HC Deb 20 March 1879 vol 244 cc1363-403

Order for Second Reading read.


on rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that, not having had an opportunity of explaining its provisions when he introduced it, it might be for the advantage of the House that he should now briefly do so. For some time past it had been felt that the law with regard to corrupt practices at Elections and also with regard to the trial of Election Petitions was in not altogether a satisfactory state. The matter had several times been brought under the notice of the House, and in 1875 a Committee was appointed to consider it. That Committee, after taking a great deal of evidence, had made certain recommendations, some of which, though not all, for reasons which he would explain, were embodied in the Bill now before the House. The first recommendation of the Committee was that every Election Petition alleging corrupt practices against a sitting Member or his agents, should be tried by a tribunal consisting of two Judges of the Superior Courts. That recommendation was one of great importance, raising questions of much nicety and difficulty, and, with the permission of the House, he would postpone consideration of it for a moment or two. The Committee, in the next place, recommended that immediately after the decision of the Judges had been pronounced upon an Election Petition, or as soon thereafter as might be, all persons who appeared to have been guilty of bribery, treating, or the exercise of undue influence, should be brought before the Election Judges and summarily tried for such offence, for which they should be liable, if convicted, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour. Another recommendation of the Committee was, that in order to the due trial of such persons, the Attorney General should appoint some person to attend the trial of every Election Petition, and take care that they were brought before the Election Judges and summarily dealt with in the manner described. Now, the Government had not been able to adopt these two recommendations. They thought, in the first place, that if they were adopted, the trial of Election Petitions would be unduly prolonged; and, in the second, they were not sure that the Election Judges, who had investigated the matter, and, therefore, must necessarily have already arrived at conclusions of their own respecting the conduct of the persons before them, would form the best possible tribunal for the trial of such persons. Moreover, the Government did not see why such persons should be deprived of their ordinary right to be tried by a jury of their own countrymen. No doubt the course recommended by the Committee of bringing them before a possibly irate Judge who had full knowledge of their delinquencies, would be a very easy one of getting rid of offenders, but the Government did not think it advisable to adopt it for the reasons stated. The fourth recommendation of the Committee was one which the Government had adopted—namely, that with the consent of the parties to a Petition, the Judges should order the trial to be held in the metropolitan town of the part of the United Kingdom to which the Petition related, or any other convenient place. A further recommendation of the Committee had reference to the throwing away of votes, and it was that— When disqualification arises from the candidate having been guilty of corrupt practices, no vote shall he deemed to be thrown away, unless the person for whom such vote is given has been declared guilty of corrupt practices by a tribunal having jurisdiction to entertain and determine the question. On this point, the law did not appear to be uniform in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In the Galway Election, some time ago, if he remembered rightly, a decision was given to this effect—If it were notorious that a candidate had been guilty of corrupt practices, though he might not have been convicted of the offence, all votes given for him must be regarded as futile. Whether that was a sound decision, he did not now ask the House to say, but the question had been raised whether, under the circumstances stated, votes ought to be regarded as thrown away. The Committee recommended that they should not be regarded as thrown away, and their recommendation was embodied in the Bill. Coupled with this, there was a recommendation that no vote should be deemed to be thrown away, unless the alleged disqualification was so notorious as to lead to the presumption that the voters had given their votes wilfully and perversely to a candidate incapable of being elected. The Government, however, had not adopted that suggestion, simply because the law was already in accordance with it, and therefore it was unnecessary to introduce any provision on the subject. The next recommendation was an important one. It was, that an addition should be made to Clause 11, Section 14, of the Act of 1868—the Election Petitions Act—providing that in the event of the Judges being of opinion that the inquiry into the circumstances of an Election had been rendered incomplete by the action of either of the parties to the Petition, and that further inquiry was necessary, the House of Commons on receiving such report, might order a second inquiry to be made forthwith before one of the Judges forming the tribunal, which inquiry should be conducted by an Officer appointed by the Attorney General. The recommendation further provided that the Judge should give his certificate whether he was of opinion that the inquiry had been rendered incomplete by the action of either party. It very often happened that one of the candidates, finding he had been compromised by an indiscreet or unscrupulous agent bribing, rashly, foolishly, and wrongly, right and left, and that it was quite hopeless for him to defend his seat, set to work with the parties petitioning to discover whether the borough or county, as the case might be, could not be preserved. It became, in fact, the object of both parties to shield the iniquitous borough or county as much as they could, and the whole thing, to use a common and intelligible expression, was "squared." There could be no doubt that by such contrivances a great number of corrupt practices could be kept from the knowledge of the Judge who had to try the Petition, from the House of Commons, and from the knowledge of the country generally. That was not as it ought to be, and therefore Her Majesty's Government had concurred in and adopted the suggestions that if inquiry had been stifled or rendered incomplete by such means, further inquiry was needed. The Government were, however, of opinion that the Judge, having made his Report, it would not be wise to have immediately a fresh inquiry before the Election Judge conducted by the Attorney General; but to provide that the Election Judge should make a Report, as in the case of the Election Act of 1852, and that it should have the same effect, and be dealt with in the same manner, as if it were a Report of a Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in a particular case. On such a Report by a Committee of the House, Commissioners would be appointed to go down and inquire whether corrupt practices were prevalent in the borough or county, and if they reported in the affirmative, the result would probably be that the delinquent constituency would be disfranchised. That was the course now proposed to be followed, so that, practically, the suggestion of the Committee had been adopted. The next suggestion of the Committee was that in every case where the Election Judge reported that corrupt practices had prevailed, every person scheduled by the Judge to have been guilty of any corrupt practices within the Act of 1854 should be disqualified from voting for the borough or county in which the same had been proved to have occurred—should be deprived of his right of voting for seven years from the date of the report made against him. Now, it struck him, that that was an exceedingly harsh and severe suggestion. It did not follow that because a man had been reported to be guilty of corrupt practices, therefore he was guilty; and it would be hard, without giving him an opportunity of being heard in his own defence, to deprive him of the privilege of voting for seven years. He did not think that such a provision would meet with the approval of the House, which was always disposed to see fair play carried out between all parties. Under the present law, a man reported to have been guilty of corrupt practices, and who had had an opportunity of being heard on his own behalf, should be liable to that and to other consequences. It was one thing, however, to punish a man who had had an opportunity of defending himself; it was quite another in the case of a man who had not been heard, and who had been merely reported to have been guilty of corrupt practices; and, that being so, Her Majesty's Government had not been able to embody that suggestion in the Bill. The further suggestion with reference to the tribunal before which a candidate found guilty of personal corruption should be tried was an extremely important one, and so also was the last, in which the Committee had had their attention drawn to the provision of the existing Act which forbade the payment of any money for the conveyance of voters in boroughs to the polls, except in certain cases which the Act specified. The Committee stated in their Report that the law had in some instances been broken, and they were of opinion that the polling-places in boroughs might be so selected as that conveyance of voters would be altogether unnecessary, and should be the subject of some penalty if resorted to. Now, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) and the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) founded some opposition to the Bill on the ground that a penalty should be and had not been provided, the Bill proposing to leave the law in that respect in its present condition. The present law fixed the penalty for conveying voters to the poll in boroughs in hired vehicles at 40s. There were, he might observe, three views taken of the question. One was, that conveyance of voters in hired vehicles was not merely an illegal act, but that it should avoid the seat; another was, that the law as it stood should not be altered; and the third was, that the law should be repealed, and that, it should be made legal to convey voters to the poll in hired vehicles. He had hardly been able to make up his mind upon the point. In his opinion, it would be very hard to make such conveyance of voters a ground for avoiding the seat. A Member—say, a working man's candidate—would be unseated for hiring a number of cabs to convey voters, while the seat of an opulent Member who had accepted the offer of a number of carriages from his friends for a like purpose would be quite safe. But it was said that the provision in the existing Act on this subject ought to be repealed. If, as had been urged, it was a law which was not put in force, which was practically a dead letter, he should not object to let it go; but he thought that it was of some use, and that possibly the idea that a disregard for it might have something to do with avoiding an Election would lead to a less frequent hiring of cabs and carriages to convey voters to the poll. His mind, however, was quite open on the subject, and if he were not convinced to the contrary, he would remain of the opinion that it would be better to allow the law to remain as it then was. He would now come to the question to which he had before alluded, as to whether the tribunal for the trial of Election Petitions should consist of two Judges, as recommended by a majority of the Committee who reported that, in their opinion, no Member should be unseated or declared guilty of corrupt practices except on the unanimous report of two Judges of the Superior Courts. For his part, he confessed he thought that, except in an exceptional case, one Judge of the Superior Courts constituted a very good tribunal, and was very satisfactory. He would bring to the inquiry into an Election Petition a knowledge of the law which had been already settled, and a mind trained to the investigation and sifting of evidence. No man was more accustomed to investigate facts, and to arrive at conclusions, than a Judge of the Superior Courts. He could quite understand that it was possible to have a more satisfactory tribunal—one which very likely would command the confidence of the general public more—as in the case of a tribunal of three Judges; but he did not see how the case would be very much bettered by having a tribunal of two Judges. If there was an unanimous decision in a Court with two Judges it might be all very well, but, supposing that the House were to adopt the suggestion of the Committee, and that in a case where corrupt practices were alleged against a candidate, the tribunal happened to be divided, what, he would like to know, would be the position of the unhappy candidate? He would be allowed to sit in the House of Commons, it was true, but he would necessarily sit under all the stigma and disgrace which would attach to a man who had failed to be acquitted by the tribunal. The adoption of the suggestion made by the Committee would lead to disastrous consequences, as the tribunal of two might not come to a decision, and, in such a case, would not acquit a man of the misdeeds alleged against him. It might be said, "If you approve a tribunal of three, why do not you elect such a tribunal?" The answer was an easy one. A tribunal of three could not be constituted, because the country did not possess sufficient judicial power. The requisite number of Judges could not be spared. At the General Election which might be held before very long, a good deal of bribery and corruption would probably be alleged in many cases, and from where was the country to get three Judges to try the Election Petitions that would follow? They could not be found anywhere, unless a stop was to be put to the ordinary business of the Courts, or unless a vast number of Judges were to be created simply for the purpose of trying Election Petitions, for their services would not be required afterwards. For the reasons which he had adduced, the Government had come to the conclusion that such a tribunal could not be had, and that, therefore, the suggestion of the Committee was not an admissible one. If the Government could afford a tribunal of three Judges, they would be willing to provide one; but, after carefully considering the matter, they had come to the conclusion that the appointment of such a tribunal was utterly impossible. Well, then, there was this further suggestion of the Com- mittee, or, rather, of the Committee of 1875— That, whatever may be the ultimate decision of Parliament as to the composition of the tribunal which is to try Election Petitions, it is, in the judgment of this Committee, most advisable that the Law should be altered in reference to the penalties imposed by the 43rd section of the Act of 1868, by providing that they shall not be incurred, except on the conviction of the offender after trial in due course of law or by the decision at least of two Judges. He did not think the suggestion was very happily expressed, but its meaning was, that the offender should not be convicted except on the decision of two Judges. Certainly the case of a candidate who was reported guilty of personal bribery, was a very exceptional one. Perhaps the House would allow him to remind it of the provisions of the Act of 1868 in regard to this matter. The 43rd section of that Act contained the following:— When it is found, by the Report of the Judge upon an Election Petition under this Act, that bribery has been committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any candidate at an Election, such candidate shall be deemed to have been personally guilty of bribery at such Election, and his election shall be void, and he shall be incapable of being elected to or of sitting in Parliament for a space of seven years, and he shall further be incapable of being registered a voter, and of voting at any election, and of holding any office under 5 and 6 Will. IV., or 3 and 4 Vic, or of holding any municipal or judical office, or of being appointed and acting as a justice of the peace. The penalties, imposed upon a candidate who was found by the report of the Judge to be guilty of what he might call personal corruption were, therefore enormous, and it might well be that terror was excited in the minds of candidates when they thought of the penalties that might be imposed upon them. It had been felt, and felt very strongly, that it was harsh that decisions involving such severe consequences should be arrived at by a single Judge, especially as no appeal was allowed. The Government had considered the matter, and had come to the conclusion that the recommendations of the Committee were of the greatest importance; but, instead of enacting that the trial should be before two Judges, they had provided in the present Bill that, whenever a candidate was reported as personally guilty of corruption, he should have an appeal from the decision of the Election Judge to the Court of Appeal, so that, before he could be pronounced guilty, and before the very fearful consequences of guilt could be entailed upon him, he would have a right to the decision, perhaps, of four or five Judges, but, at all events, of three, of the highest standing. No more satisfactory tribunal could be found in this Kingdom or in any other than the Court of Appeal, and the provision of the Bill was, that when personal corruption was alleged, an appeal would lie just as in ordinary cases. The action would be brought before the Court in the same manner as cases were now brought before it, and if the Court came to the conclusion that the Election Judge was right, everybody would be satisfied. He had, he believed, now made known to the House all the provisions of the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen would see that to a great extent the recommendations of the Committee, most of which he considered were very excellent ones, had been adopted, and that, in those cases where they had not been adopted, there existed very good reasons for rejecting the Committee's suggestion. He concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General.)


