HC Deb 01 September 1880 vol 256 cc969-96

in rising to move— That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty to cause an inquiry to he made, and a Commission to issue to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in the City of Gloucester, said, the House would probably be aware that the course he was then pursuing was in compliance with the conditions of the Corrupt Practices Act of 1853. That Act provided that when an Address had been presented by both Houses of Parliament to the Crown praying for inquiry, in consequence of a Report by the Judges that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in any constituency, certain consequences followed both to the constituency and to the persons concerned in such practices. The House would also be aware that up to the year 1868 the question of the existence of corrupt practices was tried by a Committee of that House. It was then the duty of the Chairman to move that an Address be presented to the Crown to cause an inquiry to be made into the existence of corrupt practices. In 1868, when the jurisdiction to try Election Petitions was transferred from that House to a single Election Judge, the duty formerly devolving on the Chairman of the Committee fell upon the Attorney General. Before 1868 it had been the custom of the House to discuss the evidence brought before the Committee, and, to a certain extent, to review its decision. But it was not the custom to review the decision of the Judge. He did not think it necessary or advisable to discuss the question, in which so many hon. Members had interested themselves, whether or not there had been a greater prevalence of corrupt practices in the late General Election than had previously existed. It was very difficult, with the evidence before them, to arrive at a clear conclusion upon that point. His own impression was that during the last 25 or 30 years corrupt practices had not been on the increase, especially if they considered the growth of the constituencies, and the increase in the number of electors, owing to the extension of the franchise. The House would, no doubt, permit him to give such evidence as he could on the question —defective though it was—gathered from the number of Petitions presented after General Elections prior to the year 1868. He found by reference to the Journals of the House that in 1857, after the General Election, there were 46 Petitions presented complaining of corrupt practices, of which 22 were withdrawn, 24 tried, and only seven successful and 17 unsuccessful. In 1859, after the General Election, 41 Petitions were presented, 22 withdrawn, and of the remaining 19 tried, only eight were successful. In 1865 there were 55 Petitions presented, 26 withdrawn, 29 tried, and 14 successful. It must be borne in mind that 1868 was an exceptional year, in consequence of the new jurisdiction given to the Judges; and there were, consequently, a number of Petitions which were no real evidence of the existence of corrupt practices. In 1868 there were 82 Petitions presented, 32 withdrawn, 50 tried, 19 successful, and 31 unsuccessful. He did not dwell on 1868, because, as he had said, it was an exceptional year. But in 1874 the number of Petitions presented fell to 30, of these eight were withdrawn, 22 tried, and 15 successful. In the present year there were 42 presented, 14 withdrawn, 28 tried, and 17 successful. He would make a comparison, leaving the abnormal year 1868 out of account of the two years previously to 1868, when General Elections were held, and of the two years subsequent to that date. In the earlier two years there were 96 Petitions presented, and in 1874 and 1880 only 72, showing a difference, in favour of the last two years, of 24 Petitions. Of the 96, 48 were withdrawn, but of the 72 only 22 were withdrawn; of the 48 Petitions actually tried in the two earlier years, only 22 were successful. Of the 50 tried in 1874–80, 32 were successful. The only deduction safely to be drawn from these figures was that fewer Petitions had been presented since the alteration of the law removing the trial of Petitions from Committees of the House to the Judges, and that fewer also had been withdrawn, because it was more difficult now to withdraw them than formerly, and that of those tried the successful Petitions had increased 42 per cent. It might be that the Judges were more strict in their interpretation of the law than former tribunals had been; but he thought that the comparison which he had made gave no reason for supposing that a greater amount of corrupt practices prevailed now than formerly. In former times the candidates had to answer for their own acts, and where a candidate was unseated they were generally able to trace the corrupt practices home either to himself or to his agent; but of late years a new state of things had sprung up in the enlarged constituencies which constituted a grievous burden on candidates. No doubt, the communication of political views through the Press, and the practice of hon. Members addressing their constituents from year to year, had caused more active interest to be taken in politics than formerly; and the result was that the organizations had sprung up, established by hostile political bodies in different localities, tending to make contention, not so much between rival candidates, as between rival political bodies in the constituency which marshalled their forces in order to secure a victory for a particular set of political opinions. So the candidate found an organization, not of his own creation, but previously existing. If a candidate strove to support his candidature without the aid of this organization he would most probably fail. If, however, he obtained the aid of the organization he had frequently to bear heavy burdens imposed on him by his most active supporters. However strong his desire to avoid all corrupt practices, however much he might threaten those who resorted to them, he would find that members of the organization on which he had been compelled by force of circumstances to rely had, through excessive zeal, produced results in relation to the election which placed him in an unpleasant position. Unfortunately, it was the candidate only who had to bear the burden, however innocent he might be; for, so long as the inquiry into corrupt practices was confined to that before the Judges, they were unable to find out who were really the principal offenders. The Judges had held that their duties were not of an inquisitorial character; and, therefore, a subsequent investigation became necessary in order to ascertain the existence and extent of the corrupt practices. The Commissioners appointed under the Act for that purpose could institute a searching inquiry into the matter, and the consequences of their Report might be very serious, resulting in the disfranchisement of the borough, or of the persons scheduled as having been guilty of corrupt practices. The persons thus scheduled would also be disqualified from acting as agents at subsequent elections. Another consequence of appointing a Commission was that the constituency would have to pay the full expenses of the inquiry. It was said—Why not institute a criminal prosecution against the offenders? Well, there were many difficulties connected with that course. The practical result would probably be that the smaller offender would be caught, while the greater escaped, and the effect so produced on the public mind would unquestionably be demoralizing. At the same time, it was becoming more and more the duty of the House to jealously guard the purity of elections now that parties were carefully marshalled in opposition to each other, and that so much popular interest was excited in electoral contests, and one good means of promoting the purity of election seemed to him to be the issue of such Commissions as those now proposed. In 1868, in the course of a discussion on the subject of Election Petitions, Mr. Gathorne Hardy pointed out that after the House of Commons had transferred to the Judges the duty of reporting whether corrupt practices prevailed it would not be proper to criticize or review the exercise of the discretion of their own delegates. That view seemed to be generally assented to at the time, and he hoped the House would act upon it in the present instance, accepting the decision of the Judges that corrupt practices had prevailed at the several elections in question, and consenting to his Motion that Commissions should be issued to make a more searching and complete inquiry into the matter. There were altogether eight inquiries to be held, six in connection with the General Election, and the remaining two in connection with bye-elections held subsequently. In conclusion, he begged to move the first of the Resolutions of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:— Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave humbly to represent to Your Majesty that Sir Charles Edward Pollock, knight, one of the Barons of the Court of Exchequer, and Sir Henry Hawkins, knight, one of the Justices of the High Court of Justice, being two of the Judges appointed for the trial of Election Petitions, pursuant to ' The Parliamentary Elections Act, 1868,'and' The Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Act, 1879,' have reported to the House of Commons that there was reason to believe extensive corrupt practices had taken place at the last Election for the City of Gloucester: We therefore humbly pray Your Majesty that Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause inquiry to be made, pursuant to the powers of the Act of Parliament passed in the sixteenth year of the reign of Your Majesty, intituled ' An Act to provide for the more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament,' by the appointing of John Bridge Aspinall, esquire, one of Your Majesty's Counsel, William Robert MeConnell, esquire, barrister at law, and Francis William Raikes, esquire, barrister at law, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices."?— (Mr. Attorney General.)


