HC Deb 25 March 1872 vol 210 cc677-87

Clause 1 (Nomination of candidates for parliamentary elections).

Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


, in the absence of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), proposed in page 1, line 26 after the word "Election" the following words, "or within one hour afterwards." The object of the Amendment was to enable a candidate to withdraw not only during the two hours of nomination, but within an hour afterwards. It was plain that at the kind of nomination contemplated by the Bill, there was nothing analogous to the demanding of a poll; and a man might be in the town where the nomination was being held and be entirely ignorant that he had been proposed. As the clause stood, he would be bound to go to the poll; but it was only right that he should get an opportunity of withdrawing.


hoped the hon. Member would not press the Amendment, as it would be attended with great inconvenience. If the withdrawal was permitted only during the two hours of nomination, some one else might be proposed in place of the person who retired. If the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman was accepted, and a candidate retired, no one else could be put up in his stead; consequently, a large portion of the constituency might be left without a candidate.

Amendment negatived.


moved, in line 27, to omit the word "himself."

Amendment agreed to; word struck out.


moved an Amendment, in page 1, line 28, after "him," to insert "or by his agent authorized under his hand." He explained that the object of the Amendment was to enable candidates who had been nominated without their own consent to withdraw through their agents.


had no objection to the principle, but proposed that the words should run "or by his proposer expressly authorized on his behalf."


said, that the proposer who put forward the candidate without his knowledge or wish might be a person not in communication with him.


reminded the right hon. Gentleman that the proposer of the candidate might in reality be very hostile to him.


said, the word "himself" having been struck out, the Amendment seemed unnecessary.


said, that if the time allowed for the withdrawal of a candidate happened to have expired before he even knew of his being proposed, it would be very hard upon a candidate put up against his wish. The right hon. Gentleman should consider the subject, and on the Report propose an Amendment which would relieve a candidate who was unable or unwilling to serve, enlarging the time within which he by himself or some authorized person might retire.


said, he really thought if the words of the Amendment were taken as proposed there would be very great difficulty.

Amendment negatived.


proposed in line 28, after "officer," to insert— Provided, That the proposer of a candidate nominated in his absence out of the United Kingdom, may withdraw his own nomination if accompanied, when made, by a written declaration of such absence of the candidate.


feared that the clause as it stood would not be quite fair, in that it would give great facilities for putting forward bogus candidates. He therefore should move, as an Amendment of the proposed Amendment, after the word "withdraw," the insertion of the words "at any time before the day of polling."


hoped the Amendment of the hon. Member for the West Riding would be accepted by the Committee without the insertion of the words proposed by the hon. Baronet, which he did not regard as reasonable.

Amendment (Sir George Jenkinson) negatived; Amendment (Mr. Denison) agreed to.


proposed in line 28, after "officer," to insert paragraph 1 of Schedule 1, Part I., page 16, line 5. He protested against the course which had been taken by the Government in bringing forward a Bill of so important a character at midnight, and upon the last day before the rising of the House for the Easter Recess, a course which was attributable, in his opinion, to their desire to regain a little of that support from Members sitting below the gangway on their own side which they had lost. In the Bill of last year the whole of the provisions relating to the nomination of candidates were contained in a second clause, while in the present Bill they were comprised in the Schedules. He should be glad if his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would give the Committee some information as to the reasons why the Bill had been drawn in that extraordinary form. He could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill should be abandoned by his legal advisers, and the time of the Committee as a consequence wasted. If his Amendment were adopted, the result would be that the meaning of the measure would be more easily ascertained.


said, in his opinion the Amendment was not pertinent to the subject-matter of the clause itself.


remarked that his object in moving it was to obtain from the Government some reasons for the course which they had taken in remodelling the clause.


said, that in the course of the discussions on the Bill of last year it appeared to the Committee that a great many details were included in the clauses which were not necessary. That was the reason why they had been included in the Schedules this year.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


