§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 31 (Inclosure Commissioners to appoint Assistant Commissioners to examine Boundaries of New Boroughs, and report if Enlargement necessary).
§ The last section of clause, relating to Enlargement of Boundaries, struck out.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, this was a matter of considerable delicacy, and he was not as well satisfied with the change which had been made in the names of the Commissioners as the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) appeared to be. One of the new names introduced was that of a gentleman who was, in a Parliamentary sense, the nominee of the hon. Member for Birmingham on that occasion; and, for himself, he would have preferred that the names should have remained as they previously stood. It was most essential that the Commissioners, whoever they might be, should be free from all suspicion of partiality. With, regard to the Assistant Commissioners, who were to be appointed by the Chief Commissioners, he thought it was desirable on grounds of public policy that election agents, who could not fairly be assumed to be impartial persons, politically speaking, should not be eligible for the office of Assistant Commissioners. He would, therefore, propose that no election agent who had acted in that capacity for any candidate since the passing of the Corrupt Practices Act of 1854, which was a kind of new charter of purity of election in this country, should 610 be competent to serve as an Assistant Boundary Commissioner. The object of his Amendment was to prevent the Chief Commissioners from being subjected to disagreeable solicitations in respect to the patronage vested in them.
Amendment moved at end of clause to add—
Provided that no Assistant Commissioner who shall be appointed under this Act shall be a person who may have acted as Election Agent, according to the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act of 1854, and of the Act amending the same of 1863, for any candidate at any Parliamentary Election which may have taken place since the passing of the above-mentioned Corrupt Practices Prevention Act of 1854."—(Mr. Darby Griffith.)
§ MR. PAULL
hoped the Committee would not consent to insert this proviso. A limitation of the discretion of the Commissioners would be a limitation of their responsibility, and what they should do was to throw upon the Commissioners all the responsibility they could. Some Members of the House were amongst the Commissioners, and they would be answerable to the House for the appointments they made. Moreover, by adopting the Amendment, the Commissioners might be deprived of the services of most useful men, who, having been engaged at elections, must possess valuable information with respect to the boundaries of boroughs, and the places it was proposed to include within them.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that if the appointment of the Assistant Commissioners were vested in the Government they certainly should not think of appointing election agents, and he had no reason to imagine the Chief Commissioners would act with less discretion in the matter. He apprehended that the persons whom they would nominate would be men of legal and scientific knowledge, and who, from their acquirements and position, would in all probability not be mixed up with election contests. Entertaining that view, and seeing that the Committee was acting on the principle of giving the Commissioners unlimited authority, save in so far as they would be controlled by the clause under discussion, he trusted his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, that what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer afforded the very best reason for accepting the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman approved of the 611 spirit and nature of the clause, yet he made a sentimental objection to it — on the ground that it would fetter the discretion of the Commissioners. The appointment of election agents to the office of Assistant Commissioners had received the condemnation of the Government, and yet they were asked to leave the Commissioners at liberty to appoint them. He declined to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. VANCE
said, that in a former discussion a great deal had been said with reference to the adoption for Parliamentary purposes of the municipal boundaries of boroughs. He could see no reason why the Parliamentary borough should coincide with the municipal borough. The municipal boundary very often stopped short in the middle of a street, or took in one side of a street and not the other. The Parliamentary borough should, he submitted, include all houses that could, in the judgment of the Commissioners, properly be included. They might afterwards, if they thought proper, extend the municipal boundaries.
I gave the notice of the Amendment to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) proposed it, and the opinion I believe was expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was not necessary to insert it. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to repeat a statement he made last year, which only shows how very little he knows sometimes, like the rest of us, about what he has been instructed to say. He referred to the borough of Rochdale, and said there was as large a population outside the boundary as within it. If he had said there was a larger population outside of the City of London than within it he would have said what was true; and so it is also with Rochdale. He has been misinformed, and has taken the whole parish of Rochdale for the town of Rochdale. The parish of Rochdale contains an area of 100 square miles—ten miles from north to south, and ten miles from east to west—and even a portion of it extends, if I am not mistaken, into the county of York. The population of this district amounts to 80,000 or 100,000; and the population of the borough or town amounts to 40,000 or 45,000. Therefore the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, from the circumstances of that town is entirely erroneous 612 and has not a shadow of foundation. The right hon. Gentleman also said that no less than seven valleys run from the town. I have lived there all my life—except the time I spend in this House, which is a considerable portion of it—and I have not been able to make out more than two, or at the utmost, three valleys. The right hon. Gentleman's observations, geographically, and statistically, are wholly erroneous in respect to that town. It was to meet the case of towns similarly situated that I proposed that words should be inserted in the Bill providing that Parliamentary should have some reference to municipal boundaries. For I feel satisfied that great inconvenience arises in many instances from those boundaries being different; and it is, I think, of the greatest importance to the life of a constituency that its members should be able to act together, and that they should not be broken up into sections with, no other connection save that of the Parliamentary franchise. I wish before I sit down, to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman has just stated that the present clause will give the Commissioners unlimited authority; and if that be so, the Government, I presume do not intend to issue to them specific instructions. If they do not, they cannot, of course, lay any such instructions on the table of the House. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps be good enough to state how matters stand in that respect?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I thought I had stated the point so clearly and in a House so full that there could have been no doubt. I stated that the powers of the Commissioners would be statutory; and that it is not within the province of Government to give instructions beyond the statute.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
proposed the following new Clause in lieu of Clause 37:—(Members not to vacate their seats on transfer to another office.)Whereas it is expedient to amend the Law relating to offices of profit, the acceptance of which from the Crown vacates the seats of Members accepting the same, but does not render them incapable of being re-elected: Be it Enacted, That where a person has been returned as a Member to serve in Parliament since the acceptance by him from the Crown of any such office of profit as aforesaid, the subsequent acceptance by him from 613 the Crown of any other such office or offices, in lieu of, and in immediate succession the one to the other, shall not vacate his seat.
§ MR. AYRTON
feared that the clause would operate more extensively than was intended, and include some ancient offices, which any Member of the House, not being a Member of the Government, might hold—such offices for instance, as that of Recorder. He suggested that the offices to which the Clause would apply should be named in a Schedule to the Bill.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
agreed in thinking that it would be advisable to name the offices in a Schedule to the Bill.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
suggested that the case of a Lord of the Treasury, who afterwards became a Secretary of Stale, should be omitted.
said, that seeing the general assent which the principle of the clause received the other night, he was now unwilling almost to say a word about it, further than to protest against the proposed change. He thought that, if ever there was a time when they might have some doubt with respect to the proposal before the Committee, the present Session was that time. He quite admitted that, in a change of office among Members of the Government there might, at times, be some personal inconvenience to the individuals in being obliged to go before their constituents, and some trifling inconvenience to the country in their temporary absence from their duties in that House. But what had happened in the present year? A very important division of opinion took place among the Members of the Government, and no less than three Secretaries of State quitted office, and three right hon. Gentlemen were appointed to succeed them. Was it not, he asked, an enormous advantage to the Government that such Members of the Government as then took now offices and vacated their seats, could go before their constituents and ascertain what was the opinion of the country in respect to their conduct? One of these Gentlemen went to a great county, another to one of the Universities—one of the very best constituencies in the country—and another to a borough of moderate size. They were all re-elected. Had there been any feeling in the country hostile to what the Government were about to do, an opportunity would have been afforded for its expression; and if, by the re-election of the Members whose seats had been vacated by their acceptance 614 of office under the Government, the acquiescence of the country in the course they were taking was signified, that was an advantage to the Executive which no other circumstance could give them. The opportunity which constituencies now had of expressing their opinion as to the course being pursued by a Government was an advantage the loss of which was not to be compensated for by the small personal benefit which this clause would confer.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, he could not allow the assumption of his right hon. Friend, that the formal re-election of Members of a Government under such circumstances, amounted to approval of the policy of the Government, to pass unnoticed. In all constituencies it was the almost universal practice to pay that courtesy to their representatives that when they changed from one office to another no obstacle should be opposed to their reelection. He could not remember any case in which a Member had been unseated on such an occasion; but he thought the existing provisions of the law were useless for any good purpose. The only effect of the practice was to cause considerable inconvenience to the Government and considerable expense to Members changing office.
