HC Deb 18 July 1868 vol 193 cc1439-58

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID moved the following clause:— Whenever any person who shall have been a candidate at any Election (whether he shall or shall not have been returned at such Election) shall be reported by the Judge who tries a Petition complaining of such Election, to have been, by himself or his agents, guilty of bribery or treating at such Election, all votes which shall hare been given for such candidate at such Election shall be deemed to have been thrown away, in like manner as if he had, at the time of such Election been incapable of being elected, and as if notice of such incapacity had been given to every elector immediately previous to his voting: Provided always, That no other person who shall have been a candidate at such Election shall be deemed to have been duly elected thereat, in consequence of the votes given for the candidate who shall be reported guilty of bribery or treating being deemed to have been thrown away, unless at least one-third of the registered electors entitled to vote at such Election shall have voted thereat for such other candidate. The hon. Baronet said his proposition was founded upon the principle, not of inflicting penal consequences upon those guilty of bribery, but of removing all temptation to commit the offence, and making bribery defeat its own object by leaving the briber outside that House instead of bringing him into it.

Clause (Votes for candidates guilty of bribery thrown away,)—(Sir Francis Goldsmid,)—brought up, and read the first time.


said, he had done everything he could and adopted every suggestion that appeared likely to put an end to bribery and corruption, unless the proposal were carried to an extent that seemed to him unjust. It was once said that a Judge put an end to a practice which during his time was very rife, of captains ill-treating their seamen, by hanging an innocent captain. The practice might have been put an end to by hanging that captain, but he objected to the means by which the end was accomplished. He objected to this clause because he believed it to be unjust to the constituency. The question was not how it would work in one but in every instance. He would take the case of a constituency of 3,000 electors, one candidate polling 1,000 and the other 2,000. If four or five cases of corruption among the majority were proved, the effect of this clause would be practically to disfranchise the great majority of the constituency, against whom there was no imputation. That seemed to him unjust. Besides, the successful candidate would be exposed to great danger. What a temptation would be held out to any four or five persons to come forward and say they had voted for the successful candidate and were improperly dealt with. It would be impossible to meet such a case. The minority would be represented during the Parliament, the successful candidate would be disqualified, and the great bulk of the constituency practically disfranchised.


said, the House was on its trial. The principle of the plan proposed by the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Goldsmid) was introduced by the present Government in the Reform Bill. They had paltered with electioneering corruption till the money question had become the disgrace of English electioneering, and they must apply a drastic remedy by the establishment of a pure tribunal. He should support the clause.


said, the clause would lay candidates open to all kinds of tricks and snares; and any Member's seat could be taken from him if it were passed. A couple of clever lawyers could put upon it any interpretation they liked.


said, he did not think they would succeed in stopping corruption by attempting to do so by means of such gross injustice as formed the basis of this clause. It would admit to the House Members who had polled only one-third of the number of electors. The good feeling of even man must revolt against it.


maintained that the argument of the Solicitor General was put too high when he placed it on justice and the rights of the majority. How did they respect the rights of the majority now? In cases of bribery the votes of the majority actually went for nothing; but the question, which was one not of justice but expediency, was this—given, a case of bribery proved against the successful candidate; given, another candidate petitioning who had polled one-third of the votes; was it most for the good of the public and for the cause of purity—which they all had at heart—that the minority should be represented during the then Parliament, or that those who had had their pockets filled should at a new election have an opportunity of reaping a double harvest? As the votes have been thrown away so far as the return of one candidate is concerned, they should be equally thrown away as against his opponent. He thought the clause offered a great encouragement to purity. There was no injustice or iniquity in it of any kind.


explained that he had on the Paper a Motion to add to the clause a provision that any candidate petitioned against shall be able to present a counter Petition, and the defeated candidate must clear himself of imputation before his Petition against the elected candidate shall be heard. The question was whether the House would not merely constitute a tribunal, but make it the duty or interest of some one to put its machinery in action. Under the present system it was neither the duty nor the interest of any one to be a Petitioner. It was very rare indeed that the person petitioning gained the seat by it.


