HC Deb 10 March 1880 vol 251 cc777-80

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the Conveyance of Voters to the Poll, and to continue the Acts relating to the Prevention of Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections, and the Acts relating to Election Petitions, said, he thought he ought very shortly to explain the provisions of the Bill which he desired to introduce. The House would be aware that a Bill was brought in last Session to carry out, to a great extent, the recommendations of a Committee which sat on the subject in 1875. The principal recommendation of the Committee was that, for the future, Election Petitions should be tried before two Judges instead of one, and that no one should be found guilty of any corrupt practice except on trial before two Judges. That recommendation, after a good deal of consideration by the Government, was adopted, and was introduced into a Bill last Session, which passed into a Act, which also continued the penalties for various corrupt practices till December, 1880. It was thought desirable to introduce a Bill this Session to continue the Corrupt Practices Act for another year, and also to continue the Election Petitions Act, so that Election Petitions would be tried before two Judges. That was an enactment which, so far as he knew, had given every satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen. There was another provision in the Bill which he desired to introduce of some importance. By the 36th section of the Representation of the People Act it was provided that it should not be lawful for any candidate, or anyone on his behalf, at an election for any borough, unless in widely-scattered boroughs, to pay any sum on account of the conveyance of voters to the poll, and payments so made were declared to be illegal and corrupt. A good deal of difficulty had arisen under this section of the Act. In the first place, it was by no means clear what constituted a payment of money in respect to the conveyance of voters to the poll. It had always been considered that money might not be paid, but a cab might be hired and a voter taken along with the hirer; and, although it was said to be an illegal payment under the Act of 1854, it was impossible to find out what the penalty for the payment was. They had, therefore, a payment declared to be illegal, but no penalty attached to it. The consequence was that this provision had been utterly disregarded, and had, in fact, become a dead letter. He thought it very undesirable that the law should remain in that unsatisfactory state. It should be made clear one way or the other. The Government, having considered the subject carefully, thought it would be a strong measure to make the conveyance of voters to the poll—which was in itself an innocent act—a corrupt practice denounced by the Act; and. if it was not desirable to make it a corrupt practice, the only other course was to repeal that provision of the Act. The Government had, therefore, come to the conclusion to repeal that provision, and to make it no longer illegal, either in boroughs or counties, to take voters to the poll in cabs. These were the objects of the Bill which he hoped the House would give him leave to introduce.


agreed with what had been said by the Attorney General with regard to the working of the clause referred to; but he (Mr. Hibbert) must draw attention to the fact that the clause, as originally proposed by him, was different from that passed by the House, owing to the alteration made by the Government then in Office. The alterations, in fact, made it unworkable. He did not mean to say that the repeal of the clause might not be a good thing; but, at the same time, he must withhold his judgment with respect to the present proposition. He contended that it would have been much better to have made the clause more stringent than to have repealed it. They ought to strive, as much as possible, to limit the expense of elections, and that was one of his objects in proposing the clause.


observed, that he himself had frequently brought the subject before the House, and he had quite expected that the Government would take the course they now proposed. It was not the course that recommended itself to him personally, for he agreed that it would have been far better to have put a stop to the practice in question altogether. He felt, however, that the Government could not have carried a proposal of that character. That being so, the Government was driven to do what it now proposed, for nothing could be worse than to leave the country in its present state of uncertainty.


complained that this Bill had not been introduced at the very commencement of the Session, particularly as it was now obvious from the Prime Minister's manifesto that the Government intended only to pass the Irish relief measures before the Dissolution. Except for the repeal of a particular clause, he could see no reason for the Bill at all, as the Corrupt Practices Act would remain in force until December, 1880. So far as he was concerned, he wished it to be understood that he reserved his judgment.


cordially supported the views of the Attorney General, and thanked him for having dealt with the subject in the Bill he was about to introduce. It was monstrous that that should be immoral in boroughs which was legal and proper in counties. It was, in fact, impossible to prevent the employment of conveyances, and the Government proposed the best way out of the difficulty. He should give the Bill his hearty support.


said, he thought it was highly desirable that the important question dealt with by the Bill of the hon. and learned Attorney General should be settled before the next Election. He wished, however, to impress upon the hon. and learned Gentleman the necessity of taking care that the Returns of the election expenses gave a full account of expenses incurred under the head of conveying voters to the poll. He could not forget that little word "etcetera," frequently applied in election accounts, and it was one of the worst words that could be used. It left a wide door open for corruption; and he therefore hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would take care that there was a full and special Return of all the expenses incurred for the conveyance of voters under distinct and separate heads.


said, that the increase of election expenses was to be deprecated by those who sat on his side of the House. He could not understand why the relief of the conscience of a candidate should be more regarded than the relief of the conscience of a conscientious agent. The proposition of the Attorney General, he held, would have the effect of making this practice of using conveyances universal; and he regretted that any measure should be favoured by Government which would have the effect of increasing the legal expenses consequent on an election. He, therefore, protested against the general principle, and especially against any such measure at the present time.


hoped the Attorney General would take into consideration the propriety of making legal the issue of railway tickets for the conveyance of voters to the poll.


regretted that the employment of cabs was to be legalized in boroughs, because their use was not necessary in small boroughs, and would encourage a corrupt use of them. If necessary, an exception might be made in the case of large boroughs or boroughs with large areas.


suggested that the difficulty in the way of prohibition might be met by making it illegal to receive payment for the conveyance of voters.


, in reply, said, the effect of the Bill would be to legalize the payment of expenses for conveying voters to the poll, whether by railway, cab, or omnibus. The boroughs of large areas like East Retford and Shoreham were excepted from prohibition under the present law; but, as conveyance was now to be made legal, it would not be necessary to insert any exceptions.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Law relating to the Conveyance of Voters to the Poll, and to continue the Acts relating to the prevention of Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections, and the Acts relating to Election Petitions, ordered to be brought in by Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL.

Bill presented, and read the first time.[Bill 107.]