HC Deb 31 July 1871 vol 208 cc590-620

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Expenses of Parliamentary Election.

Clause 18 (Payment of expenses of parliamentary election).


, on rising to move in page 13, line 36, to leave out "all," and insert "no," observed, that there were many reasons why the Committee should not accept the legislation proposed by that clause with undue haste. They were asked to shift the pecuniary burden of those elections from themselves and place it on the ratepayers at a time when, they were told that the state of local taxation had reached its utmost limit, and when the Government itself acknowledged that a final adjustment of that taxation was necessary. Let them look into the history of that subject, and see how the legislation upon it had adapted itself to the various circumstances of the times. For many years hon. Members of that House received payment for their services, and even after the Restoration they received the expense they incurred in going to and coming from the House, and in sitting therein. But times had changed, and now instead of the constituencies seeking Members, Members sought constituencies. When party spirit reached its climax in the reign of George II. the expenses of elections for counties were cast upon the Members instead of being borne by the constituencies. In the boroughs the burden continued to be borne by the constituencies, until at length, after nearly a hundred years of trial of these two systems, it was finally determined in the Reform Bill of Earl Grey that the expense of elections in both boroughs and counties should fall upon the candidates—a change which was the result of experience, although there were men like Mr. Hunt and Mr. Hume who expressed democratic views at that time. Those who supported the clause were prone to say that it was necessary to make a seat in that House obtainable without a large expenditure of money, and that the doors should be open not only to the powerful and the wealthy, but to the poor and the weak. It was his belief that if that proposition should be accepted, it would have an exactly contrary effect to the views entertained by its supporters, and that the result would he that only two classes of men would be able to secure seats in that House—namely, those who represented either great wealth or exhibited great daring and, as some would term it, impudence. So long as they freed the candidates from the expense of elections, they would be found to come forward in great numbers. The question, however, of a contested election would not rest with the candidates exclusively, or with persons seized with the laudable idea of representing their native borough or county, but lawyers, innkeepers, printers, house agents, and the host of other classes who profited by contests of the kind would unite their utmost endeavours to induce men to seek the favour of constituencies. The result would be that some men from mere ambition, others almost from amusement, others, again, prompted by direct gain, would all come to the common centre, resolved that a contest should take place whatever might be its consequence. He argued against frequent changes in the representation, on the ground that it was impossible to study legislation with advantage in a short period of time, or to gain the experience necessary to make an efficient and useful Member of Parliament. Under the present system no class of men were kept out of Parliament—not even the working men, who the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) had said were the richest classes, and who were assisted by a combination of wealth. But he held it was a mockery to tell a real working man that he should have a seat in that House. They did not pay their Members, and if a man were dependent upon the wages he received for a fair day's work, he could not earn them and at the same time occupy a seat in that House. By the change proposed they were seeking to drive peaceable men, men of moderate means, away from the House, leaving their seats to be filled by the wealthy and those who, as he had said, possessed great daring or impudence. Again, the change, if carried out, would cause frequent contests on account of there being a frequency of change amongst the Members, and the result could never be beneficial to the Constitution. There would indeed be greater commotion without and frequency of change within the walls of the House; one portion of the representation would be placed in the hands of the wealthy, whilst the other would be secured by the reckless and the daring, to the exclusion of men of talent, of studious habits, but of moderate means, who would be unwilling to undergo a contest, but who yet would be able, if elected, to give the benefit of their great experience, their wisdom, and strength to the Constitution. It had been said that the proposal would alter the arrangement between Members and their constituencies; but he maintained the constituencies ought to select the best men they could, and not expect candidates to undergo degradation in obtaining their seat. The proposal, no doubt, would lead to this—that there would be more men seeking for constituencies, because there would be nothing to pay. It had been said that if the ratepayers had to pay the expenses, good care would be taken on their behalf that unworthy men did not present themselves. He could not see how that could be achieved. It might be, if they could secure the absence of all party feeling and get the constituency to act as one body, determined to elect the best Member; but, so long as political excitement existed and party spirit of different kinds pervaded the constituencies there would be no concurrence of feeling, and it would be only at the polling-booth that the final selection of a candidate could be made. Many thinking men had come to the conclusion that a safeguard against all this would be found in the candidate making a deposit to a certain amount—and he believed that view was entertained by the Government in their proposed Amendment to be added to the end of the clause. Even if that were carried out, sham candidates would still present themselves, and there would be this narrow admission after all—that if a man could only secure £99, he would be treated as not seriously canvassing the constituency, whilst he who could raise £100, probably by the means of his friends, would be treated as a bonâ fide candidate, and as one who ought to be selected by the people. He maintained that the proposed deposit of £100 would, instead of being a benefit, produce a greater amount of evil than if no such qualification was enforced. Then it had been laid down that if he did not obtain a certain number of votes the £100 would be forfeited. In the case of a poor man, whose money had been raised by his friends—by the coterie at the public house, as it were—it would be the object of all who were concerned with him, and for their personal benefit, to poll as many votes as they could, so as to secure one-sixth of the number gained by the lowest successful candidate, and thus save their money. If their candidate happened to be a worthless man, the votes thus obtained would be votes taken from him who ought by his talent to be the representative of the people; whilst it would open a wide door for bribery, and which no Ballot Bill could ever stay. In concluding his objections to the clause and the proposed Amendments, he must say he entirely disagreed with the one proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), which, in effect, said that the expenses ought to come out of the Consolidated Fund. That, he conceived, would have all the evils suggested by the Government proposal, and none of its benefits. If the money came out of the Consolidated Fund, the ratepayers would not be able to check the expense, and no motive would exist for discountenancing improper candidates for the representation. The fund, indeed, would become a prey for all, and there would be a greater inducement to men to come forward, because they would know that from the Imperial Exchequer all their expenses would be paid. He would ask the House to ponder before they accepted the clause. Let them not suppose they were going to make elections cheaper, and render the House more accessible to men who, it was urged, ought to be there. They would be doing nothing of the kind; but, on the contrary, they would increase the number of elections, intensify them, and place them in the hands of men who had no real pretensions for legislative power. He was prepared to meet such unpopularity as would result from the vote he was going to give. Some would regret to oppose the Government; but they must look at that proposal as an independent and separate measure, and as if it came from a quarter which they did not view with favour, and he believed that if hon. Members would consider well the possible result of the legislation proposed, he should carry his Amendment by a large majority. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, in page 13, line 36, to leave out the word "all," and insert the word "no."—(Mr. James.)


