Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th July],
That according to the Law and usage of Parliament, it is the duty of the Sheriff or other Returning Officer in England, in case of an equal number of votes being polled for two or more candidates at an Election, to return all such candidates."—(Mr. Lowe.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. LOWE
said, he believed he was the only Member who ought not to speak 1542 on the Motion, because he addressed the House on it on a former occasion. He had waited in the hope that some hon. Member would have had something to say upon the Motion; if not, and as he gathered from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) that they did not approve of any opinion being recorded on the subject, he had no wish to press the matter forward, and he moved that the Motion be withdrawn. ["No, no!"] He had thought it his duty, as Chairman of the Committee, to bring the matter before the House.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, it was desirable that the Question should be settled, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman's Motion was the only reasonable solution of the matter. It was very desirable that it should be recorded on the Votes of the House
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
considered there was great objection to the House settling the law by way of Resolution. If the law was settled upon the point, as he believed it was, this Resolution was unnecessary; and if the law was not settled it could not be done by Resolution. He approved of the withdrawal of the Motion.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
remarked that the Bill of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Goldsmid), which took away the ordinary vote of the returning officer, and gave him a casting vote, would have afforded a fair solution to this question.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he was sure the House would think that the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) had not only performed his duty, but had done a service to the House in bringing this question before them. At the same time, he thought there was great force in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid). This was a question on which there was a law at present, although different opinions might be entertained as to what the law was. For his own part, he held it to be the law that where there was an equality of votes for two candidates there should be a double return; but that opinion might be wrong, and in the present state of matters the law of Parliament should be settled by an Election Committee of that House. On the other hand, if any one thought that the law ought to be made more clear, or that it should be altered, that exposition and that alteration should be made, not 1543 by Resolution, but by legislation. Therefore the course taken by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Goldsmid) in introducing a clause into his Bill declaratory of the law, was the proper course. But it was obvious that such a Bill could not be carried this Session; but as no case could arise in the course of the present Session, he did not see any inconvenience would arise from postponing the matter till next year.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, the Attorney General had remarked that no case could arise before the next Session of Parliament; but be (Mr. Locke) did not regard that circumstance as a reason for not agreeing with the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Calne. On the contrary, he was of opinion that the law regarding elections ought not to be left in doubt. But from the text books it appeared that grave doubts might arise in the minds of returning officers, and that, especially if they looked for advice to Rogers on Elections, they might think they were told a returning officer possessed a casting vote. Where was the difficulty of passing this Resolution? He hoped it would be passed, and then there would be a confirmation by the House of Commons of the decision pronounced by the Election Committee over which the right hon. Member for Calne had presided.
§ MR. GOLDSMID
said, his Bill for making the law uniform in the three kingdoms would come on at a later period of the evening. The Resolution of the right hon. Member for Calne he regarded as unconstitutional. If the law was clear it was not for the House of Commons to declare its clearness; if it was not clear, the doubt could only be removed, not by a Resolution of the Commons, but by an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. PAULL
was strongly of opinion that the Legislature never intended to give the returning officer a casting vote. This was clear from the nature of the questions to be asked of every elector before giving his vote—whether he was the person described on the register, and whether he had voted before at the election. It was quite inconsistent with the second of these questions to suppose that the returning officer should have a casting vote. The Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman was therefore a very salutary one.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 6: Majority 129.
§ Resolution agreed to.