§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
rose to move the Resolutions of which he had given notice. The hon. Member said, that the Notice he had placed upon the paper was the result of convictions he had formed during the various Election Committees on which he had sat. It must be admitted on all hands that the law as it at present stood 1442 with respect to bribery was utterly in-effectual, and he believed it was also generally admitted that probably at no previous time had bribery existed to a larger extent than it had during the late election. It was always an expensive and an invidious task to petition against a Member's return—it was mostly done on personal grounds; and he ventured to say, that in a large portion of contested elections bribery took place in some form or other, of which that House never heard. Probably some 150 Members of the House had had experience in Election Committees, and they were well aware that though in the larger number bribery had been proved to have been practised, yet in very few instances only could it be brought home to the Members. Those who sat on those Committees must have been struck by the demeanor of the witnesses who did not seem to have any feeling of having done anything positively wrong in receiving bribes. Possibly in most instances it was not known by the person bribed that he himself was liable to a prosecution for receiving a bribe, for prosecutions for this offence were exceeding rare. On whom did the effect of the present law for the most part fall? On Members of that House who were called on to defend their seats at very great expense, though in most instances they were not in the slightest degree aware that any corrupt practices had been perpetrated in their behalf. An instance of that kind came before him in the present Session. In that instance the late sitting Member had done his very best to prevent any corrupt practices taking place, and yet, from the low character of many of the voters, and from the over-zeal of some of his agents, he unfortunately lost his seat. From his experience on Election Committees he had become convinced that the old saying that "the briber was worse than the bribed," was not correct in every instance. The voters frequently seemed to have determined to be bribed, and if they were not bribed or promised, not to vote. In several instances the voters did not hesitate to say such was the case; and in one instance the voter went so far as to decline to vote unless the money was paid down: and this man, he regretted to add, held a somewhat respectable position. Then, how was it possible to guard against such a state of things? It was exceedingly hard that a gentleman who had been elected by a very large proportion of the constituency, should lose his Beat because a comparatively few 1443 of the very low class of voters had, from the over zeal of his agents, been induced to vote for him, although he might not have required their votes. What was really wanted, it struck him, was the power to eliminate from the constituencies those voters who at former elections had shown themselves willing to be bribed. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department that we ought to pass some measure and then proceed in the most stringent manner to disfranchise every place found guilty of bribery. The persons who received bribes were generally those of the lowest class of voters, while the greater part of the constituency might consist of voters of a most respectable character, and it seemed most unjust to disfranchise the respectable voters because the low voters were guilty of bribery. The proposal which he had the honour to make to the House would have the effect of purifying the constituencies by lopping off the voters who were prepared to receive bribes. He knew it would be objected that people would not give evidence because they would consider the punishment excessive. He thought differently. In the case to which he had alluded a large number of the respectable inhabitants of the borough came forward and petitioned for a Commission of Inquiry into corrupt practices alleged to have taken place in their borough. Their petition was signed by the mayor, by the high bailiff, by every magistrate in the place, by every clergyman, and by a large portion of the respectable inhabitants. It should be remembered that people would not very readily come forward to propose a proceeding likely to lead to the disfranchisement of their borough; but in this instance the petitioners rose superior to any consideration of that kind, and they did petition the House for a Commission of Inquiry,, This being the case, if such a proposition as he submitted to the House were carried he thought that the respectable inhabitants of a borough would come forward voluntarily and offer such evidence as might be required before a Commission. There was a certain local pride in every borough, and nobody liked to see the finger of scorn pointed at his own locality—and the same desire would exist to cleanse the borough morally as to carry out sewerage or other local improvements. He thought undue severity could not be urged against his proposition. Whole bodies of freemen had been disfran- 1444 chised at once—for instance, the whole of the freemen of Yarmouth were disfranchised at once, and he thought most properly. There might have been some amount of injustice in a case of that kind —there were doubtless good among the bad. In his proposition he said, "Let a voter convicted of malpractices be disfranchised." If that proposition were passed he thought there would be numerous petitions for inquiry, and that in a short period we should get rid of bribery. This exclusion from political emancipation would cast a stigma upon the man who was guilty of the offence; his conduct would be known to his neighbours; they would know that he had been disqualified from voting: and this, he thought, would be a strong deterrent from the commission of the offence. It might be said that a Royal Commission would not be a proper tribunal before which to investigate cases of this kind; that the voter would not have a proper chance of defending his franchise, and that injustice would not be done him. But there was already on the statute book an enactment, 17 & 18 Vict., directing that the Revising Barrister should expunge from the list the names of all persons convicted of bribery, treating, or undue influence at elections. Here, then, was an analogous case. Surely there could not be much difference between three men selected as a Royal Commission to make a solemn inquiry into an important matter and empowered to sit in judgment on a charge of bribery, and a Revising Barrister sitting in judgment for the same offence. Rather, he would say, that the judgment of the three would be superior to the judgment of the one. After the expression of opinion which had been given in the House the previous night with reference to bribery, and the universal expression of opinion that some steps ought to be taken to check what had been so aptly described by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Bernal Osborne) as the "plagues-pot of our constitution," he expected to receive support from all sides of the House in carrying this Resolution, which, in his firm conviction, would do more than anything that had ever been proposed for the suppression of bribery.
§ COLONEL SYKES seconded the Motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is the opinion of this House that any person found by a Royal Commission to have been guilty of offering or giving a bribe to any elector, in order to induce him to vote, or to abstain from voting, or on account of his having voted or ab-
stained from voting for any candidate at an election of a Knight of the Shire or Burgess to serve in Parliament, should thenceforth and for ever be disqualified from exercising the Electoral Franchise or from sitting in Parliament."—(Mr. Hussey Vivian.)