contended that the clause would operate with the greatest possible injustice to the large majority of the electors in a borough. A successful candidate who was perfectly innocent would be exposed to this danger—a person who represented himself to be an agent who had opened a public-house and fraudulently treated or bribed some three or four individuals might come forward and say, "I bribed these men; I can show you how not only to unseat the Member, but to disqualify him, disfranchise the great majority of the constituency, and transfer the seat to a candidate who had polled only one-third of the voters." This was a question, not of expediency, but of justice. The clause seemed to him to carry the penalty too far.


said, there was no such thing as an immaculate borough, with only two or three black sheep. The character of a borough was well known in the bribery market. The clause of the hon. Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid) went directly to the root of the evil. The Bill was the keystone of the arch of Reform.


said, the great objection to this clause was that by its operation an injustice would be done to the opinions of the majority. Now, either that majority was tainted with the corruption of the candidate, or it was not. If it were, it ought to be punished as well as the candidate; if it were not, then it would be only too glad to get rid of a corrupt Member.


said, the objection was, not that they got rid of a corrupt Member, but that they were also saddled with one to whose opinions they had the greatest objection.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 48 Noes 79: Majority 31.


brought forward a clause, the substance of which, and of a supplemental clause, he explained to be to throw the expense of elections upon the county or borough rates; but that, with a view to prevent clearly unnecessary and vexatious contests, a condition was annexed which was adopted with good effect in Australia, that the candidate should deposit a sum with the returning officer ns a pledge of his sincerity in the contest. He had fixed the sum at £100, but he was willing to consult the feeling of the House, and either to diminish or to increase the sum. In order to prevent the constituency being put to unnecessary expense, he proposed that this sum should be forfeited if the defeated candidate did not poll one-tenth of the number of votes recorded for the successful candidate who was lowest on the poll. Here, again, he was in the hands of the House as to the exact numbers, as he only was anxious to affirm the principle. It was objected to this plan that the constituencies might not like it, and that Members might be afraid to disoblige their constituencies. In answer to that he could only say that the subject had been before the public for a long time—it had been discussed in all the papers, and he had received many hundreds of letters upon it; but there was not a single one that did not express the warmest approval of the scheme. Then it was said that this scheme would encourage unnecessary contests; but he did not think that would be the case. Everybody knew that at present the contests were got up mainly by solicitors and agents, and this scheme would rather have a tendency to check that course. Besides, the expenses of the municipal elections were all defrayed by the rates, and he was at a loss to understand why the county elections should not be defrayed in the same manner. It was the general opinion that the cost of elections was the great danger to the Constitution. If something were not done, and that speedily, to check the evil, it would be impossible in a few years to obtain a seat in the House except by a large expenditure of money, and he thought there was a danger to the Constitution in such, a state of things.

Clause— (Providing for returning officers' expenses out of rates.) 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: Provided, That it shall not be lawful for any person to be nominated as a candidate at any such Election, unless he or some person on his behalf shall, before one o'clock in the afternoon of the day preceding the day of nomination, have paid to the returning officer the sum of one hundred pounds to be applied in the following manner (that is to say): where a poll shall take place at any such Election, the returning officer shall apply the monies so paid to him by any such candidate who shall not, at the close of the poll, have received a number of votes equal at least to one-tenth part of the votes received by the successful candidate, if only one, or by such one of the successful candidates if there shall be more than one, as shall have received the smallest number of votes, in and I towards defraying the lawful expenses of the returning officer relating to such Election; and after any such Election the returning officer shall forthwith repay to any such candidate who shall have been declared elected without a poll, or who, whether declared elected or not, shall have received a number of votes equal at least to such tenth part, the monies so paid by or for him as aforesaid,"—(Mr. Fawcett,)brought up, and read the first time.


said, the question in which the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) was interested had also been, treated by another Member of the House—the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Labouchere)—and he confessed that if the House were to adopt the principle of the measure the proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex seemed to him to be the simplest and the most sensible of the two. But he objected to the proposition, because the rates of the county had been so burdened of late that he thought they ought to lie fallow for a time, and that it would be unwise in a Bill for the suppression of corruption to introduce this invidious principle of increasing the rates. But there was another objection. This was a Bill to prevent corrupt practices, and he had yet to learn that the payment of the expenses of the returning officer by a candidate was a corrupt practice. It was not connected with the subject-matter of the Bill, and on these two grounds he must oppose the clause.


observed that the payment of returning officers' expenses became a corrupt practice by the excessive charges which were made in some cases.


