§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Short Title of Act).
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he understood that the principle of the Bill as it now stood which had hitherto not been considered, would be discussed at the present stage, and he proposed therefore to state his opinions with regard to it.
§ MR. DODSON
reminded the hon. Member that they were not discussing the Preamble, and that he must confine his observations to the clause under consideration.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that to enable himself to discuss the whole measure he would conclude with a Motion—That the Chairman report Progress. He did not blame the Government for desiring to proceed with all reasonable expedition with this measure, which they had put forward as one of great importance, in view of an election by the new constituencies; but Members must be careful not to take any foolish or false step in the matter. The question whether the House should or should not part with its jurisdiction in these cases had not been adequately discussed, and those who were best acquainted with the proceedings of the present tribunals for the trial of Election Petitions—namely, the lawyers who practised before S hose tribunals, were unanimously of opinion that the existing system had many advantages, and was not open to any of the objections that had been raised against it. This Bill provided machinery which was not adequate to meet the difficulties of the case, and contained many provisions which he could not but regard as objectionable. He should support the clauses by which the provisions against bribery and corruption were made more stringent; but would leave the Committees as they are, so far as numbers are concerned. He would, however, appoint honorary Justices to preside over the investigation. After a General Election he would appoint coadjutors to the honorary Justices, to assist them in disposing of the increase of business that would result from it. He proposed to substitute for the proposal on that point in the Bill a provision enabling the honorary Justices and the Speaker of the House of Commons to appoint qualified barristers of a certain standing to assist them in the discharge of their duties and accordingly act as honorary Justices. They, like the honorary Justices, would be responsible for the law laid down, and the Committee, still consisting of five members, would decide all questions of fact. In a pamphlet published by Mr. Pickering, very much of what he (Mr. Denman) now proposed was embodied. Instead of a majority of Members, as at present, deciding a question, the jury should be unanimous, and the effect would be that the men engaged in the inquiry would feel a greater 659 sense of responsibility than they do now. There would always be uncrupulous persons in a borough who would have an interest in getting up a local inquiry after an election, and who, by procuring such an inquiry, would have it in their power to ruin any man who had been returned, however fairly. Therefore, instead of putting it in the power of any man belonging to the place to have such an inquiry, he should propose to give the tribunal power to adjourn to the place when this step seemed to be requisite. This would be a useful and constitutional power; anything further would be oppressive and injurious. He could not help thinking it would be far better that the Government should let the question alone, so far as concerned the tribunal itself, during the present Session, confining themselves to stringent and severe enactments against the offence itself. He did not say this to damp the aspirations of the Government on the path of Reform, but he did not see what éclat they could expect to gain out of the subject during the present Session. He believed the Judges were not consulted until a very few days before their opinions were announced. He submitted there was ample ground for referring the subject to a new Committee, and would suggest that, in the first instance, all clauses relating to the Committees should be postponed. In that way, they might have a chance of legislating so as to do some good service in the matter; but if they were got into the maze of questions in connection with the tribunal, it would be equivalent to throwing overboard this question altogether for the Session, and there would be no chance of making any real progress. He begged to move that the Chairman report Progress.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
concurred in much that had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman). The present mode of treating Election Petitions was not satisfactory; but it was not so unsatisfactory as to induce them to make a change in the existing state of things unless they could get something almost perfect, so far as Legislation could be perfect. The Bill before the Committee certainly did not answer that expectation. He objected in toto to a single Judge being the tribunal to decide questions of contested elections. It was far worse than the present system, under which they were determined by a Committee of five Members. Another objection to the appointment of these honorary Judges was that at one 660 time they would be overworked, and at another would hold mere sinecures. It was proposed that they should have other Judges to assist them when they were overworked; but the Judges had already said they did not wish to have anything to do with the matter. No doubt the Judges would have to discharge whatever duties Parliament might cast upon them; but it would not be desirable to compel such high functionaries to do what they did not like. It was utterly absurd to suppose that two Judges would be sufficient to decide all the Election Petitions which would arise after a General Election. They would receive £5,000 a year, and yet have nothing to do during a greater portion of the year. Their law and judicial capacity would get rusty from want of employment. It was suggested that they might sit in the Exchequer Chamber; but he believed that Court was adequate to its duties. If, however, they appointed them Judges of the Exchequer Chamber merely to fill up their time, they would be inferior in point of weight to the other Judges; and if the decision of a case turned upon their judgment, neither the profession nor the public would be satisfied. Then it was proposed to make them also members of the Judicial Committee of Privy Council. That, again, was a mistake, because very few questions of Common Law came before it; and if it required strengthening, that should not be done by the addition of Common Law Judges. These objections, he thought, ought to be fatal to the Bill. A more reasonable solution of the matter would be by moving after a General Election an Address to the Crown for the appointment of Commissioners to decide these questions, care being taken that those Commissioners were properly qualified persons. Let them sit in Courts comprised of three members, and let them be adequately paid for the work they had to perform. This would be much better than the appointment of Judges who at some times would have more to do than they could possibly perform; and at other times would have nothing at all. Although the present practice was not perfect, it was not so bad as to justify a measure like this.
§ MR. LAWSON
objected to the Bill oil the ground that it applied solely to England. The three parts of the United Kingdom were under the same law, and it was a bad precedent to have separate legislation in matters common to the three countries. He believed it was intended to 661 introduce a similar Bill for Ireland and Scotland; but as regarded Ireland he thought that the nomination by the Government of the day of two Judges in that country to try Election Petitions would not provide a tribunal satisfactory to any of the parties concerned. As long as the Bill remained in its present state he must give it his strenuous opposition.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, he had strongly approved the Bill in its original shape; but the Government, in deference to the Judges, had left out their only valuable proposal, and now, bad—dreadfully bad—as was the jurisdiction of the House in reference to Election Petitions, he preferred to keep it as it was rather than to make the change now suggested. In his opinion the reasons given by the Judges for not taking upon themselves the proposed duty were insufficient; but he thought they ought not to give the Government power to select the particular Judges for that duty, but should allow them to be appointed by ballot from the whole body of the Judges. The power of oppointing Judges Privy Councillors was objectionable. About thirty years ago there was a practice of making some Judges Privy Councillors, and lie recollected that it created much jealousy among the Judges, and gave rise to the greatest possible dissatisfaction. Judges who had influence were made Privy Councillors, s while those who were honest and had no influence did not attain to that distinction. He was not prepared to vote for a Bill: taking away the jurisdiction of the House unless it was given entirely to the Judges. He also thought there should be one Bill for the entire kingdom. He believed the majority of the legal Members of the House were of opinion that additional Judges were not wanted, except for the circuits; but this Bill expressly provided that the two new Judges who were to be appointed under it should not go on circuit. As it was notorious that learned; gentlemen who knew but very little law were sometimes appointed Judges, such persons might be appointed by the Government under this Bill; and as they would not be in close communication with the other Judges, they would for get what little law they knew. He objected to giving more patronage to a feeble Government, who ought to confine themselves to passing the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills, dissolving Parliament, sending in their own resignation, and then re- 662 turning thanks for having enjoyed Office so long. With regard to Election Committees, when they learnt who the Chair man in any case was, they knew the result. ["No, no!"] There might be exceptions, I but that was the general rule. ["No, no!"] Her Majesty's Ministers could not carry anything without the support of the Opposition, and with such a weak Government, and in an expiring Parliament, which had been rightly condemned, he thought they ought to do nothing but what was absolutely necessary, and leave such measures as this for another Parliament to deal with.
