§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ MR. WARTON
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day three months, said, he must complain of the practice which had arisen among Ministers of introducing second readings by merely lifting their hats, instead of 1652 enlightening the House with a succinct and clear statement of the contents of the Bills. The House had a right to have expected, on so important a measure as this, a well-considered introductory explanation from the Attorney General; and he hoped, if the plan adopted on the present occasion was intended to shorten the debate, by keeping some Members ignorant of what the Bill was, the attempt would not succeed. He fully recognized the appropriateness of the introduction of such a Bill as this by a Government of Whigs, who had been noted for their corruption since the days of Walpole; and especially by the Attorney General, representing, as he did, a remarkably corrupt constituency. The Government, with this Bill, represented those who strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel; for, although they brought in this Pharisaical Bill to put an end to corruption, they had been recently defeated in an attempt to obtain a thousand new species of patronage throughout the country, and there was now an attempt being made to resist their creation of patronage in connection with the Bankruptcy Laws. He objected to the Bill, because it left untouched one great source of corruption—that gigantic kind of corruption attempted by the Premier, in 1874, when he promised the total abolition of Income Tax—and also because it left untouched the principal evils of the present elections—the system of employing canvassers, and of nursing constituencies by subscriptions to all kinds of charities. On the other hand, the scale of fees in payment of electioneering expenses was so low that a candidate would be driven from the respectable and honourable class of agents to the lowest members of the profession, since it would be no longer possible to employ any person in the higher ranks of the profession. If the Government really desired to put a stop to corruption, they ought to begin by abolishing the Ballot Acts, which no longer permitted a man to give his vote in an honest and manly way, as formerly, while they enabled the dishonest voter still further to lower himself by accepting bribes from both sides. As practical men, they knew that this Bill was too rigid. It was full of pitfalls for the honest man. It was based on principles of heroic virtue which the constituencies had not yet attained; and, therefore, it would not work. They could not make 1653 people moral beyond the tone of feeling which prevailed in their own particular district. If people got accustomed to a thing they liked to have it, and would have it. But Parliament could not make the law respected if it was too severe. The Prime Minister and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House frequently taunted the Conservative Party for their support of a severe Penal Code; and here were these Gentlemen now proposing to pass a most cruel law, not for the criminal classes, but for men who wished to fight an election fairly. Under this Bill an honest man would be afraid to stand, while the dishonest man would triumph. Let the scale of charges be abolished, and let the Judges have the power of saying whether they thought money had been spent too profusely or not; but let not Parliament lay down a hard-and-fast line, which would only trip up the honest man. The doctrine of agency had been pushed to the most extreme length. If a candidate was speaking to anybody it almost made the man his agent. According to the old tenour of our Criminal Law, agency must be proved most strictly; but here we began at the other end, and if a man did anything for another he was assumed to be his agent. For all these reasons, he felt it his duty to oppose the Bill. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ MR. LEWIS
, in seconding the Amendment, said, that, with regard to this matter, there was not the slightest concerted Party action on the Opposition side of the House. There was no doubt that on both sides a well-grounded and proper feeling was entertained that some strong legislation with reference to Parliamentary expenditure was necessary. But he was afraid that this Bill had been brought in under the worst possible auspices—namely, the impression on both sides that something must be done. When legislation was undertaken in that spirit, it generally turned out very bad legislation. Most Members considered that the merits of the Bill consisted in limiting expenditure. If it were proposed to carry out that object within a reasonable margin, it would be very proper to do so. He admitted that the Bill was a decided improvement on the Bill of last year, with regard to the penalties and the scale of expenditure, and in ad- 1654 mitting a substantial difference between the expenditure on borough and county elections. It was only due to the Attorney General to make those admissions. But if they made legislation too severe, they would make it ineffective. The great objection to this Bill was to be found in two things—the general extension of severity, and the increased number of offences to which that severity