§ Order for SECOND READING read.
§ MR. MELLOR
said, that since he had obtained leave to bring in this Bill, he had 1070 received numerous communications from all parts of the country expressing approval of the provisions of the measure, and complaining of the statement of the noble Viscount at the head of the Government that the House of Commons was much more alive to the evils of bribery than the country generally. He himself was firmly persuaded that the noble Viscount was mistaken, and he trusted that in future his correspondents would address their letters to the noble Viscount, who it appeared required to be convinced that the country was seriously bent upon measures for the repression of bribery. The disclosures brought about by the Gloucester and Wakefield Commissions might be said to have placed representative institutions on their trial, and unless something were done by the House to put a stop to bribery they almost ran the risk of becoming the scorn and contempt of Europe. He believed that the most effectual means of effecting that object would be to attach a degrading punishment to the offence, and he thought the punishment proposed in his measure, while sufficient for the purpose of deterring persons from giving or taking bribes, was not so severe as to render juries unwilling to convict. One of his correspondents thought that he let off offenders much too easily, and that four years' penal servitude should be assigned for the second offence, and with a much heavier punishment for the third. The offence of bribery, however, whether in giving or taking, like that of manslaughter, involved many degrees of guilt. In some cases the person who accepted a bribe was worse than the one who paid it. Therefore he had left it to the discretion of the Judge to fix the punishment according to the particular circumstances of each case. The Bill also contained a clause, the object of which was to prevent a witness from refusing to give evidence on the ground that it would criminate himself. For the necessity of this provision he might refer to an attempt at bribery of a common councilman at Norwich by the offer of £300 to vote in favour of certain aldermen. The case was heard before the magistrates at Norwich, and one magistrate, a banker, refused to give evidence, on the ground that it would criminate himself. In the present state of the law, he could not be compelled to give evidence, although his conduct deserved censure, and he hoped it would be taken notice of by the Government. Some 1071 of the magistrates implicated in the transaction actually voted on the adjournment of the case, and the end of it was that the proceedings were rendered abortive. But he thought that such cases ought not to be allowed to pass with perfect impunity. He proposed the Bill as a provisional measure, until the House should have time and opportunity completely to revise the whole system. He regarded the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act, which the present Bill proposed to amend, as founded on sound and good principles, but it had failed because its provisions could only be enforced by costly proceedings to recover money penalties. Gentlemen had gone down to elections with the predetermination to treat the Act, for which they had voted, as a dead letter, and both the Wakefield and Gloucester reports disclosed gross falsifications of accounts. Large sums were paid away by the candidates in bribery, and those sums, of course, did not appear in the accounts of the election auditor. At Gloucester, the expenses of Sir Robert Carden were returned at £1,021 10s. 11d., but the Commissioners reported that the actual sum spent must have amounted to at least £2,600. The total expenditure of Messrs. Price and Monk, according to the return of the election auditor, was £929 2s., but the actual expenditure was at least £2,300. The case of "Wakefield afforded even a more striking instance of this falsification of accounts. Mr. Leatham's expenditure was returned as under £500, but the Commissioners reported that it had been nearly £4,000; and Mr. Charlesworth's, which was returned at £652, was found by the Commissioners to have been £4,150. Mr. Leatham expended no less than £1,900 in direct bribery, and Mr. Charlesworth £1,600, in addition to a large sum for the employment of bands of prizefighters to intimidate the electors. At Wakefield ninety-eight persons committed acts of bribery, by bribing other people, eighty-six in respect of their own votes, and twelve were bribed on both sides. He had received statements from various parts of the kingdom, which showed that although there was a general feeling in favour of proceedings to put down bribery there was a wonderful disinclination even among religious and respectable persons to regard bribery as a serious offence. He had received singular statements as to this from various places, each showing a singular deadness of principle in this respect. In 1072 one place there was a gentleman, who, while he employed a chaplain to read prayers every morning and contributed largely to every benevolent object, gave also large sums for Parliamentary and municipal corruption. This gentleman salved his conscience by supposing he could preserve his religion and morality by not inquiring how the money was spent. In other plases there were gentlemen professing religion of a high character who gave their money to similar objects. New, in his opinion, if a man employed money to sap the self-respect of his fellow-men, though he gave all his goods to feed the poor and his body to be burnt, yet was his religion nothing more than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. He proposed that no person should be at liberty to pay any, save personal expenses except through the election agent and auditor. He did not approve of election auditors. He believed that the election auditor was a mere machine for publishing the accounts, and was of no other use whatever. At the same time he wished to give some utility to the existing law, and he should regret if another election occurred without further provisions being made to put a stop to corrupt and illegal practices. By the provisions of this Bill he endeavoured, by making the punishment of bribery degrading through the addition of