§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Illegal Payment, Employment, or Hiring.
§ Clause 15 (Use of committee room in house for sale of intoxicating liquor to be illegal hiring).
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, that before he proceeded to state his reasons in support of the Amendment standing in his name, he thought it desirable that the Committee should receive some explanation from the Attorney General as to the reasons which had induced the Government to place this clause in the Bill. His object in asking for that explanation was solely for the purpose of facilitating the progress of Business. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members opposite appeared to receive that statement with some amount of impatience; but the Committee were entitled to the explanation he asked for; and if it were necessary for the purpose he should feel it his duty to move to report Progress. Although the Amendment he was about to move did not meet all the objections which he entertained to this clause, it did so to a certain extent. The clause appeared to him to contain one of the most extraordinary and novel proposals ever introduced into a Bill—namely, that places where intoxicating liquors were sold should be excluded from being used as committee rooms on the occasions of Parliamentary elections. He could not conceive that there should be any objection to the use of public-houses as committee rooms 193 either within or without the limits of Parliamentary boroughs, and he said it was for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to justify the clause. He apprehended that the existing law was quite sufficient for any legitimate purposes the Government had in view with regard to the use of public-houses at the time of an election; if there were cases of disorder in houses licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor the law provided remedies which would meet any case of the kind; because they were able to punish the occupier of the premises by taking away his licence, or by any other mode which the law appointed. He could not understand, on general principles, why this particular class of buildings were selected to be dealt with in the manner proposed, or why it was that they were to be so dealt with only at election time. He pointed out to the Committee that in the case of elections other than Parliamentary elections, these taverns, hotels, and public-houses were the very places resorted to for carrying on the business connected with the election. The hon. and learned Gentleman would probably recollect that the London Tavern and the Charing Cross Hotel, amongst others, were made use of in such cases. If there was a charity school to be advocated, or a fund of any kind to be supported, it was always at institutions of that kind that the meetings were held; and he had never heard, in connection with them, that the fact of intoxicating liquor being sold there had led to any abuse. In his own borough, if there happened to be a meeting called for any public purpose, the premises sought out and used were one of the taverns or hotels within the limits of the borough. Unless the hon. and learned Gentleman could produce some justification of the clause, or state some substantial reasons why licensed premises should not be used as committee rooms on the occasion of elections, he thought the clause ought not to be allowed to remain in the Bill. He passed on to the next point with regard to committee rooms. Candidates would be allowed to have one room for every 500 electors in their constituency; and he would ask, where were they to find those rooms unless in the hotels and other licensed premises? In his own borough he would be entitled under the Bill to have no less than six committee 194 rooms at the next Election; but he was sure that, although no man was better acquainted with the borough than himself, it would be impossible for him to find the requisite accommodation. Looking at this question from another point of view, everyone, including the hon. and learned Attorney General himself, knew what was the usual cost of hiring rooms for committee purposes. Licensed Victuallers, as a rule, had only one price, so that a candidate knew exactly what he had to pay; but under this clause he would be quite in the dark as to the cost of a room suited to his purpose. The Government said—"You are not allowed to use any room which comes within the category of rooms ordinarily used for electoral purposes; we prevent you holding your meetings in them; we have fixed a maximum line of expense which you must confine yourself within, nevertheless you must pay any price which is demanded of you." He said that this was not only an inconvenient rule, but also a very unjust one; because the candidate would be exposed to the necessity of seeking in out-of-the-way places for rooms which he could not get in the borough. Then there was the question of private houses, which in the clause was mixed up with the question of intoxicating drinks; and that was why he appealed to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to give some logical explanation of his reasons for introducing the clause. The restrictions sought to be imposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to him to amount to this—that people should not use any tavern or hotel for electoral purposes, because they might get intoxicated there. But, surely, the same thing might be said in the case of a private house. What was there to prevent people drinking too much on the premises of a private individual, or in a club? But he would not go into that question now. All he wished to do was to point out the inconvenient and illogical results which must follow, if the proposal in the clause were adopted. The hon. and learned Gentleman forbade the use of rooms in hotels and taverns, because liquors were sold there but he had already shown that if the law were carried out there was a legal remedy for everything in the nature of disorder which might take place. Although the clause struck at the business 195 carried on in licensed premises, it would have the effect of protecting coffee taverns and temperance hotels, and, thereby, the honest trader who took out a licence would be placed at a great disadvantage. That was not fair or upright dealing in any way; and he felt sure there must be something at the bottom of it. He said that legislation of the kind proposed was not only pernicious, but humiliating. He was satisfied that the Attorney General himself must have attended committee rooms not only at respectable hotels, but at the public-houses in the borough of Taunton; and, that being so, it was impossible for him to conceive how the Hon. and learned Gentleman, after his distinguished career, could come down to that House and kick away the very ladder by which he had ascended to the Treasury Bench. But what was the cause of this zeal on the part of the Government? He believed it was duo to a desire to make things pleasant with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson); they knew there was the temperance vote hanging over, and they wanted to get hold of it. As had been pointed out last night, the hon. and learned Gentleman had never given a vote on the liquor question; and if he had any opinion at all with regard to it he had kept it entirely to himself. His view of the case was that this unjust and un-English-like proposal to shut out a respectable class of men was entirely owing to the desire of the Government to obtain the votes of the Blue Ribbon Army, and perhaps of the Salvation Army also; on no other grounds could he understand this superstitious feeling against entering into those buildings in which liquor was licensed to be sold. His proposal did not go to the very root of the clause; but it would, to a certain extent, raise the principle which it contained; and, therefore, reserving to himself the right of future opposition, he begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 4, after the word "premises," to insert "within the limits of Parliamentary boroughs."—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he could assure the 196 Committee that he was not about to follow his right hon. and learned Friend's somewhat discursive speech in all its details; and, although he made it a rule never to enter into any personal matters, he could assure his right hon. and learned Friend that he was entirely mistaken in his opinion with regard to the public-houses and hotels being used for the purpose of election committees in the constituency which he had the honour to represent. Both political Parties wore in the habit of holding their committee meetings in the Town Hall and temperance establishments. The clause was framed with the desire to prevent the corrupt practice of treating; and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked him for proofs of the necessity of the clause he pointed to the Election Petitions, which would show that there had been a great deal of treating resulting from the transaction of business at elections in public-houses and hotels; and, therefore, he said that if the Committee were earnestly disposed to put a stop to this corrupt practice the clause was fully justified. But the right hon. and learned Member had pointed out that there were other means of corrupting people than by treating; and, in order to overcome that difficulty, he was willing to add, after the word "premises," in line 7, "or any other premises where refreshment shall be sold for consumption on the premises." In making this proposal, which, the Committee would perceive, brought temperance hotels within the clause, he trusted he had been able to do something to meet the objection of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that exceptional legislation was intended against the Licensed Victuallers.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought the Attorney General, by his proposal, had really increased the strength of the objection which his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Whitehaven had taken to the clause, inasmuch as he had materially enlarged the number of rooms or premises where these committees could not be held. It appeared to him that, throughout the Bill, the Government had considered far too exclusively the circumstances of large towns. It might be perfectly right and proper that committees should not beheld in public-houses in towns even of moderate size; but every Member of the Com- 197 mittee would know that there were rural districts in England in which it would he impossible to find for the use of the candidate a committee room of suitable size, unless it were in public-houses, or in the private houses of electors of some position in the district. What would be the effect of this proposal? The houses belonging to private individuals would, no doubt, be readily opened as committee rooms, with or without charge, to the candidate with whose politics the owner agreed; but, just as in the case of the prohibition of hired conveyances, the present restriction would very materially affect the poorer class of candidates. He did not want to look at this question from a point of view favourable to any political Party, but from an impartial one; because he was sure that if they left in the clause anything that was in the nature of injustice they would make the provisions of the Bill unpopular. The Committee had decided that payment for carriages at elections should be an illegal act, and he would point out that that provision could only be carried into effect by very materially increasing the existing number of polling places. Now, for each of those polling places there must be a committee room; but he ventured to say that there would be, in many rural parts of England, places where by no possibility a suitable committee room could be found for the candidate who happened to be politically disagreeable to the principal inhabitants of the district where the election was to be held, except in a public-house, or a very inconvenient one in some small house. That was not a desirable result to be achieved; and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman, even if he did not approve the Amendment before the Committee, would adopt some wording which would have the effect of relaxing the stringency of the clause in cases where it was impossible to obtain a proper committee room.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, no one would suppose for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman who just spoken would take any Party view of the question. For a long time there had been a grievance felt throughout the country, owing to the large growth of clubs; and now, for the first time, it was proposed by Her Majesty's Government that there should be an equality of legislation between licensed houses and 198 private establishments in which intoxicating liquors were sold. He strongly suggested to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) to withdraw his Amendment; because the point which it raised could, in his opinion, be much better discussed on the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton); and, further, if the Amendment were withdrawn the Committee would be able to proceed to the consideration of the very important alteration of which the Attorney General had given Notice, and which, in his opinion, was deserving of the most serious attention of the Committee, inasmuch as it proceeded on lines of equality and justice.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, before the Question was put to the Committee, he wished to say a few words, because he did not see why boroughs were to be entirely shut out from the use of committee rooms in public-houses. In his own borough it was perfectly impossible to address the constituents in the out-lying districts unless public-houses were availed of in which there were large rooms, such as those generally used by the Oddfellows, Foresters, and other Friendly Societies. He had the honour to represent a large borough, in which it was impossible to conduct a house-to-house canvass; and the only way in which it was possible for a candidate to lay his political views before the electors was to make use of the accommodation offered by public-houses in the various districts. The Attorney General, by this clause of the Bill, and by the restrictions he was about to place on the clubs, entirely cut away from him the possibility of addressing his constituents. He would like to know how they were to meet their constituents, if they were to be debarred from the use of the large rooms which had been constantly used for the purpose of addressing the electors? Where there was a bonâ fide club, which had been kept up by the working class for a long time, and at which they were accustomed to discuss political matters on both sides of the question, he could not see the logic of prohibiting that club room from being used at elections. If the Government intended to carry out this proposal it was equivalent to depriving the constituencies of the right of listening to 199 their Members; because it was impossible to find, in any other buildings than public-houses, rooms sufficiently spacious to contain a large number of electors. He was as anxious as the Attorney General himself to abolish all improper and illegal practices at elections; but this proposal of the Government would have no less effect than to prevent candidates from meeting their constituents, unless suitable rooms capable of containing a large number of persons were provided for them. For these reasons, he trusted the hon. and and learned Gentleman would reconsider the clause with a view to its alteration.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
agreed that there were assembly rooms in many parts of the country which were used by candidates for the purpose of addressing their constituents, and which were in connection with public-houses. But this clause did not touch such cases.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) had conclusively proved that it would be impossible to get committee rooms in many parts of the country if the clause remained unaltered. It had been suggested, however, that the necessary accommodation might be found in private houses. He could not conceive a greater incentive to treating than such an alternative; for instance, a candidate might hold his committee in the drawing-room, and it would be a very easy matter to say to the electors—"If you require any refreshment you have only to step into the opposite room; nobody will see you." When they came to the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), he trusted the Attorney General would pay some attention to the fact that it was impossible to obtain committee rooms in many places; and provide that, in the event of there being no suitable room available, the candidate should be allowed to hire one of the usual places through the Returning Officer.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, it would be well for the Committee to remember, in the first place, that there had been a great tendency to encourage the use of more committee rooms than were at all necessary, and that a great deal of the discussion then going on was entirely useless, because the committee rooms which some Members were contending 200 for were really not wanted. Having been born in a rural parish, and having had considerable experience in matters of this kind, he believed there was no difficulty whatever in finding the necessary accommodation for electoral purposes wherever it was required. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) complained that the Government prohibited the use of public-houses, and that he would not have in consequence an opportunity of addressing his constituents in the out-lying districts of that borough. He thought the hon. Member, quite unconsciously, of course, had exaggerated the effect of the clause. He had himself attended, on one occasion, a meeting at Portsmouth, which was held at a place where he was certain it would be possible to gather together and address, in the course of a fortnight, the whole of the electors of the borough. The fact was, the Attorney General had acted very wisely and sensibly in introducing this provision, which he was sure would meet with the approval of a considerable number of people in the constituencies. That would be the view taken of the endeavour of the hon. and learned Gentleman to put down and prohibit the use of any place for election purposes where intoxicating liquors were sold. No one was surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven should put his foot down for the maintenance of the old tap-room Caucuses; because, when they were abolished, he would probably find very considerable difficulty in carrying on some of those electoral arrangements of which he had, no doubt, had a large experience.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
rose to Order. It appeared to him that the hon. Gentleman opposite was referring to him in terms that were not consistent with Parliamentary usage.