, who had given Notice of an Amendment to reject the clause, said, he thought it an unusual course to bring forward at the fag-end of the evening a measure so important as the present Bill, and, therefore, he would move his Amendment on the Report, unless the Government now consented to report Progress.


said, he had intended to support the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Sclater-Booth), and quite agreed with him as to the difficulty of discussing it at that hour. They had for several years past had many opportunities of discussing the Ballot; but the question involved in this clause had never been discussed by the public, and scarcely in that House. It seemed rather hard, now that they had reached the appropriate stage in Committee, that they should be required to carry on the discussion at 20 minutes past 12 o'clock. They all admitted the fairness and courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and probably if he had had his own way in this matter he would have given the Committee a fair opportunity of discussing the question. It was, however, impossible to treat in a perfunctory manner a proposal to alter a long-recognized custom of the English people. However popular the Ballot might be, he believed a proposal to carry on the nomination of a candidate in a back-room, as if it were a "deed without a name," of which everybody should be ashamed, and which, like a capital execution, was to be strictly private, would be repugnant to the feelings of their fellow-countrymen. They were, at any rate, entitled to ask that the matter should be debated on the Report in a full House; and he was not without hope that the good sense of those who represented the English people would lead them to retain the ancient practice of public nominations, against which there had not been the slightest expression of opinion on the part of the public, nor, as far as he knew, a single Petition presented to the House.


, in moving that the Committee report Progress, observed that it was not fair or right that they should affirm, without discussion, the principle of the clause. The Court of Hustings was one of the most ancient and venerable of the institutions of this land, and he believed there were few hon. Members who did not wish to stand face to face with their constituents, and answer such questions as might be put to them. Small value attached to the declaration of the poll; but the constituents would regret the loss of the opportunity of meeting their candidates.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)


trusted that the hon. Member for Westminster would not persevere with his Motion for reporting Progress. The measure was an important measure, which the Government were bound to carry forward; but while doing so, they were prevented from attending to other measures in which the hon. Member himself felt an interest, and, therefore, it was desirable that its progress should not be unnecessarily delayed. The Committee had been debating the present clause for a considerable time, and he thought hon. Members would agree that it would be an advantage to take up the consideration of the Bill on the 2nd clause relating to the Ballot after Easter. His right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock was incorrect in saying that the present clause relating to the nomination of candidates had not been much debated, for it was considerably discussed last year, and the feeling of the House in favour of the proposal contained in the Bill had been most unmistakably shown by one of the divisions upon the question resulting in one of the largest majorities obtained by the Government last year—namely, 296 to 113; and another in a smaller House giving a majority of 236 to 95. But if hon. Gentlemen desired to go into the question of principle again, the Government would give them every opportunity of doing so on the Report.


said, he did not think that those who objected to the clause were unreasonable in asking for a full opportunity of discussing its principle in Committee. It was very unsatisfactory to pass a clause in Committee and raise the question of reversing the decision of the Committee on the Report. Not only that, but there was sufficient in the clause to furnish matter for an entire Bill, and to pass the clause would be equivalent to reading the second time a Bill for the abolition of public nominations. Now, although there was a majority last year in favour of the adoption of that course, he had reason to know that many hon. Members had since changed their views upon the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth intended to have addressed the Committee upon the clause, but in consequence of its postponement he was unable to do so. The longer the clause was discussed the greater appeared the difficulty of the plan of the Government. Although the Bill was a Bill to secure secret elections, yet, under the clause, every supporter of a candidate could pledge himself to support him, for any number of electors might sign the nomination paper. Not only so, but there was nothing to prevent more than one nomination paper being delivered in behalf of the same candidate. Groups of 10 might sign these nomination papers. The Returning Officer must receive them, and was bound to publish all the names. They had heard of test ballots before the election, but this clause would sanction test nominations, and there would be open voting by way of nomination papers before they got to secret voting by way of ballot. That showed the great absurdity of the clause, and the opinion he expressed last Session against the clause had since been considerably strengthened, and others had been converted to his view of the question. It would be a saving of time to report Progress, because those who opposed the clause would take an opportunity of doing so at some future stage. This was the most legitimate time for doing so.