Sir, I venture on behalf of this side of the House, and, I trust, on behalf of the whole House, although I have no authority to speak for hon. Members across the floor, to thank my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for the very masterly and conciliatory way in which he has raised the question, which, I trust, will be discussed above the low level of Party politics. It is one which affects the character, the honour, and the dignity of the House of Commons. It is one which comes before us this year under exceptional circumstances, for this is the year on which the probationary existence of the new system of voting has come to an end; so that an inquiry such as those which these Commissions involve are most essential in order to provide a full and searching dissection of the Ballot Question, which, I trust, will be one of the most carefully discussed, as it will be one of the most important features of next Session. With these convictions, I shall feel it my duty to vote for every one of the Commissions, solely and simply because the information which they are likely to elicit will be most important and valuable elements in the task for which we shall have to gird ourselves up for next year. My hon. and learned Friend, with that forensic ingenuity which we all admire and appreciate in him, produced some very interesting statistics, which he very adroitly mixed up. A French salad could not have been better mixed up. We had Petitions presented, Petitions withdrawn, Petitions which failed, and Petitions which were successful; and the result was that, in his opinion, corrupt practices do not now exist to any greater degree than they did, for instance, under the old franchise coupled with the old system of voting as in 1865, or under the new franchise, and the old system as in 1868. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the ability which he has displayed in stating his case, while I venture to bring his statistics before the House again. While accepting all of them as the record of facts, I will only trouble the House with that portion of those statistics which possesses any substantial value. I repudiate the Petitions presented and withdrawn. I will not deal with those Petitions which were unsuccessful or abandoned. In order to prove how far bribery and corrupt practices have been encouraged by the Ballot, and to show the comparative corruption of different periods, it is necessary to see how many of these Petitions were successful, and how many Members were unseated. My hon. and learned Friend's statistics show that in 1857, 1859, and 1865, Petitioners were successful in 7, 9, and 14 cases, making 30 in all. The average, therefore, is 10. Note that this average of 10 is the result of three General Elections held under the two conditions of the more restricted franchise of 1832, and of open voting. In 1868, which my hon. and learned Friend says was an exceptional time, when the extended franchise came in but open voting still existed, the number was 19. In 1874 and 1880, under the double condition of an extended franchise and of secret voting, the numbers were 15 and 17; 32, divided by 2, gives the average of 16, so that, according to my hon. and learned Friend's own statistics, corruption has, in the period selected by himself, grown from 10 to 16, tested by the cases of Members who have been unseated. In the old Parliaments a property qualification existed; but, at the instance of my right hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Spencer Walpole), that qualification was repealed between 1857 and 1859. Therefore, up to the date of that repeal in the Parliament of 1857, we have not been told how many of those who were unseated may have been so because they possessed an income which did not exceed £299 a-year.

