§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. CAVE
said: Sir, I feel bound to object to this measure. Its provisions are of so penal a nature, I may say, as regards my own and similar constituencies, practically disfranchising as it does, without a cause, large numbers who have hitherto freely and fairly exercised the right of returning Members to Parliament, that I should not be doing my duty did I not come forward as prominently as possible to oppose it. I fully admit the evils and abuses which this Bill is intended to meet. I am willing to allow that the man who refuses to walk to a polling-booth half as far as he walks every day to his work or his dinner is not worthy of the consideration of this House. I should be quite willing that the cabmen's saturnalia in Marylebone and Finsbury should come to an end. But it seems to me that the hon. and learned Member, in his zeal against this abuse, would punish the innocent with the guilty; that he confounds towns with boroughs. What may be perfectly right and just with regard to a town of small area, where every man may, by a little exertion, record his vote—during his dinner-hour, for instance—without expense or loss of time, tells very differently in the case of a large rural borough, where many voters live half a day's journey from the poll, to which it is physically impossible for them to go without assistance. Many hon. Members will, I am sure, bear me out in this; and as my own borough is a remarkable case in point, I will give a few particulars for the purpose of illustrating my position. The borough of New Shore-ham, which is co-extensive with that division of Sussex called the Rape of Bramber, is 24 miles long in the longest, and 753 11 broad in the widest part, with an average size of some 22 miles by 9. It embraces ten hundreds, comprising 43 parishes, and contains nearly 117,000 acres, or over 20,000 acres more than the county of Rutland; while its 1,800 voters, and scattered population of more than 30,000. outnumber those of several counties in Scotland and some in Wales. Where, then, is the justice of excluding counties from the operation of this Bill, and yet extending it to such boroughs as this? But I can tell the House a reason why these boroughs have a stronger claim to exception than even counties. It is this—in counties the magistrates have the power to multiply polling-places, and bring them within reach of every man's residence; but in this borough, as well as in those of Aylesbury, Cricklade, and East Retford, the polling-places were stereotyped at the time of the Reform Bill; and though grievously insufficient, there is no machinery by which they can be changed or multiplied. It has been said that county voters may live anywhere, whereas borough voters must live within seven miles of the boundary: that is not quite true; but if it were, suppose you add those seven miles to the twelve and thirteen which many of my constituents have now to travel to the polling-place, they might as well, for all practical purposes, be anywhere within the four seas; besides which, there are at the time of an election, especially among a seafaring population, many who are temporarily absent, though I admit that there is a distinction between them and those who are in their ordinary place of abode. But the hon. and learned Gentleman in a former debate (for as he has not prefaced his Motion by any re marks, I am obliged to allude to former occasions)—the hon. Member then appealed to the Report of the Committee on Corrupt Practices Act as the justification of his present measure. Well, the House naturally attaches much weight to the reports of committees; but, on turning to the Report, I find that the recommendation to make conveyance of voters illegal is distinctly coupled with another for the increase of polling-places; and looking further into the details of the proceedings of the Committee and the evidence of the witnesses, which it is sometimes necessary to do, in order to prevent the bare Report having more weight than it deserves, I find that the draft Report of the Chairman, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. 754 Bouverie), contained a clause excepting rural boroughs, and that a proviso to the same effect was only negatived by a majority of one; and that almost all the evidence points to the necessity of some cheaper and easier mode of recording votes being attached to such a prohibition as that contained in this Bill. And as to Lord Derby's Reform Bill, to which the learned Gentleman has also appealed, the House knows that voting by voting papers formed one of its provisions. In fact, the only statesmanlike way of dealing with this question is to take away all inducement to evade the law. I believe, also, a former Bill of the learned Gentleman himself contained a similar clause for multiplying polling places. It may be said that these provisions may be added in Committee. No doubt they may, but I think "Principiis obsta" is a safer rule; and it really seems hardly fair that, well argued