HC Deb 04 August 1871 vol 208 cc850-61

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


moved to insert after Clause 2 a new clause, with 16 regulations, to enable non-resident electors to make their claims in writing, without personal attendance, and to vote by means of ballot papers to be sent through the post enclosed in registered letters. He argued that candidates would be less willing than hitherto to provide for the conveyance of non-resident voters when it could not be known afterwards how they voted; and that non-resident voters were entitled to some facilities when the number of polling-places was to be increased for the benefit of resident voters.

Clause (Claims of non-resident voters,)—(Mr. Bruen,)—brought up, and read the first time.


said, he could not assent to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen.) The clause of the hon. Member recognized the principle of non-personal tender and the claims of non-resident voters to vote by means of voting papers. It was impossible that the Government could accede to the proposal, for the reason that it was utterly contrary to the principle upon which they had hitherto acted. The fact was this—if the clause were to be embodied in the Bill, it would have the effect of re-placing personal voting in counties by non-personal voting; and not only that but if an exception was to be made on account of non-residence, an equally good case might be made out for voting without attendance on the ground of sickness and occupation. His impression of the Reform Bill of 1832 was this—that the exemption made in favour of non-resident voters would not have been continued if it had not been attended with the provision for personal voting. The present proposal would also have the effect of increasing considerably faggot votes, which he was sure hon. Members generally would disapprove of, as there were too many votes of that class already.


said, he thought a great deal might be said in favour of his hon. Friend's (Mr. Bruen's) proposal, which, however, was not likely to be considered with much earnestness in a Committee reduced so much in number as that now assembled—hon. Members being no doubt influenced by the feeling that nothing more could come of the Bill this Session. But as the county franchise was the only direct way in which property was represented in that House, he thought there was good reason for considering the case of non-resident voters. The least the Legislature could do for them was to afford them every proper facility for the exercise of the franchise. His hon. Friend proposed a scheme by which it could be exercised by means of voting papers, which would still preserve the principle of secrecy—namely, that those papers should be sent through a magistrate in a registered letter to the returning officer. Primâ facie, the proposal appeared to him (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) a most valuable one, and he regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council say he would meet it with a direct negative. It should be recollected that the voters for the Universities were allowed to exercise the franchise by means of voting papers. The result of that system was that almost the whole of the constituency voted when a contested election took place. That was a desirable object to bring about, and therefore furnished the proposal of his hon. Friend with an additional argument in its favour. With regard to faggot votes, the way to prevent their increase was by a careful inquiry before the revising barrister, and he thought the clause would not in any way tend to increase them. The matter however, was worthy of much more full discussion than it was likely to receive at present, when there was a sort of unreality in debating a matter which was to come to nothing that year at least.


, in reply, maintained that if it was right that men should possess votes for constituencies in which they did not reside, it must be right that they should be enabled to record those votes.


said, he possessed votes for several counties, and no study of Bradshaw would enable him to give them all, while there was no valid reason why he should not give them with as little inconvenience as he gave his vote for Cambridge University.

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

The Committee divided: — Ayes 35; Noes 95: Majority 60.


expressed a hope that the polling-places for Ireland would be settled upon the same principle as those for England and Scotland.


moved a new clause for making the register conclusive, by declaring that, unless legally incapacitated, or name not appearing on the register, any person whose name appeared on the register should be entitled to vote, any want of qualification notwithstanding, and imposing a penalty of £25 on any person infringing on the clause.


said, he did not object to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton, and he would take care it was inserted on the Report.

On the Motion of Mr. GOLDNEY, new clause, to follow Clause 3 (Copies of ballot papers to be placarded outside polling station), brought up, read a first and second time, agreed to, and added to the Bill.