in moving, as an Amendment— That no Bill to amend the Acts relating to Election Petitions and to the prevention of Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections will be satisfactory to the House which leaves the Law with regard to payments for the conveyance of Voters to the poll in its present condition, said, he would not, on the present occasion, go generally into the subject of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General's speech, nor very widely into the Bill; but would suggest, for the sake of convenience, that the House should first take a Division on his Amendment, and then take up the major question raised by the measure. The Bill itself was a very small one upon a very large subject. With regard to the Amendment, he thought the House must be very much astonished at some observations which had fallen from the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Member, after telling the House that a law existed which was absurd, and which was almost universally broken, had proceeded to say, as the highest Legal Authority in the House, that he did not propose to do anything at all to improve matters, and that he intended to leave the law as it stood. Surely, that was a most impotent conclusion to arrive at? It being the case that the law with regard to the use of vehicles at elections was broken throughout the country, was the House of Commons going to declare that that law did not require alteration? The Attorney General knew perfectly well that if the law were left in its present condition, it would everywhere continue to be broken, and it would be broken more and more every year. In 1868, when the law against the employment of vehicles in boroughs was quite new, it was pretty generally observed; but in 1874, when people had come to know that the penalties attached to that law were never going to be put in force, it was almost universally broken; and if there still existed a few boroughs in which the law had been observed up to the present time, the day was not far distant when it would be disregarded even in those select places. The law, as it now stood, legalized the payment for vehicles to convey voters to the poll in counties and some few agricultural boroughs; but it prohibited such a payment in all other boroughs in the country under a penalty of 40s. At the same time, there remained behind this, the danger that it was possible a severe Election Judge might decide, under certain circumstances, that the organized commission of an illegal act on a large scale by a candidate's agents voided the election. This general terror, which had not been met by any decision yet pronounced, but which had only been hinted at in certain judicial decisions, had not been found sufficient to prevent the employment of vehicles in the way he had described. Still it was possible that a candidate who permitted the employment of vehicles at an Election might find himself subject to the adverse decision of a particularly severe Judge. He believed the penalty for the employment of vehicles at Elections had never been enforced in a single case. Surely, it could not be a satisfactory state of things that the Attorney General should be still making up his mind on this subject, or that he had made up his mind to allow matters to remain as they were? He should help the Attorney General to make up his mind by dividing the House on the Amendment he had placed on the Paper. For his own part, in common with many hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, he would rather have the law changed in either direction than left in its present state. It would be a perfectly intelligible thing if they were to enforce such penalties as would cause the law to be generally observed, or were to declare that, being on the whole unable to enforce it, they would repeal it; but it was neither intelligible nor defensible that they should leave matters in the lax position in which they at present stood. With regard to what should be done when they got into Committee, the Attorney General had argued in advance against the idea of making the employment of vehicles at Elections a corrupt practice. At all events, if the hon. and learned Gentleman were to ask the working men's candidates at Elections what they thought of the law, they would tell him they would rather not have the employment of vehicles legalized by that House. In fact, there was nothing which tended more to limit candidatures to the rich at the present time than this payment for the conveyance of voters to the poll. On the present occasion, his position was that it was a monstrous thing for the Attorney General to tell the House that the law was universally broken, and that the hon. and learned Member should finally announce his decision to leave matters as they stood. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he was glad to do so, as his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had invited the House to assist the Government in making up their minds upon the question. He could confirm the opinion expressed by his hon. and learned Friend, and by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) also, that this law relating to the employment of vehicles was almost universally broken. He did not know a single part of England in which the employment of vehicles was not universally practised. He would even go farther, and say that, in any contested election, if a candidate was so virtuous or scrupulous as not to provide cabs, he would inevitably lose the election. He was not quite sure whether the employment of cabs was a violation of the law or not, as it had never been decided. The hon. Baronet, when he was speaking, used the expression, "employment of vehicles for elections;" but what was forbidden by the Act of Parliament was not the employment of vehicles for elections, but the payment of money in respect of the conveyance of a voter to the poll. Now, it might be argued that if money was paid for hiring vehicles for a day, it was not paid in respect of the conveyance of any particular voter to the poll, as the cabs might be employed for other purposes. He thought it desirable that an amendment of the law should be made so as to clear up that point. The existence of the present law was one of the most direct inducements to the employment of corrupt practices at the present time. Corruption always sprang from secret payment, and if they could only make all payments in respect of elections public there would be no corruption at all. Now, in the case of cabs there must be some arrangement by which some one, without the knowledge of the candidates, should supply a sum of money for payment of cabs. The mere history of a great deal of the corruption which took place at elections at the present time was that the money provided for the hire of vehicles was devoted by the persons to whom it was entrusted to other purposes, such as public-houses. He did not know whether the law should be more stringent or whether it should be repealed and the practice left as it was before. The tendency of his mind was towards the repeal of the law, solely on the ground of the impossibility of drawing the line defining what a corrupt employment of vehicles would be.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Bill to amend the Acts relating to Election Petitions and to the prevention of Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections will be satisfactory to the House which leaves the Law with regard to payments for the conveyance of Voters to the poll in its present condition,"—(Sir Charles W. Dilke,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