said, he had listened to the observations of the hon. Gentleman, and he was unable to say that they were in any way out of Order.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, he did not mean to offer any affront to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman had had considerable electioneering experience, and, moreover, expressed himself strongly in favour of the old system of conducting elections in tap-rooms. He thought the Attorney General had taken a distinct 201 step in the right direction; and he hoped that he would not listen to any appeal to recede from the position he had taken up. He did not for a moment expect—and he very much doubted whether the Committee expected—that the Attorney General would be able to satisfy the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven by his concession. It was not the desire of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that committee rooms should be prohibited at licensed houses; but it was his desire that they should be permitted in the future, as in the past, to be associated with the bad beer, and worse tobacco, which had the effect of confusing the electors, and preventing their forming any intelligible idea of the candidate's political opinions.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) that he had not intended to make any reflection on the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven; but, whatever his intention was, he, and other hon. Members on those Benches, certainly understood him to attribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman an illegal practice. He would only say that the tone of the hon. Member's remarks were not likely to contribute to the progress of the Bill. They were all agreed upon the desirability of altering the law in such a way as would conduce to the purity of election. That was certainly his wish. He could not support the Amendment of his right hon. and learned Friend, because it would introduce a very invidious state of things if they were to allow in counties that which they prohibited in boroughs. It was all very well for his right hon. and learned Friend, who represented a constituency of 19,000 inhabitants, to make that proposal; but in his own constituency, which contained 450,000 inhabitants, it was necessary to work upon totally different lines. Now, the right hon. and learned Gentleman below him had contended that the clause should not apply to counties, because of the difficulty of obtaining in some poor and scattered districts committee rooms of sufficiently large dimensions. But the difficulty which the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed to as existing in counties was certainly to be met with in his own constituency. In a large number of the polling districts of 202 the Tower Hamlets the houses were all small; and if the use of the large rooms only to be found in public-houses were prohibited, he would certainly be shut out from addressing his committee in any large numbers. Through that a candidate might be unable, at the time of the election, to address any large meeting. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James) said, that was not so."] He would give an illustration of a case which would certainly come under the clause. He himself was constantly in the habit of going round and addressing meetings of his committee. In a large borough, like the Tower Hamlets, the committee was composed of an immense number of persons—indeed, as many as could be got to join it—and he was in the habit of going round in the evening to address meetings of the committee. Those meetings were always largely attended, and they were looked upon as stimulating the efforts of the committee; and he could conscientiously say that if he was prohibited from holding them in the large rooms attached to public-houses it would be impossible to hold them at all, as those were the only rooms suitable to the purpose. It was often very essential that the candidate should be able to address his committee on their various duties, and on the necessity of their doing their utmost in the interests of the cause. That was why he objected to the provisions of this clause, and why he could not support the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck). That Amendment drew a distinction which ought not to be drawn between counties and boroughs, and he should vote, himself, for the entire omission of the clause.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he was surprised to hear the Attorney General say that he intended to treat clubs established in boroughs as if they were low drinking houses, and as if they were otherwise open to the objection which, no doubt, existed to public-houses. In regard to public-houses, he quite admitted that there were serious objections, indeed, to committee meetings being held in them. He had known in his own case that public-houses were often used as committee rooms, and that an opportunity was thereby afforded for giving free drink 203 to persons who visited the committee rooms. Therefore, he went entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General in his desire to put a stop to this abuse; and certainly any sale of drink at a committee room which would degenerate into the giving of drink was a proceeding which they would all wish to avoid. But the hon. and learned Gentleman went beyond that, as he (Mr. Rylands) understood. The Attorney General proposed to extend the provision which he applied to licensed houses to respectable clubs which had been established for political purposes in all the large towns of the country. He could only speak in regard to Liberal Clubs; he knew very little about the Conservative Clubs, but he knew the Liberal Clubs of Lancashire very well. He was intimately connected with them, and he understood all about them in his own borough. In the principal polling districts in his borough there were Liberal Clubs, which had been established, and were supported by a number of highly respectable working men who took an active interest in politics. In two or three cases he believed that drink was sold in the clubs; but, as a rule—and he stated it on the best authority—the amount of drink purchased in the clubs was very slight indeed. The management and conduct of the clubs was in the highest degree respectable. What happened in connection with them? Many of his Liberal friends connected with the several polling districts of the borough were in the habit of meeting, from time to time, at the club, to keep an eye upon the general political interests of the ward. He presumed that his political opponents did the same in their clubs, and it was a perfectly legitimate thing to do. In the Liberal Clubs political discussions were encouraged among the persons connected with the Association. He was sorry that the Attorney General was not paying very much attention to what he was saying, as he was particularly anxious that the hon. and learned Gentleman should receive some information upon these points. He was informing the hon. and learned Gentleman that in Lancashire the proposal contained in this clause would create a very large amount of irritation and annoyance; and he wished the hon. and learned Gentleman to carry in his mind what it 204 was that actually went on amongst the large constituencies of Lancashire. In the different wards of the large Lancashire boroughs the Liberal Party, and no doubt the Conservative Party also, met in their clubs, and at the time of an election those clubs were naturally the centres of the political influence of the respective wards. Then, were they going to shut up these clubs? ["No!"] If the Amendment were adopted, he understood that it would have that effect. What was proposed was, that in these clubs, where drink was only a minor incident in their constitution, no room should be used as a committee room. Well, he contended that that was a monstrous proposition, and that it struck at the political life of the great centres of the population. ["Oh!"] Certainly it did so. He could not ac-count for the desire of the Attorney General to attack these Political Clubs, which, in his (Mr. Rylands's) judgment were most useful. He must say that he thought this proposal ought not to be proceeded with, and he trusted that the Attorney General would withdraw the clause.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he thought that what he had heard from his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) afforded a good lesson. As long as things were favourable to the Party who sat below the Gangway on the other side of the House, and so long as the penalties only affected that (the Opposition) side of the House, so long were hon. Members opposite anxious that the Bill should go on; but the moment it came to deal with that which he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) held to be a most legitimate thing, whether in regard to one side or the other—namely, all these clubs, which were established in different localities—that moment the hon. Gentleman got up and denounced the clause as one of a highly objectionable nature, and one which ought not to be allowed to pass. They had a Maximum Schedule in the Bill, and he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had been going into far too many details. From the beginning to the end, the hon. and learned Gentleman had attempted to show that the people of this great country were not to be trusted for a moment whenever they came to an election; but that every one of them 205 were more or less absolutely corrupt. The hon. and learned Gentleman was of opinion that nothing in the shape of temptation should be placed in their way, and that they should not have the power of getting a glass of anything to drink, or a mouthful of anything to eat. He wished to call attention to one of the statements which had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he gathered from it that the hon. and learned Gentleman was absolutely going to prevent any room whatever from being used as a committee room, or for any purpose in connection with an election, because the words of the clause were very strong—Any premises on which the sale by wholesale or retail of any intoxicating liquor is authorized by a licence (whether the licence be for consumption on or off the premises), or any premises whore any intoxicating liquor is sold, or any part of any such premises, shall not be used as a committee room for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election; and if any person hires or uses any such premises, or any part thereof for a committee room, he shall be guilty of illegal hiring, and the person letting such premises or part, if he knew it was intended to use the same as a committee room, shall also be guilty of illegal hiring.Consequently, wherever the room might be situated, if drink of any kind was sold on the premises, such room was prohibited from being used at an election time as a committee room. He ventured to say that the words uttered some time ago by his right hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) were words that ought not to be passed lightly over. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) knew what the rural districts were, and also what large towns were; and if they were to draw this hard-and-fast line around the candidate, they would place him in a position of the greatest difficulty in regard to obtaining committee rooms at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman, if he knew anything about elections in this country—and it was his bounden duty to make inquiries as to every part of England, so as not to place any candidate in a difficulty as to obtaining committee rooms—if the Attorney General knew anything of such matters, he must know that in the county districts the only places in many localities where there was a room at all was at the back of an inn, where there was usually a large room used for the meet- 206 ing of Foresters and other kindred Associations. No other room could be obtained at all. He would ask if the hon. and learned Gentleman could tell the Committee where rooms fit for this purpose could be procured on the occasion of an election? If the candidate was a popular man, people would come from long distances to hear what he had to say, and the rooms in which he addressed the electors would be crowded. He must say he thought the Government were carrying this clause a great deal too far. He was in favour of putting down bribery and corruption; but a few good and well-considered clauses would have been quite sufficient, without going so much into petty details. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to pass the Bill he must make many concessions in regard to matters that were absolutely necessary.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) that the Bill went too far; but the House had assented to the principle, and they were now simply engaged in giving effect to that principle. He thought the alteration proposed to be made in the clause was distinctly in the right direction. It was a just cause of complaint that a person should be placed in an invidious position, and a ban put upon him, because he sold an article which was recognized by the community and the Legislature as a legitimate article of commerce. He thought the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman would make a commendable change. There were clubs which were public-houses in a complete sense; and he thought the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman would meet with general acceptance. He thought that the application of the change was misunderstood. He understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that these clubs were not to be used as committee rooms; but a club room might be used for a public meeting. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) said he would not be able, after the clause was passed, to go to a club and address a meeting. He (Mr. Cowen) did not understand the clause to prohibit anything of the kind. There was nothing that would prevent an hon. Member from visiting any club in the borough he represented and making as many speeches as he liked. All the 207 clause prohibited was the establishment of a committee room where the business of the election would be carried on. There was no objection to the hon. Member addressing a meeting in any assembly room he might select. He would be quite as open to do so in the future as he had done in the past; but the clause would prohibit the transaction of the business of an election in clubs as well as in public-houses, where liquor was sold. In that respect, he thought the clause had a tendency to equalize all parties. Hon. Members would be aware that there were two kinds of clubs. There were clubs and clubs. There were clubs of which he did not wish to speak harshly; and, therefore, he would only say that he had no special liking for a Caucus Club.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
wished to ask the Attorney General how such a case as this would stand? In the borough he had the honour to represent (Exeter), a Political Club existed containing a large room for the use of which it was expected that the borough and county Conservative Associations would pay an annual rent, and employ it for a committee room or other similar purposes. Members of the Club had a right to use the room in their individual capacities; and he wished to know if it would be illegal for them to hold meetings at election time in what might be regarded as a committee room? As far as he understood the Attorney General's meaning, the effect of his proposal would be that A, B, and C might not meet together as members of an election committee, but might do so as members of a Political Association.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was a matter of interpretation. In the case which the hon. Member had put to him, it was certainly intended that the clause should not apply in any way. In answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) and the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), he would only say that they might hold as many meetings as they liked for the purpose of addressing their constituents. The large rooms capable of containing many persons were not the rooms they wanted for committee rooms, and the clause, as it was now worded, would not affect them. The intention of the clause was to pre- 208 vent the carrying on of the business of the election, from day to day during the time of the election, at a place in which intoxicating liquors were sold. Hon. Members knew very well how the business of an election was conducted in such places.