After again observing that from 1857 to 1880 the unseating of Members has increased from 10 to 16, as the average of each General Election, I proceed to the question itself that is before us. I hope to deal with the general question opened out by the Motion on one point only—namely, how far bribery and corrupt practices have or have not been encouraged. First, by the Ballot; and, secondly, by a system of "electoral organization," of which, I believe, it was the undoubted origin. It is from my hon. and learned Friend that I take "recognized organization." I like the phrase "recognized organization." It has a good Johnsonian ring about it; and it is a more mouth-filling word than "caucus." My hon. and learned Friend has also given us a very apt phrase to describe the animating spirit of this recognized organization. This animating spirit is "excess of zeal." Many Friends of ours, whose presence we can ill afford to spare, have been obliged to absent themselves from the House for a time, owing to their supporters' "excess of zeal." Among them, in particular, the President of the Local Government Board was an innocent victim of "excess of zeal." I call, then, upon the House to pass this Resolution, as well as those which follow, so as to afford an opportunity for that patient, full, and searching inquiry into the present electoral system, which I will not say political expediency, but political decency, absolutely demands from the House of Commons. My hon. and learned Friend, with a force which I cannot hope to equal, has laid down the doctrine that we are bound to accept, at least for the present Motion, and for the purposes of this debate, the dicta of the Electoral Judges, to use a theological phrase, as "infallible and irrefragable." Whatever peoples' political opinions may have been, however ardent and enthusiastic a supporter of the Ballot, on moral considerations, my hon. Friend may be, however cold-blooded a sceptic on the other side I may be, we are both of us at the feet of the Judge."Roma locata est, causa finita est." Now, I shall quote from the Judgments of these legal dignitaries, beginning with the words of Judge Manisty, at Oxford— A careful consideration of the evidence which has been laid before us during our present long Circuit"— A long Circuit that is devoted to the painful consideration of the noisome incidents of the bribery and corruption of this one year perpetrated in many places— A careful consideration of the evidence which has been laid before us during our present long Circuit has led us to the conclusion that, while the Ballot Act has to a great extent done away with what might be called the simple evil of undue influence, it has created a compound evil of a worse kind. Under the old system of open voting a man who took a bribe could scarcely avoid voting according to his promise. Now, speaking from what has come out in evidence before us, many a man is bribed, and expressly, or impliedly, promises to vote for a particular candidate, and, in the end, breaks his promise. The Judge then goes on to say— I fear secret voting tempts many a man to commit the compound offence of bribery, falsehood, and fraud. Is not this pleasant triplet a very pregnant exemplification of my hon. and learned Friend's "excess of zeal?" Mr. Justice Manisty then goes on to say— Doubtless, in some cases, the subtle system of bribing by means of colourable or even real employment of voters, which is now so common, does secure some votes; and, bearing in mind the small majorities by which many elections, in boroughs more especially, have been gained, it is not, I think, going too far to conclude that a great number of candidates at the late Election owe their seats to voters gained over to their side by corrupt practices. Regarding, as I have done, with stupefaction the spectacle of the nation arraying itself under the banner first unfurled in Mid Lothian, and marching onwards, who knows whither, I really shudder to think that these results, achieved, as we have been told, by patriotic Liberalism, may have been brought about, after all, with the help of "bribery, falsehood, and fraud." "Bribery, falsehood, and fraud," without which, as the Judge so clearly indicates, the actual balance of Parties might have been so different, had these illegitimate influences not been present to turn the scale at the recent General Election. I now proceed to the utterances of Mr. Justice Lush also at Oxford, who goes more into particulars than his learned Brother. The learned Judge thus expresses himself— Mr. Day complained in his opening speech, as well he might, of the large expenditure on the part of the respondent at the last single Election, as compared with that of the preceding General Election in April, which extended over a period of three weeks. In this passage, Mr. Hall, in whom all of us, without distinction of Party, are sorry to have lost so able and promising a Member of Parliament, is condemned by the Judge; and I will read the condemnation of the friends of Mr. Hall, as I will read their condemnation of the friends of another distinguished Gentleman who is among us now, as the House will see presently. After the words I have just read, the Judge continues— The expenditure in April was, in round numbers, £2,559; while the cost of the single Election, as returned, was £3,611. Although the contest occupied only ten days, there wore nine polling districts. Yet the respondent has returned payments for 26 committee rooms, for 96 clerks, and 259 messengers. On the other side, the returned expenses were £3,275, being £335 loss than the respondent's. A rule-of-three sum, which this points to, might very well be worked out by those who think that all the virtues are on the one side of the House, and all the wickedness on the other. I must not, however, interrupt my quotation— But this difference is more than accounted for by the large sums paid by the respondent for legal agents in comparison with that paid by the Liberal candidate. But on the Liberal side we find that 24 committee rooms were opened, 78 clerks employed, besides 15 paid canvassers, 179 messengers, 106 detectives and constables. The aggregate of persons employed by the respondent, as shown by the return, was 355; of the employed by the Liberal candidate, 389. Actually, the Home Secretary employed 389 persons to promote his cause by those gentle insinuations which paid canvassers and other gentlemen of that profession are apt to employ. It has been asserted by counsel, and not denied, that the respondent's return did not include by many all the persons employed and paid as messengers…How many of those 744 persons employed on both sides were voters? Such are the facts, and it is useless for the pot to call the kettle black. These observations of Mr. Justice Lush show that the party of Mr. Hall and the party of the Home Secretary were six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Both those candidates, I have no doubt, were shocked at, and repudiated the action of, their understrappers; but there those understrappers were, and so the action of his understrappers unseated Mr. Hall; while there is, at least, the strongest moral probability that if the Home Secretary had been the sitting Member, and had been petitioned against, the action of the Home Secretary's understrappers would have been quite sufficient to unseat him. Of course, the loss to public life of the Home Secretary would have been the greater one. Mr. Hall was only a rising man; the Home Secretary was a veteran statesman; and so, though the offence would have been the same, the wrong done by these unscrupulous dregs of society, in the person of a veteran statesman, must have been greater than when their victim was a comparatively young, though rising, man.

Here I have come to a point to which my hon. and learned Friend referred with so much feeling—the way in which a candidate and a candidate's friends now take his being unseated. I remember the time when being unseated was a thing that, however innocent the candidate might feel himself, and however innocent his friends knew him to be, attached a sort of stigma to him. This may often have worked unjustly for a most innocent man, and the stigma most unfairly clung to him. But still the feeling was a mark of national sensitiveness which I am afraid has now disappeared. Some Members may recall that most tragical case when a distinguished leader of my hon. and learned Friend's own Profession, in a sister Kingdom, fell a victim to the self-torments of a too sensitive conscience. His end was a tragedy. I am afraid that comedy is more likely now to reign in giving their character to electioneering misadventures.