Mr. Dodson—Sir, I can confirm what has boon stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt). I know that, upon further consideration, a great number of the Members of this House entertain very strong doubts as to whether their votes last Session in favour of this clause were not adverse to the feelings of their constituents. The House, when it considered this Bill last Session, was under the influence of a party excitement. Great irritation had been caused by what occurred with respect to the Army Bill, and I must say that I never saw such a manifestation of party excitement as took place afterwards during the discussions on this Bill; moreover, I believe that no vote expressed that feeling of party irritation to the extent that the vote did which enacted this clause at that time. From all that has occurred in the country during the Recess I am convinced of this—that any enemy of this Bill might wish this clause retained if the popular voice of the country could be elicited upon the subject of this Bill altogether; for I believe—and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) confirms my belief—that many even of those who desire to see the Ballot adopted in the process of elections really detest this clause. Now, Sir, when I spoke on the subject of this clause last Session I stated—and I now re-affirm it—that this is a clause for the indulgence of luxurious candidates, and in favour of timid electors. It is in favour of those who desire to avoid expressing their opinions as candidates in the presence of constituents. It is in favour of those electors who have not interest enough in the election to go to the nomination for the purpose of seeing the candidates. Sir, it is a most singular synchronism, but it was only on Friday last that Her Majesty's Government announced that they were prepared to repeal the Party Processions (Ireland) Act. Now, why was that statute enacted? For the purpose of repression. Why is it to be abandoned? Because it has failed as a means of repression. It is now Monday night, and the Government have managed so to arrange business that they bring under final discussion, close upon midnight, this clause, which is another provision for repression. This is a provision to repress the action of popular opinion—the expression of the popular voice in the primary stage of elections; and I think it a most singular synchronism that Friday and Monday—I may say in one week—should be marked by two proposals on the part of a Liberal Government to increase repression. I am, Sir, of opinion that the Government were justified in proposing to repeal the Party Processions Act. Processions are, no doubt, objectionable. They have ever been held by the law to be objectionable; because they are a manifestation of physical force, and are not available for discussion, nor are they necessary for the expression of public opinion. On the other hand, the public nominations, which by this clause you propose to repeal, have for 467 years been the method by which the people of England have been entitled, first to hear, and then to examine candidates, and next to express their opinion with respect to them. Sir, I cannot help thinking that the terms of the statute, which is to be repealed by this clause, are such as to condemn the clause itself. For what are the terms of the statute? I have them here. They are part of a statute which was passed for the purpose of ensuring publicity of elections, and thereby correcting the abuses which were found to have been practised by Returning Officers; and this ancient statute was enacted in consequence of its having been found that, under a comparatively private system of nominations, sheriffs had been guilty of affection, as it is termed, of partiality and unfairness in reference to the manner in which candidates were presented to constituents. So far back as the reign of Henry IV. it was found necessary to correct the abuses to which you are now opening the door, and which will most certainly ensue upon a system of private nominations. Well, Sir, considering the hour at which we have arrived, and the manner in which it is endeavoured thus to enforce upon the people of England the abandonment of their ancient privileges, I consider it a concession to those hon. Members only who, under the plea of Liberal professions, are seeking to force upon the country a system of government which is utterly inconsistent with constitutional freedom. The plea is this—that riots and disorders, by far the greater part in Ireland, have taken place at the nominations of candidates. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members may say "No!" let them rise in their places and deny it. Why, did not the hon. Member for the city of Waterford (Mr. Osborne) state in our hearing that it was absolutely necessary that the nominations for that constituency should be rendered private on account of riot? If hon. Members do not believe that, let them rise and deny it, and let their names appear. After these statements have been embodied in the Report of a Committee, it is all very well for hon. Members to say "No, no!" Let them, I say again, rise in their places and contradict the Report of the Committee; let them contradict the assertions of hon. Members who have experienced the violence of Irish mobs. I see four Irish Members opposite, sitting side by side; let any one of them rise and deny what I have stated. Sir, the Irish Members are tired of the ancient publicity of English elections; it is consistent only with the capacity for freedom, which is to be found in England; and they are jealous of the manifestations of an incapacity in their own country, which does not exist in the remainder of the United Kingdom. This seems to be the reason that they are in favour of the system of private nominations. But I, for one, think that the very mode in which this proposal is made, and the time at which it is attempted to be carried through the House, manifests two circumstances—one, that the Government are conscious of the fact that this clause is deservedly adverse to the feelings of the great majority of the people, both in England and Scotland; and the other circumstance manifested is, that the Government are endeavouring to shirk the expression of popular opinion with respect to hon. Members who support them, and upon the policy which regulates their conduct.