said, that if the Resolution of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire should be agreed to, he intended to move the following addition:—That in every case where any voter is reported by any Election Committee as having received a bribe for voting or abstaining from voting for any candidate at any election of a Knight of the Shire or Burgess to serve in Parliament, the Attorney General shall be required to examine the evidence in such case, and to prosecute the person who has offered or given the bribe, should the evidence, in his opinion, be sufficient to render a conviction probable.He proposed that Resolution in the firm belief that if it were carried and acted upon nothing would have so powerful an effect in diminishing bribery. At present, although he believed it was competent to any one who pleased to prosecute the person who gave a bribe at elections, they knew that such a thing was never in fact done. It was nobody's business, it was nobody's interest to do so; and, as might have been anticipated, nobody would be at the considerable expense of undertaking a purely invidious and unpleasant task. The consequence was that the persons who were engaged in election contests had no restraint upon them of any sort or kind; they had practically nothing whatever to apprehend from anything that they might do. That manifestly was not as it should be. Here was an offence committed against the law of the land which yet in all cases was committed with absolute impunity, and that although its consequences were of the most disastrous kind. No one contended that bribery at elections was not a most grievous mischief to all concerned. Its effect not merely upon the character of the few who might accept the bribes, but upon the whole tone of feeling, upon the whole morale, of the borough in which it prevailed, had always been felt to be ruinous. The receipt of these sums of money coming in this way, not as the natural reward of industry but as a kind of godsend on a few exciting occasions, was an unmixed evil to those who received it. It was almost invariably spent in drunkenness and debauchery; it lowered the moral standard of the people; while its political effect was most pernicious as teaching the people to look upon elections, not as the 1446 performance of a grave duty and the discharge of an important trust, but merely as a time for wild and reckless self-indulgence. Nor did the evils of bribery stop there, Many and many a man singularly fit for Parliamentary life—men of thought and principle—were debarred from venturing to come forward as candidates because of their detestation of these practices; and many and many others who would be an honour and advantage to that House were unsuccessful in their attempts to enter it simply because they would not debase themselves and do such grievous injury to others. Not only that, but the great and uncertain increase of expense which such corruption at elections caused in many boroughs necessarily deterred many other excellent candidates from coming forward. The real danger to the Constitution at the present time was the tendency of elections to become more and more costly as population increased. The danger was that ultimately a seat in Parliament might become a luxury—as indeed it was far too much already, only enjoyed by the wealthy to the exclusion of men whose abilities and patriotism would well fit them for its possession. However, he need not dwell at any length on the mischiefs which bribery engendered. Plainly it was a most serious offence against society; but then, the question was, how was this offence to be suppressed? What remedies would be really telling? Why should not the same means be used in suppressing it as those employed in suppressing other crimes? Why was this one crime against society to be allowed to pass with absolute impunity to the man who committed it, and only to bring down penalties upon a third person who might, perhaps, have been utterly unconscious of its commission? At present, when this offence was committed, the whole of the punishment fell, not on the man who performed it, but on a third party who was unconscious of it. That was a preposterous state of things. Every one who had had to do with electioneering knew how impossible it was for a candidate to keep a cheek upon all the persons who might belong to his committee or might be in some way connected with his party; and yet if a single one of these persons committed the offence it was upon the Member, and the Member alone, that the penalty would fall, although he might have done his utmost to restrain his friends from any such proceedings. Why should it not be provided that when the commission of 1447 this offence had been proved, the offender should, as a matter of course, be punished as well as the candidate on whose behalf he professed to have acted? Were this done, the agents or other parties who were engaged in electioneering would be infinitely more reluctant than they now were in their attempts to bribe. As it was, they were in many cases carried away by the vehement excitement of the time; they were passionately desirous, not, perhaps, for the advantage of the particular gentleman who was standing as candidate, but for the victory of their party in the borough over their opponents, and they were perfectly ready to run a considerable risk of penalties that would fall upon other people in order to achieve their own triumph. In very many cases this acted in the cruellest way towards Members of that House. He himself was intimately acquainted with several cases in which Members of that House, who had an utter detestation of bribery, and had strained every nerve and had taken every conceivable precaution to prevent its being practised on their behalf, were yet betrayed by some rash or rascally fellow whose only title to be considered their agent was that perhaps once or twice he had entered their committee-room. He thought that, for the protection of the candidate as well as for the protection of the House of Commons and the country, they ought to insure that those who committed this flagrant offence against the law of the land—an offence which bore such disastrous fruits—should, in every case where it was proved to have been committed, bring down a severe penalty upon the offender. He had only met with two arguments against this proposal. One was that it would involve so much expense and labour; but he did not believe that any outlay or trouble could be better bestowed than in putting down the ruinous system which was doing such infinite harm to all concerned. The other argument was that perhaps the authority of Committees might be invalidated, because if they had unseated a Member upon the ground that bribery had been proved, and the Attorney General should state that there was no sufficient ground to justify him in prosecuting the offender, this might throw a cloud over their decision. But he (Mr. Buxton) thought the effect with regard to that would be simply wholesome, because it would make Committees more anxiously careful not to unseat Members, unless the evidence was such as in the 1448 opinion of competent lawyers was of a sufficient and solid kind. Upon the whole, he felt no doubt that a few such prosecutions would do more to put an end to bribery than any other means that could possibly be adopted.
§ MR. POWELL
said, he was not surprised that his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian), who had acted as Chairman of the Committee to inquire into the petition from the borough of Galway, should have brought the subject of bribery under the notice of the House. He was sure that if there was anything on the face of the globe which had proved itself to be wholly indestructible and uninfluenced by decay, it was the corruption of the town and borough of Galway. He himself (Mr. Powell) had served on that Committee— they had had witnesses before them in considerable numbers who described the occurrences which had taken place with a simplicity and an unaffected force which evinced that they were detailing circumstances which they did not consider in any degree unusual, but which they looked upon as the natural incidents of a contested election. It was true that in some cases they seemed to throw a thin veil of secrecy over their proceedings, but that veil appeared to be regarded by them rather as a custom of trade or a usage of business than as anything from which men ought to shrink as ashamed of what they had done. It would be in the recollection of the House that in the year 1857 a Committee was appointed to inquire into the election which had then taken place for the borough of Galway, and that Committee wrote down certain men as guilty of bribery, and the Commission which followed wrote down more men as similarly guilty. The Committee which had sat during the present Session had also written down men as guilty of bribery, and the Commission which would be appointed would no doubt write down more as guilty of the same offence; but the persons indicated did not regard this as a disgrace, for it brought upon them no shame and no consequences which they deemed inconvenient or damaging to their reputation. The mode in which bribery was conducted in Galway in 1857, as it appeared from the evidence, was as follows:—The voter went to the house of a gentleman, whose name he would not mention, and was instructed to put his hand through a hole in the wall. He did so, and something was placed in his hand; on withdrawing his hand he found he 1449 had received two £1 notes. He could see no part of the body of the person who gave him the money—not even the fingers—as the hole, which would just admit the hand easily, was high up. The method of bribing in Galway appeared to have altered in 1866 A gentleman of the same name as the one at whose house the bribery occurred in 1857—and he (Mr. Powell) believed him to be the same person—employed his clerk in the work of bribing, and supplied him with two lists, each containing twelve names, and as soon as the money had been paid to the whole of the voters in one list the second list was used, and the money paid to the voters upon that. The person who received the money for the voters was a witness, and he was a witness not of truth only, but of accurate and minute truth. He stated that he received £5 for each voter, and that he paid to each of them £4 15s. in money and the remaining 5s. in breadstuffs, he being a baker; except in one ease, in which the voter being a baker