I cannot look upon this deterioration of moral feeling, when the chances of being unseated are in question, as merely a misfortune. At the same time, I charge the Ballot with the fault. Under the Ballot, men think all is chance—no fixed right or wrong. In the hands of the Election Judges the Ballot has been dissected. It has been prepared, like the most delicate preparation in Surgeon's Hall, put into spirits, and labelled, that all men might see it. In one of the most pregnant decisions of these Judges, Mr. Justice Manisty, as we have seen, has spoken of the bribery of the present day, the child of the Ballot, as no longer a simple evil, but a compound evil, composed of bribery, falsehood, and fraud. In other words, if we are driven to speak the truth, such an institution as the Ballot stands confessed as a failure. But why should we be ashamed to say so? What sacred majesty is enshrined in that experiment of eight years ago? I throw myself on 600 years of Parliamentary life—on the old English system of open voting—and I say I am not afraid of being met, in lack of argument, by the false charge of being reactionary. I am not afraid of being pointed at as a Tory. A man who is afraid of the mimic terrors of such an imputation is not worthy of a seat in Parliament. I thought the Ballot would be a failure in 1871 and 1872. I said so in this House, and I stand here now justified in my words. I do not suppose that I shall produce any effect on the Benches opposite. But I appeal to that evidence which the hon. and learned Attorney General has himself called on us to accept; and I assert, he being my witness, that my words have come fatally true. Now, let us remember what the bright hopes were of the eminent man who brought in the Ballot Bill. I do not know how many of us there are here at this instant who were Members of this House and present on that occasion. Everyone admired and sympathized with the evident sincerity and enthusiasm — the almost sacred fire — that cheered and encouraged the right hon. Gentleman, now Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, when he advocated in this House the darling project of his life. Those whose reason must have told them that he was deluding himself were constrained to say that his delusion was that of an able and enthusiastic man— a man who looked to political success as nothing compared with the triumph of the views which he honestly held upon the Ballot. I wish that that right hon. Member were here now to hear what I have to say. During the two Sessions which I have mentioned, I sat for days and for weeks patiently opposite to him, labouring night after night with him in endeavouring to amend the details of the measure, and to bring its elaborate machinery into something like working order, although I had opposed the second reading of the Bill. I did so without much heart; but I did it as a duty. I say without much heart, for I had some heart, and I will tell the House what that heart was. The Ballot Bill was not only a Ballot Bill, but a Bill to regulate electioneering proceedings in other ways. Among the changes it compassed wore the abolition of the hustings, and of the publication of the state of the poll during the polling day. Now, both of these things had become, as I felt, anachronisms. Public nomination, which was once regarded as a great Constitutional fact, had become a mere source of drunken and disorderly disturbance. Even in such an immaculate borough as Stoke, when I stood for it, the row upon the nomination day was so great, and the mob brought together by my Liberal friends so disorderly, that it was impossible to hear anything that took place. [Mr. WOODALL: Oh !] I certainly do not mean to wound the susceptibilities of my hon. Friend opposite. I will only say that there was so much "excess of zeal" spontaneously displayed on behalf of the Liberal candidates. The earliest incident was that the reporters and the desks provided for them were sent flying. One of my opponents had expressed his determination to crush me in his speech; but his own friends made such a terrible noise that, although he only stood a few yards from me, I could not hear one word he said—so my castigation fell dead. When my turn came, I saw that not one word I said would be heard; so I simply went on gesticulating, and the mob howled, they believing themselves strangling my eloquence, and I laughing in my sleeve at the practical joke I was playing them. Once or twice I uttered some short sentences, which appeared in the Staffordshire papers on the following day, with the remark that, owing to the great confusion which prevailed, they were all that the reporter was able to catch. I thoroughly supported the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland in his proposal to abolish the open nomination day, and that great source of corruption, the publication of the gradual state of the poll on the polling day. So did other Members, who were most opposed to the main scope of the measure. But what were the prophecies to which he committed himself when he introduced the Bill in 1871? I support the Ballot because I believe it would destroy the illegitimate influences of bribery and intimidation, which are those besetting sins of our Parliamentary system, to remove which we have been vainly struggling for years. I believe the present measure will do what we want, because it will touch the motive that prompts to the commission of these crimes. I ask the support of all sides of the House because I feel sure all are anxious to destroy illegitimate influence, and also for the reason that the more you destroy that influence the more you will increase the legitimate influence; because any attempt to use illegitimate influence produces needless irritation and prejudices people against persons who may have the power to intimidate them, though they may rarely or never have practised intimidation. In the peroration of his speech, he stated that a large class desired the Ballot—most conscientiously I am sure— Because they believe that the Ballot would be a blow to bribery and intimidation; because it would take away the motive to bribe and intimidate, and even the power to do so."— [3 Hansard, cciv. 546–7.] These may have been the motives which induced the House to adopt the Ballot Bill; but what is the result of its handiwork, in the words of those Election Judges whom we are bound to respect? It has put an end to the simple evil of undue influence; but it has created the worse and compound offence of bribery, falsehood, and fraud. I have said that the Ballot was a failure, and I have proved it out of the mouth of the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Election Judge. You have listened to what the right hon. Gentleman said nine years ago. Let me reduce his statement from the past tense to the present. Let us turn to what he must say now, with the facts of the late inquiry before him. He would say now—"I did support the Ballot because I did believe it would destroy the illegitimate influence of bribery and intimidation, which were the besetting sins of our Parliamentary system, to remove which we have been struggling for years. I can no longer support it, for I see that the simple evil which I have tried to remove has been replaced by a compound and much worse evil. I believed, in 1871, that the measure would do what we wanted, because it would have touched the motives that prompted to the commission of these crimes—motives which I see still alive and more full of mischief in the embodied shape of caucuses and local organizations which labour with excess of zeal to do all that they ought not, and to work upon the worst and not the best elements of human nature. I no longer ask the support of any side of the House for secret voting, because I feel sure that all are anxious to prevent illegitimate influence, which finds impunity in the ballot-box; and also for the reason that the more you resist the introduction of that illegitimate influence, the more you will increase every legitimate influence; and because any attempt to use illegitimate influence produces needless irritation, and prejudices people against persons who may have the power to intimidate them, though they may have rarely or never practised intimidation."