§ MR. RITCHIE
asked if it was not competent for a candidate to assemble his committee at a public-house for the purpose of addressing them?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it would be quite within the competence of a candidate for the purpose of addressing them as much as he liked; but if they sent out canvassers from that committee it would be an ordinary committee room, transacting ordinary committee work. Gathering the committee together for the purpose of addressing them would certainly and distinctly not be within the clause. All they had to deal with was the question whether the business of the election should be conducted in a public-house where the means for carrying on these corrupt practices existed, and where temptation might be employed? Hon. Members wished to separate the question of clubs from the question of public-houses. He quite agreed that, in one sense, it was a matter of detail. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) said there were altogether too many details in the Bill; but this was rather a serious and important question. The committee had been told that the matter would interfere with the whole basis of political life; but surely it was a very simple question, although a serious and important one, to say whether a committee room should be held at a public-house or not. He thought they might separate the question of a committee room being held in a public-house from the question of Political Clubs; and he would endeavour, if it was the wish of the Committee, to direct his attention to this matter, in order to see whether hereafter it might not be possible to include a provision in the Bill which should separate the club from the public-house.
MR. A. F. EGERTON
said, the question was, no doubt, a very important one, especially if it was taken in conjunction with a subsequent Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord G. Hamilton), which pro- 209 vided that the premises of any public elementary school in receipt of an annual Parliamentary grant should not be used as a committee room. It would become a serious matter, therefore, if there were no possibility of taking a club room for such a purpose. In regard to the question as it applied to large constituencies, he ventured to think that in large counties, like North-East Lancashire, North Lancashire, and Cumberland, if they excluded the possibility of taking rooms in a public house, and using them for committee rooms, there would be very great difficulty in obtaining rooms at all. He certainly failed to see how, in many cases, it would be possible to find a room; and when they came to consider the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex he should certainly support it. He should have a great deal to say bye and bye in regard to the question of clubs; but, in deference to the suggestion which had just been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, that they should postpone the consideration of that question now, he would defer those remarks for the present.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he thought the sop which the Attorney General bad thrown out to the Temperance Party would before long be found a very disagreeable matter for digestion. No doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman had yielded to the representation of some of the purists of the House with reference to the exclusion of public-houses. He thought a favourable addition would be made to the clause if it proposed to include coffee-houses, because in many respects they were much more objectionable than public-houses, and bore a worse character. He certainly thought the more they were brought under supervision, not only during elections, but at all other times, the better it would be for the public morality. It was suggested that rooms would be obtainable in every constituency without having regard to the public-house. Now, he had had the honour of assisting to conduct the first election of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), in 1874. At that time he had charge of the Murrough district, and there was not a single house in the district except the priest's, the Protestant minister's, the schoolmaster's, and the public-house. He had addressed a meeting of 200 210 electors from the window of the public-house, and he had used the tap-room as a committee room. ["Oh!"] Yes; it was quite true that he did so, and he was made welcome to it without payment. He thought there were very few of the temperance advocates who would give the use of a coffee shop without requiring payment for it. In two places in his own county, he had had no other house to go to than the public-house. There was no other house in the parish except the police barracks, the Protestant and Catholic clergymen's residences, the house of the National schoolmaster, and one or two private houses. Therefore, if they carried this clause so far as Ireland was concerned, they would altogether prevent a candidate from addressing his constituents in certain remote districts. Legislation of this kind might be all very well in a Parliamentary borough where there were plenty of large public buildings; but in the country districts of Ireland such places were not to be found. The clause said—Such premises shall not he used as a committee room for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election, and if any person hires or uses any such premises or any part thereof for a committee room he shall he guilty of illegal hiring.His objection would be largely removed if the Attorney General would add some words to carry out the suggestion of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen), to which he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to assent—namely, that the clause should only apply to a public-house which was used from day to day as a committee room. If the clause were passed in its present shape, and a case were brought before the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, he should like to know how Chief Justice Morris would deal with an unfortunate candidate who had used a room in a public-house once a-week for a month? High as the character of the Attorney General was as a lawyer, his remarks would not form the slightest guide to an Irish Judge in deciding what came under the operation of the clause. If anyone hired a room in one of these public-houses he would be guilty of illegal hiring, and would subject himself to the penalties imposed for illegal practices. Nobody who employed a public-house as a committee room, whether he was a Member of Parlia- 211 ment, or a candidate, or an election agent, would be knowingly guilty of the offence of illegal employment. But what was a committee room? If the Attorney General would define what a committee room was a great deal of the difficulty would be removed. It had been his fate to contest both a borough and a county, and in each case he had a bed room and a sitting room at an hotel, and he was in the habit of using the sitting room as a committee room. His friends went to him there, discussed confidentially with him what the state of the district was, what promises had been given, who were reliable and who were doubtful, and who ought to be called upon. That was simply committee work; and under this clause the room in which it took place would be held to be a committee room. But was he to be disqualified because half-a-dozen friends went to his sitting room at the hotel and transacted electioneering work there? If a Petition were presented against him he would be compelled to admit that he went over the election books, and that he used the room in every sense as a confidential committee room. If he wanted to address the electors he was obliged to address them from the windows of a public-house; and when he had finished addressing them he naturally went down stairs and mixed among them to ascertain what the state of feeling was. Probably he arranged who was to canvass the district, and because those things happened there, was the room to be called a committee room? If the Attorney General would put words into the clause, or into the Bill, showing that if a man made use of a room in a public-house in order to meet his friends, ascertain their views, and arrange for canvassing the district, the room he used was not to be considered a committee room, then his objections would be removed.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
desired to point out to the Attorney General that, so far from meeting the objection which had been raised by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), he had introduced a fresh difficulty into the matter. His right hon. and learned Friend had pointed out, in regard to the country districts, how difficult it was to obtain a room. He could fully support what his 212 right hon. and learned Friend had said, and he believed the same difficulty was felt even in the case of boroughs, and that it would be extremely difficult to get any other place for a committee room in the centre of a polling district than a public-house. If the public-house was prohibited they would have no alternative but to borrow or hire a room in the house of some elector living in the village—he was speaking now of county elections—and that would be open to the gravest objection. If they could not go to the public-house, they would have no other means of obtaining a committee room left open to them. In most county constituencies a candidate desired to meet his committee in each polling district before the day of election, in order that he might address them, and discuss with them the proper steps to be taken in conducting the contest, and in many cases, if the candidate was prohibited from engaging, for that purpose, a room in a public-house, he would have no means of addressing his committee at all. The Attorney General said the candidate might hire a room in an inn for that purpose, and that he might hold a meeting in that room; but he did not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman at all met the objections of his right hon. and learned Friend. On the contrary, it threw a fresh difficulty in the way.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, he thought the experience the House had had of the Bill proved that every clause contained a pitfall for the candidate, and that the present clause surpassed in ingenuity all the other traps contained in the preceding clauses. The Attorney General told them that they might use a room in a public-house for the purpose of holding a meeting; but if at that meeting any unwary man who happened to be present took out his canvassing book and referred to the events of the past two hours, or was induced to anticipate a canvass two hours later, that act would constitute the room a committee room under the Act. A clause of that sort was, in his opinion, absolutely absurd. Any unscrupulous opponent might attend a meeting ostensibly for the purpose of hearing a speech, and he might induce an unwary elector to take out his canvassing book and make a communication to the candidate for the purpose of giving information, in con- 213 sequence of which the candidate might be unseated for using a public-house as a committee room. He would also point out to the Attorney General that this clause would contribute very materially towards increasing the expenses of an election. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) had remarked that in a large borough constituency like his, and also like that which he (Baron Henry De Worms) represented, it was the custom on both sides to address meetings of the electors in the committee rooms. Of course, they were obliged to hire rooms for those meetings, and if they were obliged to obtain others for committee rooms, it would add a considerable item to the expense. It was not now necessary to obtain special rooms for the purpose of holding a meeting; but they were able to make use of the committee rooms. If, however, this clause passed in its present shape, the candidate would have to incur the additional expense of engaging separate rooms for addressing public meetings. He should be glad to know on what principle the Attorney General proposed to exclude the use of committee rooms for that purpose? He understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that it was for the purpose of preventing treating; but he (Baron Henry De Worms) wished to know whether the facilities for treating would not be exactly the same in the case of holding a meeting in a public-house, as they would be in that of men sitting round a table in a public-house for the purpose of comparing notes in reference to the canvass? Of course, it might be alleged that the meeting only lasted one evening, whereas the work of a committee would go on for many days; but if it was argued that it was improper to have a committee room at a public-house because it would promote the practice of treating, then that argument was certainly applicable to the holding of a committee in a public-house for any purpose whatever. The hon. and learned Member now went further, and said that they should neither hold a meeting at a public-house nor at a club—acting on the principle of two wrongs making one right. If the hon. and learned Gentleman admitted the principle of the right of a candidate to address the constituents in a room attached to a public-house, he (Baron Henry De Worms) could not understand 214 on what principle the hon. and learned Gentleman could exclude the use of a room at a public-house for any purpose whatever. He knew that he might be told that a committee sitting permanently in a public-house would produce drinking; and that any sort of Political Club, where drinking was allowed, ought to be placed under the same category as a public-house. He thought that at least a clause ought to be introduced specifying that particular rooms might or might not be used for the purpose of holding a meeting; that in such rooms drink might not be supplied, but the number of glasses of water which each speaker might drink should be fully set out in the Bill. They were arriving now at a point where they were making the restrictions under the Bill so severe that they would always be evaded; and they were so absurd that the friends of the candidates, on both sides, would be wary before they attempted to put the provisions of the Act in force, because they would be fully acquainted with the absurd stringency of the punishment which would be inflicted on one side or the other in the event of a person being found guilty under the Act. He was not in favour of anything like corrupt practices or treating; but he had had some experience in connection with contested elections, and he was satisfied that a clause of this sort would be utterly absurd, arbitrary, and unworkable.