who had an Amendment on the Paper, to the effect— That, in the opinion of this House, no measure will be satisfactory to the country, unless it attempts to deal with paid canvassers, conveyance of voters to the poll, and the use of faggot-votes, took exception to the remark that the law was universally broken. He had not broken it himself, and did not think the law was ever broken in that way in Scotland, or, if it was, it must be in very exceptional cases. But if it was broken now with impunity in England, it might soon be also broken in Scotland, and with even more impunity, for he did not think there was any penalty there. There was no such thing as a misdemeanour in Scotland. This term was not known. He disagreed with the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in thinking conveyances should be made legal. He would make the law stronger than at present, and forbid the employment of vehicles, and also the payment of railway fares from one end of the Kingdom to another. It might be left to the Election Judge to say whether the law had been in an organized and persistent manner broken.


said, he would vote for the Amendment. Under the present law, a candidate might be unjustly unseated, through unauthorized persons employing vehicles in his alleged behalf. Though the borough he represented was a very small one, on election days the voters would not go on "shank's mare," but must travel luxuriously in some vehicle or other. In large boroughs, however, it was impossible to avoid having voters conveyed to the poll, if they were to go to the poll at all. An alteration in the law was necessary. He thought it should be in the direction of removing the present prohibition against the hire of vehicles; but this was a point they could afterwards discuss.


complained of the uncertainty of the present law, and said that the payment of the costs of conveying the voters to the poll in the counties was legal, whereas it was said, in the curious phraseology of the law, to be illegal, but not corrupt, so as to void the election in the boroughs. That was a state of the law which certainly failed to commend itself to the borough voters, and he thought that Parliament, in legis- lating upon the question, could not go contrary to public sentiment and feeling. It would be most difficult, indeed, to induce the borough voter to believe that he did a corrupt thing in being conveyed to the poll, when his brother voter just over the border in doing the same thing did that which was perfectly legal. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would not consent to leave the law in such an unsatisfactory state. He (Mr. Colman) thought the law required amendment, and that the law in boroughs should be made the same as it now was in counties. He agreed that all the expenses incurred in a contested Election should be published, and he thought this should be done not merely in the locality but in a Return to Parliament, because he believed that publicity had a great tendency to check corruption. He hoped to hear a declaration from the hon. and learned Gentleman before the debate closed, that he would no longer consent to allow the law to remain in the uncertain state in which, unhappily, it was now.


said, it seemed to be agreed that it was desirable to take the opportunity which the Bill offered of making some alteration in the law. Opinions, however, differed as to the direction in which this alteration should proceed. For his own part, he thought the law should be amended as far as possible; but he was not prepared to go the length of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), in saying that no Bill would be satisfactory which left the law in its present condition. In fact, the hon. Baronet condemned the Bill upon a point on which it might be amended in Committee. He suggested that the hon. Baronet, having already obtained a sufficient expression of the opinion of the House, would do well to withdraw his Amendment and leave the question to be considered in Committee.


observed, that there was a growing tendency to increase the expense of elections; and every effort should be made by legislation to counteract such tendency. The prohibition of the payment of conveying voters to the poll in boroughs was a step in that direction; and in his opinion, it was desirable to extend the prohibition to counties, and to place the law altogether in a more definite and satisfactory state. It was not fair either to the candidates or the electors that the longest purse should have the best chance of success. The conveyance of voters to the poll was a bribe to the electors. The principle of this Bill was that every effort should be made to enable the voter to express his real opinion and to elect the candidate he preferred without the use of any indirect influence. The law ought to be made more stringent, and the payment of the expense of carrying voters to the poll declared to be a sufficient ground for avoiding the election. If that were done, and the prohibition extended to counties, voters would soon get accustomed to the idea, and would be conveyed to the poll at their own expense.


said, he did not propose to enter upon a consideration of the question as to the conveyance of voters. He thought that that matter had already been sufficiently ventilated. What he desired to direct the attention of the House to was the broader view—the Constitutional view which ought to be taken in regard to this Bill introduced by the Government, and in regard to the law as it at present stood. As to the law as it now stood, he had always protested against it as being highly unconstitutional. According to that law, by the decision of a single Judge, a Member of the House, or a candidate for a seat in it, was subject to the most grave and formidable civil disabilities. Under the decision of a single Judge, a man might be declared incapable of occupying a seat in the Legislature. He might be declared incapable of holding any municipal office. He might be declared incapable of giving a vote—in fact, he might be placed in such a position as practically to forfeit his civil rights. He did not go so far as to say that the validity of an Election Return ought not to be decided by Judges; and, no doubt, the measure at present before the House was an improvement upon the existing condition of matters, in so far as it provided for a Court of Appeal; but he still thought that that was not sufficient to fulfil the principles of Constitutional Law of this country. In his opinion, no man ought to be subjected to civil disabilities or to penal consequences, except under conviction by a jury of his countrymen—except under legal judgment by his peers. In such a case the prosecution might be left to the Attorney General; but the decision to the jury. A Member of Parliament ought not to be subject to such punishments by any single Judge appointed by the Crown, even when there was the right of appeal to said Judges, also appointed by the Crown, but only by the judgment of his peers after a regular trial, and a regular indictment before a jury. He should, in Committee, propose an Amendment to that effect.


said, that anything would be better than to leave the law in its present state of entire uncertainty. It was not right that persons who were to make laws should sit in that House through any evasion or breach of the law. He trusted that the Government would see their way to give an assurance that the law in this respect should be altered during the present Session. In the absence of such an assurance, he should vote with the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke). It would be easy to make the law more stringent, and he thought the most practical thing at present would be to extend the hours of polling, and, in the meantime, till that was done, make the law of borough and county elections conformable. Once they allowed one portion of the expenses to be kept back, they opened the door to all kinds of corruption.