, in supporting the Amendment, said, the clause was one to encourage sham candidates, by relieving candidates from those expenses the fear of which kept men from troubling constituencies. He divided expenses into three classes—first, legal, or official expenses, which were incurred by the returning officer; second, permissive expenses, such as those incurred for agents, meetings, and the conveyance of voters to the poll; and third, prohibited expenses, incurred in bribery and corruption; and, passing over the third class, he concluded that the second would be kept down to a minimum by a sham candidate, so that the first alone would exercise a deterrent influence. The result of paying them out of the public funds would be to increase the expenses of bonâ fide candidates, by compelling them to prepare for threatened contests; and no man of tolerable confidence in himself would ever think he could fail to poll the number of votes necessary to save the deposit, so that the supposed safeguard would prove to be a sham safeguard. Those reasons justified the description he had given of the clause, as well as the vote he should give against it.


said, the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), able and exhaustive as it was, failed to remove the grounds upon which he supported the clause. He could not see why a man, who in other respects was fitted for the post, should be disqualified from sitting in that House because he could not put his hand on £100 or £150, a sum which often represented the whole savings of a working man's life. There was no reason why a working man should be prevented from getting into Parliament except by the charity of other persons. In the present state of society the House of Commons was far more likely to be inundated by rich than by poor men; but he thought it would be a good thing to have two or three working men representatives in the House, as the grievances of the class they belonged to would then be got at first-hand instead of second-hand, as at present; and, for his own part, he should prefer having those grievances discussed on the floor of that House rather than from the turf in Hyde Park or the pavement in Trafalgar Square. Moreover, he had great faith in the educating power of the House, and believed the presence of a few working men in it would have a tendency to remove the prejudices of the operative classes. The returned and admitted expenditure at the last General Election amounted to the enormous sum of £1,380,000, or an average of £1,700 per Member, and if that went on increasing, as it was almost sure to do, there would only be two classes of men in the House—namely, millionaires and adventurers. He heartily supported the clause, because he regarded it as a protest against the doors of the House being opened with a golden key.


said, he objected to the clause, which he asserted would inflict a peculiar hardship on the constituency that he had the honour to represent; and to show it, he asked to refer briefly to the effect of the two previous Reform Acts on his county (Herefordshire). Prior to 1832, they had ten Members, but by that Act they lost three seats, and were in future to return seven, although, as a compensation, each county elector was to have a vote for each of his three county Members instead of only two votes. By the minority clause of the Reform Act of 1867 this compensation was taken away, and again they had only two votes a-piece, and they were deprived of one of their Members for Leominster without having a fourth county Member, to which they were fairly entitled. While by this third Reform Bill—for, in point of fact, this was a third—although they were still only to have two votes a-piece, yet by this clause each county elector in Herefordshire, and similar counties, is to pay his share of the election expenses in the event of a contest of all three county Members, and also of the rejected candidates, and this proposition he considered a manifestly unfair one. If the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill wished to give a "sop" to Members of Parliament—and he quite understood that, as there were so many recent converts to the Ballot on the other side of the House, a "sop" was required; but he thought he could point out how he could do so without imposing any additional burden on the rates. For instance, in lieu of that clause, one might have been introduced for the abolition of the system of retainers to legal practitioners. One solicitor had told him that prior to an election he always received a retainer from one of the candidates, but as he regarded it as a bribe he invariably returned it. He knew of a case where a retainer was sent to a firm of solicitors in a southern county, who insisted upon having one for each member of the firm. He did not think the Government had treated the farmers of England fairly. Early in the Session they came to the Government with a statement as to the pressure of local taxation; the Government heard their case, and to a certain extent admitted the grievance, but now they were going to send Members back to their constituents with a ballot-box, and inside it a rate for election expenses. The substance of Clause 18, when embodied in a distinct Bill in 1869, was negatived by the House of Commons; and he trusted that on that occasion the majority would be so much increased as to stop all future attempts to throw husting expenses—which ought legitimately to be borne by candidates — upon the shoulders of ratepayers already overburdened.


said, he thought the clause should not prevent the passing of the Bill; but at the same time he thought the clause highly objectionable. He knew something of the feeling of Irish ratepayers, and he certainly did not believe the clause would recommend itself to them. As to working men being unable to return candidates of their own choice, were they loss wealthy or powerful than Irish peasants, who had not hesitated to send their representatives to Parliament? The clause, instead of diminishing, would invite contests; and as to the security against vexatious contests, it was illusory. In the country with which he was best acquainted a man might poll only 1/36th of the constituency, and still get back his £100. If analogy to the French system were good for anything, it ought to be good to the extent of requiring the candidate to poll one-third of the entire constituency, or else entail the necessity of a fresh election. The complement of this clause in the Bill would be the payment of Members of Parliament; for if the taxpayers were taxed to enable the working classes to send representatives into Parliament, it was plain that the ratepayers must be taxed to support them when they got there. The ratepayers had not been consulted about the clause, and if they had been consulted 99 out of every 100 would have been against it.