himself, preferred to have the whole £5 in cash. In several cases witnesses who had acted as spies, and who had stood behind those who gave and those who received the bribes, retailed their conversations, and gave an account of the manner in which the proceedings were conducted. With the experience elicited by the Committees before them, it was impossible to doubt that the proceedings hitherto taken by that House to suppress bribery were wholly ineffectual, and that measures must be adopted—whether more stringent or not he would not say, but certainly very different in character —if this stain were to be removed from our electoral system. He was afraid it would be of no use to wait for the Reports of the Royal Commissions, and he wished to direct the attention of the hon. and learned Attorney General especially to that point. Parliament had tempered its justice towards both the bribers and the bribed with softening mercy by shortening the limitation of the period in which they could be punished, and he was afraid that before any Report could be made by a Commission that time would expire. If, therefore, any steps were to be taken or any proceedings instituted against those persons who were guilty of bribery, those steps must be taken at once. He was aware that there might be a difficulty in prosecuting those persons who had given evidence as witnesses; but a careful examination of the evidence given before the Committees would show that there was 1450 ample testimony to convict, not witnesses, but others, and he hoped the attention of the Attorney General would be directed to that branch of the case, and that he would carefully examine the evidence and see if there were not cases clearly proved against persons who were not witnesses, and who were not therefore under the shelter, whether real or merely formal, which shielded and privileged those who had given evidence. He thought the true remedy for bribery was to take the franchise from those who were guilty of it. He did not think it was now easy to procure convictions; but if a conviction were to result, not in imprisonment, but in the deprivation of the vote which the voter had made venal, a favourable verdict would become much more probable. It was, however, necessary to bear in mind that the charge of bribery was one which might be easily made, while in some cases it was not so easy to refute, and judgment and discretion must be exercised as to the mode in which this great evil was dealt with. He hoped the question would be dealt with courageously, and with firmness and ingenuity, and that before many years should elapse this degradation would be extinct in England. They might then have representatives of opinions and principles in that House who were not at the same time— however the fact might be unknown to themselves personally—the representatives of base, sordid, and unscrupulous gold.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
If I wanted any proof of the somewhat languid indifference existing in this House on the question of bribery and corruption, I do not think I need go further than the present evening. I would beg hon. Members who have lately been introduced into the House of Commons to mark the contrast between yesterday evening, when the subject of bribery was brought forward, and this evening, when we wish to deal practically with the question. The contrast is somewhat startling. But I must at the outset protest in the strongest language which a Member of Parliament is permitted to use against the insinuations which were thrown out by the hon. Member for Birmingham. When he said that any hon. Gentleman who voted and was very much impressed—
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member that he was out of order in referring to what had been said in a past debate.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
The hon. 1451 Gentleman did not say what I am about to refer to in the debate—I think the passage occurred in the famous Primrose Hill letter. I am alluding to the passage in which he threw out an aspersion on all hon. Members who did not vote for his favourite project. Now, I voted for the Motion made last evening, because I am of opinion that the greatest evil in the Constitution of this country is the prevalence of bribery at elections of Members of Parliament. We are about to try a very problematical experiment, as far as England is concerned— I am speaking of the grouping of boroughs —I believe that to be highly problematical, especially as to what the future expense of elections will be; and I am fortified in that opinion by a quotation from a well-known man, a "whip" in this House for many years, Sir William Hayter, who thought that the grouping of boroughs would quadruple the expense of elections. That quadrupling he feared would take place in some measure by means of illegitimate expenses. There cannot then be a doubt that this House is bound, more particularly at the present time, to examine the whole of our electoral machinery, with a view to a complete alteration and revision of the laws relating to bribery. I do not want to go into the origin of bribery for Members of Parliament. An author who has written on the History of Party, Mr. Wingrove Cooke — attributes the origin of bribery entirely to the Whig party, and says very truly that at the time when bribery was instituted the Tory party held all the land, and the only way by which you could fight the intimidation exercised by the Tory party was by means of wealth which the Whigs possessed. We all know that Sir Robert Walpole used bribery to Members of this House. Every man had his price, and most men were paid. But now the system is changed, and the bribery is transferred to the constituencies—it is the constituents, instead of the Members, who receive the quid pro quo. The stanza of the satirist is still true—He who would gain the votes of British tribesMust add to force of merit force of bribes.How are we to stop this? It is well known that the Reform Act of 1832 failed to deal with the question of bribery. I am not going too far when I say that bribery has increased and is increasing; and the question is how it is to be diminished. Will this Motion or the Amendment diminish it? 1452 I fear not; I fear they will affect it but superficially. It is really the policy of the Government—not of the present Government, but of all Governments—to make the election of Members of Parliament as expensive as they possibly can. There is on this question great insincerity on the part of public men and of Parliament, and the policy of the day is to keep this House of Commons as a Parliamentary preserve for rich men. Just look at the career of a capitalist. He goes to the hon. Member for Lewes or the hon. Member for the county of Dublin the respected and much-venerated whippers-in on one side or the other, and he says "I want a seat." They naturally say, "What money have you? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but these are facts. The candidate says, "I am prepared for a good outlay." A borough is assigned to him and he goes down to work the constituency — probably with the meritorious wish to raise his fellow creatures in the social scale—a great many, no doubt, to raise their own families, and to get them into what is termed "good society." The candidate contests the place, and he probably debauches the whole borough by his lavish expenditure. [Laughter.] It is the case, although hon. Members laugh at it and treat it as a good joke. Till you make bribery infamous by Act of Parliament you will never stop the evil. If we, as rich men, laugh at these things, what will poor men do? Are we not guilty of palpable insincerity and hypocrisy when we come to talk of legislating about bribery and putting it down? There is another form of bribery besides that practized at elections. Many Members of Parliament subscribe to what are called local purposes; and look at the sums of money that are so paid. I know a Member who pays £2,000 a year for dinners, and to what he calls "charities;" and I know another Member who pays £800 a year in this way, and who says he should have no chance of being elected if he did not. Last night the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Staniland) mentioned a borough on the east coast of Lincolnshire. [Mr. STANILAND: On the east coast.] True—the hon. Member said on the east coast; but I believe I have more distinctly indicated its locality— in which 700 voters received £35 each, or in the aggregate nearly £25,000. I believe I know the place, for there are not many boroughs on the coast of Lincolnshire, and there is one that has just the number of voters named. Turning to the 1453 published abstract of election expenses, I find that the return of the two Members for that place cost £2,199, and, to be particular, 7s. 11d. This is the career of the capitalist in England. And what is the case in Ireland? The hon. Member has mentioned the case of Galway. I know a gentleman, no longer a Member of this House, who said he was afraid to go near his constituents, because each time he did so it cost him £400 to repair the east window of a chapel. What is the use of Acts of Parliament? This morning there was put into my hands an Irish Act of Parliament, to which I call the special attention of the hon. Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer), who, I believe, subscribes very liberally to the charities of that place. This Act of Parliament, the 35 Geo. III. s.19, makes it illegal for a Member of Parliament to give any donations to a charity, to build chapels, or to do anything of the sort within the district he represents. Yet this sort of thing is going on every day; and although we are all lamenting bribery, and Instructions are being moved for it to be dealt with in the Reform Bill, I do not think you will find, when bribery comes to be debated, much ardour in the effort to put a stop to it. It is the policy of the Government—of all Governments—to encourage the outlay of money, to make a seat in this House as expensive as possible. Look, again, at the constitution of the other House. I want to know how Peers are made, and why they are made. Englishmen are in the habit of sneering at other countries, and particularly at some Italian States, because they say that in them titles are matters of purchase. It used to be the case that in Florence a man could he made a Marquess if he got a railway constructed. Is it not to some extent the same in this country? Many of the Peerages, from the time of Pitt down to that of Palmerston, were conferred for nothing more than this —that a man had been a good party-man and had spent a good deal upon elections. For what were the half of the Peers made during that interval? For distinguished ability? For great public service? Not at all, but for being true to party, and for private expenditure for the benefit of party. I can put my finger on the titles of those who have been pitchforked into the Peerage in this way, and I can name those who within the last ten or twelve years have been sent into the House of Lords for no other reason than their liberal subscription to the general party fund. What is to be 1454 the cure for all this? Recent Acts against bribery have been not only inefficacious, but positively mischievous. What is the use of the Corrupt Practices Act? It is of no use; the big fish break through it. When a Committee of this House sits, what does it do? If it be proved that a man has invested very largely in his seat, it invariably punishes the poor voter and acquits the rich man. Somehow it always discovers that the rich man who paid the money is not cognizant of the bribery. How can a man spend so large a sum of money and not be cognizant of the bribery? Every man knows that £500 is as much as could be spent properly in any election, and when you go a shilling above that we all know that the expenditure must be illegitimate. After the last general election there were petitions on the ground of bribery against fifty-four boroughs—only four of them, to the honour of Ireland, relating to that country; but half these petitions never came to a hearing; and why? We all know the system. Gentlemen meet behind the Speaker's chair; it is said, "That dirty business on our side is compounded by one equally dirty on yours;" and so the cases are paired off, and we hear nothing of them. That is the way things are carried on, and the Corrupt Practices Act is of no use, as it catches only the little fish and allows the big sinners to go scot free. What do you propose to do? I am personally of opinion that all this will continue as long as the tribunals for the hearing of election petitions are Committees of this House. Although the Members of Committees may be well-meaning men, it is impossible that they can be uninfluenced by party considerations. These things lower the moral tone of the country; we laugh at them in our private capacities, although we pull long faces and make long speeches in our judicial capacities. If the House be sincere in the wish to get rid of this rinderpest, it ought to change the form of tribunal, which deals with election petitions. You might have a Judicial Committee like that of the Privy Council. If you will keep the power in your own hands, appoint a permanent Judicial Committee, not of Members of the House, to try cases—not here, because that makes the cost of a petition as great as the cost of an election, and renders it impossible for any but a wealthy man to present and prosecute a petition—but let this Committee go down to the place and try the petition on the spot. There is an 1455 excellent article on the subject in The Law Magazine, by Serjeant Pulling, a man of great experience; and I think the House will like to hear a little from a looker-on upon these precious Election Committees which we are so anxious to retain because they are a House of Commons' privilege. He says—The ordeal of an Election Committee has terrors for all except those whose lavish expenditure keeps up the system of corruption at elections, hut it is at once the most costly and the most unsatisfactory of our tribunals. The right of freely choosing representatives is one which the electors enjoy by the law of the land; the question whether that right has been legally exercised is one for a purely judicial tribunal, and not a mere House of Commons' privilege.He goes on to say—Though the grossest bribery may be proved the Committee who declare the election void on that ground are always induced to add that there was no evidence that the unseated Member was aware of the bribery practised on his behalf.In the teeth of all this, the House is called upon, year by year, to consider these tinkering Resolutions and Amendments that will not go to the root of the evil, but a proposal to take from the House the power of adjudicating upon election petitions provokes opposition from both sides of the House. But until you do that I am persuaded that you will do nothing in putting a stop to corruption. There is another question which should be considered by the House, and that is the necessity of making penal all canvassing of electors before and after the writ is issued. When you make it infamous in a rich man to give a bribe you may depend upon it the poor man will not take one; but until you do that you may be assured that the poor man will not refuse to renovate his pocket at the expense of the rich man. I have no faith in the Amendment, though I have in the exertions of my hon. Friend. I do not know what form to put my views in; but if I met with any encouragement, I would undertake to have a Bill drawn by which canvassing should be made penal, and by which the power of adjudicating on election petitions should be taken once and for all from the Committees of this House.
§ MR. PAULL
said, that all who had heard the hon. Member for Nottingham must be delighted that he had again found a seat in this House—he was always amusing and sometimes instructive upon any subject on which he thought fit to speak. 1456 But as to the desirability of adopting the proposals now made, he (Mr. Paull), although fully sharing the general wish to put down bribery, did not feel that he could support either the Resolution or the Amendment. The reason which would probably be alleged by the Attorney General for not initiating prosecutions for bribery more frequently was that it was only advisable to prosecute where convictions were likely to be obtained; and he (Mr. Paull) could not join in attributing to successsive Law Officers of the Crown remissness in the discharge of the duties which devolved upon them. The hon. and learned Gentleman could at present institute prosecutions for bribery whenever he thought it judicious to do so; but to impose upon him the duty of instituting proceedings perhaps when he was of opinion that they would probably fail would be to place that officer in a very unpleasant position. As to the substantive Motion of the hon. Gentleman for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) it was of a highly penal character, and it was doubtful whether highly penal laws would bring about the object which the hon. Member had in view. Moreover, if they adopted the Resolution, it would be awarding a greater degree of punishment for the offence of bribery than for any other of the same class of crime. There were certain offences which were instinctively felt to be offences against society; but in receiving a bribe the poor man did not feel that he was more guilty than the Member of this House who received an equivalent for the support he had given to the Government. Every man at one time or another was open to blandishments. Some were won by honeyed words, some by a hope of social advancement, and he well remembered what had been said by the late Mr. Henry Drummond upon a Bill directed against corrupt practices — that "a few yards of riband given to a voter's wife or daughter was bribery and corruption, but a few yards of riband given in another place was doing service to the country." The proper mode of suppressing bribery was not by penal laws, but by elevating the standard of public intelligence and feeling. He would cheer-fully confer the franchise on such members of the working classes as were fit to exercise it; but he could not help regretting that while attempts were being made to raise them in the social scale, the proposal before the House for increasing the constituencies 1457 would introduce a body of men who, from their position in life, would be peculiarly open to improper influences. Experience showed that penal laws against bribery had failed in preventing these influences from being exerted, and this being his belief, it would not be in his power to support either of the propositions before the House.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
No person can be more alive than I am to the fact that corruption prevails in many places to an extent which makes it clearly the duty of the House to use the best means at their disposal for suppressing it, or to the importance of examining carefully such evidence as we have upon the subject. I hear, however, not only with something like pain, but with a feeling that it by no means tends to facilitate the end we have in view, that sort of wholesale denunciation of the constituencies with which we have just been favoured by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Denial Osborne). I cannot agree with the hon. Member that the present extent of corruption in this country is at all equal to that which we have reason to believe prevailed in former times. Although there is much still to be lamented, and much room still for improvement, yet there are signs of progressive improvement in this particular, and a diminution upon the whole of the area of corruption. I do not think this denunciation is true of the counties generally. I do not think it is true of the larger constituencies in the country —the larger cities and boroughs; nor is it true of a very considerable proportion of the small but independent and honourable constituencies that bribery extensively prevails among them. I had the honour formerly of representing a large borough (Plymouth) where there was invariably a contested election; but never hut once do I remember any signs or indications of bribery or corruption in that town; and I am perfectly sure that, on that one occasion, unless the tempter had gone out of his way to tempt that constituency, they would not have gone out of their way to solicit bribes. I believe that this is by no means an exceptional case, and therefore I protest against the universal and indiscriminate censure which seems to be cast upon all the constituencies by the hon. Member. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: No!] I accept with pleasure the hon. Gentleman's correction. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: I said it was the Members.] Well, but if 1458 Members are all open to censure on this score, I fear that most of the constituencies must be open to censure too. But the hon. Member comes himself from a constituency which, I hope, according to his own most recent experience, is free from the stain of corruption. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: I did not say that.] I feel that I am not mistaken in supposing that the experience of the majority of Members will bear me out in saying that these are exceptional vices, and that they do not fairly represent the general character of the constituencies. But the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Government—meaning thereby not this or that Government hut all Governments in general—dealt with this matter as if they were interested in increasing the expenses of elections, [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Hear, hear!] Well, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman; and all I can say is that though he is perfectly entitled to his own opinion upon the subject I am equally entitled to mine, and I totally disbelieve in the existence of any such interest on the part of any Government. As far as I am personally concerned, I should be only too glad if by any measure which the hon. Gentleman may take the expenses connected with the election for any place which I may hereafter represent can be reduced as low as those to which I have been acccustomed since I have had the honour to sit for the borough which I now represent, where they are already as low as possible. I cannot see the foundation for such a charge. It may be that our laws upon this subject can be improved and that expenses at elections may be diminished, and if this result were brought about no one would more rejoice than I should. But let us come to the practical proposals which have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) proposes that we should adopt the following Resolution:—That it is the opinion of this House that any person found by a Royal Commission to have been guilty of offering or giving a bribe to any elector in order to induce him to vote, or to abstain from voting, or on account of his having voted or abstained from voting, for any candidate at an election of a Knight of the Shire or Burgess to serve in Parliament, should thenceforth and for ever be disqualified from exercising the Electoral Franchise or from sitting in Parliament.Now it is undoubtedly true, as my hon. Friend says, that there is nothing involved in this proposal which goes beyond the principle of the existing law, because by 1459 the Act of 1854 the Revising Barrister is required, upon proof being given him of any person's conviction on account of bribery, treating, or undue influence at elections, to strike the name of such person off the list; and, as the same duty has to be discharged every year, this amounts to perpetual disfranchisement. But the conviction must have been before a competent legal tribunal; and the Revising Barrister himself is not empowered to give any decision upon the conduct of a voter. I see no reason why any one who is by competent authority convicted of bribery should not be disqualified from sitting in Parliament; and, therefore, so far as the principle of the proposals of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire go, I am disposed to give my assent to it. A much more serious question arises, however, as to the mode in which that proposition is to be carried out. It would not, I think, be advisable for the House to accept the Resolution of my hon. Friend, because it could not take effect except by Act of Parliament, and before committing ourselves to any such plan it is advisable that we should see the Bill itself, and have the opportunity of considering the provisions by which it is proposed to be carried out. Whatever our opinions as to the plan recommended by my hon. Friend may be, it is certain that the Royal Commissions are not at present constituted with all the safeguards which would be necessary if such a plan were adopted. For instance, they are not at present compelled to take evidence in the presence of the person accused, and by Act of Parliament the Royal Commissioners have the power of compelling persons to answer questions which will criminate themselves, giving them at the same time an indemnity against penal consequences. Of course, if we were to give to a Royal Commission the powers of a Criminal Court with reference to such important questions as the right to vote and to sit in Parliament, it would be necessary to define the rules and safeguards under which the proceedings of that Court should be carried on, so as to make them conclusive against persons proposed to be disfranchised. For my own part, I do not feel disposed to dissent from the principle of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire, and I should be quite willing to consider any Bill which my hon. Friend may submit to the House on the subject. I wish, before sitting down, to add a few words upon the Amendment of the hon. 1460 Member for Surrey (Mr. Buxton.) The hon. Gentleman proposes—That in every case where any voter is reported by any Election Committee as having received a bribe for voting or abstaining from voting for any candidate at any election of a knight of the shire or burgess to serve in Parliament, the Attorney General shall be required to examine the evidence in such case, and to prosecute the person who has offered or given the bribe, should the evidence, in his opinion, be sufficient to render a conviction probable.Now, this power is not often exercised at present by the Attorney General, partly owing to the way in which the House deals with the evidence, and partly owing to the provisions of the existing Acts of Parliament. The House does not even think it necessary as a general rule to print the evidence taken before the Election Committees; and unless this is done or unless the Chairman of Committee calls the attention of the Government to the inquiry, the Attorney General is, I think, not wrong in assuming that the circumstances are not deemed by the Committee to be such as to call for his interference. Under these circumstances, the practice has been that a special Motion has been made or the matter has been specially brought under the attention of the Government in cases where the Committee have thought that prosecutions ought to be instituted; and the Acts of Parliament appear to recognize the same rule, because although they say that it is the duty of the Attorney General, when a Royal Commission reports that bribery has taken place, to look into the matter and see whether prosecutions ought to be instituted, there is no similar provision applicable to the proceedings which may have taken place before Election Committees. All I can say is that whatever the House thinks it expedient to do in this matter or whatever duties it may deem it advisable to impose, I, as a humble Member of the Government, will endeavour willingly and cheerfully to perform; but with regard to the institution of prosecutions, I wish the House to bear in mind that if juries should take a different view of these cases from that taken by the Election Committees the credit of the decisions of this. House in the minds of the public may become seriously impaired. I think, however, that my hon. Friend would do better if he did not divide the House upon his Motion, but rest content with the service he has done by the discussion of the subject this evening.
said, that as he was the only Member now in the House 1461 who served cm the Committee appointed to inquire into the operation of the Corrupt Practices Act, he desired to say a few words. He remembered a Parliamentary barrister of great experience saying to him at that time—now some thirteen years ago —"Depend upon it, all you will succeed in doing will be to raise the price of ingenuity in the market." He was not sure that there was not much truth in that remark; but he still felt that they ought to do something, though if the remedies they adopted were too severe nothing but failure could possibly be the result. As to public prosecutions for bribery, he was afraid that learned counsel would appeal to the feelings of juries, and point to cases amongst the higher classes which would be prejudicial to both Houses. The better remedy would be that suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Glamerganshire, that the persons receiving and giving bribes should be disqualified from voting. He could not understand why, if persons should not vote at elections because they received parochial relief, they should not be struck off the register because they gave or received bribes at elections. In looking over the diary of Mr. Wyndham he had met with an extract upon this subject which, delivered, as it was, originally some sixty years age, he would read with the permission of the House—How in countries where conduct is free men can be prevented from selling that which they will not consent to give, and how when law is formal and scrupulous and beset on all sides with guards and defences for the protection of innocence it can be made to retain in all cases sufficient celerity for the overtaking of guilt, is a problem with which the authors of these complaints never seem to trouble themselves.Without pledging himself to the entire scheme suggested by his hon. Friend, he approved the proposal to adopt disfranchisement as a punishment for bribery, and to that extent would give him all the support in his power.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
said, he did not think it would be of any use to increase the penalties against bribery—the true remedy was a very simple one—the ballot. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh, but that was his opinion. After all, what was bribery? One hon. Member might go down to Nottingham and win everybody's heart by his jokes and smiles; another might gain the suffrages of another constituency by building them a chapel or a church, Well, some 1462 people might think that that was a species of undue influence. Why were hon. Members unwilling to try that remedy of secret voting? The only reason that he could see for that unwillingness was that they wanted to know what the voter did; but he (Mr. Alderman Lusk) thought it a perfectly reasonable arrangement that the elector should exercise his right in secret. He believed that if the constituencies were enlarged, and if voting took place by ballot, they would hear no more of that corruption which they had made so many ineffectual attempts to suppress.
