§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Disraeli.)
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he rose to move as an Amendment that the Bill be re-committed, with the object of bringing up a clause relating to election expenses. His object was not to reverse a decision already arrived at; but he was induced to take this course, because, in consequence of the tactics adopted by the Government, he had been prevented from adding to the clause on which the House divided yesterday a proviso which originally belonged to it, protecting constituencies against unnecessary and factious contests, and consequently a false issue had been raised, 1716 and many hon. Members voted against the clause who would have supported it if it had been accompanied with the proviso in question. Therefore he contended that he was justified in taking this, perhaps, unusual course, in order to obtain the decision of the House on a straightforward and intelligible issue. He proposed, if his Motion to re-commit the Bill were carried, to bring up the original clause, throwing the expenses of elections in boroughs and counties on the ratepayers, and to add to it the clause carried by his noble Friend the Member for West Riding (Viscount Milton), which was approved of by the highest authority in that House upon rating questions—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and which enacted that, as regarded county elections, the expense should fall on the division of the county in which the election took place. Then he should also add the proviso proposed yesterday by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Leeman) requiring every candidate for whom a poll was demanded to deposit with the returning officer, in the case of a borough, £100, and in the case of a county, £200, which deposit would be forfeited in case the candidate did not poll one-fifth of the whole number of electors voting at the election. This proviso was an effectual safeguard against the nomination of sham candidates. His great desire was that before the subject was finally decided the House should have the opportunity of expressing its opinion in a clause properly framed and properly protected.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now read the third time," in order to add the words "re-committed in respect of a Clause providing for returning officers' expenses out of rates,"—(Mr. Fawcett,)—instead thereof.
§ MR. DIXON
said, if there should be an objection to the proposed clause that it would not work well in the counties, they might in Committee make it applicable only to boroughs. He maintained that the expenses incurred at election contests by the returning officer would be reduced by one-half, or possibly by two-thirds, if those expenses fell upon the ratepayers instead of the candidates, in-asmuch as the latter were regarded by the builders as fair game, and plundered in a way to which the guardians of the ratepayers' money would never think of submitting. Last year, in the borough 1717 that he represented there was a contested election, and the expenses of the returning officer were £876. About 10,000 persons voted; but at the next election the number of voters would probably be three times as many, and the expenses of the returning officer would probably be increased in proportion. The Mayor of Birmingham, a man of great experience and capacity, and he might add, for the benefit of hon. Gentlemen opposite, a sound Conservative, had informed him last night that the ratepayers of that borough were quite willing that the cost should fall on them, and he added that the authorities of the town would be able to erect hustings and, booths at a much less cost than the candidate could; the same, he believed, might be said of all the boroughs throughout the kingdom. Personally he should hail any increase in the election charges with satisfaction, because it would lessen the chances of any opposition to his return on the part of gentlemen who were not able to expend is much as he could afford to; but he trusted that the House would not consent to any course which would make wealth the passport to that assembly. The squires of this country must not expect that they were to continue to be the only class who could get into the House; for he would warn them that the traders and manufacturers were rapidly passing them in wealth, and were prepared to spend more money to get into the House than the landed aristocracy could, and therefore it was for the interest of the landed gentry to oppose this clause. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government not to diminish the credit which he had obtained in reference to this measure from all parties throughout this country by resisting a clause which was received out-of-doors with so much favour.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he could assure the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) that one of the principal objects of the Bill, which he (Mr. Disraeli) had had the honour to introduce, was to prevent any undue advantage being given to wealth in the election of Members of Parliament; and he hoped that that purpose was apparent in most of its clauses. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) seemed to complain that he had not been fairly treated by the Government or the House in reference to his clause. But he (Mr. Disraeli) wished to remind the hon. Member and the House that they had never had from the hon. Member a complete 1718 proposition. On more than one occasion they had passed a clause, transferring the expenses of elections from the candidate to the locality for which the election took place; but whenever such a clause had been moved the hon. Member had declared that it must be accompanied by an arrangement that would save the constituencies from having to bear the charge of improper and vexatious contests. The hon. Gentleman had repeated that morning his statement that that was an indispensable portion of his proposition. But the hon. Gentleman had never brought that second half of his proposition before the House; and what did he tell thorn that morning? He said that if he had the opportunity given him at this period he would propose the original clause, transferring the expenses of elections to the constituencies, and, at the same time, would endeavour to accomplish the other part of his plan to protect the constituencies from vexatious contests, by proposing the clause which was brought, without Notice, under the consideration of the House yesterday of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman), and which the House, so far as he (Mr. Disraeli) could form any opinion of their treatment of it, almost unanimously rejected. They rejected it because they preferred the proposition of the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. W. B. Beaumont), which they then proceeded to consider; but in the end they were obliged to reject that also. Therefore they had every reason to believe that no practical proposition could be advanced which would satisfactorily accomplish the hon. Gentleman's object, for the hon. Member had told them that some addendum was not only indispensably necessary but was an indispensable portion of his proposition. He (Mr. Disraeli) wished to say one word in reference to the course taken by Her Majesty's Government in regard to the original clause proposed by the hon. Member for Brighton. When that clause was passed, the Government thought it their duty to take the opinion of the Committee a second time upon it, because they felt that the final adoption of it in its imperfect state would probably involve them and the country in difficulties which could be scarcely exaggerated. It had been said that he had expressed great indignation on Monday last at the idea being suggested that Her Majesty's Government contemplated asking the House to re-consider this question. Now that was a complete misapprehension. 1719 He would not acknowledge that the sentiment he then expressed was one of indignation, and he must say that it was not an occasion when any indignation was necessary. Why should he feel indignant at the imputation that Her Majesty's Government thought it their duty to ask the House to re-consider the vote to which they had come? Nothing, certainly, was more disagreeable to Her Majesty's Government than to be obliged to ask the House to reconsider or rescind any vote; but if the Government felt it their duty to do so, the imputation of such an intention was not one that could cause any feeling of indignation in their minds. He had certainly expressed surprise at the inquiry made by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), because as the hon. Gentleman himself then admitted, his inquiry was founded upon a mere rumour, and he did not think that the hon. Member for Bradford was justified in putting such a question to him from a mere rumour. At that moment he said candidly, he had not the slightest intention of asking the House to rescind the vote. The Government were at the time endeavouriug to complete the proposition which the hon. Member for Brighton had failed in completing. The House having committed itself to the clause, and—notwithstanding the warning they had received from the Government in calling upon them to reconsider it—having adopted it, and the hon. Member for Brighton having, as he (Mr. Disraeli) had said, failed to complete his proposition, Her Majesty's Government felt it their duty, if they could, to connect the two branches of the hon. Member's proposition—the principle that the election expenses should be transferred to the constituencies, and some proviso which would practically protect the constituencies from vexatious and improper contests. He confessed that he had himself indulged in a hope that such an arrangement was not impossible. That it was a very difficult one must be acknowledged by every hon. Member, considering the time which had been taken to solve the difficulty and the complete failure of the attempts ultimately. No proposition brought forward on the subject had attracted the sympathy or obtained the support of anything like a majority of that House; and even to-day they were asked to fall back upon a proposition which had never been put upon the Paper, which was hurriedly drawn up—stans pede in uno—and which had been re- 1720 jected by the House, because they preferred at the time another proposition which, after some deliberation, was in its turn rejected also. The Government certainly hoped even up to Tuesday evening that some proposition would be made by which the difficulty would be surmounted. But late on Tuesday night he was informed that it had been quite given up as hopeless that any proposition could be brought forward to which the House would assent. Under those circumstances the Government felt it their duty—he confessed, with great reluctance on his own part, as his Colleagues were aware—on Tuesday night to give the House another opportunity of reconsidering the clause, and the option of adopting some other proposition, rather than to send up to the other House at that advanced period of the year a piece of legislation upon this important subject, framed in a manner so crude and unsatisfactory, and which in itself might endanger the favourable conclusion of their labours. Well, every possible precaution was then taken to acquaint hon. Members generally with this intention on the part of the Government. The moment the Government arrived at the conclusion that such a course was absolutely necessary Notice was given to Gentlemen who possessed the