§ SIR ROBERT COLLIER
said, he concurred with the hon. and learned Serjeant that the Government ought not to undertake any legislation that was not necessary; but he could not conceive any subject that more required legislation than the subject of the present Bill, and he should therefore give it his support. He certainly did not suppose any Government was capable of selecting two Judges, as the learned Serjeant insinuated, solely for the purpose of deciding Election Petitions in a manner which might be convenient. [Mr. Serjeant GASELEE: I neither said that nor insinuated it.] That was the impression produced on his mind, but he was glad he had misunderstood the hon. and learned Serjeant. He believed the present or any other Government would select the Judges whom they bonâ fide thought best qualified for the duty; neither could he concur with the hon. and learned Serjeant that the Judges had not too much to do. Sometimes they were very much overworked. Almost everyone was agreed that the jurisdiction on Election Petitions was not satisfactorily exercised by the Committees of that House. All the Amendments on the Paper pointed to that conclusion. In fact, a Committee of the House of Commons could not be a satisfactory tribunal in these cases for several reasons. First, it could not hold inquiries on the spot. Next, it could only hold them while Parliament was sitting; and a third and most important reason was that it was not so constituted as to be qualified to decide the intricate questions arising in election eases. The unanimous judgment of the Committee was that, if they parted with their jurisdiction, it should be transferred to the highest tribunal. He confessed he preferred the recommendation of the Committee that the jurisdiction should be given to the whole body of the Judges, and that, 663 if necessary, some additions should be made to the Bench. As the Government had not adhered to their original proposal, they had, in his opinion, suggested the best alternative. In the present plan, the highest tribunal was still retained; for it must be assumed that the two Judges selected would be rather above, and certainly not below, the average of the Bench. Such a tribunal would, in all probability, get through the work in about half the time required by a Committee of that House, while the circumstance of their conducting inquiries on the spot, would enable them to form their decision with a promptitude unknown to the tribunals upstairs. The only real objection urged against the scheme was removed by the clause which provided that the two Judges might be assisted by others when the amount of business was unusually large. Under the proposed scheme, inquiries into Election Petitions would be increased in efficiency and decreased in cost. The public, he felt sure, would repose the greatest confidence in the Judges, and, on the whole, he was of opinion that this was the best arrangement which could be adopted. He did not think that there was any necessity for including the legislation intended for Ireland and Scotland in the present Bill; but at the same time he hoped that the Law relating to Corrupt Practices in those countries would as speedily as possible be assimilated with that of England.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I will remind the Committee of the position in which we stand in relation to the subject, which is confessedly one of great importance, and one which touches the privileges and the honour of this House. I am perfectly satisfied that the Committee is prepared to deal wish it in a deliberate, calm, and impartial spirit, and with an anxious desire to sustain the honour and reputation of the House, and its position in the eyes of the country. This question of the purity of elections has been for a long time under the consideration of the House; and for a very long time dissatisfaction has been expressed as to the mode in which the elections for representatives in this House are generally conducted. It needs no words of mine to point out the fact that it is becoming a prevalent opinion that the House of Commons is elected to a large extent by influences such as we are ashamed to own. And, if this opinion be not counteracted, the legitimate and constitutional influence 664 which this House ought to hear in the country will be materially lessened and endangered. Whilst keeping our attention, then, upon this most serious and weighty question, we ought not at the same time to proceed with undue haste or consideration in the steps we may deem it necessary to take to remedy the evils of which we all complain. Notwithstanding all the efforts we have heretofore made to put a stop to corrupt practices, we are forced to admit that we have not as yet succeeded in impressing upon the country a full and undoubted confidence in our having adopted the best and most effective measures for the purpose. This, at least, is certain—we have not as yet succeeded in putting an end to the evils. Whilst the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir Robert Collier) was speaking in respect to the time which those investigations would take in the hands of the Judges, I was nearly tempted at the moment to add to what the hon. Gentleman was saying, that, if you can have this satisfactory tribunal, not only would those inquiries be disposed of in a much shorter time than they would be before an Election Committee, but the effect of such a tribunal being actually established would be to stop the necessity for many of these Election Petitions. If, I say, you can got a thoroughly satisfactory tribunal, in whom the electors will have the fullest confidence that any corrupt or improper practices would be immediately brought to light, and would be followed by prompt and severe punishment, then I think you will be going a long way towards putting an end to those evils which we all want to extinguish. The hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) said that we may set aside all those provisions in regard to the mode of procedure and investigation, and content ourselves with those clauses adding penalties for bribery. Now, I contend that, if you content yourselves with merely imposing penalties for the offences, you will not touch the difficulties of the case. We do not want tremendous penalties. The effect of them might be to render conviction less easy. What we want is to get a system by which detection would be made certain. We want, in fact, to stop those corrupt practices. Her Majesty's Government, in considering the question last year, came to the conclusion that there are one or two weaknesses in our present system of inquiry which it would be desirable to 665 correct. One of those weaknesses was the great evil in our system of hearing petitions. We find the worst cases are constantly hushed up, and never brought into notice, because of the time wasted before the question at issue is brought to a conclusion; and that the agents on both sides agree to get rid of them by pairing off petitions on the one side with those on the other. Then, again, however pure and public-spirited the Members of the Select Committees may be, you cannot, have the same certainty as to the mode of proceeding as you would have in a Court; of Law; nor can the proceedings before them, reported with "roars of laughter'' provoked by the evidence, have the same effect in deterring as they would have if conducted on the spot and in the presence; of the guilty parties. Under these circumstances, it is most desirable to establish a system under which those inquiries will be carried on upon the spot at which the occasion for them arose—that they shall be pursued as speedily as possible, so as to arrive at the truth, and to bring home detection, and that they shall be conducted by persons who command the respect arid the confidence of the electors themselves. We felt, then, that we were not only asking the House of Commons to deal with questions, the speedy solution of which was necessary for its high character and honour, but we were also; asking the House to part with some portion of its privileges properly dear to it—that is, the privilege of determining who are or who are not rightly elected representatives in this House. We all know there I have been times in the history of this country when it was a matter of vital importance to the House of Commons to retain in its own hands the right of saying who were or who were not duly returned as its Members. Those were times in which it was worth while for the House of Commons to endure any reproaches as to the method of returning representatives to it rather than part with its privilege of declaring who had or had not been properly returned. Those times have happily gone by, and it is no longer of such vital importance to this House to retain in its own hands the decision upon such questions. The main principle as to the mode in which the representatives shall be elected has been already decided, and has passed into the Constitution of the country. No danger, therefore, now exists of the matter being again called in 666 question. The Government felt, however, that they had to deal with a matter of considerable delicacy in asking the House to part with this privilege. They first introduced the subject in a Bill of a tentative character—a Bill, however, that hardly rose to the level of what was required, If the House assented the Government said that they would go farther in the way of legislation. The result was the appointment of a Select Committee, who examined the subject with great deliberation and at great length last year, though they did not take any evidence. A Bill in which the principle concurred in by that Committee was embodied was subsequently presented to the House, but owing to the lateness of the Session it was found impossible to proceed with it. The Government, however, accepted the Report of that Committee as the decision of the House of Commons, and took it as a conceded point that the House was prepared to surrender this privilege, on the ground that it was to be surrendered to the Judges—the highest legal authorities of the country. Before introducing the present Bill, however, they thought it right to communicate with the Judges upon one simple point—namely, supposing the House of Commons to commit to the Judges the duties prescribed under the measure, what additional assistance would they require? The Judges, however, instead of answering this simple question, raised objections to the whole scheme and altogether declined to undertake these duties. They thus left the Government in a difficulty; and another scheme was proposed which was submitted to the House; but the House upon this intimated that it would not part with its privileges except to the highest authorities. The Government at length devised a plan which they thought would meet all the difficulties of the case, One of the difficulties raised by the Judges was this—that the work under the Bill would come upon them in such floods it would be impossible for them to execute it without interrupting the ordinary business in which they were engaged. The Government proposed that the ordinary strength of the judicial Bench should not be lessened, and that provision should be made by the appointment of special Judges for this particular purpose, whose services should also be available for work which does not usually come before the ordinary Judges—such as appeals before the Judi- 667 cial Committee of Privy Council. The Government submitted this proposal with a sincere desire to accomplish something that should be satisfactory. And how are we met? The hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) moves that you, Sir, shall report Progress, with, I presume, the object of having this question referred again to a Select Committee.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, his objects were to obtain a general discussion upon the measure, and to have the question referred to another Select Committee.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
In regard to the reference of the Bill to another Select Committee, I will venture to say that, if such a proceeding be assented to, we cannot expect the measure to pass this year; and I think that the House cannot appoint a Committee that will carry more weight with it than did the Select Committee of last year. There is very little to be considered by a Select Committee, because this is the Bill of last year, with the exception of the point with reference to the Judges. That point we shall have sooner or later to discuss and decide in this House, and to refer it to a Select Committee would be a wasting of the precious time of this Session. If the House wishes to make real progress with the measure it will be better to withdraw the Motion and at once proceed to discuss the clauses of the Bill. The Bill can be better discussed in Committee of the Whole House than by a Select Committee. I ask the House to examine it calmly and dispassionately, and the only object the Government have in proposing the Bill is to improve the present system of dealing with Election Petitions.