said, that, after giving all due weight to the objections of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, he had come to the same conclusion as the noble Lord, though not exactly on the same grounds. He did not think it a safe assumption that, on all occasions, when a Minister or a Member of the Government was about to change his office, he might reckon on the courtesy and forbearance of his constituents to such an extent as to be sure of his re-election. He had himself some experience in that matter. He had never lost his seat on such an occasion; but he had been rather near it—nearer it than was altogether agreeable—and he had been under a fourteen days' poll before he could recover his seat as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Aberdeen's Government. [Viscount CRANBORNE: That was not a case of transfer of office.] He did not think that any more courtesy or forbearance obtained in cases of transfer of offices than in cases of original appointment to offices. The present state of the law, however, rather restrained Her Majesty in the choice of her servants. If they observed the anatomy of any Administration, where there was any serious 615 dislocation of Government, it would always be found that transfers took place in reference, in a considerable degree, to the seats that could be most easily held. He had not a word to say against the competency or the eligibility of the right hon. Gentlemen who accepted the three Secretaryships when the noble Lord and his Friends retired from the Cabinet; it was quite evident that, in addition to their other qualifications and felicities, they enjoyed the felicity that they were in possession of eminently safe seats, No doubt on particular occasions, though certainly not in any of those three to which reference had been made, cases would occur where appointments which the public expected did not take place, and when other arrangements were made at the public expense, the reason suggested was that the seat of the best man for the appointment would have been contested, and perhaps lost. That was a very serious inconvenience; and, upon the whole, after weighing the very small amount and value of this constitutional privilege on the one hand, and the not inconsiderable impediment to public business, and the restriction placed on the choice of the best man for filling a particular office on the other, he was prepared to support the Government in this clause.
said, he did not mean to convey that, in the re-election of a Member on changing office, what took place amounted to approbation of the policy of the Government; but that constituencies had the opportunity, if they thought fit, of showing their disapprobation.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
agreed with the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire, that the Committee ought not to pass the clause, which he looked upon as getting in the thin end of the wedge. An expiring Parliament ought to be cautious how they contracted the constitutional rights of the constituencies; and, therefore, he thought it would be better to leave these questions to be dealt with by the Reformed Houuse, If the right hon. Gentleman divided against the clause he would support him.
§ MR. OSBORNE
said he was sorry to hear that the learned Serjeant considered this an expiring Parliament, because he had concluded his arrangements not to go to his constituents for the next two years. He hoped the House would not be influenced by what the learned Serjeant had said, either about "the thin end of the wedge," the meaning of which he did 616 not very well understand, or about the expiring Parliament. He rather thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had misconceived the effect of the clause. Although the officials transferred would not go to their constituencies, those who took their offices would; and, therefore, there would still be an opportunity for the expression of public opinion with reference to the Government, It was all very well to talk about the rights of the people being outraged; they understood all that sort of thing. He trusted the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire would not put his follower to the trouble of a division.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
observed that they were about to deprive constituencies of a right which they had long held, and he was sure the public were not aware what they were doing. He trusted that when the Schedule appeared only those offices would appear which were ordinarily denominated as Cabinet Ministers, and that a young man would not be enabled to pass from the office of a Lord of the Treasury to the highest position without having to go before his constituents. Official people on both sides had a personal interest in the matter. He should oppose the clause.
§ Clause amended, and ordered to stand part of the Bill. A Schedule to be framed (G).
§ Clause A (Provision for increased polling places).
of the EXCHEQUER moved the insertion of the following new Clause:—In every County the justices of the peace having jurisdiction therein, or in the larger part thereof, assembled at the first court of general or quarter sessions held after the passing of this Act, or at some adjournment thereof, or at some subsequent court to be held as soon as may be after such first court, shall divide such County into polling districts and assign to each district a polling place in such manner as to enable each voter so far as practicable to have a polling place within a convenient distance of his residence, and the justices shall, advertise in such manner as they think fit a description of the polling districts so constituted by them, and the names of the polling places assigned to each district; but nothing herein contained shall affect the powers conferred by any other Act of Parliament of altering polling places or polling districts, or of creating additional polling places or districts:Where any Borough contains more than five hundred electors, the local authority shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, divide such Borough into polling districts, having regard as far as convenience will permit, to making each separate ward, parish, or township, a sepa- 617 rate polling district; and the returning officer shall in the case of a contested election provide at least one booth or room for taking the poll in each polling district:The list of voters in each Borough shall be made out by the town clerk in such manner ay to correspond with the division of the Borough into polling districts:A description of the polling districts made in pursuance of this Act shall be advertised by the local authority in such manner as they think fit, and notice of the situation of the polling booth for each district shall be given in manner now required by law:The local authority shall mean in any Borough subject to the jurisdiction of the Act of the Session of the fifth and sixth years of King William, chapter seventy-six, the council of the Borough, and in any other case the returning officer:The local authority may from time to time alter any districts made by them under this Act,—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ On Motion that the clause be now read the second time,
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that every polling place entailed a great increase of expense, and he hoped that if they largely increased the number of polling places they would provide that a large part of the expense should be paid out of the county or borough rate. There should also be a further provision to meet the case of a person who had no chance of getting nominated, coming forward for the purpose of annoying the real candidate and putting him to expense. He thought that the provision should be that any candidate who proceeded to certain extent should be required to give security for the expenses to be incurred.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, that as the House had refused to sanction the use of voting papers, all they had to do was to try to make the consequent inconvenience as slight as possible. Whatever they did would cause a certain degree of inconvenience; but it seemed to him that the worst danger was that a certain portion of the county population should be virtually disfranchised. Those who lived in parts of the county which were sparsely populated had just as much right to vote as those who lived in parts which were more thickly peopled; and it was the first duty of the Committee to take care that the mere question of distance and expense should not prevent such electors from voting. In the absence of voting papers there were various other ways of meeting the evil. They could allow the candidate to pay for bringing the voters to the poll—which was the worst way, because it 618 would be sure to lead to illegitimate expense; or they could set up polling places near the voters and make the candidate pay the expense. In the event of the latter course being adopted, he thought that a part of the expense should be thrown upon the county rate. But then the Justices of the Peace were to appoint the polling places; but he feared that, if the county had to pay, they would appoint as few as possible. He thought that the House should fix the maximum distance at which polling places should be apart.
§ MR. LIDDELL
asked the Committee to pause. They were about to save their own pockets at the expense of the ratepayers. He had a great objection to increasing the county rate, which had been of late largely increased, if any other mode of effecting the object in view could be shown.
§ MR. BRADY
said, that a multiplicity of polling places would greatly increase the expense of elections. Again, if the polling places were fixed in thinly populated places, where there was no popular opinion to control the proceedings, the landlords would have their tenants more under their control.
§ MR. PAULL
asked whether it was necessary that the clause should apply to boroughs. As the law stood at present the local authorities might have as many polling places as they liked throughout the borough; but if this clause passed they would be obliged where there were more than 500 electors to divide the borough into districts, which, in many instances, would add much to the inconvenience and expense of candidates. In many cases it was much more convenient for the voters to come into the borough to vote than to go to a district polling place.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, that the local authorities had no power to interfere with the polling booths; that was a question for the returning officer. He thought the dividing the boroughs into districts would be an improvement in the law, and he should support the clause.
§ SIR JOHN TROLLOPE
supported the clause as in accordance with the provision of the Act of 1832, which enabled the Justices to subdivide polling districts, and which had been frequently acted upon. The Justices were the best judges of what was necessary, and landlords had nothing to do with it.
§ SIR MATTHEW RIDLEY
also approved the clause, stating that, in his county (Northumberland), the Justices some 619 time ago appointed a committee for both divisions to consider an increase in the number of polling places. He served on those committees; and the result was that there were now fourteen polling places in one division and sixteen in the other, the principle being that voters should not have more than seven or eight miles to travel. It was only where railway communications existed that this distance was exceeded.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
said, that, in many important boroughs, the returning officer made out the list of voters; and he wished to know whether the terms of this clause sufficiently met such a state of things?
reminded the Committee that the only question now before them was that the clause be read a second time.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
remarked that his borough (East Retford) contained ninety parishes, and that if there were seventy or eighty polling places the expense would be serious. He hoped the clause would be permissive.