applied. If the Bill should get a second reading, he would endeavour to amend it in Committee; but he thought it right now to call attention to some matters which involved the loss of the seat, disqualification of the candidate for a number of years for all constituencies, and in some cases for life for the particular constituency in which the offence was committed. Any small act of treating done corruptly would be attended not only with the loss of the seat forthwith, but with disqualification for 10 years as regarded any constituency, and for life as regarded the constituency in which the offence had been committed. Did the House consider that that was a moderate and reasonable punishment? Was there any proportion between the offence and the punishment? Again, no man could take with him to the poll, in a carriage he had hired, a friend who was a voter. If he were to use a hired carriage for that purpose, or if his agent were to do so, he would lose his seat and suffer disqualification. Such an enactment would, in his opinion, be a monstrous way of carrying out what was called purity of election, and limiting expenditure. Supposing, again, that a candidate were to pay a person 5s. to exhibit his address in the latter's shop window, or on a hoarding in a piece of waste ground, the candidate would be disqualified. Was the House prepared to mete out such a very heavy punishment for miserable miner offences? The purchase by an agent of two dozen cockades would vitiate an election. It seemed to him that this was carrying legislation not only to a reductio ad absurdum, but to the point of madness. Under the Bill, candidates were manacled hand and foot. If an agent hired an extra clerk for one day, or gave a messenger a couple of shillings, and these were in excess of the number specified in the Schedule, the candidate would be liable to lose his seat. He wished to direct their attention to the 1655 hardship of such a provision, particularly in a county constituency with 30 or 35 polling districts, where it was impossible to concentrate and enforce management. Another illustration of the severity of the Bill was the provision that if an agent failed to make a full and correct return of the election expenses within the specified time, or if he paid an election bill, however small, 30 days from the date of the return of a Member, the candidate would be subjected to the loss of his seat, and be disqualified. These, however, were but a few examples of the great violence of the Bill. But, perhaps, the most extraordinary clause was that which provided that, if a candidate should be held to have had reasonable cause for believing that a given room hired by him or his agent as a committee room would be required by the High Sheriff for a polling booth, he would be pronounced guilty of illegal hiring, and would lose his seat. He would take it as admitted on the face of the Bill that an illegal hiring would lose an hon. Member his seat. If it were held by a Judge that a candidate had reasonable cause to believe that any room hired by him would be required by the High Sheriff for a polling booth it was an illegal hiring, and would forfeit the seat. Nothing more monstrous and exaggerated could ever find its way into any Bill. What would happen in small villages, where only one room was to be obtained? If he had been asked by whom this Bill had been drawn, he should have guessed by the Members for Universities, for they were the only Members who would escape entirely from the penalties of the measure, being elected under a totally different system. The Bill surrounded Members with pitfalls and possible difficulties at every turn. It would be impossible for any man to contest a county constituency with anything like reasonable safety. This Bill had a Party aspect, for its severest effect would fall on the county constituencies. It was utterly unexampled in its severity, and reckless in its character, and ought not for one moment to receive the sanction of the House in its present severe form. It was also an impracticable Bill with regard to county constituencies. In boroughs within a ring fence there were numbers of workers who were ready to give their services gratuitously. In coun- 1656 ties it was different. No one would suggest that "Mr. Roger Chawbacon" could be made sub-agent, however willing to give his gratuitous assistance; for the very first thing he would do would be, by some incapacity or incaution, to lose the seat for his employer. The Bill was impracticable, because, instead of enabling a candidate to dispense with professional assistance, he would require more. The pitfalls were so numerous, the interpretation of the Act of Parliament would be so mysterious, and the offences were so numerous, that no one would say that a candidate could dispense with professional assistance in any one polling district. Professional men must be appointed sub-agents in each district, or the seat would be irretrievably lost. In constituencies of 10,000 or 15,000 electors the whole of the money allowed by the Bill for expenses would have to be spent in professional assistance. In Kent elections had been hotly contested for 25 years; the electorate in Mid Kent was between 8,000 and 9,000, and a candidate would be entitled by the Bill to spend from £800 to £900. If