§ MR. SMOLLETT
said, he was unable to support either the Motion of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. HusseyVivian) or the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Buxton). The former proposed that those who offered and those who received bribes should alike be disqualified from exercising the franchise or sitting in Parliament. That was a very simple proposal, and, if adopted, would prove by no means severe in practice. Candidates did not throw bank notes broadcast among the electors whose votes they wooed; they went with purity of election inscribed on their banners, and with professions of intense devotion to Reform which they hated in their hearts. They employed base tools to corrupt the electors. It did not matter whether those men were entitled to exercise the franchise themselves or not; in most cases they did not value the privilege in the least—all that they wanted was to be well paid for the job they had taken in hand, with power to secure a similar engagement when the next election occurred. Nor did such men ever aspire to the honour of a seat in Parliament; and if they did so aspire, it was very unlikely they would ever be returned, even to a Reformed Parliament. The Resolution, then, of the hon. Gentleman would only catch the small fry, and allow the rich sinner to escape through the meshes of the net. But he knew of a very simple way of stopping electoral corruption if that course were really desired. If the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the subject would devise a better court wherein to try charges of electoral corruption, he would better serve the end he had in view. He could not imagine tribunals less fitted to try cases of electoral corruption than those appointed by the House. The Members of Election Committees were, or affected to be, trammelled by the strict rules of evidence which pre- 1463 vailed in English Courts of Law; and under any circumstances they were in the hands of the counsel conducting the cases. Those learned Gentlemen never permitted more to ooze out respecting their clients than suited their convenience; and the Committees therefore rarely, if ever, probed the cases which came before them to the bottom. A flagrant example of the inefficiency of the present system might be found in the result attending the Galway Election Committee. The two sitting Members in that case were charged with corrupt practices; the evidence for the petition was heard, and then Mr. Morris, one of the sitting Members, went into the witness-box, and gave such a full and trustworthy account of his connection with the borough, that the Committee were quite satisfied; they declared that he had been duly elected, and that the petition against him was frivolous and vexatious. The case of the other Member (Sir Rowland Blennerhasset) was proceeded with in a different manner. The hon. Gentleman was not put in the witness-box; his committee-men were not called; his agents were not cited; the counsel of the hon. Member contented themselves with addressing the Committee in his behalf; and when they had concluded the Committee-room was cleared. The Committee thereupon reported to the House that a number of persons had been bribed to vote for Sir Rowland Blennerhasset, and that corruption largely prevailed at the Galway election; but, adding the usual salve, they declared that it was not proved to the Committee's satisfaction that the corrupt practices took place with the cognizance or consent of the sitting Member, who was declared to be duly elected. The proceedings of that Committee might be quite consistent with the law of the land; but, in his opinion, their conclusion was most unsatisfactory. In the case before them a gentleman perfectly unknown to the townsmen of Galway, uninvited by the constituency, sought their suffrages, and immediately after his arrival bank notes began to circulate very freely in places where bank notes were formerly unknown. Doubtless it was assumed that those bank notes had come from the Man in the Moon, or as godsends from Heaven. But disguise in such a case was idle. In his opinion the rule should be that whenever the election of a Member was in any degree tainted with corruption it should be declared void. If it were a rule that no man 1464 could free himself from the charge of corrupt practices unless he could prove that his election was not procured by bribery; that his agents had committed no corrupt acts; and that the bribery, if practised, was the corrupt act of one of his opponents, then he was convinced very few charges of corruption would be preferred. But, he asked, was the House of Commons itself so pure, and its Members, as a whole, so single-minded that they were justified in passing Resolutions which would bear upon the poor only? In his opinion, the House and its Members were not so. If there were considerable numbers of the constituent body ready to receive bribes, it must not be forgotten that those who had corrupted them sat in the House of Commons. He thought the House had among its 658 Members as many persons subject to corrupt influences as could be found in many constituencies. They should, then, deal somewhat tenderly with others. Not long ago the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr.Baxter), in an address to his constituents, told them that it would be a very difficult thing indeed to pass a Reform Bill in the House of Commons admitting the working classes to the franchise; the reason of the difficulty, he stated, being that there were a great many men calling themselves Liberals who yet detested Reform. The hon. Gentleman further observed in his address that, though there was a majority of seventy or eighty Members on the Liberal side of the House, a large number of them in their hearts were averse to a reduction of the franchise; but that there was a way of getting over the difficulty— Lord Russell had nothing to do but to call those Gentlemen together, and declare that, if they did not answer to the whip, and did not support him in his measures of Reform, he would hand over office, with all its emoluments and patronage, to his opponents. If the noble Lord were to do this, and show that he was in earnest, the hon. Member said he had not the slightest doubt that these Liberal men would close their ranks and go in and win triumphantly. These remarks were made at the hustings, and what did they amount to? To this — that there were a great many Members in the House open to undue influence, who in order that they might share in the patronage the Government had to dispense would vote against their convictions. What was that but corruption? A few days ago it was stated in a paper published in this city, among the 1465 contributors of which he understood were some hon. Members of this House—he meant The Owl. [Laughter.] He did not see why this observation should cause so much laughter, but he believed hon. Members contributed to that journal. Well, in that paper, it was stated that a noble Lord who was a Member of the House of Commons during the last Parliament, and who sat for a group of Scotch boroughs, was about to be deprived of the situation he held. He did not know what that situation was, nor did he much care. It was said that he was going to be deprived of it, not because he was disloyal to the Ministry— on the contrary, he appears to have been their most obsequious servant—but because he had failed to obtain a seat in that House; and it was said the position of the Ministry at the present time did not permit them to retain a man in such a high office if he was not a Member of this House. Now, what was the meaning of this? He imagined it meant that a place of £1,000 a year would induce some waverer to be staunch to the Ministry. When charges of this kind are openly promulgated, it would be of little use to pass Resolutions declaring that a man who took £5 for his vote should never be allowed to vote again, or be eligible for a seat in Parliament, for participating in corrupt practices. As for myself (said the hon. Member) I have never been offered a bribe of this kind. Perhaps, however, it is thought by the whips that we all great purists in Scotland, and that I being a Scotchman am inaccessible to a bribe. But if a place of £1.000 a year were offered to me for my vote for a whole Session of Parliament, all I can say is that I should consider the matter twice before rejecting it. At all events, if the offer was made, and if grace were given me to refuse it, I should thereafter pray more earnestly than I am accustomed to do night and morning that I might not again be brought into such a temptation.
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
indorsed the charge of his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, that Government—Government generally—were not really anxious to put an end to bribery at elections. Both in 1841 and in 1857 the Government took measures to convey money to certain constituencies in order to effect the objects they had in view. The policy of Governments generally seemed to he to do all that was possible to keep up the expenditure at elections, for the more costly they were, the more effectual would a threat of disso- 1466 lution be. The present Acts were wholly inadequate for the purpose of suppressing bribery. Sir William Hayter who had been Secretary of the Treasury for so many years, declared before the Committee on the Bribery Prevention Act that he had long since looked upon the Act as nothing more than a mere farce. He sincerely hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would resolutely deal with this question, for by doing so he would secure greater claims to the gratitude of the country than he would by anything he could do to extend the franchise or effect a re-distribution of seats.
said, it was too clear for denial that all previous legislation with regard to bribery and corruption at elections was ineffectual. To acquit parties of participation in bribery because it could not be proved that they were cognizant of it, was a mockery. If the money was not paid at the time it was paid afterwards, and hon. Members knew the obligation rested upon them to repay the sums which had been disbursed on their account. It appeared to him that there was a simple remedy for these evils, and that was to increase the constituencies. Past history showed that it was more easy to bribe small than large constituencies. If a man's pocket was long enough to bribe 300 or 400 voters it might not he long enough to bribe 4,000 or 5,000. If the House really wished to put at end to bribery at elections, he did not believe it was impossible to effect that object. If the House wished to take a step in the right direction, it should insist upon the smaller constituencies being increased to such an extent as to render it impossible for a single individual to bribe the voters.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that no one who had attended to the discussion could suppose that any measure for the prosecutions of mere individuals for bribery would be attended with greater success in checking it than previous legislation had been. The true remedy was to make it a corporate offence, and to treat constituencies which were proved guilty of systematic bribery in the same way that Legislature had treated St. Alban's and Sudbury. The whole constituency must be enlisted in its suppression by the danger of the summary disfranchisement of their borough. He had voted for the Motion of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) yesterday in the sense in which Mr. Pitt had proposed a remedy for bri- 1467 bery. In 1783, Mr. Pitt proposed the following Resolutions—That it is the opinion of this House that the most effectual and practical measures should be taken for the prevention both of bribery and expense in the election of Members to serve in Parliament. That for the future when the majority of voters for any boroughs shall be convicted of gross and notorious corruption before a Select Committee of this House appointed to try the merits of any election, such borough shall be disfranchised, and the minority of voters not so convicted shall be entitled to vote for the county in which such borough shall be situated. That an addition of knights of the shire and of Representatives for the metropolis shall be added to the state of the representation."—[Hansard's Parliamentary History, xxiii. 834.]Suggestions like those which were submitted to Parliament by Mr. Pitt, and supported by Mr. Pox and Mr. Grey, he believed to be the best means of striking at the root of the evil. It was idle to prosecute some miserable individual when the constituency itself conspired to shelter offenders of position—threaten the constituency, and the constituency would be interested in preventing the evil. A notice of Motion had been given by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, in the direction in which he believed Reform to be most needed; when these clauses, of which notice had been given, were submitted to the House it was his intention to support them, and therefore if the present Motion were pushed to a division he should not take any part in it.