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he had an Amendment later down upon the Paper somewhat on the lines of the suggestion of the Attorney General. He thought the Committee would agree that, as far as the statement of the Attorney General went, it greatly modified the clause. At the same time, when the proper moment arrived, he should vote for the rejection of the clause altogether, because he believed that it was the most monstrous proposition he had ever heard; that it would prove utterly unworkable; and that it was not only a pitfall to the candidate himself, but a pitfall to every member of his committee. Where was a candidate to go during an election? If he went to a public-house, the Attorney General ruled that it would be illegal for six or seven of his committee to go there and compare the day's work. Surely that was a thing that was constantly done, and must be done, in the conduct of an election. He had done it himself over and 215 over again; and he ventured to say that there had been no illegal practices resorted to, so far as his knowledge went. Certainly the gentlemen he had met on such occasions never treated him to anything, nor had he ever treated them. Under the provisions of the present Bill, the working men were treated as if they were perfect children. They would not know where to go, or what to do, or how they were to carry on the election. He should not vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton), who proposed to exclude a church or chapel registered or licensed for the performance of public worship from being used as a committee room, because he thought those were the very places where a farce of this kind ought to be enacted, in order to show the solemn character of an election proceeding after the passing of the Bill. He presumed that it was intended in future to exclude places such as the Westminster Palace Hotel from being used for the purposes of a committee room. He thought it was absurd to say that a candidate should not have a committee there, or in some of the old county hotels. He believed, if this clause were passed as it stood, that there would be great difficulty, not only in the rural districts, but in the boroughs as well, in obtaining committee rooms. All he said was this—that if they did eliminate public-houses, they ought to eliminate other places where refreshments of any kind were sold. They ought not to hold a committee room over a butcher's or a baker's shop, because he believed an enormous amount of treating would take place at these shops—much more than in public-houses. The clause was utterly absurd and utterly unworkable; and how the Attorney General, with all his experience of elections, could propose it, he could not conceive.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
desired to say a word in regard to this clause, because he believed the constituency he had the honour to represent differed to a very considerable extent from that of any other Parliamentary borough or city, except, perhaps, the City of Westminster, which was very much in the same position. In the City of London the rent of rooms was simply enormous, and he did not see how a candidate was to conduct an election in conformity with the pro- 216 visions of the Bill unless some special arrangement was made to allow him to hire committee rooms. He was disposed generally to be favourable to the proposition of the Attorney General that committee rooms should not be hired in public-houses; but, at the same time, the hon. and learned Gentleman must bear in mind that while the great object of this Bill was to diminish expense, this particular proposal must necessarily increase the cost of elections in large constituencies. Therefore, it was a proposal that could scarcely be adopted. A publican would lend a candidate his room for a committee room almost for nothing. [A laugh.] Hon. Members laughed; but he thought he was stating a well-known fact, and he might add that the publican did so for this reason. Quite independent of any improper proceeding, or of any treating or corruption, it brought people to the publican's house. Such people wanted refreshments, but they paid for them out of their own pockets. It was, consequently, worth while for the publican to let the candidate have a committee room for a very small sum. That being the case, although he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was disposed to think the proposition otherwise a good one, it was undoubtedly a proposition to increase the expense of elections. Speaking of his own constituency, it would affect them probably more than any other, because the expense of engaging committee rooms would be simply enormous, and he would ask the consideration of the learned Attorney General to that point. The rent of a committee room in Cheap-side, for instance, would be a very different item from the rent of one in Taunton. Probably he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) would have to pay 20 times as much as the Attorney General; and, under those circumstances, he felt that it was a matter which required to be very carefully considered, because, although he admitted that it was a good proposition not to have committee rooms in public-houses, the proposal, if carried out, would tend largely to increase the expense of elections.
§ MR. WARTON
remarked, that one of the most irritating things in connection with this Bill was the cool way in which the Attorney General pooh-poohed facts that were undisputed, relying upon the support of the majority behind him. 217 The hon. and learned Gentleman could say nothing, but he was ready to deny anything. He (Mr. Warton) would, however, make an appeal from the Attorney General as a Member of the Government to the Attorney General as a lawyer. The hon. and learned Gentleman was a distinguished advocate, and knew very well how to regard evidence in a Court of Justice. He would, therefore, ask the hon. and learned Gentleman how, supposing six hon. Members—the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), the right hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), the right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie)—how, supposing all those witnesses came into Court before the Attorney General, and told him, as a matter of fact, that in their respective constituencies committee rooms could not be obtained except at a public-house, he would receive their evidence? Would he not at once say that he could not resist the evidence? Undoubtedly he would, because in a Court of Justice he would be guided by common sense; whereas in that House he allowed himself to be led away by the feeling of the majority behind him. The scheme proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman had been shown to be utterly impracticable, both in counties and boroughs. It was all very well for the Attorney General to sneer at the right hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven; but that did not answer the fact stated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that in his constituency he would be unable to obtain a committee room. Sneers and jeers were not argument or evidence; and the hon. and learned Gentleman was driven to something worse than legal subtleties in order to make distinctions in which he even surpassed himself. The hon. and learned Gentleman said—"You may address your committee in any room you like; but it does not become your committee room." He (Mr. Warton) certainly felt inclined to take the Attorney General at his word, and to advise that on every occasion when a room in a public- 218 house was so used, some such notice as this should be put up:—"Nota bene—I intend to address my committee repeatedly in this room; but it is not my committee room." He did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman would sanction such nonsense in a Court of Justice; he only sanctioned it while sitting on the Treasury Bench. He (Mr. Warton) entirely saw through the design of the hon. and learned Gentleman in this particular case. He was holding with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The hon. and learned Gentleman desired to strike a blow at the Licensed Victuallers. He disliked and hated them; and this clause was drawn, first, to do injury to respectable traders in the country, who, although they carried on their business under legal restrictions, were a respectable and an honourable set of men. In the next place, the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to reject the clubs; but, in consequence of suggesting that no committee rooms should be allowed to be held in a club in which intoxicating drinks were sold, the hon. and learned Gentleman found himself subjected to a terrific onslaught from the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), who told him that if he took away the use of the club rooms he would hear of the matter again from Lancashire. He (Mr. Warton) asked the Attorney General to have sufficient good sense to dismiss from the Bill these ridiculous clauses, which would only add to the expense of elections, and would produce no good effect whatever. The laws against treating were already sufficiently severe, and it was all nonsense to say that they would be promoting treating by permitting a committee room to be held in a public-house. Were they to have two classes of committee rooms at a greatly increased cost—one outside a public-house, and another in a public-house, where a candidate might address a meeting of his committee? He entreated the Attorney General to get rid of the two inconsistencies which disfigured the Bill, one of which laid down minute and vexatious principles, and threw an undeserved imputation upon one of the most respectable trades in the country, while the other would cause candidates to run imminent risk of exceeding the maximum scale of expenses allowed under the Act.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he had no wish to prolong the discussion; but the remarks which had been made by the Attorney General in answer to his observations must not be passed over without notice. He had certainly made a complaint that the clause would prevent a candidate from addressing a meeting of his committee; but he understood now that if he hired rooms in a public-house, for the purpose of addressing a meeting of a committee, it would be legal. He wished to know if the hon. and learned Gentleman had considered the full significance of that fact? They had passed clauses of the Bill already saying that the candidate should only have a certain number of committee rooms, and they had passed a clause that he was not to pay for the display of bills. He could understand why he should not pay for the display of bills, and why he should only have a certain number of committee rooms; but now it was to be open to the candidate to engage rooms in every public-house of the borough in addition to his committee rooms, in which to hold meetings of the committee for the purpose of addressing them, and he might be able to placard the whole of those public-houses with bills convening the meetings. The consequence would be, if the suggestions of the Attorney General were accepted, that the provisions they had already passed, in regard to the display of bills and the limitation of committee rooms, would altogether be set aside.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he wished to put a question to the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman had informed the Committee that the holding of meetings in a public-house would not be against the clause. If that was the conviction of the hon. and learned Gentleman, it would be as well to insert words to that effect in the clause; because, although the hon. and learned Gentleman might hold that opinion, it did not follow that an Election Judge would take the same view as the Attorney General. At the present moment, if a candidate hired a large room in a public-house for meetings, it was usual to give him the use of a back room for the purpose of a committee room for nothing. The present proposal would, therefore, add to the election expenses of the candidate; be-cause, instead of having a committee 220 room for nothing, he would have to pay for the use of it, and also for the large room, which it would be necessary to hire for the purpose of addressing meetings of the committee. In the borough of Portsmouth there were about 20,000 electors. By the Schedule attached to the Bill, he would be allowed to have a committee room for every 500 voters, which would give 40 rooms altogether. But at the last election there were, as a matter of fact, 32 districts and 32 committee rooms, and now in future it would be necessary to have 40. He would have to bear the expense of those committee rooms, and beyond that the expense of rooms for holding meetings. Those requirements would add materially to the expense of an election, and the cost would be still heavier, if he was not allowed to make use of the clubs which existed at this moment, and which had been created for political purposes. They wore not spurious, but real and legitimate clubs, in which political discussions were already carried on. He thought the Attorney General would facilitate matters a good deal, if he were to insert in the clause words which would govern the decision of the Judge, and which would provide that the holding of a committee at a public-house would not be against the principle of the clause. But as the effect of the clause would be materially to increase the expense of elections, he would suggest that the best way would be to withdraw the clause altogether.