an election lasted, like that of 1868, for three months it would be impossible to get respectable solicitors to act in the eight or ten polling districts besides the principal agent, even if the whole sum allowed was paid as their remuneration. To test the adequacy of the payments allowed, it was desirable to see what was spent by the Ministers who introduced this Bill. They were the great purists; they were also an economical Government, as they knew from long experience, and from what they had done since they had been in power. The Attorney General, under this Bill, would be allowed to spend £380. No one doubted that the last election at Taunton was perfectly pure, for there were reasons why it was desirable to break the continuity of bribery there. The Attorney General and his Colleague ran together, and the same expenditure did for both. They spent £952. That election could not be done for the money which it was now proposed to allow to be spent. In Oxford the Bill would allow £500 to be expended. When the Home Secretary and his Colleague contested it in 1880 they spent nearly £3,000, or six times the amount now to be allowed. Considering the conduct of the Home 1657 Secretary in allowing the unfortunate Macclesfield solicitors to be dragged in manacles through the streets of London, he supposed that he must be the purest of the pure, the very crême de la crême of electoral purity. Yet, in a single week's combat at Oxford, the Home Secretary spent £3,200. Now, the Home Secretary suggested that his successor at Oxford should spend £600. With regard to Chelsea, it was proposed that the permitted expenditure in that great constituency should be £1,150. The President of the Local Government Board, who was known to be careful and economical, and possessed of electioneering experience, yet he and his Colleague spent £3,200, nearly three times the amount allowed by the Bill. The Solicitor General, in his nice convenient little constituency of Durham, would be entitled to spend only £350. But at the last election he and his Colleague expended no less than £1,477. Knowing what he did of the Attorney and Solicitor General, he could not believe that they would spend one penny more than was absolutely necessary. Yet the Solicitor General and his Colleague together had found it necessary to disburse four times the amount provided by the Bill. As he had given some of the expenses of the Lieutenants, he would now give the expenses of the General, and what he would be allowed by the Bill. The county of Mid Lothian contained 3,260 electors; the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would be entitled, under the Bill, to expend £580. Yet, at the last election, his expenses amounted to £2,495. [Mr. HOPWOOD: What did Lord Dalkeith spend?] The hon. and learned Member for Stockport asked how much Lord Dalkeith had spent. Lord Dalkeith did not propose to bind them with rods of iron in the same way as the Prime Minister. With regard to the scale of this Bill, he would point out—first, that it was liberal to very large boroughs—to boroughs such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, or Glasgow, it was far too liberal, and it was also liberal to very small boroughs. But, as regarded intermediate-sized boroughs—that was, containing from 4,000 to 10,000 electors—the amount allowed was very niggardly. Another point was the ridiculous inequality of the Bill. Taking his own constituency, the City of Londonderry; it had over 2,000 elec- 1658 tors, and he was entitled to spend £380, and no more; he believed he spent on his last election £850. But, in eight constituencies containing an aggregate of electors less in number than that of his own constituency, the sum allowed to be spent was £2,500. Then, taking the case of the City of London, which had 24,000 electors, with four candidates running together, the amount allowed was £4,160. In Bristol, the constituency of which was very nearly the same size, the number of electors being 23,000, with two candidates running together, the amount allowed was £2,010. But in Wednesbury, with a constituency of 20,000, and but one candidate, the amount was only £920. Such variations could be followed throughout the whole scale. Then, taking the counties—In West Cumberland, with 7,900 electors and two candidates standing together, £1,480 was allowed, whereas in Dorsetshire, with 7,400 electors, the amount was £2,220—that was to say, £740 more for a constituency of the same number, or rather less. He was not merely attacking this Bill, but was prepared to suggest a more satisfactory scheme. Taking, again, the double counties against the single—In East Essex, which had 6,600 electors, each party running his candidate could spend £1,400, whereas in Carnarvonshire, with 6,900 electors, they could spend only £700. What was the meaning of this? If anything, an election was more expensive in Carnarvonshire than in Essex, on account of the geographical conditions of the former county. The Attorney General might not be satisfied with this practical testing and manipulation of his Bill; but this was the whole question, and if the Bill could not stand this method of examination it was undeserving of the support of the House. It was, in his opinion, of the utmost importance that the House should understand the true