as this subject has been for several years, a crude and imperfect measure should, after all, be brought in; and this House should be asked to employ itself in something like what Voltaire called" washing dirty linen." But the Bill has been termed an instalment of a greater measure. How can there be an instalment of things differing in kind? We can understand that £5 is an instalment of £10; but this is as if an apothecary sent one ingredient of the compound ordered by a physician as an instalment of the prescription, which, I need hardly say, might have a very different effect to that intended. In former debates this conveyance was called a species of bribery, and it may be so again. Well, we hear curious things about species, but few can be so unlike the parent stock as this. What sort of bribery is it to take a man ten miles from home, make him lose his day's work and feed himself at an extra expense, and land him in the middle of an angry mob, with the certainty of being pushed about and trampled on, and the probability of getting his head broken? Would the learned Gentleman undertake to persuade a jury that the mere gratuitous conveyance to and fro was a good legal consideration for all this? It is said, that unless men go to the poll of their own accord, they ought not to vote. Well, but if those who live close at band were at a distance, would they be more willing? So, that if the animus were taken as a rule, the disfranchisement would be general, and the register select indeed. This must be 755 the argument for a high property qualification. Surely, the hon. Member who made use of it has never voted for lowering the franchise. I think I have heard strong remarks from the opposite side about the injustice of depriving an intelligent man of his franchise because he falls just below an arbitrary line. Does not this apply equally to those who live beyond a certain distance from a place arbitrarily chosen? Again, the franchise is not only a right, but a trust, the fulfilment of which we should facilitate as much as we can. We wish, moreover, to get at the feeling of a district, and we defeat that object unless all parts of it can express that feeling. Sir, I have no love for these expenses; I merely wish to see all on the same footing. As a possible future candidate, I have no objection to save my purse; but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to relieve the candidates, he should begin with those expenses in which candidates have the least interest, such as the auditor, who is perfectly useless; the hustings, which perhaps they would rather be without. I pass over the infinite difficulty of working the details of the measure, the perplexing question as to property in carriages and such like. These difficulties may, perhaps, be overcome; but however this may be, it is quite clear that this Bill, whatever may be the hon. and learned Gentleman's intention, presses most hardly, as it now stands, upon the poorer class of voters, who cannot protect themselves. It disfranchises the country districts, and throws all the power into the towns; and, as I consider such a result would defeat the original intention of rural boroughs, and be neither consistent with justice nor sound policy, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ MR. PAULL
said, that if the only reason which induced the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth to draw a distinction between boroughs and counties was the supposition that in the former the voters lived so near the poll that there was no necessity for conveyances to bring them up, he could hardly be aware of the size of many of the Parliamentary boroughs. The area of the borough which returned the hon. and learned Gentleman himself was no more than about two square miles; but from a return presented to Parliament 756 two years ago, it appeared that there was one Parliamentary borough of an area of a little more than 73 square miles, another of 61, another of 49, and another of 47. There were 15 boroughs of an area of 30, and 53 of an area of 10 square miles each. He could understand an hon. Gentleman alleging that a distinction ought to be made in the case of some boroughs. For instance, the area of Marylebone was little more than seven square miles, and that of the Tower Hamlets twelve. He thought he had shown the House that in many instances the distances from the poll was too great to justify the House in adopting the views of the hon. and learned Member. He might be answered that it was easy to increase the number of polling places. It was by no means easy to do so; because if they increased them the candidate must at once have a staff of clerks and messengers for each additional place of polling. Besides, make what legislative provision they might, it would always be open to parties to enter into private arrangements for the hire of conveyances. It appeared to him that this was a pottering with the question. Questions of the kind before the House should be dealt with in a comprehensive manner or not at all.