§ MR. LEWIS
observed, that little as he attempted to modify any detail of the Bill under which the candidate would incur expense, the Attorney General, by this clause, proposed to do away with the only means a candidate possessed, in most localities, and especially in country districts, of holding meetings and engaging committee rooms. As a rule, in rural districts, the only place which candidates had at their command was the tavern of the village, or small country town. The hon. and learned Attorney General proposed to shut that up. If the Committee would turn to Clause 46, they would see how much further this annihilation of the ordinary means of providing a committee room was carried by the Bill. By Clause 46 it was provided that no part of any premises used by the Returning Officer for a polling station at an election should be used as 221 a committee room for a candidate at that election. Then, what would be the effect in a small country town? There might be in a village or country town, besides the public-house, some room or institution appropriated for public purposes; but that would be secured by the Returning Officer for the purpose of taking the poll. The tavern would be closed, which but for this clause might be resorted to by the candidate, and used as a committee room; while Clause 48 enacted that—The same part of any premises, or different parts of the same premises, shall not he used on the day of the poll at an election for a polling station and also for a committee room for a candidate at that election.No doubt he would be told that the limitation only applied to the day of polling; but that was the day when it was wanted most, and when the candidate desired to concentrate ail his efforts. Perhaps the Committee would follow him a step further, and look at the next provision in Clause 46. Sub-section 2 said—If any person uses any premises or any part thereof for a committee room in contravention of this section, or hires the same on behalf of a candidate at an election, when he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that part of such premises has been engaged or will be required by the Returning Officer for use as a polling station at the election, he shall be deemed to be guilty of illegal hiring.So that a man required to be possessed of the gift of prophecy, in order, among other things, that he might escape the penalties of the Bill. He knew that it was perfectly absurd for him to say anything further. He was sorry to say that many hon. Members seemed to take delight in providing means of embarrassment for candidates on the day of election. The idea that the Bill would decrease the expenses of an election was most prominent; but this clause, instead of narrowing the expenses, increased them. He had no wish to defend the interests of the Licensed Victuallers. He did not look upon the matter from that point of view at all. He did not look at it from the electioneering agent's point of view, or from the publican's point of view; but from the beginning to the end he had looked upon the Bill in reference to the interests of the candidate, the influence and effect it would have upon him, and the dangers with which it was surrounding him. This clause was only one of those 222 curious fetters forged by the Attorney General for the purpose of binding hand and foot an unfortunate candidate, and sending him to the poll in a distressed and embarrassed state of mind. What was a candidate for the City of London and other Metropolitan boroughs to do? Every public building would be closed against him. The Westminster Palace Hotel, in the City of Westminster, the Cannon Street Hotel, and all the old-fashioned taverns, formerly available, would be excluded from his use. Where was he to go? He would have to get an unoccupied house in a back street if he could find one. And how much would he have to pay for the use of a place of that kind for a month? It would be a very different matter if it were proposed to take the place for a year or seven years; but to let it for a month might cause a loss of the chance of letting it permanently; and, therefore, the owner would refuse to let it unless the candidate agreed to give him some £20 or £50. That was no fancy idea; but anybody who was acquainted with the City of London would know that it was likely to occur. Those who supported the Bill in all its intensity were setting up a sort of idol, to which they proposed to bow the knee at all hazards. Purity of election was their cry. He had no objection to purity of election; but they proposed to surround the candidate with all sorts of fences which were not really defences, and then to say to him, amid all these difficulties—"You must conduct your election with the utmost purity." It was nothing but playing with the difficulty which stared them in the face. He would take his own case. Whenever he was engaged in a contest in the City of Londonderry he stayed at the head hotel in that city. His friends called to see him there; the canvass books were on the table; they called to tell him they had been to see so-and-so to see which way he was going to vote. He was most happy to see them, and to talk over the result of their labours in a most friendly way. But could there be any doubt, after this clause was passed, that the room in which this took place might be decided to be a committee room? Judges would be found eager, and even greedy, to extend the law, and say that it was an offence. Hon. Members, who never intended to stand 223 for a constituency again, could shape the clause as they liked, because they would not feel the effect of it. But those who had hopes of a future Parliamentary life wanted to see how they could practically work an election. He hoped the Committee would not part with the clause until they had exhausted every effort to make it a sensible and a working clause, not in the interests of the publicans, for whom he did not care one jot, or in the interests of any voter, but in the interests and for the safety and protection of the candidate.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) in the hope he had expressed, that the Committee would not part with the clause until they had made it a sensible and a working clause; and he, therefore, thought they had better direct their efforts to that object. The hon. Member had referred to Clause 46. But he (the Attorney General) would remind the Committee that that clause was open to amendment when it was reached, if the Committee thought fit to amend it. It was said that the publicans would let candidates at election times have rooms cheaper in their houses than they could be obtained elsewhere, and that, in some cases, they would let the candidate have a large room for nothing. Why was that? It was on account of the trade that went on there; it was because, at an election time, an abnormal amount of drinking went on at public-houses. There was generally a great congregation of people there, many of whom were electors and about to vote; the excitement in reference to the election was very great; and it was, therefore, advisable that committee rooms should not be held in such premises.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was doubtful whether they always paid for it, and he should like to know what guarantee the noble Lord had that they did pay for it? He believed it was a pretty well-known fact that the publicans allowed persons at election time to consume drink pretty freely without paying for it, and the candidate not unfrequently had long scores brought against him after the 224 election was over. It was quite certain that many Members of the Committee had applications made to them after an election in regard to the consumption of drink which had taken place on particular premises, and at the instance of persons who were supposed to have had authority to order it, the drink itself having been consumed by electors. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had pointed out what a danger it would be in country places if persons went to the committee room and the least hospitality was displayed towards them. The danger would be greatly increased if the committee room was situated in a public-house; and he was afraid that in many cases the public-house would become, as a matter of fact, an open house with all its temptations. He knew there were many hon. Members who differed from that view; but he trusted that the discussion would not be prolonged, and he earnestly appealed to the Committee to consider whether the time had not now arrived when they ought to come to some decision in regard to the principle of the clause.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not think that any time had been lost, because they had been practically discussing all the Amendments which had been proposed to the clause; and, in regard to a clause of this kind, long experience convinced him that a general discussion in the first instance cleared the air to a great degree; and that, as a matter of fact, no time was, in reality, lost. The Attorney General said that economy and purity of election could not be promoted by the clause. Now, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) did not think that economy would be promoted by it, because candidates would find it very much more difficult in a great many places to obtain rooms from private persons, who had not been in the habit of letting out such rooms, than in a public-house. Then, as to purity of election, the hon. and learned Gentleman stated, quite properly, that under the clause as many meetings might be held in public-houses as the candidate liked; but there must be no committee meeting there. A candidate might meet his committee and address them at a public-house; but he must not have a regular committee room there. Now, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was very much afraid 225 that that was a trap, not intentionally so; but he feared that it might become one. If a candidate was in the habit of going about from public-house to public-house to make speeches, of meeting his committee, of seeing them before he went in to deliver his address, and then of seeing them again when he came out, the room in which those things took place would be held to be a committee room, and there would be great danger of overstepping the law. If they were to retain the clause, there ought to be a definition of what a committee room was, or otherwise the candidate would be over and over again caught in a trap. It would be quite natural when he was going to make a speech for the canvassers to get up and show their books; and, in that case, the Election Judges would hold that it was a committee room, and an illegal practice, because it was in excess of the number of committee rooms authorized under the Act, and that it had been paid for, for the purpose of holding a meeting. He was of opinion that far greater disadvantage would be reaped from the clause than advantage; and he hoped, before the discussion closed, that the Attorney General would be able to see his way to amend the clause very materially, or to withdraw it altogether.
said, he had risen several times in order to try and save the time of the Committee by suggesting to the Attorney General why a debate should not take place, and why it would be better to withdraw the clause. It must be quite clear to the Attorney General that the clause did not prohibit the hiring of any number of rooms for the purposes of the election; it only prohibited the use of rooms when they were hired as committee rooms. He had noticed, in the speeches of some of the right hon. Gentlemen who had spoken from the Front Opposition Benches, an assertion that committee rooms must be had for the work of the election, and that they could not be dispensed with. The right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), took that view of the question, believing that committee rooms were of the greatest possible assistance in the conduct of an election; and being willing, as usual, to throw over the boroughs whenever they 226 thought it expedient to do so, they were perfectly ready to prohibit the use of them in boroughs, as long as they might be retained in counties. Perhaps those right hon. Gentlemen would allow him to tell them that they were entirely mistaken. He believed they had never been engaged in a contested election at all, and he did not think they knew anything about an election contest. As a matter of fact, nothing was more useless in an election contest than a committee room, with the exception of a central room. What was called a district committee room was absolutely useless. Such rooms were spread all over a borough, and no work was done in them at all; they were merely rooms hired for the purpose of feeing the publicans who owned them, and as a means of spending money in the borough. Would this clause stop that practice at all? All it forbade was the use of the committee room; but there was no prohibition against the candidate hiring as many of these rooms as he liked all over the borough, whether at public-houses or not. It would not matter as long as they were not used for the purpose of committee rooms. Now, he would like to ask the Attorney General what was meant by the term "using a room for the purpose of a committee room?" Suppose he (Mr. Gorst) hired a room in a public-house to meet his constituents, what would make it a committee room? He believed that people would go into it, would sit in it of an evening, would smoke their pipes there, and would call for something to drink; perhaps they would not always pay for it themselves, but it would be paid for by others, whose motives it would be for the Election Judges to find out. Well, what would make that room a committee room? Because, whatever it was, they might depend upon it that particular thing would never be done. If it was the use of pen, ink, and paper which constituted the room a committee room, very good care would be taken that no pen, ink, or paper ever went into it; if sitting around a table constituted a committee room, they would take care that the people who went there sat against the walls. Whatever performance constituted the use of a committee room that performance would be avoided, and there would be nothing to prevent a room being 227 hired and drinking going on, unless this clause went a great deal further, and prohibited the hiring of more than a certain number of rooms for any purpose whatever. In that case it would he said to be an interference with the liberty of a candidate in addressing his constituents. Unless the hon. and learned Attorney General was prepared to carry the clause as far as that, he did not see what the good of the clause was. It would prohibit something which the candidate had a perfect right to do, and would leave quite open that which they desired to suppress—namely, the possibility of opening a number of rooms all over the constituency.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, the Attorney General had made an appeal to the Committee not to protract the discussion, and he (Mr. Bentinck) would take the opportunity of stating the course he intended to pursue. He was bound to say that the discussion which had taken place had not satisfied him at all. He apologised to the hon. and learned Gentleman if any remark had fallen from him which the hon. and learned Gentleman considered to be of a personal character. He had not had the slightest intention of saying anything in the least degree disagreeable; and when he had alluded to the borough of Taunton he had only stated what happened during his own time—the time he represented the borough. It was always his practice to stay at one of the houses of entertainment in the borough—namely, an hotel. His right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had referred to a candidate living at one of these houses of public entertainment, and being waited upon by a committee, and he said that the candidate might, in consequence, find himself in a somewhat unpleasant position. He (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) hoped the Government would withdraw the clause, and, if necessary, bring up something new. At all events, it was quite certain that the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire ought to be followed, and that a positive definition should be introduced into the Bill as to what a committee room was. What he (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) proposed to do in this case was to withdraw the Amendment at present, because he thought that it might be more conveniently moved at the end of the clause. 228 That was the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold), and it was one which he believed met with general support, and was the best course that could be adopted. Therefore, if the Committee would give its assent, he would adopt that suggestion. He had only one other observation to make, and it was in reference to the remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst). The hon. Member seemed to be very angry with him (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), and had made some strong observations; but he was bound to say that he thought the hon. member had hit out rather wildly. The hon. Member talked of his (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) being connected with a Caucus, and having to do with the distribution of bad tobacco and sour beer. Now, as a matter of fact, he never was a member of any Caucus; and as to bad tobacco and beer, he thought any hon. Member whose acquaintance he had the honour of enjoying would know that it had not been his practice to supply his friends with such articles; but, on the contrary, the best that could be procured for money. In regard to his election experience, the hon. Member showed a want of knowledge which he might easily have remedied by referring to the ordinary channels of communication. The hon. Member had spoken in terms of reprobation of the practices indulged in at his (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck's) elections; but he could assure the hon. Member that the usual practice in connection with his elections was for him to be returned without any opposition at all. He really thought that the hon. Member must for a moment have fancied himself at a Trade Conference, where whenever he had a disagreeable opponent to deal with who was likely to occasion trouble he had him turned out. He did not think the hon. Member was likely to turn him (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) out, and he was not in the least afraid of anything the hon. Member could say.