Knowing that some difference of opinion exists on this side of the House upon the merits of the question now before us, I may ask to be allowed to say a few words, which will, at least, explain my own conduct upon it. It seems to me an eminently unsatisfactory result of the present Reform Bill that it should tend, both in county and town, to increase the expenses of elections. And no less so, that on the part of Her Majesty's Government no effort of a bonâ fide nature has been made, at least as far as counties are concerned, to lessen that expense. First, the voting papers were quietly dropped out, and no further effort was made to retain the principle, even as far as out-county voters were concerned. On two occasions I endeavoured to bring this question before the House. I met no support, notwithstanding its importance to Members on this side the House. Let me confess that it caused me great regret. Then came the question of conveyance; and Clause 23 was struck out. It was, indeed, revived as far as the boroughs were concerned; but, although we were warned of its importance to ourselves by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, I was once more unsuccessful in calling the attention of the Government to the point. No alternative was offered to me, and no effort made to meet the obvious want. On the other hand, by every provision of this Reform Bill, the expenses will be increased. Now, let me ask, to what result? The return of rich men, no doubt, and the representation of wealth. Now, there does seem to me to be a certain amount of danger in this if pushed beyond a certain point. I know it may seem to some a consistent thing that in a wealthy county representatives should be rich, and very consonant to social conditions that we should be governed thus: but let the House remember this—that among the constituencies there will not fail to be men, and these of no ordinary class, who will object to be thrown in with the lot, and who view with great repugnance a Government based upon such a mercantile principle as this; and that there may arise no small danger and inconvenience from such, a source. It seems to me that we have already experienced the disadvantage of this; and it is as the representative of an agricultural community that I say this. I have asserted that we have something to complain of, and even some wrongs to be redressed; and though this is denied by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, I repeat it as a fact. Well, perhaps it is our own fault, due to the state of our representation in this House. From such a cause our estates have been wasted and our choice of Members restricted greatly to our loss. There has been wanting even the stimulus of competition to such men to induce them to qualify for the post; and of this we feel the result in our present position in this House. Now, of these things I speak as one personally unconcerned, and I ask hon. Members to place themselves on the same footing while they consider this. It is a public question of no slight importance, and should be considered in no other light. One thing alone prevents us from accepting it—that it adds even slightly to the rates. I have stated my opinion firstly fully upon this, that such taxation is often illegal and always unjust upon its present base. I cannot consent to add to such burdens, even for so great an object as this; and unless the hon. Gentleman can propose some alternative I must decline to record my vote.


argued that the Act of last year would greatly increase the necessary expenses of elections; and if those expenses were to be thrown on the candidates, it would be tantamount to restoring the old property qualification for Members, which had been abolished some years since by Parliament as wrong in principle. In Leeds the number of electors had been increased from 7,000 to upwards of 35,000; and as no more than 500 votes could be recorded under the Reform Act at any one polling-place, there must be between sixty and seventy polling places. It was customary to have at each polling-place a deputy returning officer at three guineas, a clerk at a guinea, besides messengers; and without the check which municipal management would certainly impose the expenses would be enormous. However prejudicial this might be to candidates, it would be still more injurious to those lately admitted to the franchise; for the votes conferred upon them would be of no use if we diminished the number of those out of their own class who could be returned to Parliament, by increasing the expenses of elections and throwing them on the candidates. A greater evil could not be inflicted on the constituencies than to reduce the number of those who might be fairly and justly called upon to represent them; and the House had been repeatedly appealed to from both sides to enable those to enter it who in interests and feelings were identified with the classes forming so considerable a portion of the large constituencies. The objection to imposing a new tax upon the rates was met in principle by the fact that the Reform Act extended the franchise to every ratepayer. When comparatively few of the ratepayers had votes, it would have been unjust to throw the expenses of elections on the whole body; but now that all the ratepayers were enfranchised, it was just and reasonable that all should contribute to the expenses attendant on the giving of their votes. The Parliamentary Committee of the Leeds Town Council had considered the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett), and approved of it. It was idle to suppose that any undue number of the working I classes would be returned to Parliament. It would always be so expensive to live in London and to devote one-half of the year to Parliamentary Business, that there was no probability that any large number of Members in bumble circumstances would enter the House; there was no fear that property would not always be well represented; and, under these circumstances, it seemed that the Amendment proposed was the necessary corollary of the extension of the franchise which had already been made.