said, that though the expenses of candidates in counties would be considerably lessened by making conveyance to the poll illegal, yet in large counties, and divisions of counties, such a change in the law would inflict great hardship on voters who lived at a distance. In spite of the large number of polling-places in the county he had the honour to represent, there was a large number of electors who lived five or six miles away from any polling-place. It was the desire of Parliament that the poll should be brought as closely as possible to every man's door, and since Parliament refused to allow the use of polling-papers except in the case of University elections, it was necessary, where difficulties might arise from long distances, that the present practice should be continued.


said, he thought they ought to draw the line at the voluntary point. He objected to every form of influence which tended to make a voter vote for any reason except his own voluntary desire. But he thought that any gentleman might go to the poll in his own carriage, or might lend his carriage without remuneration for bringing voters to the poll. He did not think the House ought to interfere with that; but when it came to the hire of carriages for such a purpose, quite a different class of considerations arose. It had been suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General that the lending of vehicles might operate severely in the case of workmen's candidates. He questioned if anything of the kind would occur. It was very unlikely when a real workman's candidate appeared—a man of real weight and influence—that the support given to him would be confined to working men. At least, he trusted that the division of classes had not yet progressed so far in this country as was suggested by the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He (Mr. O'Donnell) made that statement to rebut the supposition that the lending of carriages would be all on one side. He doubted, however, whether the lending of carriages would be excessive, except where sentiment was very strong; and, in that case, it would not be the policy of the House to interfere with the strong and earnest convictions of the constituency on public matters. He quite agreed with many hon. Members who had spoken from the Liberal side of the House that the hiring of vehicles acted as a direct bribe to the voter. Unquestionably, it was a much larger bribe than the offer of refreshments. Take, for example, a case where one candidate was preferable to the other, but who was not able to provide vehicles, while the other candidate was able to say, "I will take you two or three miles on a car to the poll." Was that to be allowed when, on the other hand, the merest refreshment to the voter was forbidden? In his opinion, to present a voter with a ride of two or three miles was a far greater bribe than to give him half-a-glass of whisky. Yet, while the one was forbidden, the greater bribe was allowed; but the hiring of vehicles was a means of bribery on another account. In nearly all constituencies there was a large number of car owners, and the hiring of their vehicles would not only directly influence the car owners themselves, but the very considerable number of persons in their employment. Thus direct pecuniary considerations would affect the votes of a large number of persons in every constituency so long as they gave a rich man the power of buying up all the vehicles in a constituency for a day or a number of days. Besides that, the mere hiring of vehicles—he did not know how it applied to England or Scotland, but it certainly applied to Ireland, as many Irish Members would bear witness—might act as a most efficient means of coercion. For instance, it was within the knowledge, he was sure, of a large number of hon. Members from Ireland that, where a candidate of what he might without offence call the popular Party was opposed by a candidate in the territorial interest, and the former asked a tenant for his vote, the frequent reply was, that they must go to the poll in the master's car. The landlords' vehicles were sent for the tenantry, and the most complete preparations were made at the polling-places for carrying out the scheme under the eyes of the agents. The rural voters were gathered together at their residences, and brought into the polling-places without a chance of wandering or escaping. Arrived at the polling-place, there might be a difficulty in polling them at once, and a house with a large yard had previously been provided for their reception. The tenant-voters were taken in and effectually deposited in this pound, and retained there until the moment came for duly and effectually polling them. The existing law rendered this use of vehicles specially effectual for the purpose of coercing, because, under the existing law, personating agents and some other agents were allowed to be present in the booth where the voters were voting. The candidates also could go from booth to booth. Now, take the case of a number of illiterate voters picked up at their residences, and having no chance of escaping or hiding. These men, though they would prefer not to vote at all rather than vote against their consciences, were kept in the pound till the moment for polling arrived, and on going into the booth, being unable to make use of the ballot, because they were unable to read or write, were obliged to declare their votes aloud, with the candidate of their landlord looking on and listening. It was impossible, under snch circumstances, to have a free election. Thus it was that the hiring of vehicles formed a link in the coercion chain that was cast around the Irish voter. This was a practical objection to the existing state of the law which was known to every Irish Member of Parliament. It ought to be the intention of Parliament to cultivate a sentiment of duty in the elector; but so long as they counteracted that by an accumulation of conveniences by which the richer candidates were possessed of the power to which he had referred, so long would their laws tend to lower the public spirit of the country. Referring to the general question, he had always felt that the true solution of the difficulty raised about trying Election Petitions was the ancient Constitutional one brought before the House by the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for the County of Wexford (Sir George Bowyer). It was observed that, while murder cases and such cases as that of the Glasgow Bank directors came before a jury, they declined to allow a broad question of fact, whether a candidate had obeyed the law, to be brought before a jury of his country also.


said, he could not support the Amendment, as he was of opinion that, if it were carried, it would have the effect of throwing the Bill out. ["No, no!"] However that might be, what seemed singular to him about all these Amendments was that no objection had been taken to any of the provisions of the Bill. It was simply objected to it, that it did not contain a clause altering the law with reference to the conveyance of voters to the poll. The Government would have great difficulty in framing a clause which would satisfy all the hon. Members who had spoken on the subject; and he did not think the absence of a clause with respect to vehicles should be allowed to upset the whole Bill. He thought the proper time for moving an Amendment would be when the Bill had reached Committee. While private carriages were allowed to convey voters to the poll, it would be unfair to visit with heavy penalties the employment of cabs tendered by the friends of a candidate who were not in a position to lend him carriages.


hoped the House would not allow itself to be led away with the idea that passing the Amendment would have the effect of throwing out the Bill, because it was not the case. It would continue unaffected in any way. He was afraid it would be impossible to draw a line beyond which no one would be allowed to convey voters to the poll; and therefore he thought they would eventually have to revert to the old plan of allowing everyone to do so. Clearly some change was required, and he thought it would be very unfortunate if they allowed this opportunity to pass over without dealing with the question raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea. He believed all the Members of the House were agreed—even the Representative of the immaculate City of Glasgow agreed—that the law ought to be altered, for in its present shape it was anything but desirable. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea only wanted some assurance that the matter should receive attention in Committee, and unless the hon. and learned Attorney General should give the House such an assurance, he (Mr. Muntz) would vote for the Amendment.


dissented from the opinion expressed by the hon. and learned Attorney General, that the employment of cabs in elections was almost universal. He could state, from personal experience and observation, that in Scotland the employment of cabs was not a practice that was so generally resorted to. He himself had never paid, nor had any person paid for him, one shilling for the conveyance of voters at either of the four elections in which he had been concerned at Edinburgh. In Scotland they considered it would be quite competent for the Judges to give a serious interpretation to the words of the Act against the employment of cabs in burghs, and visit the candidates with serious consequences. One way of putting an end to the practice wherever it prevailed would, he thought, be by making the penalty for employing and paying for cabs for voters £50, instead of 40s. This would make it worth while prosecuting offenders. Another way would be by declaring the votes given by parties conveyed at the expense of the candidates to be votes thrown away. He had experience of many elections in Scotland, and only in one instance had he known of cabs being employed by the candidate's friends, and they could not venture to bring the voters to the poll, but conveyed them to the nearest election office of the candidate, and from that office the voters walked to the poll. The prohibition of conveyances would have the effect of removing a stigma from many men who would on no account wish to break the law. He hoped the Government would contrive in some way to give practical effect to the present law by making it more stringent.