said, he must oppose the clause on the ground that it imposed a new, gratuitous, and uncalled-for charge on the already over-burdened ratepayers of the country. It was a very easy and cheap liberality for the House of Commons to make a present to Members of their election expenses at the cost of the ratepayers; but what would be thought of a proposal to provide for these expenses out of a Parliamentary grant? They had gone on long enough from Session to Session imposing on the ratepayers charges which the House was not called upon to provide, but which it insisted on throwing upon the ratepayers. He considered that the clause sprang from some confusion of ideas, based upon a supposed identification of ratepayers and electors, which did not exist in fact or in theory, and which had no foundation whatever. If it was thought expedient that the ratepayers should provide the necessary expenses of the election for the town or county—a proceeding which he held to be absurd and unjust, the only rational thing would be to make them pay for the expenses of a mere uncontested election. The average ratepayer cared very little about politics, and hon. Members would find that the cry for the Ballot proceeded from a disinclination to party politics, and from small tradespeople who did not want to offend those on one side or the other by the vote they gave. If these people had a greater taste for party politics they would not want the Ballot at all. There were other objections of detail. The clause must have been drawn by somebody who had little experience of county rates. It stipulated that the justices of counties were to provide the cost of the contest according to the proportionate number of electors in those parishes of the county in which the contest took place; but surely the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill must be aware that the justices had nothing whatever to do with parishes; they had no cognizance of the parish rates, and they collected their county rates from the clerks of the Unions, so that it would be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to provide new machinery for the purposes of this clause if it was to be adopted. Such a provision as that contained in this clause would produce contested elections where they were not wanted, and would be very unpopular throughout the whole kingdom. It would make the whole Bill more distasteful than the introduction of the hole-and-corner nomination, and on those grounds he hoped Government would not be so unwise as to insert the clause.


said, that he was desirous of making a few observations respecting the clause. He was very much surprised to hear hon. and right hon. Gentleman say that this was a question with which the ratepayers had nothing to do. So far from that being the case, in boroughs every elector was certainly a ratepayer, though every ratepayer might not be an elector. But as a general rule, electors and ratepayers were synonymous terms. Another remark had been made to which he very much demurred, and that was the great expense which the clause would throw upon ratepayers. This point had been urged to such an extent that one would suppose some great calamity was impending upon the country in the shape of taxation. But the House would not be unmindful of the circumstance that in the large towns the great extension of the franchise would be accompanied after the passing of that Bill with a large increase in the number of polling-places. In places, for example, like Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, as well as in other large towns with say 45,000 electors, there would be at least 100 polling-places; and supposing each polling-place, with its returning officer, clerks, and attendants, to cost £20, the expense thrown upon the ratepayers would not exceed £2,000. It was very possible that the polling-places might be used either a few days before or a few days after for the municipal borough elections. Now, the expense of those elections was already chargeable on the rates, and surely there was no reason why the electors should not think it equally natural that the expenses of the Parliamentary elections should also be charged to the rates. Suppose they took the case of a large city like the City of Edinburgh, which he had the honour to represent. The election expenses would come to about £1,200; and what did the House think it would cost the poor ratepayers, for whom there was so much commiseration expressed? Why, the £1,200 would be met by a rate of one farthing in the pound, so that the occupier of a £10 house would be called on to pay 2½d. as his share of the expense of the election, and that not every year, as they had to contribute to municipal elections, but once, perhaps, in three or four years. How, then, could they talk of this as a poor man's grievance, especially when they took into consideration the tens of thousands of poor men who lived in houses far below £10 in value? He did not mention the case of the city he represented as the fittest illustration of what would occur in the kingdom generally, but as an approximation. There was, perhaps, a larger proportion of high-rented houses in Edinburgh than in any city out of the Metropolis, which would naturally make the burden fall much lighter on the poorer classes. It had been said by hon. Members opposite that this proposition had been substantially brought before Parliament in 1865, and rejected. What he did know was, that it was brought before Parliament in 1868, and accepted on two divisions. In the Corrupt Practices Bill an hon. Member brought forward this precise proposition, and it was carried on the 18th July, the numbers being 78 against 69, and the clause was added to the Bill by a majority of 84 to 76. It was true that it was afterwards dropped out of the Bill, but on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government spoke strongly and decidedly in its favour, and 10 Members of the present Government voted for it, besides several hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. That proved that it was far from being a new question. It was, in fact, much older than secret voting, which nobody in 1868 thought there was the slightest chance of carrying. Even at that time, the question was ripe for decision, and was practically decided by those two divisions. Reference had been made to the poor ratepayers so often that he must take leave to make one remark. He had met with many working men in the ranks of the employed, and his experience was, that they would be very glad indeed to pay that trifling expense, and thereby preserve their independence and dignity by sending Members to Parliament free of expense. Even at the present time that feeling was very general, and it was no uncommon thing in England to see men returned, every farthing of the expense being paid by the constituencies, particularly where they were returned by the popular vote. From the intercourse he had had with the working classes, he felt convinced that they would rejoice to have the opportunity of paying these expenses; and he held that that clause would be as valuable as the secret voting one itself. That it would be carried, if not to-day, at some future time, he was convinced. If, however, it was now dropped out of the Bill, it might be delayed for years; and he therefore earnestly trusted that the Government would not take the course which they had been advised to adopt.


, after referring to an Amendment which he had on the Paper, the object of which was to prevent the dangers arising from the operation of the clause, said, he would have supported the Amendment before the House if he had been unable to carry his own. He however supported the clause, denying that it would prevent the election of the fittest man, or lead to unnecessary contests or sham candidatures. He did not think that the clause would encourage sham candidates to come forward, and he believed that it was no good to have contests at elections, because it tended to keep up the political policy of the constituencies. He believed that with the Ballot a healthy public feeling would spring up, even in counties. In his opinion a great many of the objections which were made against that clause were made simply to catch the ear of the masses; but the time was not far distant when people would see that it was right that they should pay a small sum, in order that they might be represented. He hoped that the clause would be carried, and that it would then be amended by some such proposition as he had placed upon the Paper.


said, he was of opinion that the local rate was already overburdened, and that this additional charge should not be placed upon it. The local rate already paid charges for the poor rate, county rate, police rate, and highway rate, and also the charges for constables, vaccination, assessment committee, registration of voters, and the preparation of jury lists. He should support the Amendment.