§ SIR ROBERT CLIFTON
said, it occurred to him that there was a class of voters whose case had not been considered by either of the hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House. He alluded to voters who could not walk ten yards. He should like to know how poor voters of that description were to get to the poll, if the Bill passed? He was put to great expense for carriages at his election; and he knew of nothing that would afford him greater pleasure than to see all election expenses done away with, and Members returned free of cost, but he did not think that ought to be brought about by disenfranchising any class of voters. There were from 800 to 1,000 burgesses in the borough he had the honour to represent. Many of them were over 70; and a number of them 80, 85, and some as old as 90 years. Indeed, he believed the excitement of the last election had killed one or two of them. His opinion was that private arrangements would be made for the hire of conveyances, in spite of the Bill; and that the measure would only lead to an increase of those malpractices which were already complained of as taking place at some elections.
§ MR. VANCE
said, he doubted much 757 whether the recommendation so much relied on by the supporters of the Bill would be made by any Committee at the present time. The Committee from which that recommendation emanated was appointed at a time when men's minds were unsettled on the subject of the franchise; and he would remind the House that it was only by a majority of one the Committee determined not to schedule certain boroughs. There were no less than 600 non-resident electors of the borough of Dublin, and no less than 95 persons having a freehold franchise in Dublin were resident in England. These facts were sufficient to show that such a Bill would prove highly inconvenient in the city which he had the honour to represent.
§ MR. LAWSON
said, he would suggest that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Cave) should propose in Committee to omit the four boroughs mentioned by him from the provisions of the Bill, or bring up a clause providing for the establishment of additional polling places. He thought the House was indebted to the hon. Member for Plymouth for bringing forward the measure. Whenever a similar measure had been formerly introduced, it was always put off on some plea or another. At one time it was said that there was a large and comprehensive measure of reform looming in the distance. At another time it was said that a Corrupt Practices at Election Prevention Bill was about to be introduced in an amended form; while, at another time, it was urged that the question ought to be referred to a Select Committee up-stairs. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had told them that they "were not to expect a large and comprehensive measure of reform" during that Session, and therefore they need not now wait on that account. A Bill to Amend the Act for Preventing Corrupt Practices at Elections had, indeed, been promised by the Home Secretary; but the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be rather tardy in his Motions, and he did not see why they should wait for that measure. They had received the Report of a Select Committee, and one of its most important recommendations was the adoption of the plan proposed by his hon. and learned Friend. The experience of the last few years showed them that it was useless to wait for a large and comprehensive measure of reform, and that they ought to take what was offered to 758 them. To legalize the conveyance of voters to the poll was, in his opinion, neither more nor less than legalizing a system of bribery. They were told that if they passed this Bill they would disfranchise a great number of the poorer electors. He maintained that it was not for the candidate to enfranchise them, but to serve them faithfully in Parliament. If it were necessary to enfranchise these voters by paying the expense of their conveyance to the poll, then these expenses ought to be paid out of the public funds. Perhaps the inability to pay for their conveyance to the poll might disfranchise a few voters, but was that to be put into competition with the evil of restricting their choice of candidates to the aristocracy of wealth? One of the most important clauses in the Reform Bill brought in by Lord Derby three years ago was the prohibition of the payment of the election expenses of voters. He trusted that the Government would not oppose the present Bill, founded as it was upon the Report of the Committee appointed to consider the subject. They were all in the habit of expressing a great horror of bribery, but the present Parliament had as yet done very little towards putting it down. On the contrary they had just issued writs for Gloucester and Wakefield to pursue their corrupt practices uncensured and unchecked. He therefore entreated the House to pass the useful measure before them, if it really wished to get rid of this opprobrium of the existing system.