, who had several new clauses on the Paper relative to personation and treating, said, that as the part of the Bill dealing with corrupt practices had been given up, he would not persevere with them on this occasion.


moved a new clause to prohibit the payment of canvassers, to inflict a fine upon all persons acting as paid canvassers, and to unseat Members who might have employed them. He hoped the Government in the contemplated Act for the Amendment of the Corrupt Practices Act would prohibit canvassing of every kind. Canvassing was an endeavour, by appealing to the fears, or interest, or self-value or vanity of a voter, to induce him to vote for a particular candidate, and it partook of every species—corruption, undue influence, and intimidation. It was a frightful specimen of coercion exercised by the solicitor, the rate and tax collector, the medical man, and in many cases by the minister of religion. He looked upon a paid canvasser as a man who was bound to deceive his employer, and one who was paid to lie as to the colour of his employer's political opinions.


said, he could not accept the Amendment, because it was one of those clauses that would be better considered next year in the Amended Corrupt Practices Bill, which the Government intended to introduce at the earliest possible moment of next Session. There were strong arguments in favour of getting rid of paid canvassers—in fact, he doubted if they were any advantage to a candidate. But there would be great difficulty in working the clause as worded, and not only that, but he thought the question with which it dealt ought not to be embodied in a Ballot Bill. If they allowed a candidate to have any paid agent, although he might not be what was generally understood as a canvasser, yet he defied his hon. Friend (Sir Henry Hoare) so to draw up his clause as not to render the agent liable to punishment. His hon. Friend might reply—"Get rid of paid agency." That was a question which could not now be decided. He was sorry, therefore, that he could not allow the clause to be read a second time. He opposed the clause on the ground that the principle of abolishing paid agents altogether must be fully considered next Session, and must be understood as in no way pledging the Government against the principle contained in the proposal of the hon. Baronet.

Clause (Payment to canvassers prohibited,)—(Sir Henry Hoare,)—brought up, and read the first time.


considered that there were objections to the wording of the clause; but if the hon. Baronet should press it to a division, he would vote with him.


said, the expense of paid canvassers in counties was enormous. In Ireland, where the property was left to the management of agents, the bailiffs made bargains with the agents that they should receive £40 for polling the tenants on the estate for a particular candidate. He had been fleeced, very much in having to pay £20 and £30 for paid canvassers, against his express directions, to his agent. He referred to the fact that the sheriff's charge for 10 polling-places in the county of Cork was £750. The Ballot would be useless unless canvassing was prohibited.


said, he had no great liking for paid canvassers. He believed that a great deal of the bad character which was given to those gentlemen was only their due; but he considered that the clause was proposed at an inopportune time, and he could not, therefore, support it. In many cases agency was actually necessary to put a candidate fairly before the constituency, so as to enable men of great intellect and ability, but not acquainted with the arts of dealing with a popular constituency, to enter Parliament. He could not agree that they could get rid of paid agency altogether, unless, indeed, they wished to make the seats in that House the exclusive property of unscrupulous, bustling, and demagogic candidates.


said, the argument against abolishing paid agents had no application to this clause, which simply proposed to prohibit payment to canvassers. It would be for the Judge, in any case where this practice was alleged, to decide whether payments by a paid agent were colourable payments for canvassing or not. This clause was, in his opinion, peculiarly appropriate to a Ballot Bill. Paid canvassers were often selected for the power which they were supposed to possess over certain voters.


said, the clause was badly drawn for the object it had in view. The clause was much too wide and sweeping in its character, and should have defined what was canvassing. Under it if a man sent out a circular he would be liable to the £5 penalty for canvassing. It would also be necessary to define what was a paid agent before the Committee could pass such a clause. He strongly condemned the system of paid canvassing; but he thought that at the present period of the Session it was impossible to give the question the consideration it deserved.


said, he should support the clause. While he thought that, especially in counties, a certain amount of paid agency was necessary to be used, he disapproved in the strongest possible manner of the employment of paid canvassers. He agreed, however, with the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council that it was not desirable to insert the clause in this Bill.


hoped the clause would not now be pressed, as its principle, with which he agreed, could not properly be discussed at that late period of the Session, more especially when the numerous Amendments proposed to be made on the second reading were taken into consideration.


said, he believed the Ballot was likely to strike a heavy blow at paid canvassing. If it did not effect that, it would not be of much service. He thought there would be no difficulty in distinguishing between the respectable agent and the paid canvasser.