Let us be honest, and confess that, in 1872, we sowed the dragon's teeth. The truth confronts us in these horrible revelations, these startling judgments. The proof of the wide corruption which has settled on the land, has left the confessed doubt upon the minds of the Election Judges whether this present Parliament of 1880 represents the real, because the unbribed, opinions of the nation. I need add very little more; but there is one thing I must say in defence of the position which I have taken up. I opposed the Ballot at its rise; I oppose it now in the day of its disgrace and its exposure. Let no man cast in my teeth that, in doing so, I am a reactionary, or that I am an oligarch. They may call me a Tory; but I think to be called a Tory is a compliment, when I remember that it was the great Tory Party that fought Waterloo and saved the liberties of the world. You may call me a Tory; but do not call me a re-actionary, nor an enemy of the liberties of the people. The Ballot has been the sum and completion of all the worst tyrannies of the world. Bonapartism, with all its corruption and hypocrisy, is the child of the ballot-box. With the history of France before you on the one side, and the old history of England on the other, let people up- hold the Ballot if they please; but do not bandy it about that supporting or opposing the Ballot is any test of a greater or less conscious love of liberty. Yet the men who opposed the Ballot were, I believe, the truest friends of liberty. I shall give my vote in support of this Resolution, and to all the others, in the hope that the facts which may come out in future investigations may be of use to the House in dealing with the Ballot Bill of next Session.


said, that, like his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, he had put down an Amendment on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, because he wished to suggest, in some degree, a practical remedy for the difficulties connected with Election Petitions. He was glad that the hon. and learned Attorney General had not laid it down absolutely that the Judges' Report was in all cases to be considered as final. As long as the House had the question submitted to it to say "Aye" or "No," it was not desirable that it should be laid down on the authority of the Government that they were to act merely Ministerially in the matter. They ought to go behind the Reports of the Judges and consider the circumstances in which they were made, and other things which might be material. Several times during the Session he had endeavoured to call attention to the evils of the present law, because he believed it to bear hardly upon the comparatively innocent and to favour the comparatively guilty. By the comparatively innocent he meant, as a general rule, the Members and the great mass of the constituency; by the comparatively guilty the persons who had been either bribers or bribees. The case of Gloucester, as to which they were now called upon to make up their minds, brought out in an especial degree the liability of the present law to press hardly upon those whom, in the absence of other evidence, they must, in a legal sense, presume to be innocent. When the Judges had to make their Report under three heads—namely, the guilt or innocence of the Member, that of other persons, and that of the constituency as a whole, they were required to make a Report of a definite kind, to answer "Aye" or "No" to each of these questions—"Is the Member, are his agents, or any other person guilty, or is the constituency?" The Judges, being compelled with their backs to the wall to answer these questions, inasmuch as human nature was too strong even for Judges, had resorted to expedients for qualifying their verdicts. They said, in some cases, that corrupt practices had prevailed extensively; in others that there was reason to believe corrupt practices had prevailed; in another case that, having regard to the evidence before them, to which they had confined their attention, there was no reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed; and they had even gone one step further and said, having confined their attention strictly to the evidence before them, there was no reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed. He had quoted these words to show that they were justified in going behind the Reports of the Judges and not following these Reports blindly. The remedy he would suggest was one proposed by Mr. Ayrton in 1868—namely, that, at an investigation, an officer should be present, who, when bribery was proved, and there was reason to believe that materials for the consideration of the Judges in regard to the character of the constituents were being kept back, should have the same power as the Queen's Proctor in the Divorce Court of following up any clues which he might get at the time, and reporting the result to the House. That proposal was received with favour by the late Mr. J. Stuart Mill, who said the only fault he found with it was that it did not go far enough. It was also supported by Mr. T. Hughes, and was only faintly resisted by the Solicitor General of the Conservative Government then in power, who said that it would be bettor to pass the Bill, and afterwards it would be easy to amend it, if necessary, by a short Act containing a provision such as the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets suggested. Mr. Ayrton's proposal was defeated only by a majority of eight, the numbers being 102 to 110. He did not believe they would be able to arrive at any real opinion as to the necessity or expediency of issuing a Commission unless they had some such machinery as he had indicated. A Commission was a very heavy penalty to inflict; it was an instrument which should not be lightly used on the supposition that the constituency had been "sampled." The indi- cations were in many cases misleading; and it was because he thought in the case of Gloucester they had an instance of that kind that he intended to conclude by moving to negative the Resolution with regard to Gloucester. With the other Resolutions he did not intend to interfere. The Report with regard to Gloucester was, there was reason to believe that "extensive corrupt practices had taken place" at the last election. The Judges said here, as elsewhere, that, having regard to the evidence before them, they came to the conclusion stated, and they confined themselves to the bare formula. And why did they do so? Obviously, because the evidence was absurdly inadequate to support such a conclusion. The evidence before them was that an agent of Mr. Robinson had bribed three persons with a sovereign each, and that the same agent had given £5 more to be spent in a similar manner. This was the beginning, the middle, and the end of what was proved. Taking these facts by themselves it was absurd to contend that they furnished any justification for a Commission. If that was so, the Judges had founded their Report on the assumption that all the other cases that were mentioned were precisely similar to those proved as to their degree of guilt. They must also have assumed that all the cases so mentioned to them were equally capable of proof. The Judges also alluded to a further matter, which, in their opinion, was material to the issue. It was evident that all these three things being together in their minds induced them to come to the opinion that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed. The Judges stated that, in the 80 cases scheduled, similar charges were specified; and Mr. Justice Hawkins remarked that he could not suppose the particulars would have been delivered unless the agent believed the cases could be proved. That was complimentary, no doubt, to the agent; but, assuming his bonâ fide belief, it did not follow that the cases were capable of proof. There was nothing easier than to file a number of particulars, and it was necessary to do so, because, otherwise, the cases could not be gone into on the trial. Therefore, perhaps, no one was more surprised at the Judges' complaint than the agent himself. The other matter referred to was that which had been already discussed in that House when he opposed the appointment of a Committee to inquire whether there was any imputation against the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), and withdrew the opposition in view of the remonstrance of the hon. Member. He was entitled to accept the Report of that Committee until it was contradicted, and, therefore, to discount the presumption against the constituency in the minds of the Judges based on the withdrawal of the Petition. It was from the cases proved, from the cases scheduled, and from the withdrawal of the Petition as against the hon. Member that the Judges arrived at their conclusion; but if they had been in the possession of the facts, as we knew them, they probably would not have made the Report they did. If Commissions were to be appointed in all cases in which as much could be proved, there would be a large increase in the number of Commissions. He did not believe there was in this case any more reason for establishing such a precedent than there was in the case of numerous other boroughs. They could not judge of the amount of corruption by the presentation of a Petition. In the best managed instances of corruption Petitions were avoided. If the House, in their legitimate anxiety— which no one applauded more than he himself did—to put down the evils which existed under the present imperfect system, if they sent down these Commissions on the very slight indications as were afforded by the one instance of bribery proved in the case of Gloucester, they would bewilder the public mind and embarrass the proceedings of Parliament, and it would be perfectly impossible for them to follow up the vast number of examples which would appear by disfranchisement. He would, therefore, recommend that Gloucester should now have the benefit of the very considerable doubt which existed, and that the Commission against that city should not be pressed.