§ MR. FOLJAMBE
said, he intended to record his humble vote in favour of the Bill, because it had for its object the restraint of lavish and profuse expenditure, and the checking of abuses bordering on corruption. He did not feel himself precluded from voting for the Bill by the circumstance that he represented one of the four boroughs that had been alluded to in the debate (East Retford). He shared the feelings of the hon. Member for Shoreham to a considerable extent, for there were only four polling-places in his borough, and to reach them voters had to walk a distance of six or seven miles. A poor man could not be expected to give up his day's wages and to make such a sacrifice. Still, the case of these and other agricultural boroughs might fairly be considered in Committee.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that as it appeared the large agricultural boroughs were to be exempted from the operation of the Bill, he should like to know what was the principle of the measure. Was Nottingham to be included when East Retford, Crickdale, and other boroughs were to be excluded? They had heard a good deal of fancy franchises, but the Bill set up a fancy franchise far more deplorable than any they had yet heard of—namely, the possession of a certain power of pedestrianism. The Bill in effect enacted that a poor elector who could walk a certain number of miles should have a vote, and that the elector who could not should be disfranchised. He objected to any fancy franchises of that kind. If through physical infirmity a voter could not walk to the poll he saw no harm in permitting a candidate to provide a conveyance for him. The Bill before the House, however, was really a proposal to disfranchise a certain number of the poorer voters of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, that as the youngest member of the House, he would beg its indulgence while he stated the reasons which led him to support this Bill. He had formed no exaggerated notion of the importance or scope of the Bill, but he regarded it as simply a branch of the great question of Parliamentary Reform— a question which, being fresh from the hustings, he might be permitted to say was as dear to the heart of Englishmen now as at any time during the last fifteen years. He should support the Bill as one sound in its principle, right in its tendency, and of so unobjectionable a character that until he had heard the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite he should have supposed it would meet with the concurrence of all parties. That House might be divided into those who were favourable to Parliamentary reform and those who opposed it. He would first address himself to those who thought that reform was essential, and he appealed to them not to reject the Bill because it did not go so far as they might wish, seeing that it extended the area from which the constituency had a right to select candidates. Any expense that was permitted by law soon became essential to the obtaining of a position so honourable as a seat in Parliament. It was something most disgraceful and anomalous that, when a man sought the honour of representing a constituency, the question should be, not whether he possessed 760 the requisite intellect, character, and intelligence, but whether he could buy up all the cabs in his neighbourhood, and charter no end of "busses." It was said that the Bill was a disfranchising Bill as many persons would be unable to vote if they were not carried to the poll. But that objection might be met by increasing the number of polling-places, and paying out of the public funds the money necessary for conveying the voters to the poll, if they ought to be carried there free of expense. On the other hand, he appealed to those who thought that Parliamentary reform was unnecessary not to oppose this measure. He asked them whether it was advantageous to narrow the area of selection of the constituency? The miserable, sordid, and almost "snobbish" limitation to the area of selection founded on the money power of candidates could not be what they wanted. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite might wish to limit the representation to scions of the nobility. But the son of a successful cheesemonger might buy up nil the cabs, while the scion of a family that came over with the Conqueror might be obliged to walk up to the poll. Believing the Bill to be a sound and an honest one, he should give it his support, and he trusted that it would be carried by a large majority. It would be pleasant when they were released on the 1st of June, as he understood they would be, to be able to say that, although that had not been a great reform Session, they had passed a very small Reform Bill.