§ MR. POWELL
trusted that local authorities would have a sufficiently wide discretion, as a rule convenient for some boroughs would be inconvenient for others.
§ MR. M'LAREN
thought the clause as it stood excellent; but there was one point to which he desired to direct the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nothing was known of the multitudes of working men who would come to the poll in the large towns. Upon a rough-and-ready calculation, he estimated that about one in eight of the population of great towns would be voters. In Glasgow there would, according to that calculation, be 50,000 voters; and if, a separate polling place had to be provided for every 500 of that number, there would have to be erected 100 polling places, the cost for each of which he put down at £40. If, therefore, the Committee should sanction the multiplication of polling places to such an extent, a vast expenditure must necessarily be incurred; and he would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it would not be desirable to open the polling places at an earlier hour in the morning than was the practice at present. If the polling places were opened at seven or even six o'clock in the morning, a great advantage would be derived therefrom by the working classes, who would generally poll before other classes were out of bed, while much of the pressure and tumult 620 which took place at them would be got rid of. He thought that to keep the poll open to a late hour would be objectionable.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Clause read the second time.
moved an Amendment providing that, as far as practicable, each voter should have a polling place at a distance not exceeding six miles from his residence. In his own county (Northumpton) there was a considerable town sixteen miles distant from a polling place, which had occasioned considerable inconvenience.
said, that some parts of the country were so thinly populated that there might be the greatest possible difficulty in carrying out the Amendment. It was also to be remembered that every additional place was a source of great additional expense, and that it was not always possible for the Sheriff to find persons fit to take the poll. They were usually engaged before the election on the one side or the other, and it was not very easy at present for the Sheriff to lay his hand upon persons whom he could trust. To multiply polling places unnecessarily was a great evil, and it would be wiser to leave the matter to the discretion of the local authorities.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
wished to point out how the Amendment would act in his county. A great many electors lived in the forest of Dartmoor, but at a distance from each other, and if there were to be a polling place every six miles there would be more polling clerks and agents than electors. He trusted that the Committee would not lay down the same law for populous and sparsely peopled districts. It would be much fairer to leave the magistrates of the county to fix the polling places at such distances as the wants of the various districts required.
§ VISCOUHT CRANBORNE
said, they ought to have the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on the subject. He feared that the Justices of the Peace, always having before them, under this Amendment, the alternative of inconvenience to such and such electors, or the imposition of more county rate upon themselves, might be suspected of preferring the former. If the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) were accepted, that would be a security against improper parsimony on the part of the Justices.
said, he could not agree with the noble Lord. So far as his experience went, if the Legislature imposed a duty upon the Justices they would do it properly, without considering whether it would cost the county £40 more or less.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. POWELL
moved an Amendment in line 8 to omit "advertised in such a manner as they think fit," and to insert "cause to be published in The London Gazette."
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, his hon. Friend must imagine that the voters were fond of rather heavy reading. He should have supposed that The London Gazette was the last place in which the electors would think of looking for announcements of polling places.
thought that to advertise in The London Gazette would just be giving the public no information at all. All that they knew of The London Gazette was when the papers were kind enough to copy something from it. Every tinker and tailor, on the other hand, read the newspapers. And the expense of advertising in The London Gazette would be five or six times as much as advertising in journals that everybody read.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
proposed to add in line 12, after the word "district," the words "and all such powers shall be applicable to the divisions of counties established by this Act."
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
thought the insertion of the words would be quite unnecessary; in fact, there might be some danger in it.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that he would communicate with his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and, if necessary, the words could be inserted.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. CHILDERS
moved an Amendment, to the second paragraph of the clause, to the effect that it should not be compulsory on the authorities to separate into different polling districts every parish or township containing more than 500 electors. He understood that the Government would assent to the Amendment.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, they ought to be guided in framing the clause a good deal 622 by the consideration of who was to carry it into effect. In municipal boroughs there could be no difficulty in leaving the municipal council to divide the borough for electoral purposes; but when they came to the class of boroughs like those of the metropolis, in which there were no municipal councils, it would be unsatisfactory to place such a matter entirely at the mercy of a single individual—the returning officer—who was not amenable to public opinion, and who sometimes put candidates to great and needless expense. Such an individual ought not to be intrusted, with these functions. It appeared to him that, where there were no municipal councils, the Justices having jurisdiction in the borough should have the power of performing these duties for the borough in the same way as the Justices were to do in the case of a county. They should be empowered, in general terms to fix convenient polling places.
said, there was a difficulty in proposing, on the one hand, to give a discretion which was absolutely unlimited, and, on the other, to fix upon a quota of voters for each polling place. The element of numbers might be usefully introduced, as a limitation on the discretion of the returning officer, by giving a title to the candidates to require that polling places should be multiplied up to a certain number, dependent on the quota of electors for each. There was great force in what had fallen from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets with regard to the discretion resting wholly on the local authority and the expense resting wholly on the candidates. There was a great deal to be said in favour of dividing the expense between the candidate and the county or district. In that way an interest in checking expense would be created on the part of the locality.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
pointed out that there were now nineteen polling places in the City of London, whereas ninety-eight would be required if it became necessary to have one for each parish. No inconvenience was caused by the existing system, and he therefore deprecated any alteration of it.
§ MR. MITFORD
remarked, that in the borough which he represented (Midhurst) the same difficulty referred to by the last speaker would also arise.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, that in the thinly-peopled country districts of agricultural boroughs, of which his own 623 was an instance, separate polling places were required for fewer than 500 voters, otherwise the distance they would have to travel to the poll would be too great.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
hoped it would be left to the Justices at the quarter sessions to arrange the polling places according to their discretion.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
thought that it would be inexpedient that candidates should go to the municipal council immediately preceding an election and request them to establish certain polling districts. The discussion that had just taken place had brought before him many more difficulties than he had previously seen to be connected with that question. He believed, however, that the case would be best met by the adoption of the following words, which he wished to propose — namely—That the Local Authority of every Borough shall, if they think Convenience requires it, as as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, divide such Borough into Polling Districts; and the Returning Officer shall, in the case of a contested Election, provide at least One Booth or Room for taking the Poll in each Polling District.He was much disposed to agree with the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, that, in places where there were no municipal councils, the returning officer should not be the person to make these arrangements; and, probably, in such cases the Justices in the petty sessional divisions would be the proper authorities for that purpose. He did not know whether that would exactly meet the requirements of the metropolis—[Mr. AYRTON: The justices acting within the division would do.]—but it would certainly meet those of places in the country.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
thought the remarks of the Home Secretary as to the eve of an election not being the proper time for having these districts formed were marked by much good sense and justice.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
approved the suggestion thrown out by the Home Secretary, and held that the arrangements for an election should be permanent and not dependent on the will of any returning officer.
§ MR. HIBBERT
signified his readiness 624 to adopt the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had suggested.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
asked who it was that the right hon. Gentleman proposed should constitute the local authority?
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
replied, that what was intended was that, where a municipal corporation existed, it should have the power of regulating the polling districts, even though the municipal should not be co-extensive with the Parliamentary boundaries. The borough Justices might act as the local authority in other cases, and where there were no such Justices, the Justices of the petty sessional division.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, that large agricultural boroughs like his own contained several petty sessional divisions. In a Bill he had himself passed through the House some years before, he had placed the regulation of polling places for the scheduled boroughs in the hands of the Justices at quarter sessions. This worked well, and he thought therefore that Justices acting for the division of the county should be substituted.
§ Words inserted accordingly.
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
§ MR. HIBBERT
moved to insert after the second paragraph of the clause, the words—Where any Parish in a Borough is divided into or forms part of more than One Polling District, the Overseers shall, so far as practicable, make out the Lists of Voters in such manner as to divide the Names in conformity with each Polling District.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it appeared to him that the suggestion of the hon Member for Oldham, was a very proper one.