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, that before the Amendment was withdrawn, he wished to enter a protest against the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), that committee rooms were absolutely unnecessary. Of course, he was unable to say what the case was in regard to the borough represented by the 229 hon. and learned Gentleman; but he could speak for a much larger borough—namely, the one which he himself represented (Greenwich), and which was 13 square miles in extent. In that case, as in that of the large constituency of the Tower Hamlets, represented by his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Ritchie), committee rooms were absolutely necessary. One committee room in the centre of the district would be perfectly useless. He should like to call the attention of the Attorney General for one moment to a point upon which he wished to elicit from the hon. and learned Gentleman a clear statement—namely, whether or not they were to understand that although the number of committee rooms was limited by the previous clause, the number of rooms in which a candidate could hold meetings of his committee for the purpose of addressing them was unlimited? This was a very important matter. He was quite certain that the Attorney General had no wish to provide traps for the unwary to fall into; but unless some further explanation was given, the result would be that a candidate, although acting in perfect good faith, would inevitably fall into the pit provided for him by this clause.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he was of opinion that if the manner in which the clause dealt with committee rooms was correctly stated by the Attorney General, the provision itself was perfectly worthless. The object of the clause, as he understood it, was to put down treating at an election; but if there was any one place where treating would take place to a large extent, it was the place where the clerks made out their canvass books, to enable the election to be carried on. According to the doctrine of the Attorney General, meetings might take place in public-houses, the candidate might call the committee together, hold communication with them publicly, and then privately give every facility for treating to any extent. Now, he (Mr. Biggar) was no advocate for treating the electors. Nothing could be more hazardous than for the candidate to have drinking going on among his committee and paid employés; but unless the principle of this clause was very much altered, he did not see how that evil was to be avoided. He believed that the most sensible thing would be for the Committee to ignore the clause altogether. If the clause was 230 intended to have any practical effect, it should prohibit the meeting of electors in a public-house, and the use of the public-house, or any other place where drink was consumed, altogether. If any other course were taken the candidate would simply hire a room, post up a placard to say "this is my committee room," and then the principal part of his supporters would go to a neighbouring public-house, and drink there just as much as if the committee room were actually in the public-house itself; and as far as the consumption of drink was concerned, the provision inserted in the Bill would have no practical effect whatever. Unless the clause were made much more stringent, he thought it would be just as well for the Attorney General to withdraw it altogether.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, he thought there was a very simple answer to the point which had been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry De Worms). His hon. Friend asked if he was to understand from the Attorney General that a candidate could hire as many rooms as he pleased for holding public meetings, provided they were not used as committee rooms? Now, if his hon. Friend would look at the Schedule he would find that Part II. showed the legal expenses of a candidate, in addition to the expenses under Part I., and one of those items was the expense of holding public meetings. Then, if he went on to Part IV, of the Schedule, he would find that the maximum scale for boroughs, where the number of members on the register did not exceed 2,000, was £350; where it did exceed 2,000, the maximum amount was £380, with an additional £30 for every 1,000 electors above 2,000. If the candidate wished to spend £350 in holding public meetings, he could do so in a constituency which did not exceed 2,000; and in a constituency exceeding that number he could go to the extent of £380, with an additional £30 for every 1,000 above 2,000.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he thought it was desirable that the Attorney General should give some kind of explanation in answer to the question which he had put, and which he considered to be a very important one.
§ MR. RITCHIE
begged the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon; he had not addressed himself to the point at all. Clause 6 made it an illegal practice to pay money on account of any committee room in excess of the number allowed by the first Schedule of the Act. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that a candidate might hire a room in a public-house for the purpose of addressing a meeting of his committee; but that would not, of necessity, become a committee room, and the point, therefore, was this—that while the Schedule limited the number of committee rooms, the hon. and learned Gentleman was practically doing away with that limit by allowing the candidate to engage a room in every public-house in the borough for the purpose of addressing a meeting of his committee. The noble Viscount the Member for South Wiltshire (Viscount Folkestone) said the expenditure was controlled by the maximum set forth in the Schedule, and that was just what he (Mr. Ritchie) complained of. In addition to fixing a maximum, they were limiting the number of committee rooms, and yet were abolishing that limitation by saying that the candidate might hire a room in every public-house in the place for the purpose of addressing his committee. He wanted to know how the Attorney General intended to meet that point?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was afraid that he must intrude himself upon the attention of the Committee once more, or otherwise he might appear to be discourteous to the hon. Member who compelled him to do so. He certainly thought that he had answered the question put to him by the hon. Gentleman and also by other hon. Members.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the hon. member had spoken very often, no doubt. The object of the clause was to meet the case of committee meetings being held in public-houses, where meetings might be held in secret from day to day, nobody knowing what went on at them. The case was altogether different with regard to public meetings, and he did not care so much about them, because they were above-board and open to observation, 232 and everybody knew what went on at them, and could provide a remedy if anything wrong was done. As to the question of expense to the candidate, if a man engaged more rooms than he ought to have he would have to give an account of them, and the full matter would have to be discussed. There would be two safeguards. First, there was a limitation as to the number of committee rooms; and, next, if a room was hired at a public-house, it must be used for public purposes. In the next place, if an excessive number of rooms were hired, the maximum fixed in the Schedule would come into play.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he thought the hon. and learned Attorney General had invited the discussion which had taken place upon this clause. He confessed, however, on looking at the Amendments upon the Paper, that none of them met the objections which had been so strongly raised, and in which he entirely concurred. A good deal of time would have been occupied in discussing the Amendments, and it was, perhaps, better that it should be occupied in discussing the clause generally as it stood. It seemed to him that the Attorney General had hardly shown sufficient confidence in his own Bill. What he appeared to contemplate was, that the mere fact of a committee sitting in a house of public entertainment would immediately encourage drinking. The hon. and learned Gentleman evidently left out the consideration of the disabilities to which the Bill subjected the committee and the candidate if drinking took place. One of the most important consequences was that the election would thereby be voided, and that the offence could very easily be brought home to the committee. Surely, then, it would be rather a safeguard and a protection that the committee should be sitting in a public-house, so that the agents of the candidate might prevent any practice of that kind being carried on, or any illegal practice whatever being resorted to. He could not help thinking that it was a mere chimera that was raised by the Attorney General, and that the clause was entirely uncalled for by any difficulty which would arise. It was unwarrantable to conclude that the mere fact that the presence of an election committee in a public-house or refreshment-house would lead to corrupt practices.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
wished to put a question to the Attorney General. When he (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) addressed the Committee some time ago, he asked the Attorney General to put words into the clause to make it perfectly clear that holding meetings in a public-house would not be prohibited. He thought it was absolutely necessary, before they proceeded with this clause and divided upon it, that the Attorney General should tell them if he did intend to put words into the clause or not; because he had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman, by the gestures he had made some time ago, to say that he would do so. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had avoided saying so in express terms. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would give the Committee some explanation, or the Committee ought to moot the clause with vehement opposition.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he had been unwilling to make any positive promise; but he would give an undertaking to this extent—that he would, at the end of the section, or in the Definition Clause, introduce words excepting the hire of rooms used for the purpose of addressing meetings from the operation of the clause. Perhaps it would be advisable to take a Division on the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), in order to see what the opinion of the Committee was as to the principle of the clause.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
remarked, that if the hon. and learned Attorney General found that he could not define a committee room in the way he proposed, he hoped he would not leave out of consideration a case where a candidate was himself staying in a house of entertainment. That was a rather important distinction, and he (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) had already illustrated it by his own case.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he did not see how a Division upon the earlier Amendment would affect the whole of the clause. He himself had an Amendment lower down to include a club in which, by the rules, intoxicating liquors might be supplied to the members; but if he understood what words the Attorney General proposed to insert at the end of the clause, it might not be neces- 234 sary for him to propose that Amendment. At the same time, it certainly was not his intention to acquiesce in the clause as it stood in the Bill. He thought that if the principle was once conceded that a committee meeting should not be held at a public-house, it would also be necessary to provide that it should not be held at a club in which intoxicating liquors were provided for the members. He did not see how it was possible to decide every question by a Division upon the Amendment now before the House; and, therefore, whatever was done in regard to the present Amendment, he should consider himself perfectly free to move that which stood in his own name.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he had prepared an Amendment which he thought would remove all the main objections which had been raised upon this point, and which would carry out very clearly what the Attorney General had stated, and what the hon. and learned Gentleman had no doubt stated in good faith. At the same time, the Committee could have no certainty and no assurance whatever that the Election Judges would construe the Act in the same sense and spirit as the Attorney General; and the Amendment he would suggest was to insert, after the word "election," in line 9—Provided, however, that nothing in this clause shall render illegal the use of any part of such premises for holding a meeting to address the electors.If the Attorney General would accept such a Proviso, he thought it would remove a great part of the objections which had been raised to the clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, the object of the Amendment he had now to move was to exclude clubs from the operation of the clause. He was quite prepared to accept any modification of his Amendment which would draw a distinction between genuine clubs and what were sometimes called sham clubs, which were got up on principles very different, indeed, to those of the recognized clubs of the country. He believed he was perfectly correct in saying that in certain parts of the country clubs had been built, and built, in great part, for the special purpose of being used for committee rooms on election days, and for the promotion and procurement of the 235 election of certain candidates. Why were clubs built for a special purpose not to be used for that purpose? It was a perfect libel upon most of the clubs of the country to say that they were badly conducted. As a matter of fact, hon. Gentlemen knew that the clubs of the country, as a rule, were conducted with perfect regularity and order. It did seem exceedingly hard to exclude from use buildings which were partly erected for the special purpose—a purpose thoroughly legitimate in itself—of aiding the election of a given candidate. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 6, to leave out the words "or any premises where any intoxicating liquor is sold."—(Mr. E. Stanhope.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was an admitted fact that there were good clubs as well as bad or spurious clubs. He did not think it was possible to draw, for legislative purposes, a distinction between good and bad clubs. They must take the good with the bad, and ask themselves whether it was better to close a club or not on a polling day? Personally, he should vote against the opening of the clubs; but he admitted that that was an open question upon which there was a great diversity of opinion. He should like hon. Gentlemen to vote just as they pleased; of course, he knew they always did. He was, however, very gratified with the support he had received from the Committee hitherto; but he really considered that that was a question on which they all might take very different views.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, whether the committee of the Reform Club would be supposed to suspend its operation during the Westminster election?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, no election committee meetings were held at the Reform Club.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
desired to point out to the Attorney General the real danger of the proposal he was now making. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) un- 236 derstood it was proposed to exclude a genuine Political Club altogether as a place in which a committee, or a candidate, could hold their meetings. But he thought it was very probable that the members of clubs would form themselves into committees within the club itself, in spite of the candidate. The club room, or a room in the club, would not then be a committee room as far as the candidate, or the agent of the candidate, was concerned. If he (Mr. W. H. Smith) knew anything of the enthusiasm of the members of clubs, in such counties as Lancashire and Yorkshire, he was fully convinced, in his own mind, that there was not a club in those counties which, on the day of an election, would not be practically used as committee rooms, for the meeting of committees which would be most efficient committees for promoting the election of the candidate to which the members of the club attached themselves. Would that be a corrupt or an illegal practice, or would it come within the limit of the clause? There would be a committee room, and it would be in a building in which intoxicating liquor was sold. How could they get over the difficulty? He asked the hon. and learned Attorney General, with no desire to put difficulties in his way, because he thoroughly sympathized with the object the hon. and learned Gentleman had in view, which he understood to be to prevent spurious clubs competing with public-houses.