said, he was much interested to hear the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baines) so well describe the evils and dangers of a system of which he had been a most distinguished advocate. Not one of the labouring classes, if his statements were true, would ever be able to set his foot within those doors as the advocate of his class. It was an excellent illustration of the maxim—Necis artifices arte perire sua.


said, he must give his vote in favour of the clause. He viewed with great regret the addition of any charges to the rates of this country; but the chief importance of the clause was as to its effect on the borough franchise. On the part of the community at large it would really effect a very considerable economy, because it had a tendency to prevent wasteful expenditure. It was a mistake to suppose that the expense connected with contested elections fell upon the candidate alone. In a multitude of ways it was a burden upon the community; and with a view to the interests of the ratepayers it would be desirable to have this provision. He regarded the clause as proceeding upon a sound principle. It was time Parliament expressed a judgment, especially with the widely extended constituency, as to the true nature of Parliamentary duties, and decided whether sitting and voting in the House was a privilege to be enjoyed by the individual or a duty to be performed towards the community. In his judgment it was a duty performed towards the community, and preaching upon the subject would be greatly strengthened by enactments showing that it was regarded as a duty. Of course, it would be unjust to impose upon the community any election expenses which could be regarded as optional; yet the essential and necessary expenses ought to be borne by the community. As to the bearing of the clause or some such clause upon the admission of rich men and poor men into the House, it was impossible not to feel the force of the arguments of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines). It would be worse than ridiculous to admit all classes to the franchise, and yet to continue arrangements which practically limited the choice of candidates. He thought that to hold it was necessary for the safety of our institutions to prevent poor men from coming into that House was a most pernicious doctrine. On the contrary, in his opinion, nothing could be more desirable, with reference to the safety of those institutions, than that the artizans—the working classes—should be represented by men of their own order. Of course, they could not have many of that class in the House of Commons. There were barriers to it which no legislation had imposed; but let not Parliament impose other barriers—hard legal ones. The coming into Parliament of such men would be most beneficial to all classes. It would do more than anything else could do to strengthen the confidence of the people in the Imperial Parliament. He did not think this clause would effect much in the way of admitting those men; but, at least, it would remove a very odious barrier to their admission.


said, he was in favour of the principle on which the clause was framed; but should prefer the clause of which the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. W. Beaumont) had given Notice—that one half the expense should be paid out of the rates.


said, that the point which had been for some time under discussion was undoubtedly one of very considerable importance; but as that point had no reference to corrupt practices, he thought the proposed clause would be very much out of place in that Bill. The principle of the clause was one which deserved more consideration than could be given to it on the present occasion. It might be said that the counties and boroughs ought to bear the expenses of the elections; but he thought that principle was open to question. Suppose a Member of Parliament accepted an office in the Government, his appointment to which made it necessary that he should go to his constituents, ought the expenses of the election to be charged on the county or the borough, as the case might be?


Is it fair or reasonable to take advantage of a technical difficulty in order to leave a question of this sort undecided until after the next election? If in a purely legal point of view it does not belong to the subject of corrupt practices, yet it belongs to a system of measures of which that relating to corrupt practices is the completion. Unless it be agreed to, the system will be left incomplete, and the Reform Act will, in some important respects, actually deteriorate the representation, for its practical effect will be to bring us nearer to a plutocracy than we ever have been before. I would most earnestly appeal to the hon. Member for Suffolk (Mr. Corrance), who has made so excellent a speech in favour of the proposition, to put for the present in abeyance his objections to any additional burthen on the local rates—objections in which, as I have stated on a former occasion, I in part agree, and which will certainly, with the whole subject of the incidence of rates, come under the early consideration of the new Parliament. I beg him to trust the fairness and sense of justice of the future House of Commons, and not to resist a provision required for the beneficial working of our political institutions, because it involves a very small, and probably temporary, addition to the local expenditure.


said, to the proposal made there was but one objection he could entertain—that it fell upon one kind of property, and not upon the whole, as it ought. Hon. Gentleman had promised their assistance to remove that, and he closed with the offer held out, and should claim it in due time and place, and upon that distinct understanding he would give his vote.