§ Amendment agreed to.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
moved the omission of the words—The list of voters in each Borough shall be made out by the Town Clerk in such a manner as to correspond with the division of the Borough into polling districts"—for the purpose of inserting words directing—That the Town Clerk, as defined by the Act of the Sixth Victoria, cap. 18, shall cause the List of Voters in each Borough to be copied, printed, arranged, signed, and delivered in the manner directed by the said Act.
§ Motion agreed to.625
§ MR. MONTAGU CHAMBERS
said, that occasionally very great nonsense found its way into Acts of Parliament. He thought it would, be better to define the words "town clerk" anew than to borrow a definition from another Act of Parliament.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
maintained that the definition suggested by his hon. and learned Friend was not as appropriate as that contained in 6 Vict., c. 18.
§ Words inserted.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
, with the object of carrying out the suggestion of the Home Secretary, proposed the insertion of the words—The local authority shall mean in every Municipal Borough, and in every Borough any part of which forms a municipal borough, the Town Council of such Borough; and in other Boroughs the Justices of the Peace acting for such Borough, or if there be no such Justices, then the Justices acting for the Division of the County in which such Borough or the greater part thereof is situate.
§ Words inserted.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ MR. FAWCETT
rose to move an addition to the clause providing that the expenses of elections for any county or borough should be defrayed from the local rates. He had noticed with satisfaction that the Government had provided that counties should bear a portion of the expenses incurred in connection with contested elections, and he could not understand what reasons had induced them to abstain from making a similar proposal with regard to boroughs. They had certainly recognized the principle he wished to enforce, that it was clearly the duty of the constituency to bear such expenses; and the importance of making the provision he sought for was enhanced by the nature of the measure the House was in the act of passing. Election expenses were not incurred by candidates in any other country, nor could our representative system work efficiently unless something were done to check their constant increase in this. He rejoiced, as he had always done, in the breadth of the Government measure as far as the extension of the suffrage was concerned; but he could not conceal his alarm at the prospect before them if the suffrage were extended, and the present system of conducting elections were continued; such a course would inevitably result in an increase of the expenditure at election contests. One main object of the present Bill 626 was to secure a better representation of the working classes, who had not hitherto been efficiently represented in that House: and if they wished to represent a class effectually they must have men to speak for that class who had lived among them, who knew their aspirations, and who could tell their wants. But if the election expenses were increased, as he feared they would be by this extension of the suffrage, that House would become, even to a greater extent than now, purely a rich man's House, and no one would have the means of being heard here unless he could afford to squander so many hundreds or thousands of pounds. He was aware that his proposition would be objected to on the ground that it would increase the chance of election contests. As long as the candidates bore all the expenses of elections the constituencies had a direct interest in getting up contests; and it was well known that a considerable portion of the election contests were got up by attorneys and others whose interest it was that money should be squandered, more or less recklessly, and more or less corruptly. But if his proposal were adopted, the constituencies would, for their own sakes, endeavour to prevent any unnecessary expenditure. He was quite prepared to accept, as an addition to his proviso, a proposal of which the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Labouchere) had given notice, to the effect that each candidate for a county should be obliged to deposit £100, and each candidate for a borough should be obliged to deposit £50, with the returning officer, towards the necessary expenses, and that any sum below that amount that might be expended should be returned to the candidate. In the clause just passed, which increased the number of polling places, he had an additional argument in favour of his clause, for it would greatly increase the expense of elections. He did not believe that the proposition would be objected to by the constituencies. On the contrary, while his clause had been on the paper for some two months, there had been a strong expression of opinion in its favour at public meetings, and he had received a great number of private communications in its favour. The slightest opposition to it had not been indicated anywhere. The charge would, he believed, be much less than might at first sight be imagined, for at present every district was interested in the lavish expenditure of money at elections, while the adoption of his proposal would 627 create, everywhere, a desire for keeping election expenses within moderate limits. Those would be the direct advantages of the scheme; but its indirect advantages would be incomparably greater, because it would tend to create a high moral tone among electors, it would inspire them with a love of justice and a sense of self-respect and of respect for their representative; and it would in that way strike a more effectual blow at bribery and corruption than any law which Parliament could pass. He considered the proposal so important that he should certainly take the sense of the Committee upon it; and if it were adopted it would, he believed, be one of the most useful provisions which the House was enacting for the reform of our electoral system.
At the end of the Clause, to add the words "at every Election for any County or Borough the expenses lawfully incurred by the Returning Officers for the provision of hustings, poll clerks, polling booths, or rooms, and any other necessary requisites for the conduct of the Election, shall be defrayed in the case of any County from the County Rate, and in the case of any Borough, out of the monies and in the manner and proportions mentioned in the Act of the sixth year of Victoria, chapter eighteen, section fifty-five, with respect to the expenses of carrying into effect the provisions of that Act; and the account of such expenses shall be made, allowed, and paid, in the manner provided in the said Act.—(Mr. Fawcett.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
accordingly proposed an addition to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), to the effect that whoever demanded a poll should pay to the returning officer £100 in the case of counties, or £50 in the case of boroughs; and, if the sum so paid was found to be more than sufficient, the surplus should, after the election, be returned. He thought that such an Amendment would greatly limit the expenses of elections, and tend to keep out of the field men who, with no chance of election, and no intention of incurring any expenses themselves by their opposition, caused great and unnecessary expense to their opponents. He trusted, therefore, that the Committee would accede to his proposal.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
To add the words "Provided that any elector who demanding a poll shall, before the nomination, pay to the Returning Officer, towards such
expenses, one hundred pounds in the case of a County Election, and fifty pounds in the case of a Borough Election, and the Returning Officer shall account for and pay over all such monies to the treasurer of the county or borough rate, but if the amount so paid is more than sufficient to defray such expenses the surplus shall be returned to the person paying the same."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he had no difficulty in supporting the proposition just made by the hon. Member for Brighton, because his own constituents had indirectly carried out the principle which that hon. Gentleman wished to establish. He (Mr. Hibbert) had gone through two severe election contests, and those who elected him would not allow him to pay a single farthing. Speaking generally, he did not think the ratepayers of the country would object to bear the slight addition to their rates which would result from the adoption of the clause, which at the same time was calculated to induce economy; for though, no doubt, in many cases the returning officer kept that object in view it was not so in all cases. He had looked into a Return that had been issued, specifying the expenses of the returning officers at the last general election, and although the total was not so large as might have been expected, it was worth noting the manner in which those expenses were distributed over the various counties and towns. In some towns the expenses only ranged from £30 to £70; but at Birkenhead they were as high as £600. The expenses of the returning officers in the whole of the counties in England and Wales, was £15,655; in Scotland, £939; and in Ireland, £2,239; being a total of £18,833. The expenses in the boroughs in England and Wales were £26,375; in Scotland, £1,206; and in Ireland, £1,004; being a total of £28,585. This sum represented in England 6d. per county and 1s. per borough elector, while in Scotland, where they oftentimes managed to do the things not only cheaper but better, it represented 4½d. per county and 8d. per borough elector. If the electors looked at the matter in the proper spirit, they could not, he thought, reasonably object to bear an expense so small which was contracted for their benefit; while it seemed to him that candididates ought not to be called upon to pay these expenses, as they devoted themselves to duties which promoted the interests of their constituents and the country. He felt convinced that by calling upon the candidate to defray the expenses of the 629 returning officer, a door was opened for corruption, and he should, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he believed his constituents would willingly return him free of expense; but he did not see why he should allow any one to pay for the gratification of his own ambition. He thought, moreover, that the proposal was an unfair one, inasmuch as there were many ratepayers who were not electors, some of whom, as the hon. Member for Westminster was aware, though persons, were not men. He regarded the amount proposed to be taken from candidates as caution money, too, as ridiculous. He rested his objection to the Amendment upon the ground that it proposed to tax those who had do interest in elections. If electors chose they might follow the example that he understood had been set by Westminster, and return their Member free of expense.