in supporting the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), said, that all the speakers had admitted that the law was in a most unsatisfactory position, and that it ought to be altered in one direction or the other. The question was, whether the House would have the courage to vote that the law should be changed, or whether, for the sake of expediency, an unsatisfactory law should remain unchanged. Every hon. Member of that House knew that, do what he would, the law would be broken by his agent. He thought no hon. Member would wish such a state of things to continue. The word unsatisfactory was not strong enough; and he would go further and say it was a gross scandal, for the condition of the law placed at a disadvantage the man who most wished to respect and obey it, and allowed the well-doer to be defeated by the man who was willing to violate the law, because, in practice and effect, the violation was not followed by any penalty. Such a state of things could not be defended, and he hoped the Government would accept the Amendment. If the House rejected the Amendment, and said it was right to allow to exist a law which said that no carriage of voters should take place, but imposed a penalty which was no penalty—namely, 40s., recoverable in the County Court—he did not think they would, be able to justify it. If the practice were prohibited, the prohibition ought to go to the extent of preventing it. It was useless to say that a thing should not be done if no consequence were to follow the doing of it. In that case, violation of the law would still take place with detriment to those who wished to do well, and advantage to those who wished to do evil. The future question would be whether the thing was to be permitted or prevented. As to that, a great deal might, no doubt, be said in favour of perfect freedom in the matter of conveyance of voters to the poll; but he thought that more still might, perhaps, be said to the contrary. The expenses of elections had increased until they were carried more by wealth than by merit. ["No, no!"] He was glad hon. Members opposite had any experience to the contrary. At all events, the expenses of elections were increasing. He thought if hon. Members looked into the case, they would find that the expenses had increased since 1868; but whether that were so or not, he believed they would all agree the expenses were quite large enough. Anything they could do, he thought, they ought to do, to diminish those expenses, and the prohibition to convey voters would diminish them. The point was that, by allowing the carriage of voters to the poll, they were opening the door to corrupt payments, for they were bound to keep them secret. At any rate, he thought the Amendment would have the effect of making an alteration, whereas all must allow a change was desirable. He understood that, in connection with a recent election, no less a sum than £3,000 had been expended in carriages for the conveyance of the voters. For himself, he had no sympathy with those who would drag the voter to the poll—being convinced that the votes recorded by earnest men who would take the trouble to go to the poll were politically worth more than the votes of those who would not go to the poll unless they were carried or dragged there. He sincerely hoped the House would pronounce against a state of the law which neither prohibited nor sanctioned the practice.


rising to Order, said, there was considerable difference of opinion as to what the effect of carrying the Amendment would be, some holding that it would defeat the Bill, and others that it would not. It would be convenient if the Speaker would state what would really be the effect of carrying the Amendment.


The carrying of the Amendment would have the effect of setting aside the second reading of the Bill for the moment; but a Motion for its second reading could again, at some future time, be proposed.


Sir, although I think the Amendment of the hon. Baronet, if carried, would not have the effect of defeating the Bill, still we ought to consider seriously whether or not it is desirable that such an Amendment should be adopted at the present time. As I gather it, the feeling of the majority of those who have expressed their intention of voting for the Amendment appears to be that the law is in an unsatisfactory state, and that it ought to be settled in one way or another in this Bill. On that point all are agreed; but there is a great diversity of opinion as to what the nature of that settlement should be. Some say that the law ought to be altered in the sense of making it more strict, and carrying to a greater extent the prohibition of paying for the conveyance of voters. Others say that the law ought to be altered in the sense of giving the right of such payment. In fact, all agree in condemning the present state of things, just as two men might agree in condemning a glass of brandy and water—the one because he objected to the brandy, and the other because he objected to the water. The difficulty that I feel in accepting such an Amendment as that of the hon. Baronet is that we should be coming to a vote which would be in itself quite as ambiguous and uncertain as the present state of the law; and if I agree that it would be desirable that the law should be so far amended as to bring about a certainty, I think we had better adjourn a decision on that point until we have before us some proposition as to what the law ought to be, and then we can decide whether the proposition before us is one that we should adopt. For that purpose it is not necessary that we should adopt the Resolution now proposed. It is perfectly open to us to pass the second reading of the Bill, and when we come into Committee we can pass a clause or clauses for the purpose of dealing with this question. Any proposal can be perfectly well made in Committee. I do not at all deny that there is great force in some of the observations that have been made as to the inconvenience in the present state of the law. It is inconvenient with regard to any law that it should be uncertain. I am quite prepared to say that if a prac- tical proposal can be made in Committee on the Bill, which will render the law more certain than it is at present, it will deserve careful consideration; and the Government will adopt any proposition which may seem to them, on the whole, to be a fair and proper one. But I wish to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which the Bill was introduced, and to the relation of this particular question to the Bill as a whole. In the year 1867, when we last had a complete review of the electoral system, the Government of the day made a proposal with regard to the method of voting, and the object which the Government at that time had in view was this—They were anxious to provide their constituents with the best possible means of recording their votes, without running any risk of corruption in the form of payment, nominally for the conveyance of voters, and the plan which the Government of the day proposed was the plan of voting papers. That plan was discussed in the House, and rejected on a Division by a majority of some 30 or 40 votes. Afterwards, in the House of Lords, a clause was put into the Bill to provide for the system of voting papers, and it came down to the House of Commons with that clause in it. The Government again supported it, with modifications; but were again defeated, so that the House decided against the system of voting papers. As to the mode in which voting was to be carried on in large constituencies and in large areas, that question was considered; and the result of a good deal of discussion was a compromise, by the terms of which payment for the conveyance of voters was made legal for counties and certain large agricultural boroughs, but altogether prohibited in the case of ordinary boroughs. That was the position in which the law was left by the measure of 1867. In addition to that measure, which laid down general principles, another Act was passed for the express purpose of dealing with the mode of trying charges of fraud and corruption at elections. That was a very great change in the law; for whereas before Committees of the House had always decided Election questions, it was by that measure left in the hands of a single Judge to invalidate an Election, and award penalties. It has been said that that Act gives too much power to the Judge; and other complaints have been made of such a character that it has become incumbent on the Government to invite the attention of the House to the proposed change. The Government have, therefore, introduced a Bill which we think will enable the House to deal with the question of the mode of dealing with Election Petitions and inflicting penalties upon persons guilty of corrupt practices. It has not, however, been thought necessary to revive the question of voting papers, or the question of the conveyance of voters; but there is no doubt that the question of the conveyance of voters is one that may very properly be introduced into the Bill, and it will be quite within the competence of the hon. Member for Chelsea, or any other hon. Member, to make proposals with regard to that point. Let a clause be introduced in any form which will commend itself to hon. Members, and we will deal with it; but, in the meantime, what I contend for is that we should commit an error if we declined to go on with this Bill until we had passed the abstract Resolution now proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, which would only express the opinions of two bodies of Gentlemen diametrically opposed to each other. At the present moment I hope the House will not accept, and I would almost venture to hope that the hon. Baronet would withdraw, the Amendment; because, although it would not have the effect of defeating the Bill, it would certainly delay the second reading.


in supporting the Amendment, said, with the permission of the House, he would narrate his personal experience of the inconvenience and injustice which the present system allowed. At one of the elections in the county for which he sat (Cavan), one of the agents of the candidates hired all the cars which were to be had in the neighbourhood, which was a manifest injustice to his opponent, who could not get any; while in other districts, where there were no cars to hire, the voters came up quite as well. He had been told that at some county elections in Ireland it was the custom for the car drivers to apply to the candidates to be allowed to bring up the voters to the poll; but that was before the present Act came into operation, and the result was a large increase in the expenses of the election.


said, what he most objected to in the Bill was the proposal to leave the decision in the trial of an Election Petition to a single Judge. In the case of the Election for Drogheda, a Petition was presented against the return of the hon. Member who sat for that county, and, according to the custom, that Petition, which was the first lodged in Court, should have been tried by the senior Judge on the rota—Mr. Justice Lawson. But soon afterwards a bye-election took place in Galway, and by some legerdemain, which had certainly caused considerable dissatisfaction in Ireland, the senior Judge was taken from Drogheda, and sent to try the Galway Petition. The Hon. Mr. Justice Barry tried the Drogheda Petition. A serious question arose in it, and a case was given which was taken to the Court of Common Pleas; and in that Court, if the usual course had been taken, the case would have been tried by the same Judge who tried it at Drogheda. That showed the necessity of having more than one Judge; because, had the case gone on in the instance he was quoting, a very substantial injustice would have been done, and the present Member for Drogheda would, no doubt, have been unseated. He hoped the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. O'Conor) would be enabled to go on with his Amendment.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 138; Noes 89: Majority 49.—(Div. List, No. 50.)

