaine, Lord
Lyall, G. TELLERS.
Lygon, hon. F. Mills, A.
Macaulay, K. Gurdon, B.