hard labour to the sentence, to give the public a belief that they were in earnest when they talked of it as a degrading offence. He endeavoured also to avoid the objection to answer which the rules of evidence permitted, by providing that no one should be at liberty to refuse to answer questions, which might criminate or degrade, but at the same time enacting that those answers should not be used against him in evidence in any other proceedings except proceedings for perjury. He prohibited the employment of voters in capacities which were found to be the general means resorted to in colourable bribery, such as those of canvassers, clerks, and messengers. He further provided against the colourable employment of voters by requiring that within a fortnight of the election a list should be sent to the auditor of every person engaged in the election for fee or reward, and he trusted that the Bill which he proposed would induce a feeling of insecurity between the briber and his agents, which would prevent persons who were usually the instruments of bribery 1073 being taken into the confidence of candidates. There was another provision which he should endeavour to introduce in Committee—namely, to prohibit altogether the payment of canvassers. It was not a complete measure, but it struck at the root of many evils, and he hoped the Session would not pass without something being done to prevent the recurrence of those evils should another general election take place.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he gave his cordial support to the Bill. It contained several very valuable provisions. He approved all payments being made through the election auditor, and the increase in the punishment for offending against the law. But there were several provisions which he hoped would be amended in Committee. He could not agree that they ought to prohibit candidates employing paid canvassers. It would be quite sufficient to enact that all paid canvassers should be incapacitated from voting. In small boroughs it might be possible to do without paid canvassers, but where the constituency was large, and the area extensive, no candidate was physically capable of going through the enormous labour of a contested election without paid assistants. He agreed that the office of election auditor as at present constituted was a mere farce; but he believed that officer might be made a very valuable functionary if the onus of refusing to pay doubtful claims were thrown upon him, instead of being left to the candidate, at a time when he was almost incapacitated for resisting improper charges. In the case of one of his own elections he had made an application to the election auditor to know whether he was justified in refusing certain claims, but the reply the auditor made was—"I have only to pass the cheques and publish the accounts." The election auditor should be a person of position and character, and he ought to be able to protect the candidate from the exorbitant claims made upon him. "While he intended to support this Bill, he did not pretend to say that this or any other Act would prevent bribery and corruption at elections. As long as there Were persons willing to pay money for a seat in Parliament means would be found to evade the law and to convey the money to the voters. Corrupt practices had been to a certain extent checked, and he believed that if this Bill were carried the evil 1074 would be further mitigated, but something further was needed. He did not think the country would believe that the House were in earnest in wishing to put down bribery, while in their individual capacities they were found using money in a manner which in their collective capacity they stigmatized. It was often said that they were the victims of others—that they found themselves in the end implicated in practices which they wished to avoid. But a very pertinent fact came out at all these investigations, which was, that in nine cases out of ten, the money employed in corrupting voters could be traced to the banker of the candidate or of his immediate relations or connections. What was the case at Wakefield? He drew no distinction between Conservatives and Liberals. The one side of the House was as bad as the other. The Conservative candidate at Wakefield went through the farce of opening an account in the name of his cousin, and deposited security for the money which was to meet his cousin's cheques. The money was spent either in pouring beer down the throats of the electors or filling the pockets of their wives. The Liberal candidate, who was not so used to electioneering, went to work in a more straightforward manner, and drew the money himself. At Gloucester, the Conservative candidate, like the Liberal candidate at Wakefield, callous and indifferent as to the purposes for which it was to be used, drew the money himself. The Liberal candidate had a friend who had stood many contests, and he advised the candidate to know nothing about money transactions until after the election. The same friend drew a cheque on the candidate's father-in-law, and that cheque was duly honoured. A Gentleman high in position in this House, although he had a private residence, found it necessary to have an election-office in Ryder Street. A parliamentary agent was instructed to open all his letters, and to act according to the best of his judgment. The money of the father-in-law found its way to the office, and was transferred through the medium of a notorious bribing agent to the pockets of the electors of Gloucester. While upon this subject he wished to say a few words on the Reports of the Wakefield and Gloucester Commissioners. He admired the manliness and honesty of the Wakefield Report. The Commissioners had not flinched from their duty of including in the list gentlemen high in position, as well 1075 as the occupiers of low-rented houses in Wakefield. It presented a very favourable contrast to the Report of the Gloucester Commissioners, who gave a very amusing and able narrative, but seemed unable to make up their minds, or, at all events, to state the impression of their minds that Sir W. Carden, Sir W. Hayter, and Mr. Moffatt might have been guilty of bribery.Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.But if the Commissioners had been too sensitive to implicate those gentlemen, their own consciences had moved them to apply for certificates of indemnity. It seemed inconsistent that while three paragraphs of the Gloucester Report should be devoted to whitewashing these three gentlemen, they should have felt compelled— and he thought they were well advised— to apply for certificates of indemnity. Until there was a better state of public-opinion, it was comparatively useless to pass stringent measures against bribery. It frequently happened that Members were unseated for bribery; but when they returned to the House did they meet with the cold shoulder, or at all lose caste among their friends because of the stigma attaching to them by Reports of Commissioners or Committee? Were they not welcomed with as much cordiality as if such Reports had never been made? If the four gentlemen who had been proved to have been guilty of bribery in the Gloucester and Wakefield elections were present, they would no doubt walk into the lobby to swell the majority for the second reading of this Bill, and if either of them had a taste for oratory he would get on his legs to enforce the doctrines of purity with as grave a face as the hon. and learned Gentleman himself. While that was the case, how could they expect persons in a humble position to believe in the indignation against such practices which was generally professed? He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would not consent to the Bill being sent to a Select Committee, because if there was one subject more than another upon which all hon. Members were well informed it was this, and therefore a reference to a Select Committee was wholly unnecessary. He wished well to that or any other measure which might have the effect of putting an end to the most notorious of the corrupt practices prevailing at elections. He was by no means sanguine in his anticipations of the 1076 good which was to be expected from the present Bill, but he would give every assistance in his power to the desirable object with which it had been introduced.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, he was of opinion that some of the clauses contained in the Bill might prove valuable, but to others he entertained such strong objections, that he wished to urge them before the measure reached the stage of committal. Many of its provisions, by which severer penalties were directed against the offence of bribery, were founded on a principle of antiquated legislation, which he hoped the country had outgrown. About half a century ago it was regarded as a rule that all offences highly detrimental to public or private interests, which the existing penalties had failed to check, should be visited with severer punishment; and the easier the offence was to commit, and the more difficult it was to detect, the greater was the necessity which was felt of counterbalancing the temptation by additional threats of severity— the result being that. eventually the punishment of death was denounced against crimes with which one could now hardly associate the idea of such an extreme penalty. In this way capital punishment had come to be inflicted for horse stealing, sheep stealing, and other offences of that kind. But theoretic severity produced, in most instances, practical impunity; and for the last forty years this system had gradually been abandoned, and sounder views of criminal legislation, which were largely indebted for their diffusion to the writings and speeches of such men as Bentham, Romilly, Montagu, and Mackintosh, were established. The new plan for the repression of offences proceeded on the two principles of making punishment certain, and diminishing the temptation to commit the offence; and. wherever it had been applied, it had always been found to work for the public welfare. Bank-note forgery and smuggling, formerly crimes of alarming frequency, against which penal statutes had in vain been directed, were put an end to in one case by an improved system of manufacture, and by removing from circulation the one pound bank-note, and in the other by a reduction in the rate of duty. Why should they not apply to the offence of bribery, which was frequently designated a crime, the same principle which had been attended with beneficial effects in the instances he had mentioned? The second and third clauses 1077 of the Bill proposed, at the discretion of the Judge, to add in cases of bribery at Parliamentary and Municipal elections the penalty of hard labour to that of fine and imprisonment already pronounced by the statutes. This he held to be wholly inconsistent with the spirit of modern legislation; and how, he would ask, was it possible for public opinion to approve the infliction of a degrading punishment—what the French termed peine infamante —when'a feeling existed that many Members of that House were tainted with this very offence of bribery? The penalties imposed by the existing law were not enforced. At every general election hundreds of cases of bribery occurred, and yet nothing was more rare in the history of our criminal courts than punishment of that offence either by fine or imprisonment. If, without making trial of the checks already existing, they were to set about framing others, they would be imitating the physician, who, on learning that the remedies which he had prescribed had not been administered, sat down to write a fresh prescription, consisting of more violent medicines. The only effectual remedies, in his opinion, were the loss of the seat and the loss of the vote; but to legalize the sentence of hard labour in cases of bribery, would only be to add to what had proved in practice an idle threat, a fresh denunciation, which was still more certain, from its severity, to prove inefficacious. As to the 4th clause,—the difficulty of procuring evidence was not to be ascribed to any fear on the part of witnesses that their testimony might lead to their own subsequent conviction, but to the fact that the parties engaged in the traffic—the subordinate agent who bought, and the electors who sold—liked the trade, and were unwilling to do anything that might interfere with it, and likewise to the feeling of mutual fidelity—he would not call it honour—which bound most persons engaged together in