said, he thought that the clause would tend to increase the number of candidates brought forward, and that under it there would be candidates who simply wished to air their private crotchet or to gratify a pique against one of the sitting Members. He should be glad to see the expense of polling-booths more looked after than it was under the present system. There was a very wide feeling abroad, which he must say he concurred in on principle, that the ratepayers were already unduly burdened by local taxation; and he doubted the prudence of throwing any further burden upon the local rate unless it were shown to be absolutely necessary. He should heartily support the Amendment.


said, he hoped as he had paid a good deal of attention, and taken a vast deal of interest in the subject of local rates, that he might be permitted to say a few words with reference to the Amendment now under discussion. In his opinion the tendency and effect of the proposal of the Government to charge on the local rates a considerable proportion of electioneers' expenses, would be to provide Parliamentary candidates, and also to offer a premium for Parliamentary contests, at the cost of the ratepayers. The result would be that many men would stand for the sake of advertising themselves and their particular interests — it would be the cheapest and most efficacious mode of attaining notoriety, of gratifying personal ambition, and promoting private interests. It would be impossible to prevent fictitious candidates and vexatious expenditure; there would be a greater number of sham candidates, and the expenses, of the ratepayers would be proportionately increased. The next step—the obvious and inevitable sequitur—the natural corollary of the proposition contained in the clause, would be that they would have to pay Members of Parliament. That proposal had already advocates in the House; and the next question would be whether that payment should also be charged upon the rates, and he contended that such a proposition would be equally as just as the one before the House. The difficulty of working men was not so much how to get a seat in the House of Commons. Many hon. Members were already returned by their constituents free of cost. The insurmountable difficulty of working men would be, unless they were paid delegates, how to live when they got into the House. The proposition contained in the clause was not only impolitic, but unjust. Impolitic, because Members of Parliament would be more under the direct control of their constituencies; there would be the danger of their degenerating into mere machines. They would be more likely to pander to local prejudices—to give their chief attention to local, rather than national interests. Such a proposal, if carried, would tend to destroy — at all events, would tend to seriously diminish—independence of thought, feeling, and action in Parliamentary representatives. He should probably be told that the cost of municipal elections was defrayed from local rates, but there was a wide and broad distinction. Candidates for municipal honours dealt only with matters of local interest—they were charged with the administration of matters which were the subject of rates. Candidates for Parliamentary honours, on the other hand, dealt with matters of national importance — with questions which concerned all classes, and every description of property. He would now say a few words with regard to the injustice of the proposition. Rates represented the value of real property only (lands and houses); not one-seventh of the total annual income of the country, not one-fourth of that which paid, or ought to pay, income tax. Why, he would ask, that anomalous and unjust exemption of the far greater proportion of national wealth from that impost? Why should capital or personal property be privileged? Why should it go scot free? Good laws and good government were equally conducive, and as absolutely necessary for its safety and security. Why should the monied millionaire pay nothing to the cost of a national institution which protected him, and secured to him the enjoyment of all he possessed, when the pauper, who occupied a miserable room, in a garret or cellar at 1s. a week, or the mechanic who rented a cottage at £5 a-year, was to be called upon to contribute towards that exceptional expenditure? Such an anomaly was calculated to foment rather than reconcile the invidious distinctions and differences between capital and labour—questions which already agitated men's minds at the present time, and should not be needlessly provoked. Suppose the proposition of the Government had been reversed—that they had suggested that personal property, instead of real property, should alone pay that new and novel tax. What a commotion there would have been! How much they would have heard of that invasion of rights of private property. And yet such a proposal would have been equally as just, for personal property was equally interested. They had abolished the property qualification for Members of Parliament. If, as formerly, income for real property were essentially necessary for a candidate, then he admitted there would have been some justification for this proposal. Now, a candidate need not even be a ratepayer; and yet in order too frequently to gratify his personal ambition, they proposed to give him power to inflict exceptional burdens on those who were. They had been told that that addition to the rates would be but trifling. But that was a question not so much of amount as of principle, and yet they must bear in mind that that was only one of a series of new charges proposed to be imposed on the rates during the present Session. They should, doubtless, be told that that fresh imposition would be considered when the whole subject of local taxation was considered. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government gave him the same assurance last Session when he ventured to protest against the 6d. income tax, in the shape of an education rate, which was then permanently imposed exceptionally on ratepayers. He looked in vain for that promised consideration in the Local Taxation and Rating Bills, introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the then President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Goschen). The object of those Bills, and the voluminous Returns with which they were accompanied was to prove that the owners and occupiers of real property were favoured rather than aggrieved; but those conclusions were founded on incorrect data and unreliable Returns. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council gave him the same reply a short time since, when he (Sir Massey Lopes) asked in what way, and to what extent, he proposed to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Vaccination Amendment Act — namely, that a considerable proportion of the expenses should be defrayed from the national Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman assured him that though the Bill did not deal with that part of the subject, yet it would be borne in mind when the question of local taxation was again considered. Hope deferred had made them very impatient. They believed reality was better than expectation, and would endeavour to resist all attempts to impose any further burdens for any national purpose whatever on the local rates. He should be glad to see some representatives of the working classes in that House, and was not afraid they should see too many of them. He thought every class ought to be represented, and that it would be impolitic to shut the doors of the House of Commons against them, though he believed that their grievances and interests were very ably advocated and justly considered at present in that House, yet he was of opinion that they had less to fear from expressions of extreme views there than out-of-doors; they ran riot there, but they soon became toned down here. If it was considered advisable that certain expenses, hitherto paid by candidates, should be defrayed from other sources, those expenses should be charged on the national Exchequer and not upon local rates. If it was for the benefit of the community at large that poor men should have greater facilities for entering Parliament, the community at large should contribute to that object; but it would be manifestly unjust to impose burdens on one section of the community for the attainment of an object for the general good. Those costs should fall proportionately on all for whose benefit those services were to be performed. The object was not local but national, therefore the payment ought to be national. If it was deemed desirable to diminish the legitimate expenses of Parliamentary candidates, they could make paid agency and the conveyance of voters illegal; but they should not attempt to impose exceptional burdens on that section of the community which was already disproportionately taxed. Such a measure would be most unpopular; it would not tend to secure the seats of those who advocated it, or to promote the object which they professed to have in view; it would not increase the efficiency and disinterestedness of Members of that House, while it would seriously diminish the dignity, patriotism, and independence of the British House of Commons.