said, that the main argument against the Amendment of his hon. Friend and Colleague was, that it would be unjust to require any contribution towards election expenses from those liable to county and to borough rates who were non-electors. Anticipating some such objection would be urged, he had investigated the matter, with the view to ascertain the actual incidence and total amount of the burden which would have to be borne should the proposed addition to the clause be adopted by the Committee. He found, according to the last return of the County Treasurers of England and Wales for the year ending Michaelmas, 1865, and from the official returns from the sheriffs and returning officers of the expenses incurred by each candidate at the general election of the same year, that where contests had taken place the total expenses to be defrayed by the ratepayers would, under this clause as amended, vary from one-sixth to to one-twentieth of a penny in the pound for the counties. In the boroughs, he (Mr. White), found by the "Electoral Returns" of last Session, those so admirably prepared by Mr. Lambert, of the Poor Law Board, that the cost where there were contests, would be relatively more than in counties, but even in boroughs the total charge would be but one-tenth to one-third of a penny in the pound on the gross annual value of all messuages, tenements, and lands in such boroughs, according to the Income Tax Assessments, under Schedule A. So, 630 should Parliaments, under the reformed régime, even revert to their ancient duration of three years, he did think the triennial payment of a share in such a trivial charge would not be felt any hardship or infliction by the non-electors, who were equally interested with the electors, in the return of fit and proper candidates to the Commons House of Parliament. Seeing that Parliament had wisely determined, by largely extending the electoral suffrage, to widen the basis of the Constitution, he ventured to think that it ought to extend the area of selection for candidates. It had long been a public scandal—might he not say a national disgrace—that seats in Parliament had become too often not the reward of capacity or fitness, but the appanage of mere wealth and nothing else. So thinking, he supported the Amendment of his hon. Colleague, although, to prevent frivolous and vexatious contests, it would, he thought, be expedient in Committee to supplement this clause with a proviso that every candidate, if in a borough, should deposit £100, and if in a county, £200, towards the necessary expenses of the respective returning officers, whenever a poll was demanded.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
feared that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton would stand at a disadvantage, because it rather presented itself as a fragment of that question of corrupt practices at elections, as embodied in another measure, the consideration of which had been referred to a Select Committee, than a portion of the Reform Bill. Nevertheless, the matter was certainly worthy of serious consideration, at a time when a change in the constitution was being effected, which amounted to a revolution; and when large masses of people who had had no political education were being endowed with political power. He was convinced that the passing of the Reform Bill would introduce a great change in the personnel of the House and that comparatively few, now enjoying seats, would find themselves within the House again. He took it for granted that the very fact of sitting in the present Parliament would be a disparagement in the eyes of the new constituencies. This stood to reason. It could not be denied that the thousands of new voters were being educated up to the belief that hitherto they had been downtrodden serfs, who were only now entering on a right which they ought long since to have enjoyed. Would it not then be the plain 631 dictate of human nature for these new voters, under the inspiration of such feelings, to call for new men, else where would be the advantages to them of their enfranchisement? But, again, these new voters belonged to that class of society—he imputed no blame to them for it—whose daily life was a continual struggle for subsistence, and whose necessarily limited and material education rendered them unfit to realize the idea of disinterested and unpersonal ambition — who would naturally think that a candidate for the House of Commons came forward with the same motive as that with which they themselves went into the labour market—namety, to purchase a position of remuneration, offering the means of personal subsistence. Such voters would, of course, expect to be bribed, and meet the briber half-way. Having, accordingly, such elements to deal with, it would be necessary that further precautions should be taken to secure purity of election. The Motion of his hon. Friend might only touch a fragment of the question; but it was, as far as it went, a mitigation of the disease. He would only add, upon the general question, he thought the more they discouraged the old electioneering system, with its concomitants of revelling and music, of cockney tournament and ridiculous speechmaking, and the more they made the elections matter of hard, dry business, the better would it be for the future Government of the country; for the chance would be increased of men of moderate views, not plutocrats, nor yet demagogues, obtaining seats without sacrifice of self-respect, in the future Parliaments of England. The intention of the Amendment was a good one, and as the assertion of a principle it should have his support.
§ MR. EVANS
said, that in many elections there were persons who, for mere love of notoriety, might, if no expense were involved, go to a contest, and put their opponents to an unnecessary cost. Some precaution ought to be taken to guard against that, and he thought the deposit of caution money might have a beneficial effect, if the amount fixed was sufficient. He thought the principle of the Amendment was quite right—the question was how it would work; and he mentioned another suggestion he had heard made—namely, that if a candidate did not poll a certain number of votes he should be called upon to pay a certain proportion of the expenses.
§ LORD HOTHAM
objected to the Amendment, and trusted that it would not be adopted by the House. Its effect, instead of diminishing, would be to multiply contests in every part of the country. There was not a club in London which did not contain a sufficient number of gentlemen who, for the sake of amusement, or notoriety, or perhaps, of mischief, would not be ready to offer themselves as candidates in almost every district, if they could do so without any expense. Having sat for so many years in Parliament, he certainly should not like to appear now before his constituents, and say that Parliament had taken great pains to improve the representation of the people by increasing the number of voters, and placing polling booths within the reach of every one, but that in return for these improvements they must pay for them. He should be ashamed to appear before his constituents and ask them to pay the expenses which he had hitherto been accustomed to pay. Might not the question be treated in conformity with the doctrine of free trade and the laws of demand and supply? Thus, if candidates were so few in number that a proper supply could not be found, the district might bear the election expenses; but if the supply was equal, or more than equal, to the demand, the candidates should pay their own expenses. Much had been said about the hardship of subjecting a fit candidate for the representation to the expense of an election. But there was nothing in this Bill to deprive any constituency of the privilege of paying the expenses of candidates if it chose to do so. Thinking that this was not the time to pass a measure calculated to benefit the pockets of Members at the expense of electors, he should oppose the plan of the hon. Member for Brighton, whether accompanied by the Amendments to which allusion had been made or not.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
said, he thought that the proper principle to legislate upon, was that whatever was necessary to carry out an election should be paid by the locality, and whatever was not necessary should be paid by the candidate. It should be remembered that the election was not carried for the sake of the candidate, but for the sake of the locality. Again, in reply to the argument that the whole locality and not the electors alone would have to bear these expenses, it should be remembered that Members were sent to 633 this House for the benefit, not of the electors only, but for the whole country. In his opinion many of the payments now made on account of the election should be declared illegal. For instance, he would not allow anything to be paid for the conveyance of voters; for if men attached so little value to their votes that they could not find their way to the poll, they ought not to be carried there at other people's expense. He thought, also, that the number of agents employed by a candidate might with propriety be limited.
§ SIR MATTHEW RIDLEY
opposed the Motion. The weight of the rates now pressing upon counties and boroughs was very great and ought not to be increased without good reason. All who took part in the administration of county affairs must know that there was a strong feeling rising against the excessive increase of rates, and that feeling was taking a very significant form in the counties. He had no doubt that the effect of the proposal would be to produce unnecessary contests. He would, therefore, with entire confidence oppose it.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that if the two propositions of the hon. Member for Brighton and the hon. Member for Middlesex were put together they would constitute a fair and simple mode of dealing with the question. He did not think that hon. Members need be alarmed at the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope) that none of them would be returned to the reformed Parliament. On the contrary, their constituents, being enfranchised under the Bill would be so satisfied of the wisdom of hon. Members in passing it, that, with the exception of a few persons, who throughout these discussions have indulged in some disagreeable remarks, they would all be returned. The question really was, who was to pay for the duties of the returning officer? To him, it had always appeared most indecent that the first thing a candidate had to do was to make a bargain with the returning officer. Nothing could be more inconsistent with what was done in every other kind of election which involved the performance of duties to the country. What could be worse than that parties between whom the returning officer was to act impartially should be brought into bargaining relations with him from the very beginning? If hon. Members only looked into the papers which had been laid on the table they would see how hon. 634 Gentlemen had been victimized by returning officers. Indeed, if they followed the example of former Parliaments, a number of returning officers would be brought to the bar after every general election and committed to Newgate for extortion. The most disagreeable results sometimes followed a quarrel between the candidates and the returning officer, who would sometimes delay the election to the latest possible moment, and sometimes were not indifferent in the contest. According to the letter of the law the office of the returning officer, like that of the sheriff, was an onerous one, to be held gratuitously, and only for a year. But now that law had been perverted. The office was now sought by professional men as a source of income, because they had the candidates at their mercy. Taking the Amendment of the hon. Member for Middlesex into account there were practically two proposals before the Committee, and combined they amounted to this—that every person who demanded a poll should pay to the returning officer a fee regulated by Parliament, and about which there could be no dispute; that that fee should be accounted for to those who had charge of the county fund, and that the magistrates should settle with the returning officer for his expenditure. While they might support the proposition made as a whole, they could not pass the Amendment in the form in which it was proposed; but the Government might bring up an appropriate clause to repress frivolous candidature, while saving bonâ fide candidates from extortion, and leaving the returning officers to the free exercise of their duties.