said, as the Bill now stood genuine Political Clubs would not be excluded. He supposed a committee could go into the Reform Club for the purpose of opposing or supporting the election of any particular candidate for the City of Westminster according to the rules of the Club; but if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope's) own proposition was carried, then the genuine clubs would be forbidden to sit in any place in which intoxicating liquors were sold.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
confessed that if those words were retained there would be a remarkable evasion of the law, or else the Political Clubs, especially in the large towns, would be very much interfered with. His experience was that all the ardent Liberal partizans met at a Liberal Club, and he believed that 237 the same was the case in regard to the Conservative partizans. Although the members of the club might not actually form themselves into a committee, yet whenever they happened to meet in a club, at the time of an election, they talked about nothing else but the election. He did not suppose there was a committee in a borough which was so effective for the purpose of promoting any particular election as that formed of the members of the clubs, who generally happened to be active partizans. If the clause remained unaltered, the meetings of members of clubs, on days of election, would be prohibited. There would certainly be a feeling that such a prohibition was hardly fair. Clubs were, for all practical purposes, committee rooms; and, therefore, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should avail himself of the suggestion of the Attorney General to vote as he pleased; and his vote would certainly be given against the retention of the words.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that no one doubted that the good Political Clubs which existed in many Northern towns would, if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) were accepted, suffer great inconvenience. On the other hand, the Committee ought to consider that there were many clubs which were really nothing less than very inferior public-houses. Now, what he wanted to put before the Committee was that they were going to close the ordinary avenues to treating by prohibiting the use of public-houses as committee rooms; but, did they not suppose that if they shut the door in that direction, and left it open in another, very soon they would have a fine crop of so-called clubs, which in reality would exist for the purpose of treating at elections? They would be of mushroom growth. It was not necessary that a club should be as old as Brook's or White's, in order to be called a club. He fancied clubs would spring into existence shortly before a General Election, and die very likely as soon as the poll was known. The Committee was engaged in the great endeavour to put down bribery and corruption at elections. "Was it not a necessity that any Act of this kind should inflict inconvenience, and very likely unmerited inconvenience, on many good and honest people? They had to look, not at the 238 convenience of the candidate, and not even at the convenience of the voters, but at what they hoped to be the effect upon Parliament in the future, by stopping all the avenues to corruption. He considered that such an object, and such an aim, was one that would justify them in inflicting even greater inconvenience than would be inflicted, by prohibiting the use for committee rooms of all places where refreshments were provided.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, the danger referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) was a serious one, and they did not get rid of it by shutting up clubs in pursuance of the Amendment now before them. It was a well-known fact that there were a great many clubs—political and non-political—which had no local habitation of their own. These clubs met at public-houses. Now, if a club, having a room of its own, was able to make itself into an informal committee, was it not equally possible for an informal committee to be formed in a public-house, and thereby bringing about great mischief to the candidate? He feared that they were not protecting themselves by this Amendment.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
desired to offer a remark or two upon what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). The difficulty he felt in the matter was this—that if the views of the Government were carried out they would have to abolish clubs altogether, to shut up their rooms, and not allow people to meet in them, because really their object was political. They were all formed for political purposes; and whenever a meeting of the members took place, they generally considered how they could promote or procure the election of their candidate. What was really required was a definition of what a committee room was; and he did not doubt it was a very difficult thing to arrive at such a definition. He considered it would be rather a mockery to stop committee rooms in one part of the town, and have rooms open in another part in which people met together, and all day long, and considered what steps could be taken for the promoting and procuring the election of a certain candidate. He did not suppose his hon. 239 Friend (Mr. Whitbread) was prepared to go so far as to say a club should have its doors locked on an election day. His (Mr. Forster's) difficulty was bow they could prevent such a state of things.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
ventured to suggest that they, on the Opposition side of the House, had a right to claim the vote of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) in opposition to the clause. If the clause had any effect at all, it was clear that its immediate effect would be of a most pernicious character. The result of the operation of the clause would be that a vast number of institutions would spring up, like mushrooms, at the time of an election, and they would all be utilized for the most flagrant and corrupt purposes. Such was the opinion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), and therefore the Opposition ought to claim his vote on that occasion. The hon. Gentleman could not have used a stronger argument in favour of the statement urged two hours ago from the Opposition Benches—namely, that by the effect of drawing the strings too tightly they would produce a greater evil than that which now existed.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
wished to make one appeal to the Attorney General to consider the case of a strictly Political Club which was also the he ad-quarters, as the case might be, of the Liberal or the Conservative Party of the borough, for instance, of Exeter. In that borough the secretary to the Conservative Club was also the Conservative registration agent. In his capacity as secretary he had rooms in the club throughout the year, where, no doubt, he kept his registration books and papers, and carried on his work of promoting and procuring the election of certain men. When an election, however, came round, he would have to turn out bag and baggage, with all his books and papers, and probably, for two or three weeks, occupy rooms, it might be, on the other side of the street. Such was certainly one of the effects of this clause,
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, they were discussing the question as to whether committees should or should not be allowed to be held in Political Clubs. In the first place, they were confronted with the difficulty as to what a committee 240 really was. It might occur that a candidate would say that if there were no lists of voters, or other things usually appertaining to a committee, no committee was being held in any particular room. He (Mr. Rylands) was of opinion that they certainly could not prevent a number of electors meeting in a club, and reporting to each other the names of the different voters who ought to be seen, or about whose political opinion it was desirous to got some information. But whether that was done with the consent of the candidate or not, he (Mr. Rylands) had no doubt it would be asserted that a committee was being held in the club, and the candidate would probably be held to be guilty of an illegal practice. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had said that if they refused to allow committees in public-houses, but allowed them in clubs, they would have spurious clubs created for the sole purpose of giving drink. It was not necessary to hold committees, in one or other of the clubs, in order to afford facilities for drinking. If they were going to stop treating in public-houses on the day of election, they were going also to stop treating in spurious clubs. Because treating in spurious clubs would be, in no sense, free from the penalty under the Bill. The question really was, did the holding of a committee in a spurious club necessarily lead to corruption? He considered it did; but he was of opinion that if they wanted to stop drinking on the polling day, they ought to pass a law that there should be no sale of drink on that day. He would like very much for the Attorney General to consider for a moment whether he could not meet the Gentlemen who raised objections on this point. Let it be laid down, for instance, in this Act that in those committee rooms held in clubs no drink should be sold or consumed. In fact, let it be made an illegal practice, if drink were sold or consumed. There could not be the slightest reason for inflicting such a serious difficulty on the political Parties of this country, as was now proposed to be inflicted through their clubs. He feared that this really amounted to the striking of a blow at institutions upon which, to a great extent, the political life of this country depended. In the large centres of population clubs did act as great institutions on political subjects. Clubs 241 had their libraries, news rooms, discussions, and addresses delivered by their members; and in other ways political knowledge was disseminated by these institutions. These clubs, too, looked forward to the time of an election in the hope of making use of their promises to promote, or procure, the return of the candidate who held the views espoused by the members. He wished, again, to say that if the Attorney General would so frame his clause that no drink should be consumed or sold in the committee rooms of those clubs, he (Mr. Rylands) certainly would be satisfied.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, there seemed to be a great difference of opinion between the hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) and the Attorney General upon this point. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley had said that the whole political life of Burnley depended upon its clubs. But when that remark was made a sceptical smile stole over the face of the Attorney General. Did not the Government see how absurd their efforts at securing purity of election were? They refused to allow a committee to be held in a public-house; but they made no effort to prevent a committee room being opened next door. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) admitted the immense inconvenience that would arise to electors if the clause remained in its present state; but the hon. Gentleman said, so great; was the case at stake, that it would be worth while to make the electors suffer that inconvenience. The hon. Gentleman evidently did not seem to see what had been strikingly pointed out by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands)—namely, that the political life of many constituencies depended upon its clubs. If they were going to pass what would really put a spoke in the wheel of those clubs, could they doubt for a moment they would deal a blow to the clubs, from which it would be scarcely possible for them to survive? ["No, no!"] An hon. Gentleman opposite cried "No, no!" Did he deny that these Political Clubs were called into existence chiefly with the object of conducting elections? [Mr. ARTHUR ARNOLD: I certainly do deny it.] Did the hon. Gentleman deny that those clubs did exercise an immense influence at the time of an election? Did 242 he deny that if they took away the stimulus to those clubs which elections provided that they would strike a blow at the very existence of the institutions? He (Mr. Balfour) could not imagine anyone who knew what these clubs were doubting that proposition for a moment. They were called into existence in order to carry their particular candidates through; and it was ridiculous to suppose that if they were prevented from carrying out their object at elections that a very serious blow would not be dealt them. He trusted the Government would withdraw this clause.
§ MR. CAUSTON
said, he hoped the Attorney General would endeavour to prevent the establishment of sham clubs. He had not the slightest objection to bonâ fide Political Clubs, the members of which paid an uniform subscription; but what he did object to was that clubs should receive between elections handsome subscriptions and donations, in order that electors between elections might derive considerable pecuniary benefit, by eating and drinking, at the expense of the rich men of the Party. He trusted the Attorney General would deal with such a case in the Bill. He did not know whether that was the proper clause in which to raise such a point; but the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Balfour) just now said that he looked upon these clubs as the proper Party organizations for enlightening the electors on Liberal or Conservative principles. He admitted that Liberals had their clubs as well as Conservatives. It was all very well that they should have; but in some way or other the Committee ought to provide the means to prevent bribery and corruption and unfair treating between elections.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, it was extremely refreshing to hear the words of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton), who certainly had had considerable experience in the organization of Liberal clubs. He had no doubt the hon. Gentleman's experience was so great that the observations he had just made would be of great interest in the district to which he belonged. He (Baron Henry de Worms), however, rose to point out the intense absurdity of the position in which the Government had now arrived by this clause. It had been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. 243 Forster) that if the Government wished to be consistent they ought to put a lock on the door of every club on the day of an election. Now, he (Baron Henry De Worms) wanted to ask the Attorney General whether he did not consider it necessary that he should define what a committee room was, and what a committee meeting was? because he took it that the Government had some extraordinary system of curbing and disturbing freedom of speech in members of a club which met together for the purpose of discussing the election and of promoting, as far as they could, the interests of the candidate. And he feared that if the members of a club constituted themselves into a committee meeting, they would, by their act, render a candidate liable for the loss of his seat. Was it possible for absurdity to go further than this—that the members of the Political Club, be it Liberal or Conservative, should be debarred from meeting together at the time of an election for the purpose of promoting the interests of the candidate—the very purpose for which these clubs were really established? He could not conceive anything more oppressive or more ridiculous. If they carried the principle a little further they might say that agents might not meet in a private house for the purpose of promoting the interests or cause of any particular candidate. Where were the Government going to stop? This was really the worst form of political tyranny that ever was imagined. It was only the outcome of this grandmotherly legislation which, on the one hand, affirmed that the working man had not sufficient political influence, and, on the other, treated him as an overgrown baby.