desired to support the last speaker, and said, he did not wish to give Gloucester the benefit of any doubt whatever; but he wished the House to keep in its own hands the jurisdiction respecting Election Petitions. He was not prepared to accept the finding of the Election Judges as conclusive. Election Judges ought to confine themselves strictly to the question referred to them. They were appointed not to express opi- nions as to the Ballot Act. They ought not to speak of an individual whom they unseated for bribery as a benefactor of the borough, nor ought they to call attention to the action of a particular Liberal association, thus giving rise to questions in that House which cast imputations upon the Party which sat on the Ministerial side of the House. Above all things, they ought not to speak of their suspicions. In the case of Gloucester, but for their suspicions, the learned Judges would never have reported that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in that borough. Eighty cases of corrupt practices were mentioned in the particulars furnished by the Petitioners; but only four cases of bribery were proved —namely, the payment of half a sovereign each to three men, and a sum of £5 to another voter. He submitted that the Judges were wanting in their duty to the House in not requiring evidence which would have enabled them to make a Report as to the cases which were set forth in the particulars. The Report of the learned Judges—Baron Pollock and Mr. Justice Hawkins—assumed a character entirely different from the judgment they had delivered. The learned counsel for the Petitioners, having proved the four cases of bribery to which he had alluded, did not proceed further, and Baron Pollock said that in doing so the learned counsel had properly discharged his duty. For his part, he was of opinion that the learned counsel did not do his duty—-as it was his duty to have given such evidence as he could to sustain the allegations made in the particulars. In their Report the learned Judges stated that "bribery of the same character as that proved must have existed in other cases." That was a pure assumption unsustained by any proof, and only resting on the unproved statements of the particulars—all of which, however, were assumed to be true. Then came a remarkable statement made by both the learned Judges, to the effect that the delivery of the particulars had led them to the conclusion that bribery had been committed. They said— In these circumstances, we are not satisfied that the abandonment of the case against Mr. Monk was not the result of an arrangement made with a view to the withholding from us of evidence of the extensive corrupt practices which there is reason to believe prevailed at the election. The fact was that they had no evidence whatever to found the "reason to believe" upon. He could not admit that in a proceeding of this kind either Judges or any other persons were entitled to act upon mere suspicion, as had been done in the present case, and upon leading questions such as the learned Judges put to several of the witnesses in the course of the hearing. His own view was that Parliament made a mistake when it departed from the practice of appointing Select Committees of its own body to inquire into disputed elections; but, as that matter had been finally decided, he warned hon. Members against following the example of the Judges, and taking any course which was based upon a suspicion that something wrong had been done. He himself would not object to be a party to the issuing of a Commission in every borough of the Kingdom, because, although the cost would be great, he thought great good would result from such a general inquiry, and because it might lead them to the consideration of some other system of dealing with corrupt voting. The charge of corruption in Gloucester was an extremely slender one; and he hoped that the House would hesitate long before acceding to the Motion for an Address which was now before the House.


remarked that, before he said anything about Gloucester, somebody on the Opposition side of the House ought to express an opinion that nothing could exceed the impartiality of the tribunal selected by the hon. and learned Attorney General. The Attorney General had not only taken great pains to obtain impartiality, but he had selected a tribunal which, by its ability, as well as its impartiality, would command the confidence of the country. He was sorry the late Attorney General or Solicitor General was not present to make that statement on behalf of the Conservative Party; but he hoped the Attorney General would accept it from him as representing not only the opinion of what was called the Fourth Party, but the general opinion of the Conservative Party. At the same time, he could not concur in the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General that corrupt practices were not on the increase. He had a great deal of personal experience of the General Election of 1874, and of the General Elec- tion of 1880; and he was very strongly of opinion that the General Election of 1880 was far more corrupt than the General Election of 1874, and, to a certain extent, the statistics produced by the Attorney General corroborated that opinion. In the latter year there were 15 successful Election Petitions, and not a single case in which the Judges reported extensive corrupt practices; whereas in 1880 there were 17 Petitions, and no less than eight in which the Judges reported that extensive corrupt practices had prevailed. As long as there were persons willing to receive bribes, and persons ready to offer bribes, they could not put down bribery by legislation, but what they could do by legislation was to put a stop to the known and recognized customary mode of bribery. If the Government would fulfil the pledge which he understood they had given to bring in a Corrupt Practices Bill next Session, the action of these tribunals would be extremely useful to the House in legislating upon that subject. As to the case of Gloucester, he hoped the House would not be led by the clever and ingenious speeches of the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. J. E. Yorke) and the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Willis) to depart from the wide principle laid down by the Attorney General, and to infer that the Commission as regarded Gloucester was unnecessary. He did not think the House was inclined to constitute itself into a Court of Appeal, and to say whether the Judges were justified or not in what they said as to the existence of corrupt practices. The Judges were only fulfilling their statutory duty, because when a Petition was withdrawn, as in this case the Petition virtually was, it was the duty of the Judges, if they thought there was any reason to believe that it had been withdrawn in consequence of any corrupt arrangement, to say so. In this case, both the learned Judges intimated, before the incident of the costs arose, that they entertained that belief. As to the light in which the action of the House in this matter would be viewed by the country, there was, rightly or wrongly, an impression abroad that corrupt practices did extensively prevail, and no one would deny that in most of the English boroughs such was the case. Nor could it be denied that those practices prevailed in the City of Gloucester during the last election. In these circumstances, if the House were to negative the Resolution and refuse to allow inquiry, the country would never be got to believe that the House was in earnest in its pretended efforts to suppress corrupt practices. Even before the incident to which reference had been made had occurred at the trial of the Gloucester Petition, the Judges had come to the conclusion that they would, in all probability, have to report that corrupt practices prevailed there; and it was not desirable, he repeated, that the House should make itself a Court of Appeal from the decision at which the Judges had arrived.