said, he hoped his right hon. Friend would consent to report Progress, for he had a strong conviction that when the Committee had had time to deliberate upon the clause, they would see that it would be an immense advantage to the constituency that they should have an opportunity of seeing the candidate face to face, and of inquiring into matters with each other—an advantage and an opportunity he should be sorry to see abolished. If fairly debated, he believed the clause would be struck out, and it would be more convenient to substitute a new clause in Committee than on the Report.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had given a reason for postponement which hardly applied. If the present system were preferred, all that would be necessary would be to omit the clause, without substituting another.


hoped the Committee would not act in a hasty and perfunctory manner, but that it would seriously consider a question affecting not only the rights of hon. Members, but also the rights of a majority of the male population of the kingdom. The persons who would be injured by this clause would be those who had no vote and were unable to exercise an influence upon candidates except at the hustings. He trusted that privilege would not be taken away from them.


rose to say, in reply to a remark that had fallen from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that the people of Scotland had no objection to the clause, but rather considered it an improvement upon the present system.


said, it would be quite impossible to discuss the question on the Report. It would be idle to proceed with the Schedules until the House had positively decided what was to be done with this clause. Unquestionably, public opinion had not demanded this change; no Petitions had been presented in its favour; and the desire for it had arisen only on the part of those hon. Members whose nerves were unequal to the trial of the hustings.


said, the proposal of this year was very different from that upon which the House divided last year, as would be seen upon comparing the two proposals. The clause and schedule of this year made no provisions for earmarking the candidate.


said, the 1st Schedule, sub-section 6, did what the hon. Member desired.


joined in supporting the Motion to report Progress. He was among the majority in favour of the principle of the clause last Session; but he was now convinced that the objections to the clause as it stood were greater than the objections to open nominations.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 126: Majority 67.

Question again proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Sir George Jenkinson.)


hoped the Committee would go on with the clause. Hon. Members opposite would be able again to raise the question of nominations on the Report being brought up.


supported the Motion. It was not until just after the riot at the Bristol election that The Times found out that nominations ought to be abolished.


opposed the Motion. The question had teen already fully decided, and that there had been a general understanding that the clause should be got through that night.


had never heard of any such understanding. He asked for proof that the feeling of the people was really in favour of their no longer meeting in public those who sought to represent them.


asked whether, if there had been a change in public feeling since last year on this question, there would not have been a rush to the rescue of public nominations?


said, the history of this clause dated from the period of last Session, when the Liberal party persistently held their tongues, and had never yet been really debated. To adopt it would be to return to the Dark Ages, and to strike a blow at the system of public meetings throughout the country. If the Government were pressed to carry this Motion, he, as a candid friend, would ask his hon. Friend (Sir George Jenkinson) to withdraw his Motion.


denied that the question of the Ballot had ever been put before the country at a General Election. Not 120 Members now in the House had been asked a question about it on the hustings. As for this particular clause, it might be as well to let the Government carry it, and then they could go back happily to their constituents and say that they had done something.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 117: Majority 87.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed,.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday 8th April.

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