enterprises, even of an unlawful character. The 5th clause afforded an indemnity to witnesses who had been guilty of the offence of bribery; but he put it to the House whether it was worth while, for an additional chance of putting a stop to the practice complained of, to interfere with the rule of law to which English lawyers and the English people attached so much importance. The 9th clause would, he believed, be found impracticable in populous places; but, with these exceptions, the Bill, after diligent consi- 1078 deration in Committee, might, he thought, be passed with advantage. He now came to the remedy which he himself was desirous should be adopted—namely, that when a defeated candidate petitioned on the ground of bribery or treating, and made out his case without any recriminatory case being established against himself, he should be entitled to the seat. In the majority of elections which took place under the present system in corrupt political constituencies, it usually happened that there were three parties, of whom two were opposed in politics, one being somewhat stronger than the other, and the third party, which held no political opinions whatever—except it were recognized as a political principle that electors were to make as much as possible out of their votes—were able to give the victory to the weaker side by throwing their force in that direction. A candidate was invited down by the stronger side, and was correctly assured that if no corrupt practices were resorted to he was sure of his seat; but a few days before the election it was ascertained by some of those appearances so well understood by persons familiar with such matters that the weaker side had made arrangements for buying the votes of the corrupt section; under such circumstances what course would the most strenuous opponent of bribery recommend the candidate to pursue? If, persevering in his original intention not to bribe, he withdrew from the contest, it was true that he avoided both the expense and contamination to which he would otherwise be exposed. But so far as the constituency was concerned, bribery was not checked, but, on the contrary, encouraged; for the weaker side, simply by unscrupulous determination, succeeded in gaining the election. If, as he feared was most frequently the case, the candidate who started with pure intentions found that unless he resorted to the same practices as his opponent his election would be lost, and thereon placed a sum of money in the hands of his agent without inquiring how it was to be spent, such a proceeding was not, of course, to be defended; but the unwillingness of men to succumb in any contest in which they had once engaged, the extreme importance which was attached to a seat in that House, and the improbability of succeeding on petition, made it, he thought, not to be wondered at that the temptation was often yielded to, and resulted in the occurrence of events 1079 such as had excited the reprobation of the country at Gloucester and Wakefield. The candidate might, to be sure, adopt the more honourable course of adhering to the principle of purity, and petitioning the House if defeated; but after the expenditure of a moderate amount on the legitimate costs of the election, and a much larger sum in prosecuting the petition, he was no nearer to the honourable object of his ambition, a seat in that House, even if he succeeded in ousting his opponent. Where a very gross scene of corruption was exposed, the House would probably suspend the writ for a year; but if even a new writ were issued immediately, there was no man who was more secure of the hostility of the corrupt party than the hon. and public-spirited candidate; and, with some rare exceptions, it had been found that the corrupt elector, whether influenced by gratitude or self-interest, if he could not obtain money from anybody at the second election, generally voted for the candidate of the party to whom he had sold his vote on the former occasion. In some cases it was the friend, in others it was the near relative, but the person who came forward in the same interest as the unseated representative was pretty sure of being returned. Thus the three courses which were open to a candidate desiring to avoid bribery were each of them eminently unsatisfactory. Numerous as were the petitions which flocked in after every general election, the number of seats which had been obtained by corrupt agency, and respecting which no effective petition was presented, was even greater still. By the course which he proposed, bribery, like smuggling, would be rendered a non-remunerative speculation, for the effect would only be to hand over the seat on petition to the opposing candidate; and gentlemen coming forward to contest elections would soon shrink from an expenditure which only led to exposure and defeat. The House, moreover, would be relieved from the unpleasant and embarrassing dilemma in which it was too frequently placed of punishing the innocent as well as the guilty electors by suspending the writ for an indefinite period, or of rewarding the guilty parties and affording them the opportunity of a fresh harvest by suffering a new election at once to take place. It had been said that this proposal would lead to the result that the candidate of the minority would not unfrequently gain the seat 1080 —meaning of course thereby the minority of unbought votes. But it would be seen, on reflection, that this would rarely occur. As the law now stood the candidate who had the majority of unbought votes was, nevertheless, often tempted to buy votes, lest his majority should be overpowered by the bought votes of the other side, and thus he might put it out of his power to obtain the seat either at the election or on petition. But under the law as altered he would be perfectly certain of obtaining the seat on petition, and the only way in which he could incur the risk of losing it would be by his own folly. In fact, to use a familiar phrase, it would be by buying votes that he would be "sold." Candidates having the minority of unbought votes might more frequently obtain the seat at present than under this alteration of the law. Whatever plan might be adopted, he therefore trusted that it would comprise the remedy which he had suggested.