said, as a representative of the working classes, he wished to express what he believed was their real feeling upon the question. In discussing the principle of the clause, he observed that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had reminded the Committee that down to a very recent period a Member of the House of Commons was always regarded as conferring a benefit upon his constituency by attending in Parliament to represent them, and that until the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, the cost of the legal machinery of an election was borne by the ratepayers. To his great astonishment, however, his hon. and learned Friend had drawn a conclusion from that, the very reverse of the obvious one, and wished the Committee to infer that it was not fair that a constituency should pay the cost of the necessary legal machinery for obtaining representation in Parliament. The effect of the present system on the constituency was also very demoralizing, because it placed the Member in the position of a person who was receiving a favour from, rather than in the position of one who was rendering a service to, those who elected him. The Bill, therefore, tended to put the relations between the Member and his constituents on a true, sound, and healthy footing. His hon. and learned Friend feared that the clause would encourage "sham" candidates, and increase the expenses of elections; but it should be remembered that those necessary and legal charges were but a mere bagatelle in comparison with the entire amount of the expenses connected with elections, which deterred men from standing as candidates. Bagatelle, however, though they were, he objected to them on principle, and also because they were a considerable impediment to candidates of a humbler class. Mixed as were the materials of which that House was composed, there was still one class, and that the most numerous, and certainly not the least important, which was not represented as a class in it. He meant the working class, and it would be a great advantage, and only carrying out the true principle of representation, if there were three or four of those men in the House who could from their personal knowledge explain the wants and wishes of the class they represented; they would, he was confident, be heard with respect, and would receive a ready hearing. But when they imposed upon such a man, as a condition of becoming a Member, the payment of a certain sum of money, they might as well tell him that they did not want him there. When Mr. Odger stood for Southwark he paid a deposit of £100, but he was told by the returning officer that he must pay down £200—a sum greatly in excess of the actual requirements. Under the existing law a kind of contract was made between the returning officer and the candidates, and the returning officer, by the power given him to name the sum which each candidate must pay as his share of the expenses, had practically in his hands the means of excluding particular candidates. The deposit of £100 proposed by the Government was intended to prevent sham and vexatious contests; and he did not see that it would be any hardship to a working man, because he would get his £100 back again if he was a bonâ fide candidate. They came there not to serve themselves or to gratify a laudable ambition, but on the principle that men who were able to give their time and attention to public matters were ready to take on themselves the burden of serving their country. That was the only true and healthy principle upon which a true representative system could exist. He could hardly think that hon. Members were serious when they spoke of that being a burden to the ratepayers. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had shown that the amount of rate which an individual ratepayer would have to bear would be infinitesimally small. He should support the clause, on the ground that it was a just principle that those expenses should be borne by the constituencies, and not by the persons who came to that House to serve them.


said, he had the misfortune to differ from a great many hon. Gentlemen around him, and also from the Government on that clause, although, happily, their difference did not arise on any question of principle. The question raised that night was one not so much of political principle as of political expediency—a matter which practical politicians should not ignore. Many large boroughs and some counties at present defrayed the cost of returning Members to Parliament, and if any constituency proposed to pay his election expenses he (Mr. V. Harcourt) would not object either on principle or on expediency. But there was all the difference in the world between a constituency doing that voluntarily, and its being made compulsory on them by Act of Parliament. While the practice was voluntary, the constituency paid only for persons whom they wished to have; but that clause would compel them to pay also for candidates whom they did not want. He objected further to the proposal, because it was altogether inopportune and likewise quite irrelevant to the Bill. It had clearly nothing to do with the question of secret voting, and, if dealt with at all, it should be by a separate measure. It was said they were asserting a principle on that occasion, but there was a considerable difference between a principle and a crotchet; for he understood a principle to have something which had a tendency to accomplish the object it professed to attain; but a crotchet was a thing which had no tendency to attain either that or any other object, and he thought that proposition belonged to the latter category. They were told that the principle in that case was to admit poor men into Parliament. If that proposal were calculated to effect that object, he should heartily support it. He admitted the importance of poor men having seats in that House, and that the most numerous, and in many respects the very important, class of working men had no direct representatives in that Assembly; but it was altogether begging the question to say that those necessary expenses kept them out of it. It was not those necessary expenses that kept the workingman candidate out at Stafford, Southwark, Chelsea, Bristol, and other places where their election expenses were found for them. Again, where there had been test ballots taken, there were no election expenses, and yet in no case were working men chosen; while, again, at the school board elections, very few working men had been returned. He believed that one of the strongest of all the reasons which had induced the working men throughout the country not to elect men of their own class was that strong common sense and practical knowledge which distinguished them, and which taught them that men in their own class were not the best fitted to carry out the business of representing them in that House. They knew that a man who had to live by weekly wages could not sit morning and evening in that House, and at the same time earn his bread. He could come in only on one condition, and that was as a paid delegate. If the Government bonâ fide intended by that clause to bring working men into Parliament, why had they not made the 19th clause one for charging the rates with the payment of Members of Parliament? They had lately heard a good deal of over-regulation prices, and he could not help thinking if they once established the regulation price for Members of Parliament they would very soon hear of over-regulation prices. Once pay a Member for his votes collectively, and he would very soon make a market for his individual votes, That was a question of political expediency, and they should ask what the constituencies as a body wished in the matter. It was eminently a question for the constituencies. At the last Election he was asked not to support the proposal of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett); he willingly gave that pledge, and he had no right to retire from it. That proposal was distasteful to the constituencies. That was on account of the pressure of the rates. The existing system of local taxation was utterly indefensible, unjust in principle, and most unequal in its operation. He would be no party to placing any further burden on the rates till there had been some substantial attempt to redress the existing inequality on principles of justice. He was against that proposal in the 18th clause. The people had long looked for the Ballot as a boon; they were now going to give them the Ballot as a tax. A more imprudent, ungracious proceeding he could hardly conceive. The Government had not so large a margin of popularity that they could afford to throw any away. It so happened, unfortunately, that every measure of theirs that Session had been accompanied with the unpleasant feature of additional taxation. They began with the Army Bill, in a great part of which he concurred; but it had a sting in its tail—an additional 2d. income tax. That was an unfortunate circumstance. Then there was the Ballot Bill; and that was to be accompanied by increased rates. That, he thought, was not a fortunate concomitant of the Ballot Bill. It had also been the misfortune of the Government to fall out with a good many classes of the community. They had fallen out with the Army and the Licensed Victuallers, and many other people; but, as if that were not enough, they were going to clap a blister on the whole body of the ratepayers and to fall out with them. That was a most imprudent proceeding. It was most unwise and unnecessary in a Bill of this character to raise questions of this kind. They were told the wound they would have to endure would not be much. They must remember, however, that if they went close to a man with the gout in his foot, a very small thing would be sufficient to make him wince. That was the state of the country. It was at that present moment suffering from a severe fit of the gout of taxation. He did not think it was right of the Government to inflict such a blow upon any party as the passing of that clause would necessarily inflict on the Liberal party. The Liberal party had much to accomplish yet; but if it was split up into small parts, as it would be by the passing of that clause, it could not accomplish the ends it had in view. He did not contest the principle on which that clause was founded; but he did contest the political wisdom of introducing the proposal in this Bill at this time. He believed there would come a time when the country would accept the principle of the clause and pass it, and he hoped to see it do so. They were told they ought to educate the constituencies up to this; that was all very well for those whose constituencies were educated; but there was a preliminary process in which the constituencies might educate some of them off the face of the earth. While he approved of the principle of that clause, he would commend to his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council the principle of an equally wise legislator, Solon, who, when asked why he did not introduce a certain proposal into the laws of Athens, gave the very sensible answer—"I have given the Athenians not the best laws, but the best laws that they would bear." The proposal now before the Committee was distasteful to the constituencies, and its consequences would be disastrous to the Liberal party. Entertaining these opinions he opposed the clause, in the belief that if it were negatived the Bill would pass without the Government having recourse to an Autumn Session.