said, that speaking mainly of county elections, they were held generally in towns a small proportion of whose inhabitants were electors, and per haps only a limited proportion of electors attended the nominations. A factious candidate might have the show of hands, and then he would not have to demand a poll; and if a poll took place he would not be the man whom the returning officer would ask to make a deposit. But as the law now stood, if a contest took place, each candidate was obliged to put down a certain sum—whether they should not require the sum deposited to be enough to cover the expenses was another question. He could not help feeling that the great body of the people would think it a paltry thing to throw this expense upon them. If they could arrive at the Utopian state con- 635 ceived by the hon. Member for Buckingham, there would be no expense, but he did not expect that time would ever arrive. The hustings expenses were but a limited portion of the whole expenses, at least in counties; and it was impossible to get thousands of people to vote in a day at a county election without a large and expensive agency. To the question that this clause be read a second time he should be obliged to say "No," as he believed the great body of the people would feel it was a dirty thing to throw this trifling expense upon them, and to be relieved of the liability at the cost of this feeling would be rather a loss than a gain.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House appears to me to have raised a difficulty which is, in fact, no difficulty at all, and which he himself pointed out the means of removing. The obvious remedy against relieving the sham candidate, who might have the show of hands, at the cost of the bonâ fide candidate, with a chance of election, was to require deposits from all. But I cannot help thinking that a great deal too much is said of the danger of sham candidates. The expense of the hustings, or the returning officer's expenses, are not only a very small part of the expense of elections as they now are; but I am afraid bear a very small proportion to the expense which it is impossible to prevent. Though a great amount of expense, which, though not corrupt, is very noxious, ought to be, and can be, prevented, it is impossible to prevent, or defray out of a public fund, such expenses as those of advertisements, printing, public meetings to address the electors. The candidates of whom all seem so much afraid, and who have no chance of being elected, cannot present themselves to the electors without incurring a certain amount of these expenses, and if they cannot pay these it is obvious nobody need care for their candidature. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) has said that if this sham candidature is kept up, the counties or the other candidates may be put to expense. But I have no doubt the general opinion would so strongly condemn this, that it would be hardly possible for anyone who cares for the opinion of the constituency, and wishes to make himself favourably known to them, to present himself in this capacity. It may happen, perhaps, or the public may be led to think, that under this horror 636 of sham candidates there is concealed a greater fear of real candidates. This is, as was well observed by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Beresford Hope), part of a much greater question, that of election expenses generally, with which, in all its parts, this House must necessarily have to deal; and I hope it will see the necessity of dealing with it soon. But this particular expense, though, a small part of the total cost of elections, is a part which it is really in the power of the House to control. It is a necessary part of the expenditure of the country, like any other portion of the public charges. If a foreigner asked how this country provided for that part of its expenditure which attends the election of its representatives, would he not be astonished to hear that it was done by a tax on candidates? Of all sorts of taxation, was there ever such a partial and unjust specimen as that would be? But it is really a great deal worse. I can compare it to nothing short of requiring a Judge to pay large sums towards the cost of the administration of justice. It is true that you make men pay for commissions in the army, but you do not apply the price of these commissions towards defraying the expense of the army. Does this House, in any other case, arrange to defray any part of the necessary expenses of the country by a special tax on the individuals who carry on its service? The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Beresford Hope), though he has fears of the consequences of the constitutional change we are making, which I by no means share, has expressed an anxiety in which, I think, we must all participate—a sense of the duty under which this House and the country now lie, to provide for educating, in the morality of polities, that large class who are now for the first time to be admitted to the electoral suffrage. What sort of a lesson are we giving them—what sort of instructions do we offer—when we lead them to believe that the great trust of legislating for this country is a thing to be paid for, that it is worth while paying for it, and that men can be made to pay for it? What more natural than that they should think it might as well be paid for directly to those who confer it? The noble Lord who spoke earlier in the debate (Lord Hotham) seems to consider that the law of demand and supply should be left to regulate these matters, so that, in fact, those who are willing to pay money should have a clear field, and 637 that the representation should be knocked down to the highest bidder. That is, perhaps, to a certain extent, done already; but the House ought not to extend and perpetuate the practice. There is in this country a large and growing class of persons who have suddenly and rapidly acquired wealth, and to whom it is worth any sacrifice of money to obtain social position. The less they have to recommend them in any other respect—the less chance they have of obtaining a place in what is called good society — esteem, either by qualities useful and ornamental—the more sure they are to resort, if they can, to the only infallible and ready means of gaining their end, the obtaining a seat in this House. This is a growing evil which ought to be guarded against. I hope the Government will deal with this subject in all its parts, as it is certainly highly needful to do; but we have now an opportunity of dealing with one part which is entirely in our control, and which forms an element of the question we are now discussing. We can deal with that small part of election expenses which is an unavoidable part of the expense of governing the country, and which, though the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) said it would be extremely shabby to throw on the constituencies, I think it would be a monstrous deal more shabby to throw on the candidates. When a man has no personal object of his own to gain by obtaining a seat in this House, it is not for the House to require that he should pay the expense which the country and the electors incur by his election: if he has any such object, we ought to do everything in our power, and to throw every obstacle in his way, to prevent him from obtaining it by money. Above all, it is our duty to show to the new electors, and that large portion of the old who, I am sorry to say, still need the lesson, that the business of election is a thing far removed from aught of buying and selling; that the business of a Member of this House is a laborious and onerous task, and when not sought from personal motives, one which it requires a high sense of public duty to undertake, and that the burthen, therefore, ought not to be increased by throwing any part of the expense on the candidate. We ought, above all things, to show the electors that they are doing what we and the world consider disgraceful, if they put the candidate to any expense, and thus tempt 638 him to use his seat for his personal advantage.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, the hon. Gentleman (the Member for Westminster) seemed to have a very inadequate idea of the dangers of sham canditatures. He and others who thought with him were probably not sufficiently acquainted with the wickedness of elections to believe that sham candidatures were now, and would in future be, the acts not of isolated and eccentric persons, but of London clubs. If there was no great expense attending such a proceeding, the clubs would, as a mere matter of mischief, or, if not so, to test the willingness of the candidate, to take the chance of accidents, or to try any poor man who was standing, always be ready to send down a sham candidate. His fear was that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) would have the effect, not of admitting poor men into Parliament, but of throwing the most formidable obstacles in their way; for rival parties would always have it in their power to send down a sham candidate to oppose a man of that kind. The point which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stuart Mill) had failed to see was that these hustings expenses were a mere fraction of the whole expenses of the candidate; and that the question whether a candidate would get into Parliament did not depend on his willingness or power to pay hustings expenses, but on his power to pay the larger expenses attendant on his being brought in contact with the constituency. The hon. Member for Westminster was a distinguished instance of a man brought into Parliament without expense to himself; but, if he inquired of those who helped him, he would find that he had not obtained his seat without considerable expenditure. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the case of a Judge as parallel to that of a candidate being required to pay his expenses; but he was surprised when that simile passed through the hon. Gentleman's mind, that it should not have occurred to him that there was a much more apposite analogy between a Court of Law and that House. Candidates coming before a constituency were in fact trying a case before the great inquest of the nation. Was it unreasonable, then, that they should have to find that security which was required from every suitor, great or small—a readiness to incur a certain risk and bear a certain loss, in order to make cure that their appeal to the Court was 639 real and sincere. It seemed that the same reasons which induced them to maintain that system as regarded Courts of Law must induce them to maintain it as regarded Parliament also. If the suggestion of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) for an enormous multiplication of polling places had been carried, he should have felt bound to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton, because the increase of expense thus caused would have been so alarming that it would not have been fair to ask the candidate to defray it. But, as it was, the proposal seemed to him a mere clipping of the corners of a great evil, and, by adopting it, they would run the risk pointed out by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), of holding themselves up to the country in a mean and nasty light, merely for the purpose of diminishing an expense which was really no burden to the large number of candidates—which did not form really part of the terrible evil with which they had to struggle, and the abolition of which, therefore, would be a kind of anodyne to their conscience — a mere blind rather than a real evidence that they were trying seriously to meet and grapple with a great abuse. If he could not vote for the Motion it was from no want of a sense of the reality of the danger to which the hon. Member for Westminster had referred. The great danger that he feared from the measure they had adopted was, that it would hand over the constituencies to a class of men, not composed of those who enjoyed wealth acquired by a long course of honourable industry, but of men who had suddenly acquired immense riches by some lucky stroke of speculation—men who had in their past lives given no guarantee that they would be useful and honourable Members of that House. He feared that such men as these would seek to obtain seats in the House of Commons not only, as the hon. Member for Westminster had pointed out, for the sake of social advancement, but for still more discreditable motives; that, in fact, when they came to practical legislation they would try to make that which they had purchased for money return them their money's worth. If the House wanted to make a clear sweep of the present system, to bring down with a run every institution that they valued, they would do so by adopting the present proposition, the effect of which would be, by multiplying sham candida- 640 tures, to make it impossible for any man not possessed of very great wealth to retain his seat. He had heard with satisfaction the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. If the Government should think fit to bring forward a measure embodying his suggestions, he (Viscount Cranborne) thought it would prove acceptable. He could not support the clause in its present shape, because he feared it would encourage the very evils which it sought to avoid.