, while preferring his own proposal, would give his support to the second reading of the hon. Member for Brighton's clause.


said, it would no doubt be agreeable enough to Members not to be called upon to pay these expenses; but it should be remembered that the county rates were very heavy, and the borough rates so overpowering that in many places they could hardly be collected. Yet they were now asked to pass a clause which was admitted to have nothing to do with corrupt practices—the proper subject of this Bill. Far from lowering the expenses, it would in all probability increase them by diminishing the interest of individual candidates to keep them down.


did not hesitate to say that, taking into consideration the economy which would be practised if this charge were forced upon the constituencies, the burden on the property of the country would not exceed ¼d. in the pound.


expressed his opinion that the Government were acting disgracefully in raising technical objections to the clause, which would certainly receive his hearty support. This was the first occasion on which any attempt had been made to diminish the expenditure at elections.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 69: Majority 9.

MR. W. B. BEAUMONT moved an Amendment in the hon. Member for Brighton's clause as to expenses of returning officers, &c., to the effect that one-half of these expenses shall be paid out of the rates.


trusted the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. W. B. Beaumont) would not persevere with his Motion, which was founded half in injustice and half in justice. The whole of the official expenses at municipal elections were paid out of the borough rates.


said, he was under the impression that there had been a distinct understanding between himself and the hon. Member for Northumberland to the effect that if his scheme were rejected the hon. Member should introduce his Amendment. On his part, he promised that, in the event of his own proposal being rejected, he would vote for that of his hon. Friend. He was somewhat surprised to find, therefore, that his hon. Friend had now deemed it necessary to bring forward his Amendment.


hoped the hon. Member (Mr. W. B. Beaumont) would not withdraw his Amendment. He should not have voted with the hon. Member for Brighton if he had not understood that the hon. Member for Northumberland intended, if the clause were carried, to move his Amendment.


said, he could not see that there had been any misunderstanding in the matter. He trusted that the hon. Member for Northumberland would not press his Amendment.


was also of opinion that there had been no violation of any understanding; but at the same time urged the withdrawal of the Amendment.


said, that they had been told that Gentleman went down to constituencies ticketed at the amount of money they could spend. He never heard of that before; but the authority was so good, he daresay the statement was true. If a candidate were saved the necessary expenses of an election, he would have so much more money to spend in bribery.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


objected to the proviso of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) providing that no candidate should be named unless before the day of nomination he should have deposited £100 with the returning officer. A proposal of that nature proceeding from the Liberal side of the House was calculated to make hon. Members' hair stand on end. It was the common right of the electors at an election to nominate anybody who was a subject of the Queen and of full age as a candidate for the constituency.


said, the House would be glad to learn that anyone could be nominated and elected who was not in possession of £100, but whose friends were willing to put down £100 for him.


said, he doubted whether it was competent for the House, except in Committee of Ways and Means, to impose burdens upon rates, as had been, done by the last division.


intimated that the vote was quite in Order.


said, the clause which had just been agreed to contained no reference to the county of York or those other counties which were split up into divisions. He moved the addition at the end of the clause of the words— Provided always that in case the county at which the county rate is made is or shall be divided into two or more parts for Parliamentary representation, then the same expenses shall be charged and defrayed by and out of the county rate levied for that part of the county for which the election takes place.


thought the principle of the Amendment was sound, as it would be unjust to saddle a whole county with the expense of an election for one of its divisions, But in most counties at present the county rate was indivisible, and there was no machinery for separating it. It would, therefore, be necessary to add some words to the Amendment to provide machinery for dividing the rate.


said, there were many parishes that were partly in one division and partly in another.


regarded this as an example of the difficulties in which the House had involved itself by accepting the clause. He approved of the principle of the Amendment; but he suggested that the noble Lord (Viscount Milton) should withdraw it for the present, and bring it up in a mare practicable form at a future stage of the Bill.


said, the whole question was one of policy, not of words. The difficulty of dividing the rates would apply not only to counties but even to certain boroughs, where the parishes were not conterminous with the borough. There was neither time nor opportunity to carry into effect a policy of this kind, nor had the House given sufficient consideration to the subject.


believed, that where there was a will there was a way, would not be frightened by the time argument, and would leave the counties to pay for divisional elections rather than sacrifice the clause that had been carried.