said, that, on looking over the judgments which had been given by the learned personages who had tried the recent Election Petitions, he had been struck by the manner in which they had gone beyond the line of their duty in commenting on the conduct of individuals. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Beresford Hope) had spoken at great length on the Ballot, and had urged that it was mischievous; but it would be found in dealing with these boroughs that far more important facts must be recognized in their character, and the facts belonging to them. He thought it was important to notice, in connection with the eight boroughs for which it was proposed Commissions should issue, that they were all of a particular kind, and were precisely the places where one might expect corruption. Four of them were cathedral cities, and all but one were ancient boroughs; they nearly all contained freemen, and they all had very seamy histories with respect to Election Petitions. Therefore, it was not marvellous there should be a recurrence of these corrupt practices. If a measure for the redistribution of seats were passed, on a strict basis of population, these towns would — the number of their population being taken into account—not be likely to have any Representatives at all. He would merely add, in reference to the ancient City in which he resided, that he thought it was a little too hard on the residents in the Colleges of the University of Oxford, who could not vote and did take part in the Elections with the view of using such influence as they possessed one way or other, that they should be called upon to contribute to the rate which, the proposed inquiry would render necessary. A good deal of the bribery would be found to have been committed by the outlying freemen, who were, practically, irresponsible for their actions. In 1831 the House of Commons very wisely abolished the franchise of the freemen; but they were reinstated by the other House, which was constantly doing mischief; and he thought it would be a good thing if the franchise of freemen was put an end to entirely.


said, he did not desire to express any opinion as to the particular case of the City of Gloucester, or to question the position of the hon. Member, who, he (Mr. Newdegate) sincerely trusted, might remain a Member of the House; but that did not interfere with his view as to what should be the decision of the House with respect to the appointment of these Commissions on corrupt practices; and he could scarcely think that any hon. Member would wish to remain in that House sitting for a borough, in respect of which the Election Judges had thought fit to express suspicion, without desiring that there should be full inquiry in order to ascertain what ground there was for such suspicion. It was proposed to issue eight of those Commissions, and he did not think any man could deny the existence of extensive corruption under the present system of Parliamentary election. In his opinion, the reflections which had been cast on the conduct of the Judges for furnishing the House with their opinion were extremely unjust. Let the House remember that before it established the system of secret voting, or very soon after it established that system, it abandoned the system of inquiry by its own Committees, and invested the Election Judges with additional powers, because the House was aware that the secrecy would tend to defeat inquiry; and when hon. Members reflected upon the conduct of the Judges in reporting to the House their impressions, received from the conduct of witnesses on the spot, they should remember that the Judges were only acting in accordance with the duties, which they were appointed to discharge, in being sent down to the different localities to make their investigations, and obtain information as to the working of the Act. To every reasonable man it must occur that the promises, an- ticipations, and calculations upon which Parliament was induced to adopt the Ballot had been grossly and manifestly falsified. Sitting on the other side of the House he always supported Lord Palmerston, as Prime Minister, in resisting the Ballot; and when he referred to the speeches of that noble Lord, he could conceive no tribute to his memory, his foresight, his knowledge of this country, and of other countries, and his knowledge of human nature—he could conceive no more emphatic tribute to the memory of Lord Palmerston than to recall the speeches he made in opposition to the establishment of the electoral system which now existed. He mentioned this because no man living, he thought, would dispute that of all the advocates of free institutions Lord Palmerston was one of the most powerful and sincere. He (Mr. Newdegate) was opposed to the Ballot, and the authority of Lord Palmerston had always enabled him to condemn the democratic notion that freedom was promoted by secret voting. There never was such a delusion. In France they had the Ballot, and the Empire went beyond the Ballot in seeking democratic support by establishing a system of the plébiscite. Yet that democratic system certainly did not save the freedom of the people of Prance; and it was his belief that among those who were consistent supporters of the Ballot there was no small section who looked to the establishment of an Imperial system in this country akin to that which existed under the late Empire in France. In the Session of 1864, while resisting the Motion of Mr. Berkeley in favour of secret voting, Lord Palmerston said— I object to the Motion because it is founded on an erroneous assumption. The hon. Member deals with the right of voting as if it were a personal right, which an individual was entitled to exercise free from any responsibility, whereas I contend that the vote is a trust to be exercised on behalf of the community at large."— [3 Hansard, clxxvi. 44.] Afterwards he said— Even if the franchise were ever so extended—even if we had a manhood franchise, if every man arrived at the age of discretion were entitled to vote, it would be only a trust, because there would still be a large portion of the community, women and minors, affected by the laws, by taxation, and so on, whose interests would be committed to those who had votes. Indeed, our legislation is based on the understanding that a vote is a trust, and not a right. If a vote were a purely personal right, would not a voter be entitled to ask on what principle of justice you should punish him for exercising it in the manner which he thinks most for his own individual advantage? Your system of secret voting was, in fact, in favour of bribery. Lord Pal-merston went on to say— But you attach a penalty to the man who employs that right of voting in a way at variance, as you deem, with the public interest, for bribery or any other such consideration. I say, then, that the vote is a trust, and I maintain that every political trust ought to be exercised subject to the responsibility of public opinion. The whole political framework of civilized nations rests on the principle of trust. The interests of the community are in various degrees, more or less important, committed to a selected few who are charged with duties, in regard to particular things, on behalf of the people at large; and their action in fulfilling that trust ought to be subject to responsibility towards those on whose account they exercise it. But I contend that the Ballot as proposed is intended to withdraw the voter from that responsibility which the public exercise of the trust confided to him would impose, and in that respect I think it would be a political evil. We have been told about the system in other countries—in America, for instance But in America, as everybody knows, ballot voting is not secret. It is ticket voting. A man votes for a great number of officers at a time, and he sticks his ticket in his hat, and is proud of the party and the cause he espouses; he does not think of concealing the members, judges, governor, or other officers appointed by public election in the United States for whom he gives his voice. The Ballot, then, I hold, is founded on a mistake in principle, and is at variance with the fundamental assumption on which all our political institutions are based."—[Ibid. 44–5.] Now the House had bad some experience of the system of secret voting, and be felt confident that the House would forgive him for thus having quoted the opinions of so eminent a man as Lord Palmerston.