said, the impression left on his mind by the discussion, was that the opponents of this proposition rested on specialities and narrow grounds, while its supporters relied upon principles. After listening to the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) he had expected that his apprehensions as to the future influence of money power would have led him to support the present Motion; and it was therefore with some surprise that he had heard him come to the opposite conclusion. The objection of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire to this proposition was, that if they adopted it they would be considered by the public opinion of the country to have done a mean and shabby action. It was possible, no doubt, that what was called the public opinion of the country, but what was really only the local opinion of the persons concerned, would be offended by such legislation. He thought, however, it was high time that that opinion should be offended, for on no subject more than on this was a radical cure called for. They knew that, in too many constituencies, there was an appraisement of the candidate, and an estimate made of how far he would be beneficial to the town, the most lavish expenditure being applauded as conduct becoming a gentleman, and the slightest hesitation in spending money being considered very mean and shabby. He could not look with the smallest respect or deference upon such a state of opinion, nor was it possible, without causing a scandal among the class to which he had referred, to arrive at a healthy state of things. The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) had said that this was dealing with a small portion only of a large subject; but he (Mr. Gladstone) was not aware that there was any course open to them but to deal with it item by item. He could wish that all perils of our representative system had but one neck, that they might be cut off at one 641 stroke. The present was, however, the first of these evils that had presented itself to their notice, and let the House so deal with it as to give a good omen of its intention to deal with the rest. The expense in question was not inconsiderable in large constituencies, and it must grow with the additions made by this Bill to the constituencies. The noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) had a fear of sham candidates. No doubt one peculiarity of the system under which anyone might be made a candidate exposed us to some dangers in this respect. He presumed the Committee were not prepared to deal with this feature of our representative system; and that anyone who could find A to propose and B to second him might become a candidate. He was disposed to view with favour the plan, either of making the candidate liable for a portion of the expense, or of making him lodge a certain sum of money, in order to deter men of straw from engaging in these contests. In one point of view the proposal of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) tended to bring forward men of straw; in another it had a tendency to prevent such contests, because it created a public opinion adverse to them. Heretofore the community, in consequence of the absolute exemption of the whole body, had few motives to discourage such contests, while a great body of the electors had an interest in promoting them by reason of the profit they derived from the large expenditure of a contested election. Even a small addition, however, to the local burdens would cause them to be viewed with jealousy, and there would be a voluntary disinclination on the part of the community to the multiplication of needless contests. If that disinclination became a portion of the public opinion of the electoral bodies, they need not be so much afraid of the normal and obtrusive action of the clubs in London. He thought that the Motion embodied a general principle; and if they were only able to obtain a clear view of that principle, how strong it was. The noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) could hardly be satisfied with his analogy that the candidates at an election were like the suitors in a Court. That which might be partly true of certain individuals could not be affirmed of the majority. It might be that selfish motives mixed with the views and intentions of some men; but it was a gross exaggeration to represent that which was the abuse and the exception as a law which was 642 universal or without limit. As a rule the candidates were the advocates of the public cause, and, as such, they ought not to be taxed. Any other theory produced a false view on the part of the public, and conduced to habits of venality. If they wished to make the elector understand that he was to discharge a public trust, do not let them meet him at the threshold and enable him to cast into their teeth that the first thing Parliament did was to lay upon the candidate a heavy tax. Arrangements of this kind operated as a tax upon poorer men, while they failed to restrain the avidity and ambition of the rich. For these reasons he was ready to concur in the Motion.
said, that if the arguments used in support of the proposition for taking off the expenses of elections from the candidates, and throwing them on the local fund, were good for anything, they were equally conclusive in favour of throwing the charge upon the Consolidated Fund. At any rate there was no reason why they should be thrown upon the county. He called upon the House to consider whether they would consent to saddle on all occasions every expense on the county rate.
§ MR. LAING
said, referring to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire that this question should be considered not as one of details, but of broad general principles, it certainly appeared to him that a broad and general principle of very great importance was involved in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and also in that of the hon. Member for Westminster. The broad argument urged by his hon. Friend was that we ought to make it practically as easy for a poor man to get into the House of Commons as it was now for men who had what was called a stake in the country. Now it was evident to him (Mr. Laing) that, if such an argument were worth anything it ought to be carried a step further, and ought to be carried out to the payment of Members; for, admitting the argument to be a sound one, on what principle could it be said that a poor man of intellect and integrity and character should be shut out from a seat in that House in consequence of the impossibility of his possessing an adequate income to maintain such a position? The argument which had been advanced seemed to him to be among the fallacies peculiar to certain descriptions of men; and he thought 643 that if Lord Bacon had been alive he would have enumerated among the existing idola a certain fallacy peculiar to the House of Commons—namely, that it ought to consist of rich men, but that they should be returned to it at a cheap rate. Now, in his judgment, those two propositions were incompatible with each other. Every hon. Member who went to his constituency for re-election was anxious to avoid sham oppositions, got up by men with no hold on the constituency, but who might hold some extreme opinion which was popular among a small section of the electors. But after a Member had been returned to Parliament and reflected on the large sum he had expended on his election, he would very naturally say to himself, "What a fine thing it would have been if all my expenses had been defrayed out of the county rates, and if I had come here at the cost of £200 or £300, instead of £2,000 or £3,000." As long as the constitution of the House remained practically what it was there must be a sort of indirect property qualification. He was much opposed to a hard and fast line of absolute exclusion by means of a property qualification; and he was also opposed to anything in the nature of illegitimate expenditure and anything in the nature of bribery; but he regarded the accustomed regular and legitimate expenses of elections as a wholesome provision for keeping the House of Commons practically what it was at the present moment. As to the denunciations of men of wealth, and the lamentable statements about rich men seeking seats in that House for social advancement or with worse objects, was that a state of things which really existed to any great extent? The House of Commons contained in it many gentlemen who had honourably made their way in the world; and could it be fairly represented to be thronged with men who had no title whatever to sit there, except their money bags, and no desire except to obtain a social standing. Taking things as they were, and taking the expenses of elections as they were, did not the House of Commons contrast favourably with similar assemblies in other countries, where a different system prevailed, where the Members received remuneration for their services, and where consequently the door was thrown open to the poor man as well as to the rich? He looked upon a change in that direction with more horror than upon the most extreme extension of the suffrage. 