said, he made no apology for following his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt), for he had clearly indicated the question before the House. It might be that nearly the whole of those on the opposite benches were opposed to the proposal of the Government. It might be that a large majority were in its favour; but he knew of no motives connected with party that ought, in his judgment, to influence opinions one way or the other. The House did not, in 1867, discuss the question as one of party, nor was it a question connected with which they could pretend to say that the fate of the present Bill ought to depend on the fate of that 18th clause. He was much attached to the principle of the clause; but it would be worse than idle to say that in the event of not obtaining from the House a sanction to the clause, the Government should forget the substantial good which they thought they had secured to the country by the clauses of the Bill to which assent had been given. With regard to the last speaker (Mr. V. Harcourt), he was left in considerable doubt as to the means by which the continuity of the speech was to be put into a consistent whole. From certain portions of that speech he judged that his hon. and learned Friend had no objection to the clause, but was inclined to give his assent to it. But in other portions of the speech the principle degenerated into a crotchet. In the close of his speech, his hon. and learned Friend said the Government were proposing to attain an abstract and ideal good. The Government were not seeking the best law in the abstract, but the best relatively to the present state of opinion, both with regard to the election of Members of the working classes. His hon. and learned Friend said that working men were not elected, and that it was not desirable that they ever should be elected.


I did not say that I thought it desirable that they should not be elected, but the opposite.