Main Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


who had an Amendment on the Paper to the effect— That no amendment of the Law relating to the trial of Election Petitions can be satisfactory which leaves the decision of such Petitions in the hands of a single Judge, thought the principle of the measure would continue what was an objectionable feature in the mode of trying Election Petitions contained in the Act of 1868. When the Act was first passed which relegated the trying of Election Petitions from that House to one Judge, it was strongly condemned by some of the most experienced Members of that House, among others by Mr. Henley and Mr. Bouverie; and, finally, it had only passed as a temporary measure, which showed that the House felt a considerable amount of hesitation as to the necessity of passing it; and it was the first time in the history of the country that their dealings with such grave and serious offences were intrusted to the hands of one Judge. At that time, it might be said, they did not know how the Act would work; but when they saw it in operation in 1869, so far from any confidence being created in the new tribunals, the greatest dissatisfaction prevailed. Between 1869 and 1874 there were few Election Petitions tried of any interest, with the exception of the celebrated Galway Petition in 1872; and when, in 1873, he (Mr. O'Conor) brought the matter before the House, but very little attention was paid to it. In 1875, after the second batch of Petitions were tried in 1874, it created great interest, so much so, that be believed no less than five Members of the House of Commons endeavoured to bring the subject forward in that year. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) was fortunate in obtaining a alight for a Motion on the subject. A discussion ensued, and a Committee was appointed, which held sittings and took a great deal of valuable evidence. As in this Bill it was not proposed to give any appeal, he thought it would be most desirable to strengthen the Court which was to try Election Petitions. Nearly everyone whose opinion on the subject was worth having had been examined before the Committee, and, in particular, he might mention the names of Lord Justice Bramwell, Mr. Justice Keating, Mr. Justice Hawkins, and Serjeant Ballantine. The whole weight of the evidence went to show the desirability of strengthening the Court by the appointment of a second Judge. Lord Justice Bramwell had strongly urged the establishment of an appeal from the decision of a single Judge; but, in the event of there being no appeal, admitted the necessity of strengthening the original Court. Mr. Justice Keating had expressed himself to much the same effect, and added his testimony to that of the majority of the witnesses. The Committee itself, a very large and influential one, made a recommendation to the same effect. He admitted, however, that a minority of the Committee dissented from that recommendation, and that it had been resisted mainly on two grounds by the Government of the day; but the reasons given for dissenting were very inadequate. The first was that it would be casting a slur on the Judges to increase the number of them in the Court of First Instance; but when this change was asked for by the Judges themselves, he failed to see how it could be considered disrespectful to comply with their own request. Then it was said the number of Judges was so small that more than one could not be spared to try these Petitions; but that would be an equally good argument for not referring the Petitions to the Judges at all, and for allowing them to be tried by some other tribunal. He (Mr. O'Conor) did not believe there would be any difficulty in having more than one Judge in England, if the House were really desirous of having such a tribunal. In Ireland, certainly, there would be no difficulty in the matter. Whatever might be the difference of opinion in England in regard to the question, in Ireland there was practically unanimity on the subject. The entire public opinion of Ireland—the opinion of all the men of greatest weight—was in favour of enlarging the Court of First Instance, and not allowing Petitions to be tried by a single Judge. On the Committee to which he had referred there were four Irish Members, and they were unanimous in their Report. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) was a Member of the Committee, and he proposed a draft Report, which he did not ultimately press, in favour of three Judges. He (Mr. O'Conor) thought that would be the best possible tribunal, and in Ireland, at all events, there would not be the slightest difficulty in getting the three Judges. There was, therefore, no practical reason why they should not have what they so unanimously desired. Mr. Justice Morris, the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, was examined before the Committee; and he said, in regard to the trial by a single Judge, that such a responsibility should not be imposed upon one man. His Lordship was thereupon asked if he thought the responsibility was too heavy for one. He replied that he did, because the public were not satisfied, and the Judge himself was not satisfied. The Chief Justice added that, so far as he knew public opinion, there was a general idea that there ought to be more than one Judge, and he believed he might say without presumption, that it was the opinion of the Judges themselves. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), representing the most extreme section of Irishmen, shared the same view, for on the Irish Judicature Bill, he moved an Amendment embodying the same principle. Thus they had every class of opinion in Ireland united in favour of increasing the number of Judges to try Petitions in the first instance; and he could not, for the life of him, see why such an opinion should not be complied with. As he had said, he was personally in favour of three; but if they could not obtain three and could get two, then he would say that two were better than one. The Attorney General had asked what would be the condition of the unhappy candidate if the Judges disagreed; but, on the contrary, he considered he would be in a happy condition, because in such a case they would be obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to retain his seat.


said, the Committee of 1875 was appointed on his Motion for the special purpose of inquiring into the constitution of the existing Election Tribunal. Under those circumstances, it was somewhat extraordinary, and scarcely respectful, that the Bill now brought in by the Government should entirely ignore the recommendation of the Committee upon that particular point. It was unconstitutional, he thought, to visit a candidate with heavy penal consequences upon the decision of a single Judge, and without the power of appeal. If the object in the proposal to appoint three Judges was to prevent a stigma attaching to a man in the event of two Judges being divided in opinion, nothing would be gained in that respect, for the adverse dicision of one Judge would still tell against him, though he were acquitted by the other two. His own opinion was that it was wrong to transfer the jurisdiction from the House itself, and that it was highly objectionable to take the Judges from their legitimate functions for the purpose of mixing them up in political squabbles.