thanked Her Majesty's Government most warmly for the Bill, containing clauses providing for an inquiry on the spot, which seemed to him to be the first proposition which had been made at all calculated to go to the root of the evil. Under the new state of things the kind of corruption that was likely to prevail was that of small payments to a great number of persons. A few years ago there had been an example in point; and it had taken the Committee in London no less than twenty-six days, during which they examined no fewer than 326 witnesses, before they were satisfied that there was a clear case. The cost to the prosecutor of that Petition had been no less than £11,000. Surely, therefore, as a matter of saving expense, it was 668 most desirable that there should be a local inquiry. Then, again, the practice of "squaring" petitions would be put an end to. That was never done on the spot. The parties who had been, as they thought, unfairly defeated, were always exceedingly unwilling to give up the contest; and when petitions were "squared," it was always after they had passed into the hands of London agents. As to the tribunal to be appointed, he should place the fullest confidence in whichever Judges the Government of the day might appoint; for he had always found the strongest political partizans, when appointed to the Bench, keenly alive to the responsibility of their position and the necessity of exercising strict impartiality in every matter which came before them for decision. He would be quite ready to trust his own case, if he were ever unfortunately in that position, even to the warmest partizans of the party to which he was opposed, when once they had assumed the Judicial ermine.
§ MR. SCHREIBER
said, there were two classes of the Members of that House who might be allowed to feel a natural interest in the Bill before them—those who had sat on Election Committees, and those on whom Election Committees had sat. It was his misfortune—assuredly it was not his fault—to have belonged to the latter; and as the result of his personal experience, amid all the changes and chances of this eventful Session, there was one hope to which he had been constant—namely, that they would pass this Bill, or some equivalent measure, before they were sent to their constituents. He had spoken of his personal experience. It was comparatively recent, it was somewhat costly; it was, therefore, vivid, and it was very much at the service of the Committee. He was sure it would be wrong to say of Election Committees; as at present constituted, that they were not impartial. He was confirmed in his seat by the unanimous decision of a Committee, the majority of which consisted of two Metropolitan Members and a Roman Catholic Gentleman—a tribunal not altogether favourable for one of his opinions; but their decision was unanimous. He could further say that when the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was in the Chair, the Bar was certainly not stronger than the Bench. But when he had said that he had said all. The process was dilatory, it was costly, and it was totally 669 devoid of all moral effect. Like many other Members of this House, he was elected on the 12th of July 1865, and it was not till May 1866 that he was declared duly qualified to sit. During all that time, he had been walking about with this drawn sword of Damocles suspended over his head; but all the same he had been taking part in the critical divisions of the time; and, if his memory did not deceive him, he had made a speech. All this, of course, was wrong, if he was not duly qualified to sit. Under this Bill they would, at least, have had a prompt decision on that point. But the existing system was not only dilatory. it was also costly. No sooner was a Petition presented than the principal witnesses on both sides became possessed with a sudden desire to go abroad. They did so at the respective cost of the petitioner and the sitting Member; while there, they developed the most unexpected and expensive tastes, to the great inconvenience of their families on their return. The next result of these proceedings was, that a seat was defended before an Election Committee, at the cost of some £500 a day; and he had six days of it. And then the process, after all, had no moral effect. The Committee were regarded by the witnesses as men of like passions with themselves; and the whole thing was treated as a joke. What he wanted was, to hear a convicted briber addressed by a Judge of the land as he would address a convicted pickpocket. But, when all this had been done, he would not have the House deceive itself—it would have done nothing until it had grappled with the evils of bribery at municipal elections. The Bill of last Session established an identity of Parliamentary and municipal franchise; and he said that while corruption was constant, annual, flagrant at the municipal elections, it was a mockery and a farce to send down Parliamentary candidates and tell them to hold pure elections. If hon. Members were in earnest in this matter, let them speak out. So far as his own borough was concerned, he had no hesitation in saying that votes at the municipal elections were now openly bought and sold for beer tickets. And then the hon. Member for Birmingham told them that the extension of the franchise was to be the remedy for corruption. He was sorry not to see the hon. Member in his place; but he must take leave to say that that remark displayed a wonderful want of acquaintance 670 with the real nature of things—especially of electioneering things. Whether there would or would not be bribery depended I on whether there was or was not a balance: of party which made it worth while to I contest the municipal elections. So surely as these were contested corruption would come in; find with a reduction of the franchise they would only extend the area of corruption. These were the few remarks which he had to offer to the Committee; and before he sat down he would repeat the expression of his earnest hope that they would pass this Bill; and that, when it passed, it would contain some provision against the flagrant evil of corruptions at municipal elections.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Schreiber) seemed to think that the decision of the Committee which had seated him was unsatisfactory, and would have preferred an investigation before one of the Judges.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that having been Chairman of the Committee in question, it seemed to him strikingly to illustrate the danger of transferring the determination of such questions to a tribunal that would deal with them on rigid technical principles; for while the decision of the Committee in seating the hon. Gentleman was no doubt right, if the case had been tried before one of the Judges what the decision might have been it was not easy to say. As to the question of moral weight, no doubt the proceedings of Election Committees did lose their moral influence if what afterwards was stated to occur really took place. There was undoubted evidence of corrupt practices at Cheltenham, and by way of honouring the decision of the Committee the hon. Member paraded himself in the town of Cheltenham. [Mr. SCHREIBER: No, no!] He was seen there afterwards in the company of those persons whose conduct was brought under the notice of the Committee. [Mr. SCHREIBER: No. no!] At all events, it was important that such a thing should have been publicly stated in the Cheltenham newspapers, and should not have been contradicted by the hon. Gentleman. Of course, if a Member under such circumstances did not sustain the decision of the Committee it could not be expected to have much moral weight. Regarding the Bill as a measure for the suppression of 671 bribery, he had in vain endeavoured to discover how it could have any such effect. The only material change it made as regarded the presentation of Petitions was that the seat of a Member might be challenged, not only at any time during a Session, but at any time during the whole duration of the Parliament. He thought, however, that the Statute of Limitations on that subject was founded on important public considerations, and should not be lightly disturbed. It was absolutely essential to the independence of Members of that House that after a certain period they should be secure of their seats; but, if Parliament deemed otherwise, the change might be made without destroying the existing tribunal. There was another point to which great importance was attached, and that was the prosecution of the Petition. He confessed he could not find in the Bill one word which would have the effect of making the prosecution before a judicial tribunal more effectual then before an Election Committee. On the contrary, it would be far easier to suppress a Petition before the new tribunal. The proposal to submit the question to a Judge who should go down to the spot surrounded with all the circumstances of a Judge of Assize was the very thing to deprive him of all control over the inquiries. How could he interfere to urge on a prosecution? If the party who had presented the Petition and the party petitioned against were both agreed that the case should not be proceeded with, the Judge would be perfectly helpless in their hands. Years ago when Lord Campbell had proposed some new-fangled plan for preventing collusive suits in the Divorce Court, he (Mr. Ayrton) said that his only effectual precaution would be to empower an attorney to appear on be half of the public. That had been done with the best results; and that was the only plan that would be of any real use here; but it was a plan that did not appear in the Bill. There was no provision whatever in the Bill for anything like independent action. It was the old suit of The Petitioner v. The Sitting Member, which might be compromised at any time if the Petitioner chose. As he said the other day, so far from being a Bill to suppress, it was one to conceal or prevent the knowledge of bribery and corruption. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) said that it was to put an end to that shocking practice of pairing off 672 petitions; but how on earth could they prevent a man saying "You withdraw your petition, and somebody else petitioning against a Member on the other side will withdraw his;" and all the arrangements would be made in certain solicitors' offices in London. In point of fact, pairing off would be effected with greater facility under the Bill than under the present system, while it would be more difficult to detect the cases in which it was resorted to. Another misconception which the supporters of the measure laboured under was that by a local inquiry a complete exposure would be secured, because such, an exposure was now obtained by a Commission. The reason, however, why full disclosures were made before a Commission was that the seat which had been disputed was no longer in jeopardy. So long as it was uncertain which party would be victorious, everybody was anxious to conceal what had taken place; and it was only when the contest was over that it began to ooze out how it had been obtained, and then after one man had spoken others spoke also, and a sudden fear seized the guilty parties, and the moment a Commission was appointed and an assurance given that if they spoke the whole truth no penal consequences would follow, they were all as eager to disclose everything as they had been before anxious to conceal it. But the local inquiry, carried on while it was uncertain who would obtain the seat, would totally fail in eliciting the truth, and no more information could be obtained on the spot than in the Committee-rooms of the House of Commons. If the Commission sat in London, under the same circumstances, the result would be precisely the same; but if a Judge went down to try a Petition, the seat being still in jeopardy, all the party contrivances which prevented the discovery of the facts by a Select Committee would be resorted to, in order to prevent the new tribunal from eliciting the whole truth. So far, therefore, from the establishment of the proposed new tribunal putting an end to corruption, it would very likely lead to its practice with still greater impunity. Then, if they looked at it in another point of view, a very important preliminary question arose, and that was, how far a Judge would be enabled to proceed before he was stopped by his attention being called to the fact that he was transgressing some rule or Standing Order of Parliament, and thus interfering 673 with the privileges of the House. It would be very seldom indeed that, in such cases as were likely to come before this new tribunal, a plain and simple issue could be put before the Judge; but it must often happen that collateral questions would arise, any discussion even of; which might be a breach of privilege. No less an authority than Lord Coke had laid it down as a legal axiom that, however learned lawyers might be in the laws of Westminster Hall, they had no knowledge whatever of the laws which regulated the privileges of Parliament, and must accept: those privileges as they were prescribed. There were numerous cases in which questions as to the privileges of that House must arise incidentally, and he wished to be informed how those cases were to be dealt with. Not long ago, an Election Committee made a Report, as to the conduct of a returning officer in the case of two candidates having an equality of votes. The House thereupon passed a Resolution, as it had a perfect right to do, as to the conduct of that officer. Was the Judge to be bound by such a Resolution, and might be not say that the Common Law had been superseded by the statute, unless the clause were so accurately framed as to limit exactly the power of the Judge? More than that, he was prepared to take his stand upon the position that the decision of a single Judge, who had never been called upon to discharge the functions of a jury, and might have no knowledge of the habits of the people, was not entitled to so much authority as the opinion formed by four members of an Election Committee. Yet this Judge, who might be incompetent for the functions of a jury, was to be entrusted with the enormous power of deciding the destinies of 500 Members of this House. The House would surely never consent that questions which might affect the fate of a Government, and the destinies of the country, should be allowed to depend upon the judgment of a single Judge. The fate of the Ministry and of the nation might depend on the verdict of a single Judge, who would not have any one person near him to probe his conscience. He did not believe the House would consent to such a change, and some kind of jury must be substituted for the single Judge. But was such a jury, drawn from the body of the county, likely to decide better than a tribunal of five Members of that House, acting under the sense of responsibility? 674 He warned the House against substituting for the honourable decisions of one of their own Election Committees, the narrow technical mode of decision practised in Courts of Justice. The result would be that the straightforward, honourable man would often be the victim of the decision of these Courts, and that the cunning man who had the most practised election agents would escape. One of the strongest objections to this measure was that it would reduce the Judges to the position of servants and instruments of that House. They were not to perform their functions in regard to Members of that House as they did in the general administration of justice. They were to report to that House; but who was to bring the Reports under the notice of that House? Was the Speaker to do it, or was the task to be confided to the Home Secretary? His final objection was that they ought not to pass a measure dealing with the seats of the 500 English Members until they had before them the Bills which were to regulate the trial of claims to the seats of the Scotch and Irish Members. Would the representatives of either Scotland or Ireland accept such a Bill as this? The House had never been informed where the Judges were to come from who were to try these questions, or how long the trial of Petitions, after each election, would occupy them. He objected, moreover, to the general scope and character of the present Bill, as being insufficient for the objects for which it had been introduced; and he thought that if they devoted three or four nights to its discussion they would be unable at the end of that time to render it a satisfactory measure. It would be a mere waste of time to go on with the consideration of the Bill.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
was compelled to enter his protest against the somewhat impassioned, not to say stilted, eloquence of the lion, and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, who had so vehemently objected to the House abandoning the long-cherished right of being the tribunal which had to adjudicate upon its own delinquencies. He had been impressive on the evils of a trial conducted by a Judge without a jury. Might there not, however, be something even more objectionable than this—namely, a trial conducted by a jury without a Judge. No one could say that the country felt that absolute respect for the purity and independence of Election Committees which ought 675 to be entertained in order to make the institution respected. He appealed to the conscience of all who had sat upon Election Committees to say if they were not conscious of the little respect with which counsel treated those before whom they were pleading, compared with the manner in which they would have approached a tribunal presided over by some bonâ fide jurist. He did not impugn the honest intentions of the members of Election Committees; but he asked, how could persons who were antecedently political partisans go to the work of discrimination with dispassionate and judicial minds? How could five promiscuous Gentlemen chosen because three of them happened to belong to one party and two of them to the other—none necessarily educated to sift evidence—proceed without misgiving to adjudicate upon some difficult case of abstruse law hanging on hazy facts dressed out for them—law and facts together—by the skilled advocacy of trained and paid advocates, when perhaps they were all of them under the torture of the consciousness that upon the decision to which they arrived the fate of a party contest and all their own material future might turn? If, then, the House meant to show that it had an election point of honour, it must at once and for ever east to the winds that vanity which made it keep in its own impotent hands the trial of these election cases. It was bound to do so at this moment, when by its own act it had been put upon its trial before the people of the realm. The hon. and learned Member had descanted on what lie represented as the narrowness of a judicial award. In reply he (Mr. Beresford Hope) would only ask what was so likely to produce judicial narrowness as ignorance or inexperience, while the habit of adjudication which was incident to a Judge's existence created that breadth of thought which legitimate self-confidence alone could engender? There was one objection to this Bill stated by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets in which he entirely agreed—that it was most undesirable to make it apply to England alone. Unfortunately, both parties in 1866 and in 1867 had followed the tradition of 1832, and brought in separate Reform Bills for England Scotland and Ireland, which were followed up by a separate treatment of the ancillary measures; but he believed it would have saved a great deal of confusion and delay if they had brought in one Reform measure applicable to the three kingdoms. He 676 believed that the House would last year have passed such a measure almost as easily as the Bill for England alone, which was now being re-manipulated in the hands of Scotch and Irish Members. Wishing well to the main principle of establishing a judicial extra-Parliamentary tribunal for Election Petitions, he advised the Government not to push this Bill through in its present form. The more haste, the less speed. Let the Chairman report Progress; let this Bill be withdrawn, and another be introduced at the earliest moment, and certainly during the present Session, applicable to Scotland and Ireland as well as England.