reminded the hon. Member that the question immediately before the House was not the Ballot, but the appointment of a Commission to inquire into corrupt practices at Gloucester. The hon. Member would not be in Order in travelling beyond that question.


bowed to the Speaker's correction. But he had thought, considering how this debate had been opened by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beres-ford Hope), and that the House was about to appoint Commissions to inquire into corrupt practices, it would not be out of place if he ventured to explain his opinion as to the occasion for those Commissions. The proposal to appoint those Commissions was the sequel to the last two elections under the Ballot, and the result was that 50 per cent more Members had been unseated under that system than were unseated as the result of the previous three elections under the system of open voting. Such was the effect of the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, who so very ably opened the debate. He trusted the House would permit him to draw their attention to another failure on the part of that electoral system, of the success of which the necessity for the appointment of these Commissions were certainly no proof. It had been hoped that secrecy of voting would put an end to the exercise of undue influence. Now, he thought there was much during the late elections to indicate the existence of undue influence. The present system of secret voting was introduced in a great measure owing to the use of intimidation at Irish elections. Anybody who chose to refer to Hansard's Debates would find that what be said was true; and he would ask the House whether, during the present Session and the last three Sessions of the last Parliament, the conduct of Members returned from Ireland to the House had not been exceptional?


rose to Order.


said, he had already called the hon. Member's attention to the Question immediately before the House.


said, he would reserve what further he might have to say not merely upon the question of the alleged corruption but upon the necessity of issuing Commissions. He bowed most respectfully to the Speaker's decision; but he had thought that, when the question before the House was the adoption of an Address for the issue of a Commission, surely one might be justified in commenting upon such serious evidence of defects in the present electoral system as justifying that proceeding; the more especially when it was announced that the consideration of the system of secret voting was merely deferred till next Session for the sake of convenience, and when a Bill was before the House for continuing that system. Bowing, however, respectfully, as he hoped he always did, to the Speaker's ruling, he would reserve what further he had to say on the general evidence with respect to the system of secret voting, merely observing that, though it still continued in the United States, it was repudiated in Canada.


said, he would not follow the hon. Member who had just sat down into the question of the working of the Ballot Act, for a dicussion on that subject could not end in a profitable manner on that occasion. With reference to the question before the House, he wished to point out that some hon. Members who had spoken seemed to have forgotten that the Legislature had cast upon the Judges the obligation of saying "aye" or "no" to the question whether there was any reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed in any given place. The Judges, hon. Members should recollect, could not be silent on the matter. Of course, some Judges might be led to a belief by reasons less cogent than those which would be required to lead other persons to the same belief; but he held that great inconvenience might be caused if the House were to go behind the expression of the Judges' opinion. On this occasion, the matter had happily been discussed apart from all Party considerations; but might there not be many cases in which there would be a very great temptation to question the determination of the Judges on grounds which might not be entirely free from Party bias? In his opinion, the only safe ground to go upon was the finding and determination of the Judges. He by no means agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Willis), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), that this opinion was tantamount to saying that the House was bound by whatever the Judges might say in their judgments. All he said was that when Judges, in discharge of their statutory duty, laid before the House a finding upon any matter, the House might very well consent to be bound by that finding. The Judges, in the present case, had found that there was reason to believe that corrupt practices prevailed in Gloucester, and upon that finding the House was asked to assent to the issuing of a Commission. Well, supposing that there had been a mistake, and that corrupt practices had not extensively prevailed, what harm would be done by agreeing to this course? The City of Gloucester would be freed from suspicion, while the attendant expense would not be very great. If, on the other hand, the Judges had not made a mistake, it could not be thought desirable that the fact of the prevalence of corrupt practices should remain in obscurity, and that Gloucester should escape with impunity. He hoped the House might now be allowed to come to a decision, and would not be led into a discussion on the Ballot, which would come before them in regular form next year.


could not agree with the Attorney General in the lesson which he deduced from the figures which he quoted. In his opinion, the statistics showed conclusively that corruption was on the increase. As to the charge against Gloucester, he held that there never had been a case based on weaker evidence. The case was one of suspicion, rather than actual proof of corrupt practices.


said, he was glad to think that nothing in the debate called for any personal explanation from him. But, although the Petition against his own Return was withdrawn, he thought that it would be more becoming in him as Member for the City of Gloucester not to take part in the Division.

Question put.

The House divided: —Ayes 98; Noes 19: Majority 79.—(Div,List, No. 166.)