Undoubtedly, his hon. and learned Friend said it was desirable that they should be elected; but he went on to show that they had not been elected, and then how extremely shrewd and practical working men were as a body in refusing to elect them, and how strong and powerful were the reasons which had prevented their doing so. Without prejudice and without polemical spirit he wished to state what appeared to him to be the merits of the question. At present they had got a system of law under which the necessary expenses of elections were charged upon the candidates. The Government proposed to charge them on the constituency, as upon the local rates; and there was a third proposal—although he must admit it was rather ambiguous and oracular—to charge them on the Consolidated Fund. He agreed in the condemnations pronounced upon the third proposition; and here he cordially joined hands with the hon. Mover of the Amendment, who stated that that mode of proceeding had all the disadvantages of the charge upon the local rates without any of its advantages. As between the other two means of charging the expenses of elections, there were the system which existed and which was not intolerable, and the system proposed in the clause, which, in the opinion of the Government, would introduce a great practical improvement. He was thankful to the hon. and learned Member for Taunton for having placed the question in a direct and simple issue. The hon. and learned Member referred to the Parliament of 1832, and to the unanimity of that Parliament. No doubt he was correct in that as a matter of fact, and that that Parliament decided unanimously on placing the expenses on the candidates; but that was on account of the necessities of the then Government position. The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill went as a cry through the country; but Mr. Hume and others who raised that cry must not be held to be authorities against the present proposal, because they were obliged to forego the expression of their own opinions with regard to the construction of the Reform Act of 1832. With respect to the mode adopted of taking security against frivolous and needless contests, it should be recollected that saddling the expenses on the candidates was not the only deterring power against frivolous contests. One question was a question of principle; the other was a question of policy. The principle was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) when he referred to the false position in which the representative and the constituency were placed when the unavoidable expenses of election were charged on candidates. The present practice amounted to a legislative assertion that the candidate was seeking a favour at the hands of the constituency, and that the electors were conferring a favour upon him by giving him their votes. He did not deny that in the language of courtesy favour was given and received on both sides; but, looking to the essential elements of the calculation, the favour was done by the candidate to the electors, and therefore he should be glad to see erased the practical contradiction of fact which was written on the face of the Statute Book. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton had observed that it was in the time of George II. that the expenses were thrown on the candidates so far as regarded the county constituencies. But the hon. and learned Member would scarcely say that it was from the reign of George II. that they were to seek a model on which to found popular principles. The question must be decided on its merits—not from the model of the reign of George II., when the nation was under a totally different system from that which now prevailed, The proposal, as containing the sound and true principle as embodied in the clause, would tend to elevate the tone of representation; it would purify the atmosphere in which the Member of Parliament or the candidate met the constituency, and it would be an assertion on the Statute Book that the man who went to Parliament, even if he incidentally obtained that which benefited himself, did not go there with a charter to promote his own advantage, but to perform a public duty for the benefit of the nation. The policy of the change contemplated by the clause was a matter of more pressing importance than that of the abstract principle on which it rested, however sound it might be; that policy he took to be, as it was the object it was designed to facilitate, was the admission of working men within these walls; and here he felt that they were entirely removed from the ground of party differences. He was certain there was nothing that could render hon. Gentlemen opposite—he would not say more hostile, but less friendly to the admission of working men into the House, than the motives applicable to the minds and judgments of those who sat on that side of the House. Indeed, he would go further and say that there was nothing which he should esteem in the true sense of the word more truly Conservative than the admission of a sensible number of working men to those benches. What was it that they had long wanted, and that they wanted at the present day more than ever in proportion to the increased means of working men, and the increased activity of thought and communication among them? It was the establishment of links to connect them with the classes which were socially above them in regard to the political institutions of the country. They wanted in the political world that which the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) had so well shown, in his interesting work on Pauperism, was wanting in the economical world, and which his hon. Friend thought the co-operative system was likely to supply. They wanted something which would unite the working men in a natural and legitimate manner with the rest of the community. The co-operative principle, placing the working man in the position of a capitalist, enabled him to enter into the feelings of capitalists, to appreciate the necessities which weighed upon the capitalist, and enabled him to form a just estimate of the relations between the two classes. The great blot of their representative system was that they had not been able to bring working men within those walls. When the Reform Act of 1867 was passed, so largely increasing the constituencies, there were few hon. Members who did not hope that one result of that change would be that they would have had the pleasure of welcoming in the House some of their fellow-citizens of the working class. Everyone had, however, been disappointed by the number and magnitude of the obstacles which had been found to intervene practically between the natural desire of the working class for representation in the persons of men of their own class, and the attainment of such desire. If the House was anxious in 1867 that those obstacles, so far as depended upon it, should be removed, there was an increased reason now for feeling that desire after the experience they had had. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) had, indeed, said it was not the expenses of elections which prevented the attainment of that object; but he would no doubt admit that that was one of the obstacles which stood in the way, and that the working classes themselves deemed it to be the most formidable of those obstacles. His hon. and learned Friend had also argued that the Government ought, according to their own principle, to go further, and propose a system of payment for Members of Parliament, in order to enable working men to enter that House. But that was altogether an ulterior question. His hon. and learned Friend had pointed out how that question might ultimately arrive at its solution by some voluntary system under which constituencies might if they chose, take the burden upon themselves. Perhaps some such system might be the means of solving the difficulty with regard to the maintenance of working men sitting in that House. For his own part, he strongly objected to a general system of payment of Members; but if particular communities and bodies of persons chose to establish that system for themselves, he knew of no good reason why the House should interfere for the purpose of preventing them. He had always understood that a highly respectable county Member who formerly sat for many years on the Opposition benches, was enabled to make his appearance in the House by means of an annuity fund raised by his constituents, and he did not know why the obstacles in the way of working class representatives should not be met in the same manner. Meanwhile, the Government must deal with these obstacles as best they could. They believed it to be of great importance that working men should be returned to that House, as everyone of such representatives would form a strong link and bond of union between the working classes and the classes of which that House was generally composed. He did not deny, however, that the public mind was much divided on this subject, and that many hon. Members objected to the proposal of the Government. The division about to be taken might, indeed, prove that the public mind was not yet sufficiently prepared; but, nevertheless, the Government thought it their duty to urge the proposal upon the House. He would accept the judgment of the House, whatever it might be. If it was in their favour, he hoped the House would impartially endeavour to adjust the details of the system; if it were adverse to them, they would, nevertheless, feel that the question was one which must make progress with the progress of thought and the ripening of the public mind on the subject. In that case the Government would have the consolation of claiming the future for their own, and whether in the form of an arrangement to be made by particular constituencies, or of a more general measure, they felt confident that by one means or the other the wisdom of Parliament, contemplating and acknowledging without question the desirableness of uniting, if possible, all classes in the personal composition of that House, would devise and effect a means by which that great object might be attained.