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he wished to say a single sentence with regard to the allusions that had been made first by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Portarlington (Mr. Lawson); then by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton); and, lastly, by the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), who had just sat down, respecting the want of uniformity in this Bill, and the alleged defect of its not applying to all the three kingdoms. Now, as far as regarded the Northern portion of the kingdom, he thought he should be able to relieve the anxiety of those Gentlemen who had taken it under their wing, by reminding them that there was a Return on the table of this House which showed that, since the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, there had been 252 Petitions presented to Parliament alleging corrupt practices, and that of these only four came from Scotland, and of the four only two were found to be substantiated. Now, he thought when a Petition had been presented on an average only once in every nine years from Scotland, it would not require any addition to the Judges in that part of the kingdom to decide or report upon them. The general opinion in Scotland was that they had too many Judges already, and there would be no difficulty whatever in sparing one of the Judges to try a petition when there was one to be heard, He had no hesitation in saying that in half-an-hour he could frame a clause—a perfectly operative one—in this Bill, which would make it as suitable for Scotland as in its present state it was to England. He had no doubt the learned Lord Advocate could frame the clause in a shorter time, and in much better terms. He said therefore that hon. Gentlemen might be relieved from their fears about Scotland, for the matter 677 could be managed in a few minutes. He must say he heartily concurred in the principle of having one Bill for all portions of the United Kingdom; and if they had taken the view of the hon. Member (Mr. Beresford Hope), and had passed one Reform Bill for the whole of the United Kingdom, he thought they would have had a better Bill that would have occupied less time in discussion, and that they would have heard fewer extraordinary speeches—that they would have saved the very extraordinary speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), and possibly have got all they were still looking for.
§ MR. DISRAELI
regretted that the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Denman) should have moved that the Chairman report Progress, because he thought there was a fair chance of making progress with the Bill in Committee that night. The hon. and learned Gentleman founded his proposition on the ground that there had been no discussion on the principle of the Bill; but unless his (Mr. Disraeli's) recollection deceived him very much, that statement was not entirely correct. He recollected that the hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Mitchell) opened a discussion upon the Question that the Speaker leave the Chair, and that that discussion, which was upon the principle of the Bill, was not a short one; and the House having decided after that discussion to go into Committee, he must express his disappointment at their not making any progress. At the same time it was not his inclination to attempt to check legitimate discussion in this House; but still at that late hour he saw no chance of proceeding in Committee with any advantage, and therefore he would consent to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman to report Progress, so that they might proceed with the other Business of the night.
said, he did not know how to understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill raised a question extremely interesting to Members of this House; and, as far as he could judge, those who were considered authorities were, without reference to parties, singularly divided in opinion on the subject. Now he thought when the right hon. Gentleman appointed this Bill for the Business of the evening, he might have anticipated, from the gravity of the question of the transfer of jurisdiction 678 over contested elections, and the state of opinion on the subject, that it would lead to a lengthened discussion. He (Mr. Gladstone) was not at all inclined to disagree with him in principle as far as this—to entertain the transfer of jurisdiction for the sake of the great advantage of local inquiry; but there was a great difference of opinion on this point, and that transfer, in his judgment, could not be made apart from the very prevalent opinion of the House. To carry the transfer by a bare majority would not be satisfactory, because they could not then confide in the stability of the system. If the Bill was to stand over he should like to know what were the views of the right hon. Gentleman as to any further proceeding on it. The Bill contained important provisions connected with the transfer of the jurisdiction of the House, and Notices had been given by many private Members of Amendments affecting the purity of election, which it was very desirable should be discussed. Under these circumstances he was anxious to know what were the views of the Government upon the question of the transfer of the jurisdiction, and upon the Notices which had been placed upon the Paper, If the right hon. Gentleman were—as in fact he might not unreasonably be—of opinion that the obstacles under present circumstances were too great to admit of a discussion of the particular method he proposed for the transfer of the jurisdiction, he could not help thinking that it would be for the advantage of the House that that should be made known at once. But while admitting that the Government might be right in desiring to postpone the question of the transfer of jurisdiction, there were other questions affecting the satisfactory conduct of elections which that House ought to have an opportunity of discussing, and which would, he had no doubt, be dealt with calmly and impartially, and in a temper entirely free from party feeling. He should be sorry to learn that it was the intention of the Government to drop the Bill altogether.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, the right hon. Gentleman had entirely misunderstood him. The Government were not prepared to give up the Bill, or any part of it. The provision relating to the transfer of the jurisdiction of that House, which he looked upon as the main principle of the Bill, had been discussed upon the second reading, and could have been discussed in 679 Committee, and if the result of their labours in Committee should not prove satisfactory, might be discussed again upon the third reading; but as far as the Government were concerned, they wanted to pass the Bill in its entirety. He had hoped that they should have got into Committee upon the Bill at an early hour, and should have passed the evening in discussing its provisions; but as it was then late, and there was an evident disposition to discuss the principle of the Bill in a desultory manner on the Motion to report Progress, and as he despaired of getting on with the Committee that night, he thought it would be better that Progress should at once be reported, and that they should proceed with the other Business. Had the House adopted the suggestion which was made on behalf of the Government, at an early hour, they would have been discussing the provisions of the Bill long ago.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that when the hon. and learned Member behind him (Mr. Denman) moved that Progress be reported, he did not do so with the object of stopping the consideration of the Bill. The discussion upon the principle; of the Bill in its previous stages had been very slight, and it was desirable that it should be more fully gone into. He was a Member of the Committee which recommended the alteration of the mode of trial, but he had for himself opposed the total abandonment by that House of all its jurisdiction on this subject. It was the duty of the Government to let the House know what were their intentions with respect to Scotland and Ireland upon this question, as it would be an absurdity to discredit the existing tribunals, as far as England was concerned, and yet leave them jurisdiction over elections in the other parts of the kingdom. The Government ought to state definitely what their intentions were respecting the present Bill, and also to lay before the House their scheme for dealing with Scotch and Irish elections.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) should bear in mind that the Bill as originally drawn up in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee was not intended to include either Scotland or Ireland in its provisions. When objections were raised on the part of the English Judges to the transfer of the jurisdiction to themselves, it was thought better that the provisions of the Bill should 680 only refer to England, on the understanding that when once it was decided what principle should be adopted with regard to this country it would be easy to introduce Bills founded upon a similar principle with regard to Scotland and Ireland. The Government had been rather hardly treated that evening in reference to this Bill. They had placed the Bill upon the Paper as the first Order of the Day, in the full belief that the House would go into Committee upon it at an early hour, and would make considerable progress in the discussion of its provisions. A discussion, however, for which the Government were not responsible, had been raised upon another subject, and had occupied some time, and had prevented the House going into Committee upon the Bill until a comparatively late hour; and then the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Denman) had at once moved that the Chairman report Progress, in order, as he said, in the first place, that the principle of the Bill which the Government thought the House had already agreed to, should be more fully discussed; and, secondly, that he might have an opportunity of moving that the Bill be again referred to a Select Committee. He saw but little use at the present moment in protracting the discussion.