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
said, that after the expression of opinion on the part of the Government by the Attorney General, which he interpreted to be an acceptance of the principle of the Resolution he had ventured to propose to the House, although the Government considered that in the form proposed it would be undesirable for the House to come to such a Resolution, he could have no hesitation in saying that he would not trouble the House to go to a division. He hoped, however, that the Government would deal effectively with the question. But, as Chairman of the Gal-way Election Committee, he felt bound to protest against the extraordinary doctrine, at variance with every principle of justice, which the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Smollett) had laid down, to the effect that where bribery was proved to have existed in a borough, the Member in whose favour the bribes were given must either lose his seat or prove that the money had been spent by his adversaries 1468 in order to vitiate the election. It would be quite impossible for a man to show that the bribery of those who voted for him had been practised at the instance of his opponents. Such an idea appeared to be wholly at variance with justice. It had been proved that bribery prevailed extensively at the last Galway election, and the Committee had reported that fact to the House. It was patent to the Committee that voters had been largely bribed to secure the return of one of the sitting Members, while at the same time the other of them had been elected as purely, he believed, as any man was ever returned to the House. And with regard to the other sitting Member, he invited any hon. Member to go over the evidence and discover, if he could, anything in it to connect him by agency with the giving of those bribes. The Committee had sifted that evidence with the greatest care and anxiety, and found not a single passage to sustain an adverse decision. It almost seemed as if the petitioners had designedly abstained from endeavouring to prove agency. The Committees of the House in such a case were perfectly helpless; they were in the hands of those who conducted the petition and defence, and could only take such evidence as came before them; they were bound by the strict law of evidence, and could only depart from it in a very slight degree. The Committees must do justice, and give their decisions in conformity with the law of evidence and of justice.
regretted to say that very discouraging circumstances attended this discussion. The hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian), professing the greatest horror and detestation of bribery and corruption, brought forward what he thought was a remedy for the evil; his hon. Friend (Mr. Buxton) followed, and in his opening remarks proceeded to disparage the merits of the plan proposed by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire, and every gentleman who succeeded him, while professing equal detestation of bribery and corruption, disparaged not only the efforts of the two hon. Members to exterminate that bribery and corruption, but all the efforts that had ever been made with the like object. Finally, to cap the climax, they had the hon. Member for Glamorganshire himself, who introduced the subject to the House, giving up his own proposition in consequence of some indefinite promise given for some indefinite period by the Attorney General, to the 1469 effect that something would be done if he received encouragement. What would the country think of this? They would say, as had been said by the hon. Member for Nottingham in his spirited speech, that they were not in earnest; that the whole thing was humbug and fudge. He (Mr. Otway) always understood that there were some constituencies against which no allegations of bribery had ever been brought —and more especially the Scotch constituencies. That night, however, they had been told that the constituencies themselves might be free, but the same claim for purity could not be made on behalf of some of the Members; for the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Smollett) had risen in his place and declared that he was nut above corruption, and if offered a place of £1,000 a year that he should think twice before refusing it. Those, of course, were not the real sentiments of the hon. Gentleman, but they were likely to be much his apprehended out of doors, and to give weight, to the false impression already existing, that the real sentiments of Members of the House of Commons differed from the professions which they thought it right to make in their place in Parliament. He (Mr. Otway) looked upon bribery as a great evil, and requiring immediate consideration more than any Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. He was at a loss to understand how a Gentleman of the political experience of the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have committed such a mistake in tactics as to lead the great bulk of the Liberal party to show apparently their disinclination to deal with this subject by taking them into the lobby the previous night to vote against the Instruction of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire. He (Mr. Otway) was happy to say he did not form one of the body; but if he had been in the House he would most certainly have voted with the hon. Member for Northamptonshire. The House should give encouragement to every Member who pro posed a remedy for this evil. He had read the other day in a Prussian newspaper an account, as was 6tated, "of the scandalous expenses incurred by the Members of the British House of Commons at the late election," and the journal remarked that it was idle to say that the House of Commons had been elected by the free choice of the constituencies when such enormous sums had been spent in the elections; and certainly the amount appeared something horrible when converted into florins. What they had heard upstairs in the Committee- 1470 rooms was by no means the worst part of the case; the worst part of the case was concealed. He had heard of a circumstance which showed how the system of corruption was organized throughout the country. In the case to which he referred, a message was sent from two candidates to the gentleman they were opposed to, to the effect that if their forces amounted only to a certain number naming £10,000, a contest on their part would be perfectly hopeless. He begged to call attention to the expenses incurred by Members beyond the amount which appeared in the public accounts. He had this simple proposition to make—that when a Member took his seat he should be called upon to make a declaration on his honour that the account he had handed in contained every shilling of the expenses incurred by him; that he was cognizant of no expense beyond it, and that he pledged himself that he would not only not pay anything beyond what was contained in that account, but would not allow any other person to pay for him directly or indirectly, and would make known to the House any payment not included in his account. He thought the hon. Member for Glamorganshire ought not to be afraid that the proposition he had made was too severe. If constituencies were made to disgorge the bribes they had received, by being saddled with the expense of the Commissions appointed to inquire into their corrupt practices, they would not be found offending again soon. He wished that that debate would convey to the public outside the impression that the House was in earnest to put down bribery. It was bribery and the general belief in the corruption of Louis Phillipe's Government that caused its overthrow, and this was one of the greatest dangers of a constitutional Government. He was unable to understand why the Government, instead of proposing measures that were not of urgent necessity, did not bring forward some plan for the effectual prevention of bribery.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) had been charged with insincerity because he had announced his intention of withdrawing his Resolutions; but though the Motion of his hon. Friend had given rise to what he hoped might be a very useful discussion, his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had shown that the Resolutions would have no effect unless they were embodied in an Act of Parliament, and that before this 1471 could be done existing enactments would have to be considered. Under these circumstances, his hon. Friend would not have been likely to receive the support of all those who concurred with him in his object if he had gone to a division; neither would he have promoted that object by such a course. He concurred in what had been said by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) as to the advisability of applying the punishment of disfranchisement with an unsparing hand in the case of boroughs in which extensive bribery was proved to have prevailed.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the true remedy lay in the corporate disfranchisement of the offending constituency. He thought that one of the best votes the House had ever come to was the vote for disfranchising the borough of St. Alban's. Every respectable man in the borough approved of the disfranchisement.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, that power ought to be given to Election Committees in cases where bribery was proved to have been practised—in such cases as Galway, for instance, to trace the money to the source from whence it had come.