confidence of hon. Members opposite, who thereupon became informed of the fact even before Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House. Though the Government placed the Notice on the Paper for Wednesday, if anything like an intimation had then been given from those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who influenced opinions upon such questions that further time was necessary the Government would not have insisted on coming to any definitive conclusion upon it on that day. The course of Public Business however relieved both sides of the House from any difficulty on that point, and the question at issue was not brought on until the following day. The House had, however, from Wednesday been employed more or less in discussing the question. Nearly the whole of the Morning Sitting yesterday had been employed in discussing it, but as it was not actually reached until late upon the Thursday the House had not the full opportunity of discussing it which the Government was so desirous of affording. Incidentally, however, they had been for some time previously discussing more or less the whole principle involved, and it must be admitted that notwithstanding all the time spen in 1721 considering the matter no satisfactory solution of the difficulty had been offered to the House. He made those remarks in order that the hon. Member for Brighton should not for a moment suppose that he had been treated by the Government with any want of fairness or courtesy. Her Majesty's Government were in a great difficulty at that advanced period of the Session, and they felt that even a delay of twenty-four hours was not a matter that ought to be lightly assented to. The House, he however submitted, had had sufficient notice, under the circumstances, for the, consideration of the question. They had considered it, and they had arrived at a decision which certainly facilitated the progress of the Bill. The time was valuable, and he thought the Bill was valuable. He entreated the House, therefore, not to embarrass the course of legislation on this subject by re-opening the question, particularly when the hon. Member for Brighton himself had no pretence for saying that he was coming forward with a satisfactory proposition. The hon. Gentleman had come forward yesterday morning with a proposition upon which the House decided, and could now only fall back upon the proposal of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman), which the House had rejected. To press that proposition now would probably embark the House in a long and useless controversy, would waste the whole morning, and prevent them advancing to that point to which they all wished to arrive, and might endanger or embarrass the passage of a Bill which, through the good temper and forbearance of both sides of the House, had been brought to its last stage. He could assure the hon. Member with perfect sincerity that he laboured under a great mistake if he supposed that there was any disposition on the part of the Government to take an undue advantage of him, and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not persevere in pressing his Amendment on the House after the discussion and the result of yesterday.
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, it was evident that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had benefited very largely by the education which he received yesterday from the Solicitor General. On the broad question of the principle of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett's) proposal the right hon. Gentleman had not said a single syllable, and yesterday the Solicitor General sheltered himself under a mere naked technicality. There had 1722 been no attempt on either his part or on that of the right hon. Gentleman to meet the arguments of the hon. Member for Brighton. The House had twice decided the broad question of the principle of the hon. Member for Brighton's clause, and the only grounds put forward for asking the House to reverse its decision were the technical difficulties urged ad nauseam by the Solicitor General. He asked the House not to be led away by those pretended difficulties—he used the word advisedly—of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman had just told them that yesterday the hon. Member for York made a proposition without Notice. Now, he did not think that statement was characterized by the right hon. Gentleman's usual candour. Necessarily he had brought forward his proposition without Notice because it was an Amendment on an amended Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman had further stated that his proposition was rejected by the House almost unanimously. He, took issue with the right hon. Gentleman. Several hon. Members on the right hon. Gentleman's own side of the House had since told him they would have voted for his proposition if he had gone to a division. In withdrawing it he yielded to appeals made to him from the front Bench. The House would remember that when yesterday his noble Friend the Member for the West Riding (Viscount Milton) moved his Amendment, which was subsequently adopted without a division, the Solicitor General thought fit to use language which was anything but respectful to the noble Viscount, and anything but what was due from a Law Officer of the Crown to a Member of that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman told the House that the noble Viscount's clause would not work, but he did not condescend to say why. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), with that acuteness which belonged to him, and with the aid of his great experience at Quarter Sessions, told the House that the clause was perfectly workable; and the fact that the Government accepted it subsequently was evidence that the right hon. Gentleman was right, and the hon. and learned Gentleman wrong. There was no difficulty in reducing to practice the principle for which the hon. Member for Brighton contended; and he entreated the House not to be deluded by the statement of the Solicitor General that there was a technical difficulty. He trusted the House would 1723 bring itself back to the position in which it stood on Saturday, and if they saw that the proposition of Mr. Fawcett was a just and sound one, that they would adopt it.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, that, as he understood it, the question was this—How could a county rate be levied on the different divisions of a county which had been divided for election purposes? He should not for a moment dispute the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). True, there would be no great difficulty in levying a rate in one of several districts of a county; but you must not only levy the rate and receive your money, but you must know how to spend it for the parties who had paid it. Now, Somersetshire had been divided into three divisions for election purposes; and, taking it as an illustration, he asked what would happen if there was 'an election in one division and not in the two others, supposing the clause of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), to be added to the Bill? It was well known that county rate was levied by fixing on some aliquot portion of 1d. or some other sum. Assuming that the lowest rate—¼d. in the pound—was levied on one division for election purposes, and that £1,000 was raised thereby, while the expenses of the election amounted to only £700 or £800, in what way was the balance to be expended? If it was paid over to the county rate, then one part of the county would be paying for the whole county, and would be thereby so far relieving the two other portions of the county of some of what they ought to pay. On the other hand, it might be said that you could credit the balance after payment of the election expenses to the portion of the county in which the money had been raised; but in what way could that balance be applied?—because for all other than election purposes the county was a whole, and the entire of the expenses of the county must be paid by rates levied at so much in the pound. It might be proposed that the money should be locked up and kept for some future election; but elections were not of such frequent occurrence in counties that any such proceeding would be satisfactory to the ratepayers. The hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Leeman) said this was a question of principle. He (Mr. Floyer) contended that it was a question of practical arrangement. Again, it had been said that the principle of the clause was one of economy. If so, it was the economy of looking 1724 to your neighbour to pay instead of paying yourself. Until the incidence of local taxation could be settled in a more satisfactory manner the ratepayers of the counties and boroughs, who were already very heavily taxed, would look very jealously on any such proposition as that now under consideration.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, it was not the practice for county authorities to levy a uniform rate of so much in the pound on the different parishes. The practice was to call for so much from each of them in a lump sum. Each union in a county was called upon to contribute its quota, according to its rateable value. At the present time certain rates were levied by union districts, and nothing would be more easy than to levy the sum necessary for defraying election expenses by a rate upon those unions which were included in the district for which the election was held. He thought this proposal would entirely get rid of the, technical difficulty raised by the Solicitor General. Neither was there any necessity for levying an amount in excess of what would be actually required. The exact sum could be as easily levied.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he must represent that the narrative which the First Lord of the Treasury had given of the circumstances connected with this proviso was, no doubt unintentionally, not quite accurate. The object of the clause, as originally introduced by the hon. Member for Brighton, was to throw the expenses attendant on the machinery of elections upon the ratepayers for whose benefit it was assumed that Members of Parliament existed, and so help to get rid of that clement of vulgar display which had always been so corrupting an clement in elections, and which threatened to be hereafter still more rampant. At the same time it contained a provision to protect the constituencies from the contingent risk of their being infested by the pest of sham candidates advertising themselves at the hustings. The clause was well considered and fully sifted, and finally read a second time in its complete form by a not inconsiderable majority, remembering the number of Members up in town. At this stage questions were raised as to the details of the saving provision, some of them in a friendly spirit, by Members who approved of the principle, but who were doubtful as to the particular machinery. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, although in possession of the field, in the most good-humoured spirit 1725 waived his advantage, and consented to leave the form of the proviso open to further discussion by withdrawing the second paragraph of the clause which embodied his own scheme. That concession reduced the clause to the naked condition of an enactment that the expenses of the hustings, polling booths, and so forth were to be thrown upon the rates. But he (Mr. Beresford Hope) appealed to the recollection of the House if an honourable understanding had not been arrived at that if the clause, which had been read a second time in complete proportions, should pass in its naked form, it was hereafter to be clothed upon, if possible, the Report. In short, if it were allowed to pass, it was to do so de bene esse, and without prejudice, will the understanding that some limiting provision was to be appended when it came up upon the Report. Accordingly, on the second division, it was again affirmed, and by a majority only diminished by a single vote. The honourable understanding regulated the votes, and the principle of the clause was affirmed under the idea—shared by friends and by opponents—that a proviso would be added to it before it came on for the final trial of the Report, which might act as a safeguard against the constituencies being put to any unnecessary expense by vexations or illusory candidatures. How did Her Majesty's Government use the opportunity? Standing, as he was doing, in the somewhat invidious position of separating himself on this question from the party with which he usually acted, he would refrain from reflections on them; but he must say that he thought the Government would have taken not only the more straightforward but the more politic course if it had—also without prejudice—while not flinching from its opposition to the clause at the proper time, yet co-operated in bringing it into the most perfect, and, from its own point of view, least objectionable form, by aiding in framing as workable a proviso as possible. The Government might, with perfect honour, have done so, and yet reserved its final vote against the clause in its entirety, just as no Member is precluded by his aid, contributed in Committee, from voting against the Third Reading of any Bill. It was an insult to their common sense to pretend that the Government could not, if it had pleased, have found something which would hold water. But, instead of taking the generous course, what did it do? It adopted the strategic 1726 policy of beating the supporters of the clause in detail by setting up the Solicitor General to oppose everybody's plan and propose none of his own. Every suggestion from every quarter which had been made upon the preceding day met with the derision of the Treasury Bench. That of the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding fared no better until there uprose the Nestor of the Conservative party, his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire, to show, with his characteristic broad sense and long experience, that it was very reasonable and perfectly easy to be worked, and the Government had to swallow it. Then came the division, and it was not surprising that the Government by its tactics should have snatched a majority. He was not ashamed to confess that it was a question with himself—as he felt sure it was with the other Members on that side who supported the hon. Member for Brighton—whether he would vote for the clause in its naked form, stripped as it was of the safeguards afforded by the proviso. But he reflected that it was not the fault of the hon. Member for Brighton, nor of himself, that the House was placed in that false position, but of the Government. The principle which they desired to affirm was this, and it was the office of the Government to see that, if carried, it should be put into working order, while if the office were forced upon the Treasury Bench, there was another place, and further opportunities, in which to do its duty. Accordingly, he voted without misgiving with his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, as he now intended to do again. He would now, before he concluded, briefly state the general principle on which he had all through the debates upon this Bill supported not only the present proposition, but all others having for their object to simplify and to cheapen the process of elections. He found himself face to face with the enormous addition to the constituencies created by the Reform Act. This increase was in the main made up out of the least educated and most impressionable classes of the community. These were the persons who were not only the most accessible to direct monetary influence, but to the juggling cajolery of noise, and pomp, and bluster, and stage play, of which demagogues, and the wholesale buyers of constituencies, would well know how to make full use, but of which the intellectual and conscientious candidate would be ashamed to avail himself. This system of histrionic electioneer- 1727 ing had attained its climax in America, and some amusingly flagrant instances of its abuse during the pending contest for the Presidency had got in the English papers. With the increase of voting numbers in the country the increase of the same bad; system might be apprehended, unless a check were put to it by a series of enactments providing, as far as laws can do, for a reasonable degree of electoral purity, such as the prohibition of committee-rooms being held in public-houses, and for the encouragement of cheapness and simplicity in the machinery of contests. If the cost of hustings and of polling-places were left, as heretofore, to the candidates, there would be most salient danger of jobbery; on one side and of corruption on the other, which might best be met by the simple process of making the constituencies themselves feel an interest in the economy of their production. In fact, dispassionately viewed, cheapness of elections would in the time to come be as truly a Conservative safeguard as it would be a really Liberal policy. As a political question, cheap and decent elections would be the best guarantee against the House being flooded by a combination of demagogues and of plutocrats, while from the social side the more simple and the more business-like elections were made, the better would it be for general morality.