said, he had voted for the second reading of the Bill under the impression that it was a measure of general electoral reform. Since then all electoral reform had been dropped out, and only secret voting retained, and therefore he complained of a breach of faith on the part of the Government. He held that the clause ought to have a second reading, because there was a fundamental distinction between a paid agent and a paid canvasser. Nothing had tended so much to exclude from the House men of high culture as the system of paid agency and canvassing, the effects of which had been to increase the expense of elections and to increase corrupt practices. Cultured politicians were all the more likely to be returned without such aid as the system afforded, because of their possession of superior attainments. Elections were becoming more and more costly, and a Ballot Bill would do more harm than good if it did not diminish electoral expenses. The only argument against the clause appeared to be that its second reading was proposed on the 4th of August; and that argument was equally forcible if applied to the Bill itself, and if the object of legislators was merely to save time, the best thing they could do would be to suspend further proceedings with the Bill. He thought that Bill should be entitled "A Bill for Increasing Electoral Expenses," unless the Government inserted a provision which might have the opposite effect.


demurred from the statement of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) that the Bill must necessarily increase expenses. He was bound to admit that the increase in the number of polling-places might have that effect, at any rate to some extent; but in other respects the measure would tend to lesson expenses at elections. He was surprised at the remark of the hon. Member for Cork county (Mr. Downing) that the Ballot necessitated the abolition of paid canvassing, for there was every probability, as stated by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), that the Ballot would strike a heavy blow at that system. Without committing themselves to the principle of the clause, the Government felt that it could not be adopted without their first considering the whole question of agency. He hoped the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Henry Hoare) would withdraw the Motion.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council that the whole question of agency should first be considered. As favourable to the clause, he (Sir John Gray) deprecated a division as unnecessarily running the risk of an adverse vote.


regretted that he could not accede to the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council that the clause should be deferred.

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

The Committee divided: — Ayes 67; Noes 94: Majority 27.


moved the insertion of a new clause, after clause 35, giving a voter immunity from being asked or required to state on oath, in any proceeding in which his evidence might be taken, the name of the person for whom or the manner in which he had voted, and providing that no evidence under any circumstances as to a man's vote was to be received. The only objection he could see to such a proposal was that such evidence might be required in a criminal trial. He could not, however, conceive such a necessity arising, while the Bill, without some such clause as this would, in his opinion, be liable to fail in the object for which it was intended.

Clause (No evidence to be received as to votes,)—(Mr. James,)—brought up, and read the first time.


said, he was not so sure that the necessity for such evidence might not arise, and thought there might be circumstances, both in civil and criminal trials, where the statement of a voter would have some effect upon the question at issue; but he hesitated to place his own opinion as a layman against that of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. James). It was rather a new principle to lay down that a man should be protected from answers except such as criminated himself.


said, he thought it a most desirable clause. If it were not put in the Bill cases might be set up simply to find out how certain people voted.


remarked that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had said this clause was absolutely necessary to make the Ballot of any use; he therefore intended to vote against it.


also objected to the clause. Merely to carry out an abstract theory they would be damming up the whole course of justice, and introducing a judicial Reform Bill of a most dangerous character.


said, cases might arise in which it was necessary to prosecute a returning officer, or other official person, for tampering with the ballot-box or the ballot papers, and it might be of great importance to show how votes had been given, in order to prove how they had been tampered with; but that clause, he thought, would shut out such evidence. Consideration for the nerves of voters should not prevent the truth being ascertained in such a case.


said, he thought the clause went too far, because prosecution for conspiracy might arise, or for tampering with the ballot-box. He could not agree to the clause unless it were limited, and with that view he would suggest the insertion, after the word "proceeding," of the words "relating to the validity of such election," and to strike out all the rest of the clause after the word "voted."


said, he would accept the limitation suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General.


said, he thought some further Amendment was necessary to comply with the hon. und learned Gentleman the Attorney General's objection.


said, the Committee should remember the distinction between petitioning against a return and petitioning against an election.


said, he could see no such distinction.


said, there were numerous cases of Petitions against the return, in which the returning officer had done something wrong; and that was quite different from a Petition against a Member.


said, he could understand how, in an open election, a Petition might be presented against a return in which the only object was to correct the return; but under a secret system, if the returning officer acted improperly, the election would be invalid, and no petitioning could set it right.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 132; Noes 54: Majority 78.