§ MR. COLLIER
said, that up to a recent period it was doubtful whether it was lawful to convey voters to the poll, and prudent candidates were therefore restrained from paying those expenses. In the well known case of "Cooper and Slade" it was, however, decided in the House of Lords that a promise by a candidate to pay a voter's expenses was, if he really voted for him, bribery, although no more than the legitimate expenses were defrayed. In 1858 an Act was passed to the effect that it should be lawful for a candidate to provide conveyances for voters, but that it should be unlawful to pay a voter the expense of conveying himself to the poll. So that if a candidate gave a voter a smiling to pay for a cab it was illegal; but if the candidate paid the cabman the shilling, he only did a lawful act. The inducement, however, to the voter was the same; the expense to the candidate was the same, and there was no 761 essential difference that human ingenuity could point out between the two cases. In 1859 be introduced a measure to repeal the Act of the previous year; but he was told to wait for the Report of the Select Committee. Last year, when he introduced it again, he was told that a comprehensive measure was to be brought forward by the Government. That Bill, however, "fell through," and his faith in "comprehensive measures" had been rather shaken during the last few years. He was anxious that this short and simple; measure should pass at once, so as to be in force by the next dissolution. There was now a dead calm—he might almost say an unnatural calm in political affairs. He hoped it might continue, but the veteran pilot at the head of the Government would not, from that circumstance, be inclined to rely on a continuance of fair weather—Meno salis placidi vultum fluctusque quietosIgnorare jubes? mene huic confidere monstro?He could not think that hon. and right hon. Members opposite would oppose this measure, since it came to the House supported by the collective wisdom of the Earl of Derby's Government. He was not ashamed to confess that he had taken the provisions of the Bill almost word for word from the clauses of the measure of Parliamentary Reform proposed by the Government of the Earl of Derby. He had always considered that Reform Bill somewhat unfairly dealt with. People said that it was altogether worthless and noxious, but this he denied. At all events, it contained one valuable provision, and this he had extracted. He was also fortified by the authority of the Select Committee, comprising hon. Members from both sides of the House, who had almost unanimously reported in favour of the Bill.
With respect to the principle of the measure, hon. Gentlemen opposite appeared to have misconceived the nature of the franchise and the object of voting. If giving a vote conferred a personal favour upon the candidate who received it, no doubt he ought to indemnify the voter for any expense or loss of time. But if the possession of a vote was a high constitutional privilege then its exercise was the voter's own affair, and if that exercise were attended with expense and trouble it was for him to bear those inconveniences. If the voter's interest flagged, and he did not care about the question at issue in 762 the contest, it was contrary to all principle that this flagging interest should be revived and strengthened by the purse of the candidate, whether by bribery, or by what was very much the same thing—hiring all the cabs and 'busses in the neighbourhood. It was said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the poor voter would be disfranchised by this Bill, but it was not the business of the candidate to enfranchise him. If funds wore necessary for this purpose, it was the business of the State to supply them. He therefore referred this class of objectors to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to the county rates. If a candidate paid a voter for the loss of his day's work, why should he not pay him for the injury to his business? Why not also pay his rates, or help him with his rent? Where were they to stop? If they looked at the operation of the present law, they would find that it had undeniably increased the cost of elections. The Earl of Derby, when the Bill was before the House of Lords, prophesied that it would have this effect, and that his prophecy had been verified, hon. Gentlemen who represented metropolitan boroughs, and, indeed, the representatives of almost all other boroughs, could testify. There was now a general feeling among some voters that it was the duty of the candidate to convey them to the poll. It was, indeed, beginning to be thought entirely unconstitutional to walk to the poll, and the candidate who asked the elector to do so was regarded by many as awretched, mean-spirited person. The House had repealed the property qualification, but it had imposed in its place a new property qualification so far different from the other that the property qualification it had repealed was a sham, while the one it retained was a reality. He was willing to exempt the counties from the operation of the Bill, not upon principle, but as a compromise. The Committee had recommended that the Act should not extend to counties, and he had adopted their recommendation not because he thought they ought to be exempt on principle but for the purpose of effecting a compromise, which at that time appeared to be the only basis of legislation. He was aware that four boroughs—Shoreham, Cricklade, Aylesbury, and East Retford—stood in a peculiar position. To those who argued for the exemption of such boroughs he said, in the words once used by the Earl of Derby, "Prove your case in Com- 763 mittee." If it could be shown that any borough was substantially on the footing of a county, let it be so treated. The principle of the Bill had been already affirmed by the House of Commons. If it should now pass, it would be a step towards the purity and cheapness of elections. If, on the other hand, it were rejected, it would be strongly suspected that the House was not in earnest in its professions of a desire to purify the electoral system.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