said, he would follow the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Gladstone's) example in treating that question as being in no sense a party one. It appeared to be understood, that if that clause were passed a door for the admission of working men into the House of Commons would be at once opened. Now, that he utterly denied. It was contrary both to the evidence of fact and of reason. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), in a somewhat inconsistent speech, had stated that the working men were so bent on having a measure of this sort that they had in part adopted it for themselves. Of course, no one objected to that. No doubt the highest and best principle would be that those who returned working men should show the sincerity of their convictions by paying the expenses, and certainly no one ever objected to a proceeding of the kind. With regard to the hon. Gentleman referred to by the Prime Minister, he was so esteemed by the farmers who returned him that they voluntarily assumed the burden which he was unable to sustain. A voluntary subscription was, however, very different from a permissive power to levy a rate, for a rate must be levied by the majority on the minority. He denied the correctness of the statement that no working men found their way into the House of Commons. He could not help thinking that men who, like Mr. G. Stephenson, had gone through every phase of labour both of body and mind, and passed on to the successful position which he at last attained, still retaining all his interest and all his knowledge of the feelings of the working classes, were better Representatives of those classes in the House of Commons than men could be who still continued in the ranks of workers for their daily bread. If working men did succeed in gaining an entrance to the House of Commons, they would find, he had no doubt, that they had been subject to many delusions; and, on the other hand, if they took the place of some of those who assumed to be peculiarly the working man's friends, he did not know that the House would suffer by it. As between the different modes which had been suggested of bearing the expenses of elections, he admitted there were only three ways of dealing with that question—namely, by means of local rates, from the Imperial funds, or by the candidates; and of those three he must say he was in favour of devolving them upon the candidate, as at present; but those expenses were by no means the largest expenses of an election, and, no doubt, if the defrayment of them were intrusted to the local authorities they might be considerably reduced, and with that object he would suggest that elementary public schools deriving a grant from the State might lawfully be used for polling-booths, being an Imperial purpose. With respect to the question whether the payment should be from local or Imperial funds, he did not feel called upon to decide; but if they paid for municipal elections from the local fund, he did not see why elections for Members of Parliament should not be paid for by Imperial funds. It was at least as just to pay out of the Imperial as out of local funds. The question of deposit, they had been reminded by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), was not embraced in the clause now under discussion; but it had been throughout debated in connection with the clause; and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster), who, till the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government rose, had charge of the Bill, said that he had been convinced by the arguments that had been used, and therefore he put in the clause about the deposit to guard against the evils which he feared would exist if it were not there. If this were so he had forfeited the whole principle at once. Look how unjust they were. They brought in a Bill, which they said was first of all to do away with bribery, and they said that they were going to put a stop to canvassing, because a man would not know who were really going to vote for him. A man might come forward relying upon his ability and knowledge of the electors, and then, to his great astonishment, he found that he had polled but very few votes. They proposed to make him deposit £100, and he would be fined this sum because he had mistaken the feelings of the constituency. Now that seemed a very unjust thing. They had a system at present that did not prevent a poor man getting into that House. He could mention in former Parliaments many who were returned by extraneous aid. He said also that working men had been in the House; and he might mention one very remarkable instance, that of the late Mr. Brotherton, who frequently alluded to the fact that he had been a factory worker. The payment out of the rates would not relieve the candidates from the real expenses of the election, and it was not worth while to bring upon the public that new charge unless to attain a matter which was of great consideration. They could not do it without an innovation, and however small the imposition might be, it would create an amount of irritation that would be quite disproportioned to the amount of burden that was placed upon the people. He could not but think that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government in speaking in that very temperate tone—he might almost say in that milk-and-water tone—seemed to be letting it down easy, and showing his followers that the Government would not be at all disappointed if the Committee rejected the clause.


said, that the history of this clause had been a very chequered one, for when originally proposed in the last Parliament it was carried by a majority of 8 votes, which was afterwards overruled by a majority of 7 at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), then the head of the Government. It was brought forward again in the shape of a Bill in the present Parliament, almost the first division being taken upon that proposition; but it was again unfortunate; all the Members of the Government, except three, were absent at a levée when it came on, and in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, the Bill was left to be damned with faint praise by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets; and, in spite of having to go through this trying ordeal, it was only defeated by the narrow majority of 3. That year the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government himself had taken it up, and he thanked him for his speech; there was, however, a tone of despondency about his remarks indicative of coming defeat, and he feared that in the hands of the Government the proposal would not fare so well as in the hands of a private Member. He had always been anxious that the British Parliament should be as fully representative as possible; but he felt that the working man had been dragged into unfortunate prominence in that discussion. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt)—had made a speech which was really appropriate to that abstract question, that it was desirable that working men should be admitted. But if the effect of the clause were to exclude working men for 25 years, he should still advocate the principle it contained, believing that to be a proper one in itself. It not only gave a chance for their admission, but would secure economy of elections, which was particularly important, because the tendency of the Bill would unquestionably be to render the necessary expenses larger than before. The virtual principle of that clause was, that a seat in the House of Commons was not an honour to be bought, but a duty to be performed. His hon. and learned Friend, in a speech which was very perplexing, first said there was no principle in the clause, and afterwards, that it was so advanced that he was afraid of its effect, and that the question was unpopular with the constituencies; but he (Mr. Fawcett) would very much like to put the matter to a practical test in the constituency represented by his hon. and learned Friend, whose speech if not a crotchet was something worse, in that the first part contradicted the last. His hon. and learned friend was either afraid of his constituents, and did not dare, therefore, to support the clause, or his constituents were not sufficiently advanced to allow him to support the clause. The advantages of the Ballot would be dearly purchased if they were accompanied by cries which would increase the expense, and therefore he hoped means would be taken to give instruction in economy to the constituencies whose interest it now was to increase the cost of elections. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) said the effect of the clause would be to increase the number of contests—a result which he (Mr. Fawcett) did not think at all likely to follow, because as the electors would have to bear the expense they would not encourage candidates to come forward, unless there existed strong grounds for changing the representation of a constituency. At present there was no pressure of public opinion to prevent contests which originated in a desire to obtain profit at the expense of a candidate. If that clause were law, the man who came forward as a candidate without any chance of success would have nearly all the ratepayers enlisted against him, and would be told that he ought to be kicked out of the place for subjecting them to useless expense. Much had been ominously said, and particularly by the Prime Minister, about the vast importance of passing a Secret Voting Bill; but he ventured to tell the House that among advanced Liberals even more importance was attached to the question of decreasing the cost of elections, than to the establishment of the principle of secret voting. What he wanted to see passed was a Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Bill, a measure which would affirm the principle that a seat in Parliament should not be bought, but that a man who was willing to discharge the duties connected with such a position should have imposed upon him in obtaining it the smallest pecuniary burdens possible.

Question put, "That the word 'all' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 160; Noes 256: Majority 96.


said, he rose merely for the purpose of stating that, much as the Government regretted the decision just come to, and although, technically, the Amendment was only for the omission of the first word of the clause and the replacing of it by another, yet of course they took the decision of the Committee as a decision upon the principle involved in the clause. He was therefore in hopes that there would be no attempt to proceed with the clause, which would be merely wasting the time of the Committee. The Government were prepared at once to assent to its being negatived, together with the next three clauses.

Clause negatived.

Clauses 19 to 21, inclusive, negatived.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.