, as a practical man, said, there was no difficulty whatever in arranging the matter and properly apportioning the county rate.


also thought that there would be no difficulty in apportioning the expenses among the different districts of a county.


said, the Committee had passed by a small majority, but after a considerable discussion, a very important clause, involving a new principle, and he thought it would be undesirable that they should now proceed to the consideration of matters of detail. He would therefore suggest that the noble Lord (Viscount Milton) should withdraw his Amendment, and that the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) should allow the proviso to be struck out of the clause on the understanding that upon the Report these two questions would be fully considered, and provision made respecting them.


observed, that many hon. Members had voted for the clause who would not have voted for the proviso. He himself was under the impression that he was voting for the clause alone.


expressed his readiness to withdraw his Amendment, with a view to afford an opportunity for a more careful consideration of the subject.

Amendment withdrawn.


intimated, that he would not press his proviso at that moment if it were understood that they should hereafter have an opportunity of considering an amended proposal for the attainment of the same object. If hon. Members should think it a better arrangement he would have no objection to provide that the £100 should be deposited when a poll was demanded.


observed, that if the clause had been proposed without that proviso there were many hon. Gentlemen who would not have voted for it. He therefore suggested that the hon. Member for Brighton should withdraw the clause as a whole, and bring up a new one on the Report.


thought that, before consenting to have the clause inserted in the Bill, the Committee should have a guarantee that 6ome proviso would he inserted in it to prevent candidates who had no bonâ fide intention of contesting a seat from standing up on the hustings, getting themselves nominated, and then leaving the county or the borough to pay the expenses.

MR. BOUVERIE moved the omission of the proviso from the clause.


thought the proviso was a material element in the clause. The Committee were now asked to set aside the proviso and, for the present, to take the clause without it. He believed that there were many Members who would not have voted for the clause without the proviso.


observed, that inasmuch as the clause had not yet been added to the Bill nothing had been done to embarrass the Committee. He, and he believed many other Members, had voted for the clause without the slightest idea that they voted for the proviso. They had no notion when voting that the principle which they wished to affirm had been reduced to a practical shape.


concurred in the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley).


thought the hon. Member for Brighton ought to make a statement of his plan.


explained, that his whole speech in moving the clause was based upon the supposition that the proviso was to form a part of the clause. He would withdraw the proviso, in order to bring it up in an amended form on the Report.

Proviso, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, be added to the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 76: Majority 8.

Clause added to the Bill.


said, the object of the declaration he proposed was to make it impossible for a gentleman to commit bribery and to hold up his head afterwards. He desired to make bribery an offence for which a man should be blackballed at his club and cut by his friends, for in that way alone could a proper stigma be attached to the offence. It was said that the declaration would catch the man with the sensitive conscience and not the unscrupulous man but he must indeed be an unscrupulous man who could deliberately make the declaration at the table, knowing that it was false, and that its falsity was known to many others—those others his intimate friends and supporters. Some years ago, when he made a similar proposal, his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne), in one of his most effective stage whispers, expressed wonder that he could be so green. He was simple enough to believe that the House of Commons contained the pick, not only of the intellect, but of the honour of England. To think otherwise would be treason to that great Assembly, the having been a Member of which, now for many years, had been the one only, and highly-prized illustration of his career. But if a man made the declaration falsely, there must be many who were acquainted with his lie; and if he escaped penalty, he could not escape disgrace, unless Englishmen were much changed indeed. Some years ago he proposed that making a false declaration should be treated as perjury; but on further consideration he thought it better to attach a penalty, to be given to the informer. He did not care about the amount, wishing it to be understood that it was not imposed as a punishment; for a man who had spent a large sum would think little of an extra £500. All he wanted was to offer a sufficient inducement to any one acquainted with the falsehood to come forward and expose it. By these means alone should we make the offence disgraceful and unworthy of a gentleman; and when we had made it so, he was certain it would not be committed by Members of the House.