said, that the hon. Members who sat on the Opposition benches had been more than once asked why they opposed a measure the provisions of which were included in the Earl of Derby's Reform Bill. For himself, as an independent Member, he begged to repudiate the smallest responsibility for that Reform Bill. Hon. Members did net even have the opportunity of voting for the second reading of that Bill, because Earl Russell interposed with what had been termed his "cunning and craftily devised Resolution." But, although the Conservative party were not responsible for this measure, it should be remembered that the Earl of Derby's Bill had a corrective for the provision which the hon. and learned Gentleman had engrafted in his measure, in a clause permitting voting by voting-papers. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would combine the two in this Bill, he would give it his cordial support. He had stood two or three contests, and, not being a rich man, it was no pleasure to him to pay £2,000 or £3,000 for his election. But, although he should like to be spared this expense, he did not wish to be the representative of those only who had a strong pair of legs, but desired to represent equally the old, the sick, and the infirm among his constituents. Why was it that no county Member had been unseated on the ground of bribery? It was because in counties there were many polling places, and the railways were continually bringing in returns which might at any moment alter the relative position of the candidates; therefore, towards the close of the day, when votes became valuable, persons did not wish to throw away their money in bribery at the risk of losing their seats. Now, the same uncertainty which was so important an element in county elections would, he believed, be produced in like manner by means of voting papers. As the Bill embodied a very dangerous principle, without any counter- 764 vailing element, all who were really anxious to suppress bribery ought to oppose the Motion for the second reading.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY:
Sir, I wish to state briefly the reasons which induce me to vote for the second reading of this Bill. I see no reason for objecting to it on the ground that it deals with only one part of that subject which came under the notice of the Committee, which has been so often referred to, and not with the whole. I think that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Collier) has done well in submitting this question by itself for the decision of the House. The Bill is in principle not a new one, because it is an amendment of a Bill which was passed on the recommendation of my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) in 1858, the main provision of which related to the payment of the expenses of voters for counties and boroughs—prohibiting the giving of money to voters to pay their own expenses, but allowing the conveyance to be paid for. He thought that a useful and wholesome improvement of the law, and that it did tend to check the payment of money to the voter under colour of expenses. This subject was very fully considered by the Committee of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock was chairman and in the proceedings of which I took part; and the opinion which we came to, after full consideration and after hearing important evidence, was that it was desirable to continue the existing law as contained in the Act of 1858 with reference to counties, but, with respect to boroughs, that it would be proper that no expenses should be paid for the conveyance of voters. When that decision was arrived at thirteen Members were present, and twelve of them voted substantially for the resolution to this effect proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield. I should say there was a subsequent division as to whether certain boroughs, to which allusion has been made, should be excepted, and a majority of only one decided against excepting them. The reasons which influenced me in my support of the proposition were founded very much upon the abuses which have risen in for roughs from the practice of pay the conveyance of voters, and un absence of any necessity for cotinuing the that practice. The difference between, his this case of counties and boroughs is non-resi-in counties the law recognises 765 dence as no disqualification, while in boroughs, with few exceptions, the rule is that residence is a necessary qualification. It is true, as the lion. Gentleman who spoke last has said, that the proposal in the Bill brought forward by Lord Derby's Government was associated with a provision for voting by papers. This was considered by the Committee, and their opinion was unfavourable to the plan. With regard to counties, as they rejected the system of paper voting, they felt that to prevent any person from being brought to the poll at the expense of the candidate would be virtually a disfranchisement of a large proportion of the electors; but in boroughs they were of opinion that it would not act as such a disfranchisement, and that its operation in preventing voters from coming to the poll would in any case be extremely limited. At the same time they had evidence before them to show the very large expense incurred especially in metropolitan boroughs in providing for the conveyance to the poll of voters who might live within a short distance of it, a door being thus opened for a great deal of corruption, not only of voters but of those who conveyed them. The law now provides that not more than 600 persons shall poll at any polling place, and the Committee felt that by a judicious distribution polling places might be brought within reasonable reach of every person residing within a borough, and that he might find his own way to the poll without being subjected to any great inconvenience. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir Robert Clifton) has said that in his borough there are many hundred freemen who from their advanced age would be unable to walk to the poll; but that is a very exceptional case, and though the hon. Baronet may not desire it. yet in the course of nature many of those voters will probably be removed before the hon. Gentleman again goes to his constituents. Now, with regard to boroughs of large extent, including several agricultural parishes within their area—some of which I believe are larger than the smallest county in in England—six Members of the Committee out of thirteen were of opinion that an exception should be made in their favour. The majority, however, thought it inexpedient to make any such exception, because if you do so, you break down the rule and will find great difficulty in deciding where to draw the line, and because a remedy for the inconvenience is to be found in the judicious distribution of poll- 766 ing places, which may be brought within a reasonable distance of the residence of the voter. It must not be forgotten, that if this Act be passed, persons in their private carriages, or by private conveyances, may still take in firm voters to the poll. I come now to the principal objection urged to this Bill. I have been told that the Bill will be injurious to the Liberal cause, for the Liberal cause is generally popular, and this being supported frequently by men in humble life the Bill will deprive them of the opportunity of recording their votes, while it will throw into the bands of the rich the means of conveying their supporters to the poll. Now, I do not think this is a consideration which, if the measure really tends to check undue expense and abuse, ought to weigh with us. I do not think that where an important political question is at stake, or where the franchise is considered an important privilege, the present Bill will prevent persons from going to the poll. This, however, is a question upon which hon. Gentlemen may entertain strong opinions without being open to the charge either on the one hand of wishing to disfranchise a portion of the constituency, or the other of desiring to support corruption. The change is one which I believe would be beneficial—it is one which has been fully considered by the Committee; I voted for it as a member of the Committee, and I am prepared upon the second reading of this Bill to express the same opinion. If the Bill passes a second reading, a provision ought to be made in Committee for multiplying polling places in those four boroughs where no power now exists by law of altering or increasing them. I really do not understand why they should be made exceptions to the other boroughs in the kingdom. Their case, however, is one which ought not to prevent our supporting the second reading of the Bill, and I shall therefore give my vote in favour of the Motion.
§ MR. HUNT
said, as he had had the honour of moving the rejection of the Bill of the hon. Member in 1858, he hoped the House would allow him to state briefly why, though the measure was somewhat modified, he could not give his support to the second reading. Hon. Members opposite always looked upon any Bill for conferring the franchise as a very large measure, but he thought that the Bill, so far as it would take away the franchise, was a very large one. The existing law, 767 he admitted, was highly objectionable in many particulars; but he would say let greater facilities for polling be provided, and until then let the law remain as it is. He believed that if the Bill passed, a wealthy candidate would have great advantages. For supposing payment of the expense of conveyance was prohibited, would not that be putting the election into the hands of those who had horses and carriages of their own, and taking away all chance from the man who had not the same means of meeting his opponent? As to the argument that the House ought to accept the Bill because it had been recommended by a select committee, that would prove rather too much, because it had been also recommended that a person in the employment of another ought to be at liberty to absent himself from such employment for such time as might be necessary to enable him to vote, without being subject to any loss of wages or other penalty. Was the House prepared to accept such a recommendation? If in the case of counties they admitted the principle that where voters were at a certain distance from the poll they could not be expected to walk to it, they ought to admit the same principle with respect to boroughs. The promoters of the Bill had agreed that in Committee many places must be placed in the schedule, how many they had not said. But they must be aware there were a great many. There were 37 boroughs of an area of 15 square miles, 22 of 20, 21 of 25, 15 of 30, 11 of 35, 40 of 45, 1 of 47, 1 of 49, 1 of 69, 1 of 73, and 1 of 78 miles. Therefore, if the Bill was to pass, a large number of boroughs must be scheduled. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten that a person might reside seven miles from the limits of the borough in which he had a vote. Were they to oblige such a man to remain away from the poll? He wished the polling places to be brought home to every man's door, for he believed it would do away with the difficulty with which they were trying to deal, and would lessen bribery and intimidation; but, until they had given such facilities, let them not take away from the poor elector those facilities which he had at present.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished, before the House went to a division, to say one word as to the real nature of the clause which he had had the honour to introduce, and which the Bill of the lion, and learned Gentleman sought to repeal. Now the hon. and learned Gentleman had en- 768 tirely mistaken the character and objects of that clause. It must be admitted that, if it was the duty of a voter to record his vote, it was the right and duty of every person who could to enable him to discharge that duty; and the law, he believed, had been uniformly laid down in courts of justice in conformity with that principle. He begged, therefore, to deny that the clause which he had proposed, and which had been adopted by the House, was any real alteration of the law. It would have been correct to have framed it as a declaratory clause; but, inasmuch as hon. Gentlemen questioned the fact, it was made an enacting clause. The only question that had ever been raised was, whether the payment of the expense of conveying voters to the poll might not be made a colourable pretext for bribery and corruption. Than it would be illegal, not otherwise. The real question, then, was not whether it was right to provide conveyance for voters to the poll, because that had never been questioned; but it was said that persons, under the name of expenses for conveyance, demanded and received considerable sums of money for their own benefit. There was no doubt of the truth of that assertion. A man came a few miles, he got money to pay for his conveyance; but he had walked, so he put the money in his pocket. The question, therefore, for the House of Commons was to prevent the exercise of a legitimate right being perverted into a means of corruption; and that was illegal. But it was difficult to say what was the precise definition of illegality in the matter. It being a question of common law, judges might lay down one law and Committees of that House another. But it became necessary to lay down the law in such a manner that Committees of that House could not be outwitted by clever counsel bringing forward the decisions of courts of justice; and therefore it was that he had submitted to the House that they should lay down in clear terms what he believed to be the rule of common law applicable to all elections in this country. His proposition was the simple rule that persons should not be allowed to make conveyance a colour for corruption, but the any one, whether candidate, or co-elector might be at liberty to take any Voter the poll. Now his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Collier) came down to the House day with a Bill in which he virtially admitted that he could not carry out his own 769 principle, and that the present state of the law was right. He (Mr. Ayrton) did not object to going into Committee; but in Committee his hon. and learned Friend must alter his clauses, and enact that no person should be conveyed to the poll; if not, he would leave the law in the most, confused, the most capricious, the most arbitrary, and the most unjust condition it was possible to conceive. For what did his hon. and learned Friend propose? That, if an elector was called an agent, he might not hire a cab for conveying a voter to the poll without making himself liable to prosecution; but if he was not an agent, and hired a dozen cabs for the same purpose, that was a perfectly legitimate proceeding. But the House could not sanction such a principle. The law must be clear and intelligible. It was a very serious interference with freedom of action to say that no person should aid in carrying an elector to the poll. If they were about to put the great majority of working people into the position that they could not be conveyed to the poll, it would be necessary to make some provision which Would enable them to vote without being subjected to the inconvenience which they would suffer from such an alteration in the law. The working man was allowed half an hour for dinner, and, if he tried to walk to the poll, in what position would he be placed with respect to his master if he did not come back within the time? In his opinion, his hon. and learned Friend I had entirely misconstrued the present state of the law, and while grasping at the shadow was losing the substance.
§ MR. CLAY
said, it was perfectly well-known that the conveyance of voters was made a colourable pretext for bribery, not of the voter, but of the owners of the conveyances. He appealed to the metropolitan Members whether one of the best means of insuring success at an election in the metropolis was not the purchase of conveyances for bringing voters to the poll?
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 130; Noes 160: Majority 30.
§ Words added—.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.