said, that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) had with great ability and with some considerable success placed the question upon a false issue. The provision respecting the counties was of trifling importance, and applied only to those counties which were divided into districts for election purposes. The main question before the House was, whether or not the Bill was to be re-committed. The hon. Member for Cambridge had not quite accurately stated what had occurred. In a very thin Committee, not comprising one quarter of the Members of the House, the clause of the hon. Member for Brighton was introduced with a proviso or rider to make provision for deposits at the time of the nomination, or, as the clause originally stood, before the nomination. It was speedily seen that that proviso was not a good one, and the hon. Member himself undertook to bring up another proviso upon the Report. It was perfectly true that the clause was agreed to on two divisions, but it was carried by narrow majorities, and it was the constitutional practice for the House 1728 on the Report to review what had been done in Committee. On Tuesday, Notice was given on the part of the Government of their intention to strike out the clause; but, considering that on Wednesday there were several divisions in the course of the discussion on the Bill, and on Thursday two more divisions before this particular clause was reached, the Notice relative to it could not be considered very short; for any one observing what was on the Paper of Business for Wednesday must have been very sanguine if he thought that the clause had the least chance of being considered on that day. What happened on Thursday? On that day the House, upon the proposition of the proviso of the hon. Member for Brighton—which proviso the hon. Member deemed the necessary adjunct of his clause—was occupied for a long time in discussing what sort of proviso should be framed, and there were hardly two Members agreed on what ought to be done, how it should be done, or, when done, who should be made to pay for it; and the natural result of the prevailing confusion was that no proviso was agreed to. The Amendment of the noble Viscount (Viscount Milton) merely declaring how the cost should fall on counties which were divided, had nothing to do with the general principle of the hon. Member for Brighton's clause. It was now proposed to re-commit the Bill, but if that course were adopted the whole of the previous proceedings might be repeated, the clause being again inserted in Committee, and again struck out on the Report. That would not be a very convenient process to go through at the end of July. The clause having been struck out in a House of 200, and by a larger majority than that by which it had been carried in Committee, the wisest course would be to adhere to the last decision. Nothing had been done but what was quite regular and in conformity with the Orders of the House, adopted to prevent anything being carried into effect of which the House might not be generally aware. He was not fond of the Bill, and he should not care if it were lost altogether; but he could not understand why the parties who were anxious for its passing should now be contending for a matter which had no connection with corrupt practices at all. For himself he did not see why those expenses should be thrown on the poor ratepayers—a course of proceeding that he did not think he should describe wrongly if he said it was dirty.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, if he understood the First Minister of the Crown aright ho rather regretted that the proposition of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) was not carried with a proper proviso, and, as the Liberal party were anxious that it should not be lost, he believed that throe or four Gentlemen, if they were earnest in the matter, could in three or four minutes prepare a perfect clause. He would remind the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) that on one division the proposal was carried in Committee by a majority of 84 to 74. He did not think that a thin House.
§ MR. READ
said, he was anxious to reduce the costs of Parliamentary Elections, but he objected to do it at the expense of the ratepayers. If it were possible to levy a fair rate for the boroughs it would be very difficult to make it with any amount of justice on the counties. One-half of the freeholders of his division of the county lived in Parliamentary boroughs in the city of Norwich or out of the county, and besides that one-half of the ratepayers were not voters, and the result would be that in his county the great bulk of the expense would fall on the non-electors and farmers of the county.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think that unexpensiveness and purity of election is a matter which affects the electors only, and that the non-electors have no interest in the matter—a view in which I confess I do not share. I do not propose to revive the question of how far the Government has treated us fairly in regard to this matter. We must accept the statement of the First Minister of the Crown that at the time when he replied to the question of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) the Government had no intention of opposing this clause. But when the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to give a history—the correctness of which is countersigned by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley)—of what has passed, and says that the House have rejected as ineffectual all propositions to reconcile the scheme of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) with the desirableness of giving security against vexatious contests, I cannot assent to the correctness of his statement. There was not one of the proposals made which would not, in the opinion of the supporters of the clause, have proved perfectly effectual. The objections did not 1730 turn on the efficacy of the proposals, but on which of them was most likely to pass the House. They were overthrown by the action of the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman has not shown that there would be any difficulty in working them. The course pursued fully illustrates the old proverb "None so deaf as those who won't hear." Does anyone think that if the right hon. Gentleman applied his mind to the subject every difficulty would not quickly vanish? We have an apt illustration of the mountain-like magnitude that molehill objections may assume, in the argument of one hon. Gentleman—that if a little more money than enough is taken from the county rate for the purpose of paying election expenses it will be impossible to know what to do with the balance. We have heard of lions in the path, but difficulties such as these are snails or earwigs in the path, and not lions. Were the Government aware of the feeling of satisfaction that went through the country along with the news that the clause of the hon. Member for Brighton was carried, they would, I think, instead of throwing technical difficulties in the way of its adoption, rather bring it in in the form of a separate Bill than lose the chance of its passing. I hope, therefore, that the Motion to re-commit the Bill will be carried.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was quite ready for a division, and if the House were of that opinion his object would be answered. He would remind the House that there was not even a Notice of a clause on the Paper to be introduced into the Bill if the Bill was re-committed. With the various Amendments that had been proposed and the discussion that had taken place upon them, what chance was there of their agreeing to a clause?