MR. A. F. EGERTON
said, it appeared to him that this clause was, in its entirety, an absurdity; and he should, of course, vote against it. But with regard to this particular Amendment, he should like to point out to the Attorney General that in the Division which he had represented for many years the state of things had changed very much since 1859. He first contested an election in 1859, and at that time there was hardly a Liberal or a Conservative Club in existence, and committee rooms were almost invariably taken in some public-houses. But since that time the circumstances had entirely altered in every village in South-East Lancashire; and 244 he believed in every other Division of Lancashire there was a Conservative or a Liberal Club founded upon limited liability principles, and frequented by the most respectable inhabitants of the village. Those were precisely the places which ought to be committee rooms, because they were under the control of the respectable inhabitants of the district. What would happen if these clubs were closed, and not allowed to be used as committee rooms? Booms would be taken near a public-house, and every facility for surreptitious drinking would be afforded; but if these clubs were allowed to be used as committee rooms—as he thought they ought to be, and for which they were largely intended by their promoters—there would be a certain amount of supervision over them, which would be entirely wanting if the electors were confined within the four corners of this clause. He hoped the Committee would reject the clause altogether.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, the only outcome of this matter was that all consumption of drink must be prohibited on the day of election in public-houses and clubs, and also in private houses. It was quite clear that the Attorney General supposed there was a fixed idea that there was treating in public-houses; but, as a matter of fact, there was not; and he challenged the hon. and learned Gentleman to produce a single instance in which, where a committee met in a public-house, there was any amount of treating. Her Majesty's Ministers anticipated that there would be some treating in clubs as well as in public-houses; but would there not be treating in private houses also? If electors were turned out of clubs and public-houses, and took rooms near to a public-house, what was to prevent a large quantity of liquor being carried in and consumed, of course at someone's expense? He did not see how drinking could be stopped, because if people wanted to treat they would treat; and whatever number of Acts of Parliament were passed containing further stringent provisions, if people intended to do such things nobody could prevent them. la order to avoid these pitfalls and this invasion of personal liberty, with which the Bill bristled, he hoped this very ridiculous and stupid clause would be withdrawn.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, a question had been put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) to which no clear answer had been given. No doubt the number of committee rooms would be limited by the maximum scale; but, of course, there was no limit to committee rooms if only they were not paid for. As his hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. A. F. Egerton) had said, there was not a village in Lancashire which did not possess a Liberal and a Conservative Club in which the electors met. When there was an election, the people would, of course, meet in these clubs, and many of them were necessarily employed in the conduct of the election. They discussed all the circumstances and arrangements of the election, and practically they used these clubs as committee rooms. If a candidate was seen going about with these people, or going into the clubs, he would be held to have consented to the use of the clubs as committee rooms; and, therefore, he was afraid that candidates would be placed in great danger, even by the legitimate use of club rooms in this way.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he had noticed that one or two Members were adopting a view which he had ventured to put forward—namely, that clubs should be closed on the day of election; but he thought it would be a mistake to suppose that any effect this clause might have would be limited to the day of election. It would, he supposed, apply to the whole time.
asked how far this clause would go? In this House there were rooms which were constantly used by people who met to promote and procure the election of candidates. A vacancy hardly ever took place without a meeting between an intended candidate and the leading people of the constituency and the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor), or the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. Rowland Winn), in a room in the neighbourhood of the House. If such a meeting was a committee meeting, would it not be held in part of premises in which intoxicating liquor was sold? Under such circumstances, would not a candidate at the very outset disqualify himself for election by taking part in a committee meeting for promoting and procuring his election held 246 in part of premises where intoxicating liquors were sold?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he did not think the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) could be serious in putting his question. The rooms within the House were held at all times, and not at any particular time. With regard to the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross), and by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), a distinction could be drawn between committee rooms in clubs, in which the parties were in the habit of meeting generally, and those which were employed at the particular time of an election. He was disposed to look favourably upon the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham. The whole effect of the clause was not to upset an election, but simply to impose penalties on certain persons. If persons met in a room in which they had been accustomed to meet, and showed their zeal, perhaps more developed on the election day, that room would not be a committee room for a particular election. He could not conceive it possible that a meeting of persons under these circumstances could be held as a committee room. There was, without doubt, great force in what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) if they could prevent the action of bad clubs; but it was impossible to draw a line. Whatever was the decision of the Committee upon this matter, the Government would accept it.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, hon. Members seemed to be carried away by the idea that by opposing this Amendment they would get rid of spurious clubs. He saw great objection to the existence of such clubs, and felt that they ought to be deal with by law whenever a case arose; but that point did not arise here. The reason why he urged this Amendment was that these clubs were intended to be made centres of political life on one side or the other; and this Bill proposed that they should cease to be the centres of political life.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, the Committee was in great difficulty through having to vote upon this Amendment at all. If they voted for it they would be in this position. They would be doing what 247 he conceived to be an act of Pharisaical injustice to public-houses, on the hypothesis that, as they were centres of corrupt treating, they were to be closed; whilst, on the other hand, some places which were substitutes for the public-houses were to be allowed to remain open. To be consistent, the Government ought to prevent people drinking at all on the day of an election; and he did not think that some of these clauses were more stringent than that proposal. Such a provision would place everybody on an equal footing. He concurred in the view that there ought to be a definition of a committee room. It was all very well to leave that to the Judge; but anyone who had had any experience in these matters might take a totally different view from a Judge, and it would be impossible to say what view any particular Judge would take. The Committee being in this difficulty, and there being a widespread desire among Members to vote against the clause as a whole, he thought the best thing would be to strangle the clause piecemeal; and he should vote for the omission of these words, in the hope that, eventually, the clause would be entirely omitted, it being an additional infringement of the liberty of the subject.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 169; Noes 141: Majority 28.—(Div. List, No. 163.)
§ MR. ONSLOW
proposed an Amendment, with the object of putting all kinds of vendors of refreshment, whether in the shape of food or liquor, on an equality. The Attorney General had stated that what he wanted to do was to prevent the meeting of committees in public-houses. He himself should like to see the same meeting of committees prevented in coffee taverns for the purpose of treating. It appeard to him to be quite as wrong to treat a man to coffee and tea and buns as to a glass of beer; and, therefore, he wished to insert, in page 7, line 7, after the word "intoxicating," the words "or other." That, he presumed, would include the selling of all non-alcoholic liquor—such as aerated water, tea, coffee, and cocoa—and what he desired was to put places where those liquors were sold on the same footing as public-houses. If they eliminated one class 248 of Her Majesty's subjects from having one kind of committee rooms for election purposes, the same principle ought to be applied to all other subjects. He believed that, as the clause stood, grocers, who had licenses for the sale of drinks, would not be able to let their rooms; but, in order to make this clause consistent—obnoxious as it was—they ought to put in some words such as he suggested. He also wished to insert after the word "liquor," the words "or refreshment of any kind, whether as food or drink." That would include butcher's shops. He knew no place where treating could be done better than in butcher's shops. He had heard, on the best authority, that there was an enormous amount of treating when a committee met over a butcher's shop; and, therefore, if purity of election was to be obtained, all places ought to be put on an equality.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 7, after the word "intoxicating," to insert the words "or other."—(Mr. Onslow.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he should be glad if the hon. Member would not move this Amendment now. He quite admitted the danger of treating in these other places; but, as a matter of principle, there might be treating at temperance hotels as well as elsewhere. He had, however, stated that he would bring up an Amendment, in the proper place, which would apply the clause to places where food or drink was sold for consumption on the premises.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, that would go a great way; but, as a rule, chops and steaks were not consumed on the premises. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would also say "on or off the premises," he should be satisfied. If they prohibited drink, they must prohibit food, or refreshment of any kind. He would withdraw his Amenndment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he wished now to move a clause, which he had prepared hastily, to meet the view of the Committee, as expressed, to some extent, by the Division which had just taken place. He thought he ought not to disregard a 249 considerable minority as well as a majority. The Amendment they had been discussing was "any premises where intoxicating liquors are sold." These words would cover the case of clubs of all kinds. The question was raised upon the fact that in a club liquors were not sold, in an ordinary sense of the word, as meant by the Act of Parliament; and, in order to bring the point to a tangible form, he proposed to add after the word "sold," these words—Or is supplied to members of a club, society, or association, other than a permanent political club.The clause would then read—Public-house or any premises whore any intoxicating liquor is sold, or is supplied to members of a club, society, or association, other than a permanent political club.
In page 7, line 7, after the word "sold," to insert the words "or is supplied to members of a club, society, or association, other than a permanent political club."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, the words "a permanent political club" presented a difficulty to his mind. It would be a difficult matter for the Judge to decide, and he doubted whether a Judge could decide, what constituted "a permanent political club."
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, be thought it was very inconvenient to have to discuss this Amendment within a few minutes of the suspension of the Sitting. It was not so simple a matter as the Attorney General seemed to think. To "supply" was a very different thing from "selling." If a member of a club asked other members to dine with him and supplied them with liquor, that club would at once become premises in which committee rooms might not be taken. The Committee were driving committee rooms into private houses by the Amendment already passed, and now they were going to disqualify private houses from being places where anybody connected with a candidate could take or give refreshment to anybody else. That was a reflection which occurred to him from the word "supply," and he thought it would be wise now to report Progress. The Attorney General had proposed an 250 important Amendment at the last moment, which he might have proposed an hour ago, and expected the Committee to come to a conclusion at once. He would move that Progress be reported, in order that this point might be properly considered, for he had great doubt whether it would not go a great deal further than the Attorney General intended.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he hoped the Committee would not consider the course he had taken unreasonable. He saw no difficulty in considering the permanent clubs. There might be mushroom clubs springing up, and the object of the Amendment was to prevent that.
said, it appeared to him that the reason given by the noble Lord for reporting Progress was perfectly sound. He had listened attentively to the words of the Amendment as read; but it was impossible to catch them clearly, and he entertained doubts whether they would carry out the intention of the Attorney General.
said, that it was very usual for the Committee to afford some indulgence to the promoter and conductor of a measure; and bearing in mind that they were not now on the final stage of the Bill, there would be opportunities for considering any objections to this proposal later on. He admitted that what he was now saying was a claim to privilege; but as it was usual to give that indulgence to the conductor of a Bill when he was endeavouring to make a concession, he hoped Progress would not be agreed to.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, under these circumstances, he would withdraw his Motion; but he hoped the Attorney General would give a full opportunity subsequently to discuss the Amendment.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment (The Attorney General) agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to Bit again this day.