§ MR. DENMAN
observed that the Bill as originally drawn was very different from the Bill as it now stood; its principle had not been discussed, and it was for the purpose of obtaining further discussion that he had made the Motion for reporting Progress. He altogether objected to the proposed tribunal. If the Government were able to render the Bill a valuable one, it would be in consequence of the valuable suggestions which had been made during the present discussion.
§ MR. FAWCETT
entreated the right hon. Gentleman opposite to use all the influence which the Government possessed and to persevere with this Bill. There were portions of it undoubtedly to which objection might be taken; but there were many advanced Liberals willing to assist him in getting the measure passed. He feared that the discussion of that evening would produce a singularly bad impression out-of-doors, where an opinion prevailed very extensively that the House was not in earnest in its desire to put down corruption. And when it was perceived—as it could not fail to be—that the discussion and delay had originated on the Liberal side of the House, he could not refrain 681 from rising and repudiating those tactics; altogether, or from declaring that there were some at least among the Members on that side who were sincere in their desire to legislate upon the subject this Session, In spite of all that had been said by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), he still thought he had adopted a very unusual course. The Bill had been read a first and a second time, and upon the proposition that the Speaker do leave the Chair, there had been more than one Motion leading to prolonged discussion. And that night, when hon. Members had come down expecting to have an opportunity of discussing and improving the clauses of the Bill, they were prevented from doing so by the renewed discussion on the whole principle of the measure raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman. What would the country say to-morrow, on reading the discussion, but that this was a repetition of the old game, and that the House of Commons was not sincere in its desire to put down corruption and check election expenditure? For this reason, he entreated the right hon. Gentleman to press on the Bill. ["Agreed,"] He wished they were agreed. Reform legislation could not be considered as complete till some measure of this kind was passed; and in his opinion it was not inferior in importance either to the Scotch or the Irish Reform Bill.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
repudiated the notion that there was any desire for delay on the Liberal Benches. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire felt very naturally that this was a great constitutional question, upon which it was important not to legislate in a hurried or incomplete manner. The House ought to be very jealous of its honour; and, in parting with all control over future election inquiries, the House showed a want of regard for, and appreciation of the high character which its tribunals had always maintained. They had always been composed of, and been presided over, by the most trusted Members of the House, in whose hands the honour of the House might be safely left. Under the proposed system, the first notice which the House might receive of an election inquiry was the Report of the Judge to the Speaker that a particular Member had been unseated.
§ MR. MORRISON
rose to support the appeal made by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) to the Govern- 682 ment to resist the Motion for reporting Progress.
§ MR. MORRISON
would still suggest to the Committee, as a point of Order, that it was most inconvenient to encourage the practice of Gentlemen making speeches upon the principle of a Bill when once they had got into Committee. Business would be proceeded with much more rapidly and satisfactorily if Gentlemen having opinions which they desired to put forward would advance them at the proper time, and if upon Motions to report Progress or other formal proposals hon. Members would confine themselves more strictly within the four corners of the Motion.
§ Mr. DENMAN
said, he was much obliged to his hon. Friend for his lecture. But he must remind him that till that evening he had never had an opportunity of discussing the Bill as a whole. He was quite willing that the Motion to report Progress should be withdrawn.
§ Many hon. Members crying "No:"
§ MR. DISRAELI
I thought I had distinctly expressed the wish of the Government to make progress in Committee, if it be not already too late.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 2 (Application of Act) postponed.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 (To whom and by whom Election Petitions may be presented).