§ MR. CORRANCE
said: As one of the county Members on this side of the House, who upon a former occasion expressed opinions not in accordance with the views of those among whom we sit, perhaps I may ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments, which may suffice to explain myself upon certain points. Of this whole Bill let me first say this, that it seems to me to possess a value beyond that of the mere penalties inflicted for an offence—beyond that even of a measure having a deterrent effect. Sir, it expresses a moral sentiment which upon the country will not be lost, and which will strengthen the hands of Parliament to govern this country. Modern Governments must rest upon re- 1731 spect. Now, Sir, my approval of this clause, as a general principle, is also based upon this—it will add to the confidence of the country in those who are sent here, in certain respects. My reasons for this I have already set forth, and with these I will not now trouble the House at further length. But, Sir, what is said? That ratepayers will object. Now, Sir, one word as to this. By those who say so, it seems to be assumed that the ratepayer is a thing—a troglodyte, if you will—of a special class, sui generis, and uniform in his habits and thoughts. Is this so? In truth, I think not. Sir, the ratepayer is a creature of very various habits, ways, and thoughts, if I may say so without offence, after the many remarkable descriptions of him we have heard, not wholly dissimilar from even Members of this House. You cannot correctly predicate of him that he is simply and unreservedly opposed to rates. And yet this is what is said in his behalf. Now, Sir, let me qualify this, and admit that he is opposed to payment of rates unless he can see some major advantage accruing to himself. Well, it may even be so in this case; especially among the more acute. Sir, I object to an increase of rates, on the plain ground that they are unjust, and perhaps it is for this very reason that I do not object to this. How and where and by whom is the battle to be fought? By the representation of ratepayers sent up to this House. If you give the ratepayer a direct interest in the matter, will his battle be worse fought? It is time that this was understood: protected interests make a poor fight. Sir, those who think that this question of the rates can be won by mere words or out-door agitation make a great mistake, and they miscalculate their means towards the end they would promote. The Market Bill and the malt tax, far minor points, might have made them wiser than this. Omelettes like this are not j made without breaking eggs; and we do but clip the shell in this case. It is time that ratepayers should understand this. But, Sir, undoubtedly there are ratepayers of an unintelligent class, not conversant with these public affairs or their own interest in such a case; and to them, for a brief moment, you may make your appeal with success. But remember, Sir, this—that behind, or rather before, such men, we have now organized bodies of intelligent men of the middle class to whom we can appeal, and who will see their interest in 1732 this measure, and public opinion will follow their opinion in such a case; and that opinion will endorse the expediency of this. That, Sir, is the principle which I on Saturday expressed by my vote. But, Sir, when we thus sanction a general principle we have another duty to perform, and it is in this instance a very important duty—to protect the ratepayer from the misuse of the public purse. We must have a proviso sufficiently large to do this. It did not seem to me that any proposition yesterday sufficiently met the case, and upon that ground I gave my vote. We must have a money deposit of a substantial class. Now, Sir, what has been said against this by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie)? That it is unconstitutional to fine an Englishman who wants to make a speech. Sir, I wish it was unconstitutional to talk nonsense, and that we could clap a fine upon it—yes, even in this House. I do not allude to the right hon. Member when I say this; but I do say that I would even double such a fine if I could. Now, Sir, in the proviso now proposed I do think we have such a guarantee of a substantial class; and that, coupled with it, the clause deserves our support. What other objection to this—that it will not work? The Solicitor General moved its rejection; but he assigned no reason for this, or, if he did, one of this class—I think I have heard such from counsel when a particularly stupid jury was addressed—"Gentlemen, you are so intelligent I needn't enlighten you; so well informed that I won't venture to instruct you; and of course you have made up your mind upon the point." But suppose, Sir, he helps us a little as to this, and deals with the difficulty—not so very great—of an enactment for a separate rate. Sir, I at least believe that he will confer a great boon on that ratepaying class; and they will gladly erect in their market-places, not perhaps a statue, but that hustings upon which he will be triumphantly returned to the House without charge to him or expense.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 91: Majority 11.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.