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, he had listened to many discussions on the subject of bribery and it had struck him as a remarkable circumstance that no one had ever taken into consideration the actual difficulty of the case and assigned a reason for the existence of that difficulty. The fact was that bribery belonged to a class of offences, well known to all writers upon theoretical law, in which there was no one to complain except a third party, who probably would experience great difficulty in ascertaining the crime and still greater difficulty in proving it. This was shown by the circumstance that the only way in which bribery could be proved was by indemnifying parties to the offence. Another difficulty was this. Almost all other offences carried with them some kind of disgrace or slur; but it was a strange circumstance that the offence of bribery did not in public opinion bring any disgrace upon the persons who were guilty of it. He had heard it suggested that Parliament ought to make the offence disgraceful; but as Montesquieu had remarked, in his Spirit of Laws, You cannot make an offence disgraceful unless opinion goes with you. You cannot bring people to admit a thing to be wrong merely because an Act of Parliament declared it to be so. The con- 1472 sequences of attempting to make an offence disgraceful in defiance of public opinion would be, first, that the desired object would not be attained; while, in the second place, the persons who came under the operation of the law would be regarded with compassion, and not with abhorrence. In fact, there was considerable difficulty in proving to any mind which was not of the very first rate order that there was in bribery any moral turpitude at all; and it would be useless for Parliament to suppose that in the present state of public feeling on this point any legislative enactment could be effectual in the suppression of bribery. The only argument used to prove that bribery was morally a wrong act was that every man ought to exercise his privilege of voting in the most strictly impartial manner. That, at least, was the foundation of the whole argument. It followed, therefore, that no man ought to be asked to vote in a particular way on the ground of private friendship, or on account of his partiality for anybody. That was the theory which rendered bribery morally wrong, but it was very difficult to convince people of it, because it was necessary to assume that every indirect inducement was disgraceful, and not direct inducements only. There was the famous instance of the Duchess of Devonshire, who obtained a vote for Mr. Fox by giving a butcher a kiss. She got the vote, and though no doubt the butcher was bribed as much as if he had accepted a sum of money, no Election Committee would have held so. That was a good example of the difficulty of proving to the people that bribery was morally wrong. In the ancient Roman law there were many enactments against bribery, or, as it was called, ambitus —indeed, it was said that on no subject had more laws been made by the Romans, and that none of their laws had been so ineffectual as these. One of the best known was the Lex Julia de Ambitu; but this was directed not against the person who received a bribe, but against the person who gave it, and who was guilty of ambitus, or unlawful ambition, to obtain an office by his money and not by his merit. It appeared to him (Sir George Bowyer) that this was the right spirit in which to legislate, for the man who gave a bribe was much more criminal than the man who received it. It appeared to him, indeed, that no good at all was done by prosecuting an unfortunate voter who had been detected in taking a bribe. He was looked upon as indiscreet 1473 and unlucky, and his friends made a subscription and paid his fine, or when he came out of prison looked upon him as rather ill-used. The person who ought to be made an example of was the Member himself. But then the augmentation and exaggeration of penalties were perfectly useless, because the difficulty was caused by the detection, and not by the punishment of the offence. The suggestion that boroughs found guilty of corrupt practices should be disfranchised had apparently met with the approval of the Home Secretary, but it seemed to him that it was open to grave objection. It would punish the innocent with the guilty—the pure with the corrupt; it might deprive a large and important constituency of its representative; and it would inevitably follow that after a time boroughs so disfranchised would come and ask the House, and not probably in vain, to be re-admitted to the exercise of the franchise under some Re-distribution Bill. It seemed to him that a better proposal was that which emanated from the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway) to the effect that the expenditure of a candidate should be in itself a test as to whether the election had or had not been conducted in a legitimate manner. In ordinary life no man possessed of his reason spent £5,000 or even £1,000 without knowing how it had gone, and what he had received in return for it. Let it then be proved how much had been spent at an election, and let the Member be put on his oath and called upon to swear as to all his expenses. Then if it appeared he had expended anything beyond what was reasonable and fair, the conclusion should be that he had been guilty of bribery. The way in which Election Committees dealt with petitions, especially in regard to the proof required of the agency of a Member, in nine cases out of ten destroyed the possibility of proving bribery. He wished to have the question dealt with in a broader way, by testing directly the expenditure a Member had incurred. There might be a tariff of election expenses, which might be proportionate to the size of a town and to any exceptional circumstances. This would be the standard according to which the legitimate expenses might be regulated, and any expenditure beyond it ought to be held to be bribery, without proof of individual cases. The handing over of petitions to a tribunal other than a Committee of the House involved a serious constitutional question, and he would hesitate to consent to it; 1474 but he would entertain the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Chatham. They need not flatter themselves that they could prevent bribery, for so long as it was worth men's while to offer bribes, and there were men who wanted money and who had votes, there would be that relation between candidate and voter which must produce bribery, and it could not be entirely prevented; so that any plan designed to prevent it altogether must be Utopian. He was to some extent a believer in the ballot, not expecting that it would be a positive remedy for bribery, but believing that it would render bribery more difficult, wherefore he would like to see it tried. In the case of Wakefield, whose Member was unseated, he believe that the party who was convicted on a prosecution for bribery had not been called up for judgment, and nothing more had been said on the subject. Unless something more were done, it might be supposed that Parliament was not in earnest on the subject. In fact, there was in the House a great deal of insincerity about it, and when an unfortunate man had been found guilty of bribery and unseated, and people talked about it as if it were some offence of a horrible description, it was difficult to believe that they did not express more horror than they felt. The time had come when Parliament ought to deal with the question boldly and sincerely, and every proposal made for the diminution of bribery ought to be fairly considered by the House.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that the question of how to prevent bribery had induced the hon. and learned Baronet opposite (Sir George Bowyer) to refer the House back to the Roman law, but he (Mr. M'Laren) was not obliged to go so far back, but only to an Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland three years before it was extinguished as a legislative body; and he was the more anxious to do so because the theory then acted on was altogether different from the theory at the present time. At present the whole desire seemed to be to fix the guilt upon the poor man who had accepted a bribe and to punish him for so doing. And, although the Resolution before the House proposed that any man who offered a bribe should also be punished, no one supposed that the Member of Parliament concerned would himself be the offerer of the bribe; and therefore no one could suppose that the Member of Parliament on whose account the bribe was given would himself be punished. Now, the 1475 theory in Scotland when the Act of 1704 was passed seemed to be altogether different The object then was to watch, not the electors but the Members—to keep them out of the way of temptation—and to punish them if they sinned. In order to accomplish that object the Act recited that—It is necessary for the security of the nation that the Members of Parliament be at absolute freedom in their voting, and that all occasions of tempting them to be biased in voting be obviated.And then the mode pointed out of preventing their being biased in voting was this: The "Act prohibited all persons whatsoever to give, offer, or promise to procure to be given to them, any office, civil or military, or any other good deed, directly or indirectly, by themselves or others, &c, under the pain of infamy and loss of office, and to be for ever incapable of any public trust or office in time coming, and to be fined in the sum of £1,000, &c. And further statutes enact and ordain that no officer in the army, forts, or garrisons, or receivers of Customs or Excise revenues, shall be capable to be elected to represent any burgh. It appeared to him that this was laying the axe to the root of the tree. Parties at that time seemed to think that certain situations in the army and other Government positions were very desirable —that in order to obtain these situations candidates would resort to all kinds of illicit means to get into Parliament; and, therefore, in place of punishing the poor men who sent them there, the temptation was taken out of the way of Members by Parliament enacting that no officer of the army, or other person in Government employment, could sit in Parliament. He thought that it was worth while to take a hint from this old Scotch Act, and, leaving the small offenders alone, see whether they could not catch the big fish, letting the small ones go.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.