§ MR. BOUVERIE
, who had given Notice to move to omit all the clauses from 5 to 18 inclusive—which relate to the Presentation and Service of Petitions, the Judges and the Trial of Petitions—for the purpose of inserting new clauses, proposing a different system of procedure, said, that the clauses he proposed to strike out completely ousted the jurisdiction of the House, and to that he had a decided objection. The 5th clause provided that the Petition should, in the first instance, be presented to the Court of Common Pleas, and the 683 House of Commons need not know that the election of one of its Members was impugned until the Judge who tried the Petition certified his determination to the Speaker that the Member was duly elected, or that the election was void, and it became necessary to issue a new Writ. He thought that was going much farther in the way of parting with the control of its own affairs than the House would like to go. The objection to the existing tribunal was, that a Committee, though honest and well meaning, was overborne by the Bar, and thus rendered incapable and inefficient. This defect, however, did not exist when the Chairman of the Committee was able and competent; but as a competent Chairman could not necessarily be procured, he proposed to remedy this—and other defects which had at the same time been objected to by the Committees—by a series of clauses. He proposed to preserve the Election Committee in the form of a jury; but, instead of the present plan, the General Committee of Elections should choose from the Election panel a Committee of five Members. This Committee was to be presided over by one of the Judges of the Superior Courts at Westminster (not being a Peer), Her Majesty being empowered to appoint three additional Judges. The trial before the Judge would be conducted in precisely the same manner as a case at Nisi Prius, the Judge deciding questions of law and the admissibility of evidence, the Committee acting as a jury finding as to the facts. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the Judge was to certify to the Speaker the result of the trial; he was also to report in writing to the Speaker the opinion of the Committee as to any charges of corrupt practices at the election in question; and might further make a special Report as to any other matters which may arise in the course of the trial, which, in his judgment, ought to be submitted to the House of Commons. In that way he presumed the objection as to the inefficiency of the Committees of that House as a Court of Inquiry would be got over. In his opinion there was an insuperable objection to submitting the position and character of a Member of that House to the decision of one Judge. Judges were not angels, but were—like other men—liable to be influenced by their political feelings in political matters. A remarkable instance of this occurred in the well-known case of Mr. O'Connell, when the Judges in the House of Lords all voted 684 along with their political party. This was a strong proof that even the most eminent Judges were liable to be influenced in their judgment by their political feelings. But even if political feeling never biassed the judicial mind, the public might believe it did, and that feeling, however groundless, would be sufficient to rob the tribunal of all weight. If, then, they could not entrust the decision of an Election Petition to a single Judge, they must call in a jury; and their choice lay between a jury chosen in the ordinary way, and one selected from the Committee of Elections panel, and he contended that a jury selected from the House would be preferable to any other. It must be borne in mind that if the inquiry was to be made on the spot, the jury must be local, and local juries would be sure to be influenced by party motives; but if the jury were a Committee of the House it would not be subject to local influences, and in every way it would be a more trustworthy jury than any that could possibly be devised. He therefore proposed the erection of an intermediate tribunal—one which should avoid the objection of local bias, and at the same time maintain the jurisdiction of the House of Commons. It had been said that the present tribunal was fruitful of delay, and that an inquiry by a Judge on the spot would be expeditious. It was obvious, however, that this result could only be attained by the appointment of a great many Judges; and it should be remembered that, while it would be out of the question to appoint more than a very limited number of Judges, the Parliamentary tribunal was capable of comparatively unlimited multiplication, and a very little alteration in the Controverted Elections Act would enable the House to dispose of any number of Election Petitions in a very short time. As to the proposed inquiry being conducted on the spot, he was sceptical as to the advantages of that method. He had seen a good deal of contested elections, and had always found that, except in the case of a very few better informed persons, both parties were sure of winning; and that, as one party must lose, there was sure to be much disappointment, and strong accusations of bribery and corruption. Rumours to that effect flew about the place immediately after the election; but in nine-tenths of the cases all those rumours ended in smoke. If, therefore, they insisted on Petitions being presented immediately after the election, they would 685 have a great many abortive inquiries. He thought that the inquiry into charges of general corruption and bribery might be more advantageously conducted on the spot; but the inquiry into the merits of an Election Petition could be best inquired into by a Committee of the House, presided over by one of the Judges of the Superior Courts. He believed the scheme he proposed would not be unacceptable to the learned Judges, and on that account he submitted it to the consideration of the Committee.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
said, he had to move an Amendment to the clause, which was the first of a series of Amendments, of which he had given Notice. The Bill, as it stood, was very incomplete; but, at the same time, he thought it, in the main, very creditable to the Government; and therefore he was glad that this Bill was not to be part of the baggage to be thrown overboard, for the purpose of lightening the ship on its last voyage. Incomplete as it was, the Bill was a bold attempt to grapple with an acknowledged political and moral evil; and the Government had not feared to ask the House to do what it greatly disliked—to make a sacrifice of its own jurisdiction. He now asked the Prime Minister to complete his own work—to help those who were trying to help him, and lend the aid of his ingenious and contriving mind, and the able legal assistance with which he was provided, to make this really an efficacious and complete measure. It was no party measure, and no party were interested in passing it, except the party of honesty. They desired to diminish the number of men in this House, who came in, not for the purpose of maintaining any political opinions whatever, but solely for the purpose, by a lavish expenditure, of acquiring the social position which attended a seat in this House, and which, perhaps, was not otherwise to be attained by them. They were not mote attached to one side than to the other, except that they were generally to be found on the gaining side. They were the political counterparts of those who were contemptuously described by Dante as "neither for God nor the enemies of Gou, but for themselves only." Unfortunately, it was not possible in this case to follow the poet's advice, "Speak not of them, but look and pass on!" The Bill proceeded on the theory that the law was to be put in motion by the defeated candidate alone. This was contrary 686 to the very idea of criminal law. When the law intended to confer a pardoning power on an individual, it did not grant a criminal process at all, but only an action for damages. The immediate object of the present Amendment was the following: the Bill, if passed, would repeal the 5 & 6 Vict. c. 102; but Section 4 of that Act contained an important provision—namely, that where a Petition complained of general or extensive bribery, and the Committee reported that there was reasonable and probable ground for the allegations, the Committee should have power to order that the costs of the petitioners should be borne by the public. If the House was in earnest such a provision was indispensable; and he therefore intended to propose Amendments, the effect of which would be to restore it in the present Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 29, after the words "to serve in Parliament," to insert the words "or of general or extensive prevalence of corrupt practices in an Election."—(Mr. Mill.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he quite agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Stuart Mill) that it was desirable that there should be every opportunity of inquiring into extensive corruption prevalent at elections; but he took exception to the proposed mode of effecting that object, and would suggest that it would be more convenient to raise the question by bringing up a distinct new clause. The clause then under consideration related specially to Petitions complaining of undue return of Members; and he thought it would not be well to mix that up with other questions. With regard to the particular Act to which the hon. Member had referred he would find, on inquiry, that it had hitherto been a dead letter. [Mr. BOUVERIE; There has been a case under it.] The right hon. Gentleman said there had been a case under it. If so, he was not aware of it: but, considering that corrupt practices must have prevailed very largely, that one case would only prove that practically the Act had been a dead letter. He was as anxious as the hon. Member for Westminster that corruption, in whatever form or shape, should be put down; but he thought that the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member, while creating some confusion, would not carry out that intention. As to the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kiltmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), 687 it would give legal knowledge to the present tribunals and tend to uniformity of decision; but, if it were adopted, two of the great objects to accomplish which this Bill had been brought forward would be altogether lost, for neither an immediate nor a local inquiry would be obtained. He did not think that any legislation would succeed to the extent of entirely preventing corrupt practices—for quid prosunt leges sine moribus?—but he did believe that by legislation they might very much strengthen the hands of those who wished to put down those practices. He was perfectly convinced, however, that as long as the jurisdiction remained in the House of Commons they would not be able to diminish the corruption which now existed. If the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman were accepted, all the Election Petitions would still be brought into one focus and would still get into the hands of central agents. There would still be the facility for pairing off and for all that hocus pocus that notoriously was carried on now. He was convinced that, until they localized the inquiries, they would not succeed in getting rid of those arrangements by which corrupt practices were kept in the background. So much for having the inquiries local. Why was it desirable to have them immediate? Because when there was a considerable lapse of time between the complaint and the investigation there was greater opportunity for having resort to manœuvres—for getting rid of witnesses and suchlike proceedings. Besides, when the blood of partisans on either side of a contest was still hot, they were not so likely to see reasons for giving up their enthusiasm in the cause of purity of election. While persons were smarting under a defeat they were much more likely to expose corrupt practices than when time was allowed for persuasion. Then, local inquiry would much diminish the expense of an election case. At present the witnesses on either side were brought to town and fed in the most sumptuous manner. They were also "shepherded"—he believed that was the term—to prevent them from talking to anyone with whom it was thought advisable they should hold no communication. All this was attended with enormous expense. Again, they had persons who would go into the witnesses' chair in a Committee-room and perjure themselves, knowing that there was no one there who could convict them of their falsehood; but 688 the same persons would hesitate to commit that crime in a Court-house where they were surrounded by persons in the neighbourhood, half-a-dozen of whom could perhaps get upon the table and contradict them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) spoke of his having been in a small minority when in the Committee he opposed the proposition for entirely removing these election cases from the jurisdiction of the House. He believed that minority had consisted of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Sandwich. The Committee were unanimous on having the Petitions tried by another tribunal; but the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sandwich thought that the Petitions ought to be presented to that House in the first instance. Now, if the House was not to be the tribunal to try those cases, would it be worth while to retain for it that scintilla of jurisdiction which would be retained by having the Petition presented to the House before it went to the Court of Common Pleas? If the meaning of the proposition was that the House should have the right of saying that a Petition never should be tried at all, then he could understand the proposal but that meaning was not avowed by the small minority to which he had referred. A great disadvantage arising from the plan would be that Election Petitions could not be presented and tried while the House was not sitting—a circumstance which, in many cases, would involve a delay of many months. Believing that the plan embodied in the Bill was that which would give the public the greatest amount of confidence in the decisions on Election Petitions, and that it would effectually tend to check bribery and corruption, he hoped the Committee would not adopt the Amendment now under discussion.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
observed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had applied himself to the clause generally. He submitted that it would be a more convenient course for the Committee to confine themselves for the present to the Amendment which had been moved by the hon. Member for Westminster.