Clause (Declaration to be subscribed by Members,)—(Mr. Clay,)—brought up, and read the first time.


said, he hoped the Government would not accept the clause. They should pause before establishing new declarations like this when they had only just been engaged in abolishing a lot of the old promissory oaths. He believed that such declarations were only traps for tender consciences. They all knew when gentlemen had to make an oath that they had sufficient property qualification, that such oaths were constantly taken by persons who had not the qualification.


said, the Government would oppose the clause on the simple ground that these declarations had been very often tried and had invariably failed. They were, in fact, merely a means of putting difficulties in the way of tender consciences. Another reason why he opposed the clause was that the hon. Member who proposed it (Mr. Clay) did not trust hon. Members or believe that they would take it truly, but threatened to impose a penalty upon those who took it improperly. The penalty could not be exacted until a man had been convicted of bribery, and then he would be sufficiently punished, for he would be excluded from the House for seven years and liable to imprisonment. The declaration would only suffice to keep out of the House persons who might be afraid of the slightest accusation being brought against them, and making them feel they were henceforth unfit for the society of gentlemen.


said, it was no great compliment to the House to represent that it consisted of persons whom a declaration upon honour would not bind. He himself thought a declaration on honour would bind the Members of the House, provided it was imposed with a serious intention of doing so. It had been too much the fashion to regard these declarations as mere forms; but they were so only when the engagement which they made was one which opinion did not really desire to enforce. The object should be to impress upon Members that the House was really in earnest and meant the declaration to be a sincere one. That object was sought to be obtained by the penalty of £500, and he thought this would be a means of enforcing the declaration.


suggested that a Member who could not subscribe to the declaration might wait until the time for the presentation of Petitions was passed.


denied that a declaration, had been tried and failed. No man could take this declaration falsely without knowing it to be false and without knowing that the fact must be within the knowledge of others. When a man entered Parliament with a property qualification supplied to him by others for the purpose, the qualification was real and not fictitious, and the Member, therefore, could honestly make the declaration that used to be required. That a man was thus trusted with a property which he might appropriate to himself—and there was a case in which this had been, done—was primâ facie evidence that he was a man of honour.


said, he thought the declaration would not meet the worst cases—those of boroughs, where it was well-known votes were bought, for the man who informed would be considered the basest of men.


said, the strongest practical argument in favour of this declaration was that it would protect candidates against the election agents. A man might go down to contest a borough and tell his agents and canvassers that he intended to do so honourably and honestly. Under the old system agents might bribe unknown to the candidate until he received his election bills. The candidate in future, however, would be unable to take advantage of this device, because he would be unable to make the declaration.


said, the great difficulty was to find words which would attain the object. He could not conceive of words more cleverly suggestive of scruples and difficulties to conscientious men than the words of the clause. The declaration went beyond the only matter they had to consider, which was whether a man had done anything to disqualify him from sitting in the House Any declaration beyond that was one they had no right to ask a man to make. In one of the grossest cases of bribery that ever occurred the candidate was out of England at the time of the election; and the tendency of the clause would be to encourage the system of a candidate keeping aloof from the election, and of its being understood that it was the express duty of everybody about him to say nothing to him on the subject.


regarded the declaration as a protective in certain respects, which might prove advantageous.


felt persuaded that every clause of the Bill might be dispensed with if the one now under discussion were passed.


said, he thought the clause would lower the character of candidates by deterring the conscientious from candidature. He wondered anyone should attach importance to declarations of this kind, when officers constantly made and violated the declaration that they would not pay anything more than the regulation price for their commissions.


said, the declaration would let in everybody who had no regard for their word, and would keep out the conscientious.


said, that unless he could induce the Committee to assist him he saw considerable difficulties in the way of the progress of the Bill. Adopting the view of the Solicitor General, he did not wish to discuss the particular point before the Committee. He wished to induce hon. Members who had clauses to consent to the Bill being reported, and to bring them up on the Report. He could assure the Committee that the nicest calculation had been made on this matter, and it was of the utmost importance to the progress of of the Bill that that course should be adopted. Examining the Amendments he fixed upon three of importance in which it was desirable the Committee should express an opinion. They were those of the hon. Baronet the Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid), the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), and the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay). They had yet to consider a most difficult question—the application of the Bill to Scotland and Ireland. This was now under the consideration of the Government, and he was by no means without hope that they would be able on the Report to make a proposition which would be satisfactory. If the Committee, after deciding the issue now before it, would consent to report the Bill, and to take the other Amendments on the Report that would immensely facilitate the progress of the Bill, and he should not despair of carrying it.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 45; Noes 85: Majority 40.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Wednesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 243.]