said, he rose with a sense of very considerable responsibility to move the rejection of the Bill. He was obliged to regard it largely from an Irish point of view, and should be compelled to trouble the House with some references to Irish considerations. This, perhaps, might be imputed to him as a fault; but it was from no wish on his own part that he was obliged to take the course which he had indicated. The Bill was entitled one to "amend and continue the Acts relating to Election Petitions, and to the prevention of Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections;" but he was obliged to regard it rather as a Bill to maintain and extend the abuses now existing under the present most objectionable law. The Bill did not propose to effect a change in reference to any one of the important protections demanded by the necessities of Ireland. The only changes which the Bill would introduce were either trifling, or would distinctly worsten the existing law. Before dealing with the more serious portion of the objections he had to bring against the Bill, he would refer to one or two of the less important changes which the Bill would have the effect of introducing. The hon. and learned Attorney General had told the House that under this Bill the Election Judge was to be entitled to complain of reticence or concealment of facts by parties to an Election Petition tried before him. That, he (Mr. O'Donnell) thought, raised a very important question. At present, an Election Petition took the form of a private complaint, urged for private reasons, the main reason, on the part of the petitioner, being to secure a seat in Parliament; and he would ask whether, under such circumstances, the Petitioner was bound to prove, not only as many facts as he could bring forward in support of his own side of the question, but was also to act the part of a public inquirer, and bring forward a full and true account of the entire state of the constituency which he sought to represent? If he was expected to do this, he would have laid upon him, as a private individual, a public duty, without any commensurate power, or remuneration, or protection. It would, in fact, be putting upon the promoters of Election Petitions the duties of public prosecutors, and entirely change the position in which they at present appeared before the Election Petition Judges; and, at the same time, exacting from them payment for duties, the cost of which ought to fall upon the public funds. Again, the Bill did not propose to increase the number of Election Judges, or to change the character of the Tribunal which had to decide upon charges brought against candidates who had, in the first instance, been declared successful by the Returning Officer. It would leave to single Judges in Ireland the power which they possessed at present, and which the united voice of the Irish people—as had been stated in the most moderate, careful, and temperate speech of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. O'Conor)—declared that they had, in several instances, and notably in some, most grievously abused. It was not through any predilection on his part, or by any will or desire of his own, that he was compelled to challenge the character of the Tribunal to which Election Petitions were referred—that was a necessity theoretically imposed upon all Members of the House, when Judges were made the final tribunal for the trial of Election cases; but Irish Members were under a special responsibility, because, under this Bill, it would be in the power of a single Judge, who had been appointed by an anti-National Government, opposed to the best interests of the Irish people, and for Party reasons, to cancel the deliberate choice of a great Irish constituency. This was not a power which should be allowed to go unchallenged by the Members of the Irish Party sitting in that House. He bogged to be understood as bringing no charges against the judicial authority or the judicial function. He should not be speaking in accordance with the feelings of the Irish people, were he wilfully or wantonly to depreciate the judicial office. Old English writers upon Ireland and the Irish people had recognized the innate respect for justice and law among the Irish people. He thoroughly recognized that there must be good ground for the universal belief of Englishmen in the purity and impartiality of the British Judicial Bench; but he was, at the same time, bound to say that there was no such prevailing belief in Ireland. The Irish Judges had, again and again, and might again and again, been chosen to their office, not for their legal knowledge, or for distinction in their Profession; but because they had been partisans, and had supported—often un- scrupulously—the designs of the Government of the day. They had not shrunk, in climbing up to their distinguished office, from functions and acts which must leave a permanent stain upon the judicial ermine with which they were afterwards clothed. Under this Bill, it would still be possible for a Judge, in the face of evidence, and of the universal voice of the country, to denounce, in the grossest and vilest terms, the most venerated personages in Ireland; to single out for language of insult, contumely, and obloquy, men so esteemed—not only within the Irish shores, but beyond the Atlantic Ocean, and on distant continents—as the venerable and venerated John, Archbishop of Tuam; and to treat as quasi-felons, as persons among the vilest of creatures, men who filled the positions of Bishops, distinguished laymen, and popular leaders in Ireland. Under this Bill, the Judge would be able not only to insult individuals, but to defraud constituencies; for he would be able, in the face of universal and official evidence, to invent stories of undue influence and intimidation, without its being possible, even in that House, to appeal against their decisions and the charges which they might choose to make. Prom one end of Ireland to the other the allusions which he was making would be understood, and the justice of the charges which he alleged would be universally recognized. The Bill was one to trim the balance against popular candidates in favour of the undue influence of wealth. It was not for him to impute to the Government, individually or collectively, any deliberate intention to bring in a Bill with so noxious a design; but he was entitled to suppose that men so revered for their intelligence—at least by the Members of their own Party—must have a pretty good idea of the scope and bearing of the measure which they had introduced; and when a Government, representing to a large extent the wealthy and privileged classes, brought in a Bill in favour of offences which rich men were most likely to commit, without allowing an appeal to the popular class, they must know that such a Bill would produce its natural consequences. Let him take a case in illustration of what he meant. There was, say, a constituency in which a wealthy candidate supported by able agents was opposed to a poor candidate who had little on which to rely except popular support and sympathy. The rich man was able by means of bribery to secure his election; but the friends and supporters of the poor candidate were determined, if possible, to test the return, which they knew to be unjust. With great difficulty, for wealth might not be very abundant on the popular side, they provided the necessary securities for a Petition and the funds for the conduct of the inquiry as far as their side was concerned—namely, for the fees of counsel and the maintenance of witnesses. This, however, was but the initial stage; and after a long and costly inquiry the wealthy criminal was proved to be guilty, and the just sentence was passed upon him of exclusion from a seat which he ought never to have obtained, although at the same time he was recognized as a man who, by the skilful use of the means at his hand, had very nearly bought the seat and defeated the proper aspirations of the popular branch of the constituency. He knew that although the popular conscience had judged him guilty, and although the acumen of the Judge who tried the Petition had penetrated the finesse of the schemes by which he had debauched the constituency, he was still wealthy and had another chance on a future occasion. He tried that chance, and having been found guilty before, he had a double interest in expending, if necessary, the whole of his fortune rather than fail now. Every possible effort would now be made, for he had got his second Court of Appeal, and he lavished money in order to whitewash himself. The loyal party had been drained dry, and probably exhausted, at the previous stage; and the Government proposed to give to the wealthy offender the proverbial advantage of wealth by enabling him to carry his case from tribunal to tribunal, and so to exhaust the means if he could not defeat the justice of the cause of the poorer candidate. He could only describe this Bill as a deliberate attempt to facilitate the escape of wealthy criminals—who were criminals by means of their wealth. The Government adduced the heavy penalties attaching to bribery as a reason for making the distinction; but the penalties were either too heavy, or they were too just. If they were too just, let them remain; if they were too heavy, let them be lightened; but neither the one argument nor the other was a justification for facilitating the escape of the briber. In a case of the kind he had sketched, although the injustice was notorious, although the candidate might have been heavily punished for his just ambition, and, perhaps, crippled in his means for life by an unjust judgment, and his constituents defrauded of their just and Constitutional rights, Her Majesty's Government did not propose to give any redress. The reason for this was that the Government was not on the side of popular candidates; but, judging from their proceedings in reference to this Bill, might be said to be on the side of the possible bribers. The Bill, instead of proposing to improve anything proposed, would have the effect, in most essential points, to worsten the existing law. He, therefore, felt bound to move its rejection at the present stage; and he should feel bound, as would every Member representing the popular Party in Ireland in that House, to offer to it the most unrelenting opposition which was permitted by the Forms of the House. In conclusion, he said, with a full sense of the responsibility attaching to the words he used, and in the presence of his Colleagues from Ireland that were in that House a score of Members belonging to the Irish popular Party, the confirmation of whose elections in future, if Petitions were presented against them, would depend entirely upon whether or not those Petitions were tried before certain well-known and thoroughly appreciated Judges now sitting on the Irish Bench. He begged to move that the Bill be read the second time on that day six months.


said, he had had some difficulty in following the hon. Member opposite (Mr. O'Donnell) through the observations he had made, and in comprehending the drift of them or the point to which they were directed. It seemed to him that they consisted principally in a denunciation of the Irish Bench, which, if true, rendered that Bench totally incompetent for the administration of justice; and that, if the administration was committed to one, or to half-a-dozen Judges, it must be equally bad, and must constitute an equally incompetent tribunal [Mr. O'DONNELL: No, no!] But surely if the Judges were all as bad as the hon. Member had stated, it would not be possible to get a satisfactory tribunal, though half-a-dozen sat at once. In fact, it would only be an aggravation of the evil. This was not, in his view, the proper way in which to deal with the question, which was, whether the House should or should not adopt the proposal under discussion, and relegate the trial of Election Petitions to single Judges, as was now the case, improved as the present system would be in certain cases by the operation of the Bill; or whether they should adopt the suggestion of the Committee, and relegate the trial of each Petition to two Judges. As far he knew, there was no Court of First Instance, except a Court of Petty Sessions, in which two Judges sat; but he had, in the course of his professional experience, found the inconvenience of having two Judges, even in a Court of Appeal, because it almost necessarily followed that, with two Judges, frequently there would be a difference of opinion; and in the case of a Court consisting of a strong Judge and a weak one, the weak Judge would defer to the strong one, and so bring the Court of Appeal down to a Court of one Judge, whereas, if they differed, the judgment of the Court below was imported into the case, and it was, in fact, decided by that. But if two Judges sat in a Court of First Instance and disagreed, there could be no decision at all. He admitted that a Court of three Judges to try Election Petitions would be preferable; but that would be impracticable, because, after a General Election, followed by numerous Petitions, the judicial strength of the country would be unequal to the task. The Government had, therefore, and very wisely as he thought, determined to leave matters as at present, with the addition of an appeal under certain circumstances. It seemed to him a question whether the power of appeal which was proposed should be extended, and, if so, what should be the limit, because there was a danger in widening too much the door to appeal in reference to matters in which personal feeling weighed so much as in Election Petitions. In Chancery, matters of the highest importance were tried by single Judges, and, in the majority of cases, the decisions arrived at were accepted by the parties. The hon. Member for Dungarvan had referred to the licence which was allowed to Judges when speaking from the Bench; and he (Mr. Gregory) could not see, even if his allegation was true, how any increase in the number of Judges could possibly diminish that evil. On the whole, then, the case was one of a choice between difficulties; and he thought the House would do wisely to accept the proposals which the Government had embodied in the present Bill.


