HC Deb 10 August 1876 vol 231 cc1055-8

Order for Committee read.


said, he considered it a hardship that certain men had been selected for punishment, while others, who were the principals, were allowed to go scot free. He should like to know the reasons which had induced the Government to adopt this course?


said, the Bill had been introduced in consequence of the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the cases of the borough of Boston and the city of Norwich. All that this Bill proposed to do with regard to Boston was to disfranchise the scheduled persons for seven years. With respect to Norwich the Commissioners reported that corrupt practices prevailed at the elections of 1874 and 1875, and that a great number of voters were colourably employed. But at no other election since 1860 had corrupt practices extensively prevailed. Therefore, the Government thought the case would be met by providing that no fresh writ should issue for Norwich during the present Parliament, and that those persons whose names were scheduled should be unable to vote for a Member of Parliament for seven years.


said, he should not at that late hour of the evening, or he might say at that late period of the Session, delay the House by making more than a few remarks before going into Committee on the Bill. He was glad that the task he had to perform was a simple one. He had placed an Amendment on the Paper; but he thought after the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, in reference to the Bill before the House, it would not be necessary for him to say very much. But he wished just to point out in reference to the Norwich elections that though some rather questionable circumstances had happened in that city, there were some boroughs which were comparatively free from much political excitement that might be contrasted with Norwich without much disparagement to the city he represented. Certainly it might be said that there were some exceptional causes in Norwich owing to the strong personal feeling that existed in reference to one of the candidates. He said this, not to excuse anything that had happened of an improper nature, but rather to explain some of the exciting scenes that had been brought before the country in the Report of the Commissioners. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had said that the Report of the Commissioners came to this—and he (Mr. Colman), for one, frankly expressed his regret for it—that at the last two elections in Norwich, there was, according to the phrase used by the Commissioners, "colourable employment." Now, he hoped the House would bear in mind the fact that the cost of an election was, perhaps, a rough, but, at the same time, a very good test of its purity, and that when they found a very costly election, they might be pretty sure that something had been going on that ought not to have been. He was not there to say that the elections in Norwich had been conducted with economy—he was afraid they had not; but he hoped the House would allow him to quote some figures which he had culled from Parliamentary Returns, and in doing so he would refrain from mentioning the names of the places to which the figures referred, as he did not wish to say anything that might lead to unnecessary discussion. There was a borough containing 23,000 voters—and he might here say that something turned on the size of a constituency—in which the money spent on behalf of the different candidates averaged 8s. 10d. per voter. In another containing a constituency of 20,000, the average per voter was 9s. 1d.; in a third, with a constituency of 7,000, where there were two candidates, the cost was 11s. 3d. per head; in a fourth, with a constituency of 23,000, the expenditure was 13s. 9d. per voter; in a fifth, where there were 6,000 voters, the cost was 16s. 2d. per head; and in another borough, with not much over that number of constituents, the cost was 23s. per voter. Well, after these figures, he wished to call the attention of the House to the expenses at Norwich. In that city the cost was put at 11s. 6d. per voter; but in this case it should be remembered that the expenses were calculated not merely on the published Re- turns, but also on the outside payments that had been brought before the Royal Commissioners. With regard to these outside payments he heard of them elsewhere. Some hon. Members of that House had told him that in their boroughs and among their constituencies they knew nothing of these outside payments, or that if they were brought before them they refused to pay; but there were places where the outside claims were known and acknowledged, and he must express a hope that the hon. and learned Attorney General, in any Bill he might bring in at any future time in reference to corrupt practices, would turn his attention to this point. His late Colleague (Baron Huddleston), who had gone out of the sphere of that House to a serener one, had explained before the Commissioners the difficulty in which candidates were placed. He pointed out that an agent came and explained that such and such debts had been incurred on his behalf by a friend. Well, it was to be hoped that the House would enact such laws that instead of these charges being met as debts of honour which the candidates were bound to pay, they should be regarded as debts of dishonour, and in that case the country would get rid of a great deal of corruption. He had already given figures showing that Norwich was not to be looked upon as the only black spot on the electoral purity of the country; but he wished, before sitting down, to give another instance to show what could be done where the candidates made up their minds to have an election conducted purely. He would refer to a case of a constituency of 46,000, where the average cost per voter was only 1s. 10d.; to another where there were 36,700 voters, and the cost was 1s. 9d. per head; and to a third, where the voters numbered 18,650, and the average cost was only 1s.d. per head. The last-mentioned case showed such a creditable state of affairs that he thought he might in this particular instance break the rule he had laid down for himself and state that the borough which had the honour of conducting its elections as cheaply as any in England was the borough of Oldham. He would not trouble the House with any lengthened remarks. He had already presented Petitions from some of his constituents, who considered that their case really required some attention, and he had simply to say on their behalf that whilst admitting frankly that Mr. Commissioner M'Mahon agreed substantially with the Report of the other Commissioners, there were among his constituents those who entertained a doubt whether he would have agreed with them as to the precise names that had been put into the Schedule, or as to some of those that had been omitted from it. He had presented Petitions from some who thought that their case was one of peculiar hardship. He had only to say that he fully appreciated the manner in which the Government had treated this question. They had not been disposed to deal harshly with a constituency that had not hitherto been very favourable to them; and he trusted that the constituency he represented might hereafter have the high honour of being pointed out as one of those amongst whom elections were conducted cheaply and purely.

Bill considered in Committee, and reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.