644 A proposal that Members of Parliament should receive salaries was one of the most revolutionary and democratic that could be made, and he should steadily oppose any Motion that contained even the germ of such a principle. The suffrage might be thrown open to any extent; but as long as no invidious distinction was made—as long as it was possible for a poor man to gain access to that House, although it might be practically difficult for him to do so—and as long as the House consisted of men who might be said to have a stake in the country, he thought we should remain what might fairly be called a Conservative country and be able to maintain the stability of our institutions. If, however, to a large extension of the suffrage were added the adoption of principles which would load to a totally different constitution of the House of Commons, he should entertain the most heartfelt apprehensions as to the consequences that might ensue. It was upon a broad, general principle, therefore, that he opposed the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton—although he thought, at the same time, there were forcible objections to it in regard to matters of detail. For instance, sham candidates would be introduced if anybody was able to stand in a contest. A single example was worth all the argument in the world; and he happened to remember a case which went exactly to the point. Hon. Gentlemen would probably recollect the case of an election when a highly respectable gentleman, Mr. Harper Twelvetrees, stood for a borough. Well, Mr. Twelvetrees was, or professed to be, a benefactor of the human race, being the inventor of a powder which was calculated to promote the domestic comfort of all classes of the community, and of the inhabitants of the metropolis more particularly. Being of a philanthrophic turn of mind, this gentleman spent large sums of money in advertising his invention, and, among other means of advertising he adopted the plan of coming forward as a candidate for a certain metropolitan borough. Now, he asked whether it was desirable to throw down all the barriers which stood in the way of proceedings of this kind? Supposing men could adopt such a course at an inconsiderable expense, perhaps many Harper Twelvetrees would take the opportunity of gaining notoriety in that way. Many hon. Gentlemen no doubt knew of Chartist orators and local agitators who, in total disregard of the feelings of their 645 neighbours, would not hesitate to acquire notoriety by becoming candidates at elections if the expenses had to be defrayed by others. On those grounds he should oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that if the principle on which the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) rested was a correct one, it ought to be carried much further. He had felt that in 1859, when the Government themselves proposed something similar, at the same time that they proposed putting an end to the property qualification. But was the House prepared to carry out that principle—he would not say to its extremity—but to the further consequences which in his judgment would soon ensue? Hon. Members seemed to smile when his hon. Friend the Member for Haverfordwest (Mr. Scourfield) intimated that there would be some danger if the present scheme were adopted, that the expenses of candidates would have, in the end, to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. How, in this respect he agreed with the Member for Haverfordwest. What were legitimate expenses? The expenses referred to in the addition proposed by the hon. Member for Brighton were not very important in amount, but they were not a bit more legitimate than many other expenses incurred at Parliamentary elections. The hon. Member had spoken with indignation of the expenses incurred by the bringing up of voters; but how was an election to be conducted if the voters were not brought up? Well, if they were to be brought up at the expense, not of the candidate, but of the locality, the ratepayers would soon demur to the expenditure, saying that what was a national duty ought to be also a national charge, and making a claim, which could not be long resisted, on the Consolidated Fund. After the great change of 1832, the period of time in which electors were allowed to record their votes was reduced. The result was, that in a county sixty miles long it became necessary on a certain day to bring in the course of eight hours some 4,000 or 5,000 men to the poll. Now, how was it possible to do that without an organized arrangement? On the nomination day a sham candidate might come forward and express his determination to go to the poll. There was no room in such a case for hesitation; but, in order to avoid the possibility of being defeated by an unworthy foe, the real can- 646 didate was under the necessity of causing instant preparations being made for bringing up his voters to the poll. If this were not done, the adventurous candidate might be successful. Even now, there was not a sufficient check against this; but surely what check there was ought not to be abolished. Whatever check there was ought rather to be cultivated and cherished. The remarks which had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets were deserving of consideration, although they were not of very great importance, and he thought they might well be referred to the Committee on Corrupt Practices, The adoption of the addition moved by the hon. Member for Brighton would, as it appeared to him, lead to the greatest public inconvenience and disaster, and he entreated the Committee not to assent to it.
§ MR. FAWCETT
, in reply, said, that as to the argument that if this Motion, were carried there would be danger that these charges would ultimately be thrown on the Consolidated Fund, he wished to ask how, in this respect, the proposition differed from that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the expenses of polling booths should be placed upon the local rates? The only expenses which he (Mr. Fawcett) wished to throw upon public rates were necessary expenses, whilst conveyence of voters to the poll was not a necessary expense.
§ MR. CONOLLY
thought that the proposition was one of very great importance; and that, as they were going to make an enormous increase to the constituencies, they were bound to provide some defence against the corruption to which it might lead. He hoped that the proposition would be followed up by another to make other expenses of elections be borne by the constituents.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
requested the Chairman to put his proposition, requiring candidates for counties and boroughs to deposit sums of £100 and £50 respectively towards the election expenses with the returning officer, as an addition to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton, otherwise the sense of the Committee could not be taken upon it at all.
§ Question, "That those words be added to the proposed Amendment," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, "That those words be there added."647
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 248: Majority 106.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
moved to insert the following clause:—Clause B (Rooms to be hired wherever they can be obtained). At every contested Election for any County or Borough, unless some building or place belonging to the County or Borough is provided by the justices for that purpose, the returning officer shall, whenever it is practicable so to do, instead of erecting a booth, hire a building or room for the purpose of taking the poll:Where in any place there is any room, the expense of maintaining which is payable out of any rates levied in such place, such room may, with the consent of the person or corporation having the control over the same, be used for the purpose of taking the poll at such place.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
moved to insert the following clause:—Clause C (Amendment as to time for delivery of lists and commencement of register of voters). The forty-seventh and forty-eighth sections of the Act of the sixth year of the reign of Her present Majesty, chapter eighteen, relating to the transmission and delivery of the book or books containing the list of voters to the sheriff and returning officer shall be construed as if the word "December" were substituted in those sections for the word "November," and the said book or books shall be the register of persons entitled to vote for the County or Borough to which such register relates at any election which takes place during the year commencing on the first day of January next after such register is made, and the register of electors in force at the time of the passing of this Act shall be the register in force until the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight.
§ Clause agreed to.
Clause D (Amendment of Oath to be taken by poll clerk).
The oath to be taken by a poll clerk shall hereafter be in the following form:—
I, A.B., do hereby swear that I will truly and indifferently take the poll at the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the [Borough or County] of So help me God.
Every person for the time being by law permitted to make a solemn affirmation or declaration instead of taking an oath, may instead of taking the oath hereby appointed, make a solemn affirmation in the form of the oath hereby appointed, substituting the words "solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm," for the word "swear," and omitting the words "So help me God,"—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer,)
—brought up, and read the first and second time.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
suggested that a declaration should be substituted for 648 the oath, in accordance with the recommendation of the Commissioners on Oaths, who were all agreed as to the advisability of abolishing such oaths as that now proposed.
§ MR. WALPOLE
reminded the right hon. Gentleman that the proper time to act upon such a suggestion would be when a Bill was introduced on the subject of oaths. It was quite possible that the House of Commons might not concur in the views of the Commissioners, who, he understood, were divided in opinion.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, they were all agreed as to the propriety of abolishing all such oaths as these.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, a contested election was not an occasion of that solemnity that required a man to be called upon to take such an oath as this, and he thought that a declaration would be quite sufficient.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that a declaration would be of no use, because you could not prosecute a person for a false declaration, whereas you could for a false oath.
said, the word of an honourable man ought to be taken for as much worth as his oath, and therefore he hoped that a declaration would be substituted for an oath in this clause.
§ Amendment proposed at the beginning of the clause to insert the words "In lieu of."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 173; Noes 178: Majority 5.
§ Clause agreed to.
Clause E (Receipt of parochial relief.) The thirty-sixth section of the Act of the second year of King William the Fourth, chapter forty-five, disqualifying persons in receipt of parochial relief from being registered as voters for a Borough, shall apply to a County also, and the said section shall be construed as if the word "County" were inserted therein before the word "City,
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again this day at Two of the clock.