was inclined to agree with the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Gregory), when he expressed the opinion that the Government had exercised a wise discretion in declining to accept the recommendations of the Committee, and refer these matters to two Judges. No doubt, the recommendations of that Committee were entitled to great respect; but it appeared to him there were difficulties in the way of carrying out that proposal. The difficulties, for instance, which had been pointed out by the hon. and learned Attorney General he thought were unanswerable. Take one of these. Supposing the two Judges differed as to whether the Member had been personally guilty of bribery. It would be an extremely unsatisfactory thing for a Member to sit in that House under such circumstances. He certainly could not sit with any case or confidence when one of the Judges who had tried the case was of opinion he had been personally guilty of bribery. As to the proposal that there should be three Judges, no doubt, if that could be done, it would constitute a superior tribunal; but they could not get over the difficulty that it would be impossible to spare three Judges from the ordinary judicial tribunals of the country. For his own part, he must say he was not altogether favourable to trying these cases at all by the Judges; and he was inclined to think the House would do better to revert to the old state of things, and try the cases by their own Committees. One of the main arguments for substituting Judges was that there would be a great saving of expense; but all he could say was that the expenses, instead of having been lessened, had been considerably increased, because of the high fees which had to be paid to counsel to go down to the place where the case had to be tried. Having had some experience of this matter, and having sat on Election Com- mittees, he had arrived at the conclusion that they acted most fairly; that they were juries of a very high class; and that, upon the whole, they formed a better tribunal than the existing one. No doubt, the Judges of the High Court of Judicature gave very impartial judgments upon questions of law; but he did not think, as a rule, they were quite so competent to deal with questions of fact as a Committee composed of Members of that House. For these reasons, he thought it would be better to revert to the old plan, and let the Committees of that House deal with these matters, and not a Judge of one of the Superior Courts.


said, it was greatly to be regretted that a matter of such importance as this should have come on at a time when it could not be properly discussed, so many hours having been taken up with a matter of minor importance. He did not think it was possible to exaggerate the vast importance of the questions dealt with in the Bill, affecting, as they did, the Privileges of the House, and also touching Constitutional matters. He therefore hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. O'Conor), who had made a most able speech, would renew the subject when the Bill got into Committee, so that it might be discussed in a manner worthy of its importance. He looked upon it as an anomalous state of things, and one that had been attended with injury, that it should form any part of the permanent legislation of the country to give such great powers to a single Judge. The hon. and learned Attorney General had been obliged to admit that it was no longer to be tolerated that great personal disabilities should attach to any individual on the ground of personal bribery merely on the decision of a single Judge. That was no longer to be allowed to continue, and there was to be a right of appeal in case of a Judge giving such a decision. He would not detain the House with any further remarks on the present occasion; but he hoped that when they arrived at the next stage of the Bill, they would be able to discuss its provisions at the length which they deserved.


confessed that, although he could not say much in favour of the Bill, he thought it would do very little harm, and they might make some good out of it when they got into Committee. He agreed with some observations made in the earlier part of the evening. The question of the Privileges of that House was first raised, and its principle insisted upon, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Before then, the Common Pleas tried these cases like ordinary jury cases. The principle of that House being a complete Court of itself, and defending its own Privileges, led to the change, and to the substitution of Committees of that House for the settlement of these matters; and his opinion was that if they were not now to go back to the Court established by themselves, they ought to revert to the principle of trial by jury. But as a Peer was tried by his Peers, perhaps it would be better to adopt the Committees of this House to try Election Petitions, assisted by legal assessors. The hon. and learned Attorney General had said he would consider any suggestions in Committee, and, no doubt, it would be necessary to make some extensive alterations in the Bill when they got to the clauses.


said, while it was true no stigma had been cast upon, or objections raised to, the character and decisions of the English Judges, yet in Ireland the case was different, for there they had Judges who were undeniably partizans, and they had been raised to the Bench from the political arena. The hon. Member for Drogheda owed his seat simply because Mr. Justice Lawson did not try his case. He (Mr. Callan) had the honour of being elected at the the last Election for two constituencies—Louth and Dundalk—and when he was before the electors of Louth, he urged them to elect him, because, if he was petitioned against, he knew Mr. Justice Lawson could not try both cases. He made that statement boldly at the time, because he believed it. If a Petition had been presented against his return for the borough of Dundalk, and it was to have been tried before Mr. Justice Lawson, he should not have had the temerity to defend the seat. He would have retired, and allowed another Member to come in, knowing he had another seat to fall back upon. If they would take three Judges in Ireland, he should have the most perfect confidence in their judgment. He should like to point out that there were other parties in this matter besides the Members themselves who required some consideration. In the case of the Galway Petition, the Judge sentenced the Archbishop of Tuam to what he (Mr. Callan) might term seven years' penal servitude. [Laughter.] He heard some hon. Gentleman laugh; but it was true; and when the case came before the present Chief Baron of the Exchequer Court in Ireland, a Judge respected by everyone who knew him, he declared that there was no case whatever to justify him in acting on behalf of the Crown, and proceeding against the Archbishop. Yet if there was an Election to-morrow for the County of Galway, that sentence of penal servitude from the exercise of the franchise would remain against one of the most respected Bishops or Archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The Attorney General for Ireland, in that case, declared he could not put the Archbishop on his trial. Why should not this House give to parties placed in a similar position to that of the Archbishop of Tuam a right of appeal, in order to clear their characters from such a stigma as seven years' penal exclusion from the exercise of the franchise?


thought there were some things connected with corrupt practices and Election Petitions to which he was justified in calling attention. He thought the Bill took an entirely wrong line in regard to the matter of appeals. It gave the right of appeal to a man who had been pronounced by the one Judge to be guilty of personal bribery; while to the man who was less guilty, but who might still lose his seat, because of the bribery of his agents, it gave no appeal. Therefore, the man who was the more guilty was to have the chance of getting his case re-heard by a Court of Appeal, and this right was to be denied to the man who had been found less guilty; but who, nevertheless, had to suffer the loss of his seat. He therefore thought, when the hon. and learned Attorney General got the Bill into Committee, he would do well to look at that branch of the case, and see if he could not extend the right of appeal. Now, as to the question of corrupt practices. In drawing a Bill of this sort, it would have been well if clauses had been introduced pointing out certain things which should be held to be bribery in cases of contested elections. There was one kind of bribery which was very common in some constituencies, and that was the employment of paid canvassers. This system gave room for an immense amount of indirect bribery; and this kind of bribery ought, if possible, to be put down, because it really demoralized a larger number of people than direct bribery did. A man would not ask for a direct payment for his vote, provided he could get employment for himself, his hangers-on, and any of his acquaintances. He would support a candidate being thus indirectly bribed for his vote. There was another kind of bribery which was also very common in some districts—namely, the bribery of attorneys. The agent who was himself a lawyer would employ other lawyers right and left, whether they were required or not, and whether they were competent to give value for their money or not. Some of the charges made by these people were most exorbitant. He had heard of one case where an attorney insisted upon a fee of 200 guineas for his services at an election, though it could not be pretended that he gave either time or money's worth to that extent; and he simply professed to have influenced a large number of people, because he belonged to a particular religious party. He thought a clause ought to be introduced to put down a fraudulent system of bribery like that. But there was a kind of bribery much worse than that of the attorneys—which was the bribery of the public Press. He had had some experience of that. He was a candidate for the City of Derry, against the present sitting Member and Mr. Pallas. On that occasion a charge was made to him of over £100 by The Derry Journal, and one of the items was for 15s. 10d. for some printing, which on another occasion he got a local printer to do for 1s. 6d. They threatened him with legal proceedings for the £100; but they ultimately took £30 less the account. He would give them another illustration. In the borough of Belfast, the successful candidates were supposed to be, more or less, the popular candidates. One was brought forward by the Whig Party, and the other by the Independent Orange Party. These two coalesced against the old-fashioned Conservative. The Northern Whig advocated the cause of the Orange candidate, Sir Thomas M'Clure, in an article one day, which someone suggested should be printed off in slips and circulated. The result was, an order was given for a supply, and afterwards a most exorbitant charge was made for the slips, though Sir Thomas M'Clure paid the money manfully. At the General Election of 1874, this same newspaper sent him an account for £500 or £600, and he only paid £400. With such cases as these in view, he would suggest that they should put a clause into the Bill that any newspaper which furnished an account charging more than ordinary prices should be disqualified from receiving any payment whatever, and the proprietor should be liable to be prosecuted, the same as the unfortunate man was liable to be who asked for money for his vote.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 6: Majority 112.—(Div. List, No. 50.)

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.