§ MR. STEUART
said, he had no intention to offer any opposition to this Bill, in the spirit and objects of many of the provisions of which he highly approved. With regard to the appointment of an election auditor, he thought it could not be denied that, as the working of the system had already shown, the office of election auditor had in some respects failed. He believed that, by giving him more explicit functions to discharge and greater powers, they might effectually secure the object which it was intended to carry out. The real use of election auditors was to prevent the honest candidate spending more than the legitimate amount of money at elections. He knew it was difficult for a candidate to say he would only pay the legitimate expenses, because his supporters frequently came to him after the election had terminated and told him that they had expended such and such sums, which they thought necessary. Nevertheless, after the passing of this Act any candidate might say that he would place in the auditor's hands the money for such and such expenses, and would pay no more. There at least would be a safeguard against an undue expenditure at those elections. With regard to the penalties in this Bill, he did not think that they should be much more severe than the law enacted at present. The great object to be kept in view was to make the penalties certain. That was the point which this House had to consider in the Municipal Corporations 1081 Bill of last year. The result was that the penalties were small, but certain. The remedy proposed by the hon. Baronet was that the defeated candidate, if successful in his petition, should be entitled to the seat, if he were able to show a majority of legal votes. He knew not whether the House would be willing to maintain that principle. The greatest temptation to resort to bribery arose when parties were evenly balanced. Now, in the event of bribery being committed, the defeated candidate had already a remedy, but one certainly not without expense. There were, however, ways and means by which a remedy could be given without such expense. Why should not the party who successfully prosecuted an election petition as well as an action at law be entitled to his costs? It had been suggested, too, that the borough itself should pay the expenses, and that suggestion might in some cases be a very fair one, but the chief attention of the House ought to be directed to making it certain that inquiry would take place in every case where it was necessary, and in relieving the person who had suffered an injury from the expense. With regard to paid canvassers, there were very few boroughs in the kingdom where such persons were employed, and if in any case such a mode of influencing votes were resorted to an Election Committee would be almost certain to look upon it as primâ facie grounds for concluding that corruption had been resorted to. But the clause in the Bill relating to this subject he was afraid would be found utterly unworkable. It was of little use to say that no voter should be employed as messenger, paid canvasser, or the like, for where it was wished to influence votes in this way, it would be easy to evade the prohibition by employing the voter's son, or any other near relative. It would be perfectly possible to carry out the intentions of the clause in another way. It might be left, for instance, to the election auditor to say how many messengers would be required on each side. Considering the subject generally, however, he would give his cordial support to the second reading.