On the Motion of the ATTORNEY GENERAL, Clause amended by striking out the words after "proceeding," and insering the words "relating to the validity of such election;" and omitting the remainder of clause, after the word "voted," agreed to, and added to the Bill.


proposed a clause, to the effect that, in Ireland, conveyance of voters should be deemed illegal, and should render void the election of the candidate in whose behalf the charge was paid.


said, the question would have to be fully considered upon the Corrupt Practices Bill next year.

Clause negatived.


moved a clause, imposing restrictions as to opening any inn or publichouse on the polling day.


asked that the consideration of that point might also be deferred till next year.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.


, moved the addition of a clause providing that a candidate might withdraw between the day on which the nomination took place and the day appointed for the poll, by service on the returning officer of a written notice signed by the candidate himself or his proposer and seconder.


said, the point raised by that clause had been fully considered and decided by the Committee, and it would be better to wait and see how the new system worked.


said, he must strenuously oppose the clause, for it would be an additional puzzle to the voters if a candidate were allowed to withdraw after the ballot papers had been printed.


said, that as the Bill itself would have to be discussed at a future time, he would not press the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule. — Form of Ballot Paper.


moved an Amendment to simplify the Schedule, substituting an entirely new form for the one proposed in the Bill.


said, he apprehended the principal object of that Amendment was to change the form of the ballot paper — a subject which had caused much discussion; and on comparing the new form of the ballot paper with the old one, he did not think the difficulties that attended the latter had by any means been removed. The right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster), on a previous occasion refused to answer a question he had put to him, because the tone in which he spoke was displeasing to the Government. Now, he had always thought that his tone towards the right hon. Gentleman was dulcet and persuasive. At least, it had proved persuasive, because he had induced the right hon. Gentleman to alter the Bill in many material particulars. He objected to retaining in the Schedule both the cross and the mark, and wished to have a mark alone.


said, that there was a legal distinction between the Bill and the Schedule, and if both terms had not been used in the 3rd clause, he was informed it might invalidate the vote. He retained the cross alone in the Schedule.


said, he would suggest that the rules for voting should be posted outside the polling-place as well as inside.


said, that he would bear the suggestion in mind.

Amendment agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Schedules agreed to.


On Question, That the Preamble be agreed to,


said, that Clause 21, which was omitted rather in a hurry, contained a valuable provision limiting the fees of the returning officers. Although those fees were still to be paid by the candidates, it would be a wise thing to retain that limit on their amount, and he hoped that might be done on the Report. Before the Bill left the hands of the Committee he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) wished to say that, having taken considerable part in these discussions, he desired to bear his testimony to the kind and courteous manner in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) had met many of the suggestions made to him during the progress of the Committee. He would further express what he believed was the opinion of many other hon. Members, as well as his own, that hardly any other hon. or right hon. Gentleman could have carried that Bill through but the Vice President of the Council.


asked whether they would have a re-print of the Bill in their hands before the Report, and when would the Report be taken?


said, he must express his sense of the kindness of the hon. Baronet opposite the Member for East Gloucestershire, and also his gratitude to the Committee for the forbearance they had shown to him in those long discussions. He understood there was to be a Sitting of the House to-morrow (Saturday), and he felt almost certain that the Bill would be re-printed in time for hon. Members to obtain copies of it at 12 o'clock to-morrow. It was proposed to take the Report as the first Order on Monday. The point mentioned by the hon. Baronet in regard to the fees of returning officers had not escaped his attention, and the omission of the expenses clause would require some alteration to be made with regard to the three guinea limit; otherwise, that clause would operate rather hard against the candidate.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 282.]