§ MR. PAULL
pointed out that under the Amendment a Member against whom specific charges were brought would be obliged to defend himself against the general prevalence of corrupt practices during au election at which there might 689 have been, perhaps, half a dozen candidates. He ought not to be placed in a worse position than any criminal by having to defend himself against charges other than those specifically made against himself personally or his agents.
said, much might be urged for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Westminster, who was on the right track, for far more might be done by an indictment against a borough that by a contest for the seat. But at present it would be wise to adopt the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. MONK
thought the Amendment was misunderstood—a Petition need not necessarily be against the return of any Member. He thought it important that the House should sanction the principle that where extensive corruption had been practised the conduct of defeated candidates should not be ignored. For instance, a candidate sent down from London to a borough where he had no chance of election, and where he spent large sums of money in corruption, ought not to be allowed to go unpunished; and if Petitions were allowed to be presented in such cases they would be a great check upon general bribery and corruption.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
opposed the Amendment, not because it might not be expedient to have inquiries nito the general prevalence of corruption, but because the Amendment was foreign to the object of the clause, which was to provide assurance that a Member had been duly returned without corruption on his part. He hoped the hon. Member for Westminster would withdraw the clause, which he thought would rather defeat his object. It seemed to him the result would be to produce interminable inquiries.
§ MR. AYRTON
hoped the hon. Member for Westminster would not withdraw the Amendment. In his opinion, the Attorney General did not understand the object of the Amendment. The view of the hon. Member for Westminster was that, besides the successful candidate and the defeated one, there might be certain electors who were indignant at the corrupt practices that had been carried on in the interest of 690 both candidates, and that it was only right their petition for a local inquiry should be attended to. In the interest of purity of election he should support the Motion.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that the point taken by the hon. Member for Westminster had not escaped the attention of the Committee; but the Committee were unanimously of opinion that it was useless to retain the method appointed by 5 & 6 Vict. c. 102, for inquiring into general corrupt practices at elections. Under the present law, there were Petitions in which the seat was claimed, and other Petitions alleging corrupt practices generally, but in which no claim was made for the seat. In regard to Petitions of the latter class, the Members had no interest in opposing them; and, in the opinion of the Committee, the Act just referred to had proved entirely futile. But there was, according to the present law, another mode by which the desired inquiry into general corruption was sought to be attained. If, in the course of inquiry on a Petition, the Committee is of opinion that there is a primâ facie case of general corrupt practices in a borough, the Committee reports the circumstance to the House, and upon a joint Address of the two Houses a Commission is sent to the spot to institute an inquiry. That mode of inquiry the Committee desired to retain. If the Amendment was carried, the question of general corruption would have to be investigated by a tribunal which was not the best for such a purpose. It was thought that the present tribunal for inquiring into general corrupt practices should be retained; and consequently it was provided in the present Bill that if a Judge, in the course of an inquiry respecting a claim to a seat, found that there was a primâ facie case of general corrupt practices in a borough, he might report the circumstance to the House, precisely as the Committee did now, and thereupon the Houses might present an Address praying that a Commission of Inquiry might issue. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the Committee would not agree to the Amendment.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, his remarks had reference to the clause which provided: that the Judge might, at the same time, make a special report to the Speaker as to any matter arising in the course of the trial, an account of which ought, in his judgment, to be submitted to the House of Commons.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
said, his object was that an inquiry into general corrupt practices should be instituted with the same promptitude and before the same tribunal as the inquiry concerning a claim to the seats. He did not mean, however, as the Solicitor General seemed to infer, that the sitting Member should be at the expense of eliciting such a general inquiry. That matter was provided for in his subsequent Amendments.
§ MR. LIDDELL
thought a distinction should be made between an inquiry into the right to a seat and an inquiry into general corruption, and that the cost of the general inquiry should be borne by the community.
§ MR. WALPOLE
hoped the hon. Member for Westminster would be induced to withdraw his Amendment, and to introduce the subject in a separate clause. It was quite as important that there should be a well-directed inquiry into general corruption as into the right to a seat; but they should take care that they did not transfer to another body any power which belonged peculiarly to that House. The legal right to the seat would be bettor determined by the Judges than by a Committee sitting upstairs; but, if they directed an inquiry into general corruption, which was to be followed by legislation, they should reserve to the House the power of instituting and directing the inquiry. If the general were mixed up with the particular proposition, they would certainly delay the termination to be arrived at.
§ MR. HIBBERT
hoped the Government would bring in a clause to effect the object of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 74; Noes 219: Majority 145.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, his Amendment would raise the whole question. It was, that the words "Court of Common Pleas" be struck out, and the words "House of Commons" be inserted in the clause. This was the Amendment which he had moved in the Select Committee, and which now stood in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Mitchell), who was not present.
§ MR. SCHREIBER moved that the Chairman report Progress.692
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the Amendments of which he had given Notice would in effect also raise the whole question, inasmuch as he proposed that the Election Committee, consisting of Members of the House, should be presided over by a Judge. It would be better to discuss it now.
said, the issue was clear, as the House was in Committee and understood the question, he thought they ought to proceed.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, there was this difference between his Amendment and those of his right hon. Friend (the Member for Kilmarnock). His right hon. Friend proposed to deal with the Petition after it was presented; whereas he proposed to raise the question to what tribunal the Petition should be presented. If the House should cease to be that tribunal, it would be the only legislative body in the world exercising no control over the seats of its own Members. Standing, as the House of Commons did, in the position of a self-condemned body, it ought to hand over all its rights and privileges unimpaired to that Parliament which would be elected by the enlarged constituencies. If his Motion were carried, the other Amendment would be unnecessary.
said, that this was the most important question of the whole Bill, and therefore they ought to have time to consider it. They had not had an opportunity yet of discussing it. He felt strongly upon the matter, and wished to have it fully discussed.
§ MR. AYRTON
called attention to the alteration in the wording of the Act it was proposed to repeal and that introduced into the Bill relative to the subject-matter of complaint to be contained in Election Petitions. He asked the Attorney General on a future occasion to give the Committee an explanation.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday next.