§ MR. COLLIER
said, that if the Bill had proposed that every one guilty of bribery should be hanged or transported for life, the remarks of the hon. Member for READING (Sir F. Goldsmid) might be apposite, but he seemed to overlook the fact that the penalties inflicted by the Act varied from a minimum of one day's imprisonment to 1082 a maximum of six months' with hard labour. To the coupling of hard labour with imprisonment he attached some importance, for, though hon. Gentlemen did not scruple in that House to talk about bribery as an odious and degrading offence, yet, if the public remarked that there was a great disinclination to give the Judges power to inflict a degrading punishment, there would be a great disposition to reproach them with not being in earnest in suppressing this abuse. He should certainly support that particular clause in the Bill, and it would be a test to the public of the sincerity of the House. Pecuniary penalties bore hard upon the poor, but allowed the rich to escape. The spectacle of an hon. or right hon. Gentleman doing useful work on Dartmouth Farm or on the Portland Breakwater would have a great effect, and convince the public that bribery was not so gentlemanly a fault after all. The Bill, in his opinion, was good as far as it went, but was somewhat incomplete. The provisions in the present Act, with regard to the election auditor, had been entirely nugatory, because no machinery had been established for the enforcement of them. On this part of the subject he should be very much inclined to borrow that part of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for East Suffolk, which provided that every Member should be required to declare that he had paid nothing and would pay nothing except through the election auditor. With regard to oaths and declarations, he did not attach much weight to them, thinking, with Burke, that they were spiders' webs, which great and dangerous animals easily broke through, and which served only to endanger the fluttering wings of tender consciences. Sir F. Slade, for instance, a highly honourable and conscientious gentleman, would have found not the slightest difficulty in making a declaration against bribery, though it was afterwards decided that in paying the travelling expenses of a voter he had committed an act which amounted to bribery. He would insert a clause enacting that any persons making such payments should lose their seats. If a man knew what acts wore prohibited, and yet did them, it was no hardship to enforce a penalty. The clause that made it a misdemeanour to employ a voter as messenger or agent was a valuable one. And as a further means of reducing the cost of elections, he did not see why the election auditor should not decide on what expenses should be incurred. He 1083 already decided what number of polling places were necessary, according to circumstances, and he might also fix the number of committee-rooms to be hired and agents to be employed—the candidate who engaged more than the prescribed number should forfeit his seat. The practice of retaining all the attorneys in a town at £20 and £25 a piece was very hard to distinguish from bribery; and hiring committee-rooms from doubtful publicans at £10 and £20 a piece was only a cloak for corruption. But any Bill for the prevention of bribery would be defective if it did not make it illegal to pay for the conveyance of voters. He had introduced a Bill on this subject which had received the assent of the House, and he hoped in Committee he should be allowed to insert clauses having the effect in the present measure. There was another point referred to by the Gloucester Commission—unless prosecutions for bribery were made obligatory, the present machinery for bringing cases to justice would be very defective. Occasionally the House ordered a prosecution; but it did not always fix upon the principal offenders, and consequently public sympathy ran rather in favour of those who seemed to be singled out for punishment, capriciously. It was impossible for the Attorney General to obtain the information required for the administration of this branch of justice. The House had on a previous occasion affirmed the principle of appointing a public prosecutor for all crimes. The measure creating a public prosecutor had received the concurrence of the most eminent lawyers in the House, among others the Chief Justice of England. But for bribery and all that class of offences a public prosecutor was especially required; it was advisable, if only as an experiment, which, if it succeeded in these cases, might be extended to others. Bribery was a public offence, and private prosecutors could not be trusted to deal with it. When any one prosecuted a man for stealing his property he was considered to be performing a duty, and public opinion went with him. But if a gentleman prosecuted a rival candidate for filching his voters, a howl would be raised against him; it would be said he was vindictive, and acting from revenge and spite, consequently not one in a hundred offenders against the bribery laws was prosecuted. It was worth considering whether public prosecutors for this offence might not be appointed in different districts. He did not anticipate that the 1084 House would adopt the proposed panacea of the hon. Member for READING (Sir F. Goldsmid), that the candidate defeated by bribery should in all cases obtain the seat if he had a majority of the unbought votes. This would involve a scrutiny very like that now made by a Parliamentary inquiry. The Bill was defective, and required some additions; but he should support the second reading, though it might be found necessary in another stage of the measure to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, the whole of the present debate had confirmed him in the opinion that before the House could legislate satisfactorily on this subject there must be a full and searching inquiry into the evils now in operation and the means of preventing them. With this feeling he felt some hesitation in voting for the second reading of the Bill, although he thought the hon. and learned Member for Nottingham (Mr. Mellor) deserved their thanks for the desire he had evinced to repress the corruption which had in many cases taken place. They might not only inquire into the provisions of this Bill, but also into those of the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly). The provisions of the Bill might be classed under the three principal heads:—by the first it was proposed to increase the penalties for the offence of bribery—though by the existing law it was punishable by fine and imprisonment; by the second it was proposed to facilitate inquiries into cases of bribery, by giving an indemnity to witnesses answering questions that might criminate themselves. The third series of clauses embodied some of the chief provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act. With regard to the first division of the Bill, he much doubted whether increasing the severity of the present penalties for bribery would deter persons from committing it; and he questioned the maxim of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that to create a public opinion against bribery they must attach a disgraceful punishment to it. He thought the disgraceful character of bribery must be felt in the opinion of the public in the first place; till that opinion existed the object would not be gained by attaching a disgraceful punishment to a conviction for the offence. Moreover, where the punishment was unduly severe, juries were unwilling to convict. With respect to the indemnity proposed to be given to witnesses in cases of bribery, it was a very 1085 doubtful question; but he should be sorry to affirm, without further consideration, the principle of an enactment that took away from a witness the power of refusing to give an answer that might criminate himself. As to the working of the Corrupt Practices Act and the appointment of election auditors, it had proved nugatory or worse than nugatory, inasmuch as it had been used as a screen for corruption. It must, therefore, be repealed or very extensively altered. But he did not think it safe to adopt all the alterations proposed by the present Bill without a full inquiry by a competent Committee. As to the prohibition of paying voters as messengers, the principle was good, but it could be evaded with the greatest ease. The prohibition only applied to persons actually on the register; but their friends or relatives, not on the register, could be employed. Nor did he think they should go the length of saying that no person on the register should be employed during an election. The prohibition would defeat itself. The law now disqualified any election agents from voting; yet it was well known that they did vote on each side. What he would suggest to the hon. and learned Member was, that instead of asking the House to affirm the principle of his Bill by the second reading, he should consent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of the Corrupt Practices Act; the Committee would have all the Bills on the subject before it, and after such an inquiry, the House would be better prepared to deal with it. Such a course need not involve any needless delay, for, as both Bills now stood, they must be separately discussed, whereas a Committee would consider the provisions of both measures, without further delay. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for READING (Sir F. Goldsmid) that the defeated candidate, if he had the majority of unbought votes, should take the seat, this was no more than an Election Committee had now the power of deciding. It could, in that case, give the seat declared void for bribery to the candidate who had not bribed.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
explained, that when he made the suggestion he was quite aware of the state of the law on this point.
§ MR. MACAULAY
observed, that the House did not sufficiently bear in mind one fact. In every election acts were done which must be known to many people 1086 were acts of bribery. Yet the public did not think lit to call for any prosecutions for this offence. How it could enter the mind of any one that visiting it with imprisonment and hard labour would stimulate unwilling prosecutors, he could not conceive. He had heard with great surprise the emphatic denunciation of the Corrupt Practices Act by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir George Grey). He, as a Minister of the Crown, followed the suit of the Gloucester and Wakefield Commissioners, and assented to the evidence given by three gentlemen who stood in the position of having flagrantly, he might say, impudently, violated the enactments of that Bill, which were very easily carried out, and very effective where carried out. What was! the plain principle of the Act? That all disbursements of money should be through the candidate's agent for election expenses, and should undergo the supervision of the election auditors. That injunction was plainly to be obeyed, it was easy to be obeyed, and if obeyed it would lead necessarily to this result—that no money of the candidate could be disbursed except pub- Holy, for the auditors' accounts were published in the newspapers; and, inasmuch as 9–10ths, if not 99–100ths of the money corruptly expended came directly or indirectly from the pocket of the candidates, this provision, duly complied with, would dry up the whole of that source of corrupt expenditure. It was in evidence before the auditors, however, that the money paid at those elections was not paid in the manner prescribed, but was obtained from quarters with which that evidence had made them all familiar. How, then, such a provision could be said to be wholly and entirely nugatory and required to be replaced by others of a different character, he could not understand. But he was aware that the institution of the election auditor might be materially improved. He would, therefore, suggest that the statement laid before the auditor should be open to the inspection, attack, and criticism of the agent for the other side, who should be allowed to go into all the items. This he thought would be a great protection. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) had not only asserted the nugatory character of the provision in regard to the election auditor, but accompanied his statement by a reference to Sir F. Slade which he thought rather unfortunate for his argument. The hon. Gentleman had stated that Sir F. 1087 Slade had been convicted of bribery, rather an invidious mode of characterizing the decision of the House of Lords. True it was that on the face of the accounts which were before the election auditor and published in the newspapers, A. B., a voter living at Huntingdon, had his expenses paid to Cambridge and back, which led to an action for penalties by a common informer. The case was brought before the House of Lords in the form of what was called a special verdict. The facts disclosed a circular letter written by the chairman of Sir Frederick, then Mr. Slade's committee to the voter—"The election takes place on Friday next; you are solicited to attend at Cambridge to vote for Mr. Slade, and your expenses of travelling to Cambridge and returning to Huntingdon will be paid." Having received that letter the voter travelled to Cambridge, voted for Sir F. Slade, went to his agent, and was paid his travelling expenses to Cambridge and back to Huntingdon. Reference was made to the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act, which defines bribery thus:—"Any money paid to a man on account of his having voted;"—and the question before the House of Lords was whether that letter, followed by the fact of the voter having made the journey, and afterwards gone to the agent's office and received the money, was evidence that he had received £1 10s."on account of his vote." The House of Lords said that the letter was evidence that the £1 10s. was paid on account of the vote. This was what his learned Friend called the conviction of Sir F. Slade for bribery. He had always thought the provision with regard to the election auditor a most valuable one; and having felt the value in his own person of the clause relative to the disbursement of expenses, he could not but protest against the repeated assertion that the Act had been entirely nugatory.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he had been misunderstood by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He was far from saying that the provision of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act with reference to the election auditor was not intended to be operative, nor did he imply any extenuation of those who had failed to comply with the provisions of that Act; all he said was, that its operation had practically been nugatory and had disappointed those who looked to it as an effectual remedy.
§ MR. COLLIER
said, he also wished to explain; he had strongly approved the 1088 provision, and thought it desirable further to enforce it. So far from reflecting on Sir F. Slade, he stated that he knew him to be a man of high honour; he only mentioned the fact that the jury did find that he had committed bribery.
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
said, he was glad in the prospect that this Bill would be referred to a Select Committee. He did not coincide with those who said that the Act it was proposed to amend had not been of great value. They had to contend with an evil on which it was extremely difficult to operate with any immediate or very striking effect. Bribery was an offence with which it was no easy matter to deal in a discussion in that House. Under certain circumstances, assuming a political character, it almost lost its aspect of vice. They were apt, perhaps, to exaggerate their deficiencies and those of everybody else on this subject. He could only say that in his county there were very large and populous towns, such as Leeds, Halifax, and Bradford, where the keenest contests had taken place, and no suspicion of bribery was ever thrown on a single individual or even made the subject of recrimination. The ethical character of the crime of bribery must solely depend on the conviction of the individual who was exercising what he called a political right; if he did not see it to be a violation of a trust for selfish purposes it would be extremely difficult to convince him of its heinousness. He had himself felt this when arguing with some of his constituents. A great deal had been done in getting rid of the habitual bribery which formerly existed in some places. The practice of giving "head-money" at one time prevailed in the borough he represented and in many others. That practice had been uprooted; but he had encountered opposition from not a few who always insisted on it as an absolute right, and he remembered in one instance a voter said to him if he did not pay head-money he would go to law with him and force him to pay it. He thought the establishment of an election auditor had been extremely valuable, he having been made a cloak for additional abuses only in one or two instances, which appeared to be quite accidental. At the same time he thought it would be a great improvement if the election auditor were placed in a more responsible position, by having the power of refusing his assent to particular payments, and disallowing certain expenses that 1089 should not have been incurred. He would recommend the hon. and lenrned Gentleman to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet.
§ MR. MELLOR
said, that of himself he felt disposed to accede to the proposal of the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Sir George Grey), although he still retained strong opinions of the necessity of the two clauses, depriving witnesses of the privilege of not answering questions put to them, and increasing the punishment which should be awarded under the Act. For both of these he was prepared to adduce strong reasons, but he would not now detain the House. He gave his consent to the proposal of the right hon. Baronet.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
said, he would then, as a matter of form, move the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member has given notice, "After the second reading of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act (1854) Amendment Bill, to move that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee." The question now is that the Motion for the SECOND READING be withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.