meaning of the Bill, and that its various clauses should not pass unchallenged. He would now come to another set of counties. In Huntingdonshire, which had 3,955 electors, each party could spend £1,160; but in Pembrokeshire, with its 5,000 electors, each party could only spend £660. This was surely not practical legislation, but legislation run mad. It might be a rule of three or a rule of thumb; but it was not a rule of common sense. Then, comparing South Notts 1659 with the Isle of Wight; South Notts had a constituency of 4,879, and each party could spend £1,240; but in the Isle of Wight, which had a constituency of almost exactly the same number, each party might spend only £620. The results were the same in numerous other instances. He would now take a few of the borough constituencies, and, as an instance, take Banbury against Barnstaple. Banbury had 1,848 electors, and it was not allowed to spend more than £350. Barnstaple had 200 electors less, and yet each party could spend £700. Under the Bill, Cheltenham, with 5,000 electors, would be entitled to spend £470, while Cambridge, with 200 fewer electors, would have a right to spend just double that sum, two candidates running together. Again, if a man found that he was tied down to expending £500, when he could not do with less than £1,000, the effect would be that he would have to get a nominal Colleague; and thus they would have a system of "bogus" candidates, encouraged under a Bill professing to promote purity of election. They ought to have a practical measure that would do justice to all candidates and all concerned, and that would not put a man on a totally different scale from his neighbour. He believed that that Bill would press harshly on the honest and sensitive man, and but lightly on the unscrupulous man, who would evade it. What he would suggest was that, instead of taking the scale which the hon. and learned Gentleman had put into the Bill, they should have a scale allowing so much per head on the voters in the boroughs, and so much more in the counties; allowing, in the case of single constituencies and in bye-elections, 50 per cent in addition to the scale; so that, although they would not allow the man who stood alone at a bye-election to have double the expenditure that he might have if he had a Colleague, yet they would make a difference of 50 per cent; and that, he thought, would get rid of the ridiculous results that would be produced by the application of the Schedule in the Bill. He was sorry to say he thought this measure was slightly tainted with Party objects. The Attorney General had no sooner introduced the Bill than he was "interviewed" by a deputation headed by the pertinacious Member for Ipswich. (Mr. Jesse Collings), who, before 1660 the Bill had even been read a second time, entreated him not to withdraw it, or allow it to be tampered with in any way, because it was thought by the Liberal Party that it was bound up with their best interests. The hon. and learned Gentleman was thus besought not to permit the Tories to interfere with a measure with the success of which the best interests of the Liberal Party were avowedly bound up. He was sorry that the Liberals were making a Party question of this. At all events, the Conservative Party had never done so. He would say, in the words employed by the Prime Minister on a recent occasion, that this kind of legislation was demoralizing. It created offences and crimes rather than allayed them. The Bill was obnoxious in other respects also. In the first place, all these serious provisions were to follow on the decision of a single Judge, instead of on that of two Judges under the old system.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the hon. Gentleman was mistaken. Two Judges would still be required.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he would not, in that case, proceed with that point any further. But the Bill contained pitfalls—those which surrounded such words as agents, committee room, clerks, and messengers. There was not the slightest attempt at interpreting those terms. Before he sat down he was bound to say this—Why was it that this corrupt practices' legislation was not respected by the public? Because they did not believe that the Government were in earnest; because bribery prevailed in the highest Councils of the State; because the Government of the day committed it, sometimes in the most unblushing manner. He would give two instances of this—one affecting his own Party, and one the Party opposite. In 1866 a most distinguished man, now no more, was in want of a seat. Being a Law Officer of the Crown, it was essential that he should have it. What happened? A Member for an insignificant borough was induced to retire under promise of a Baronetcy. The Law Officer was elected to the vacancy, the retiring Member got the Baronetcy, and everybody knew that it was value received. He would take a later instance. An unfortunate Member of the present Government, having lost his seat at 1661 Chester, wanted a seat. How was it got? Somebody wanted a Peerage. This Member retired in favour of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and within a little more than 12 months he was created a Peer. Cause and consequence. In the face of such facts as those, how could they expect a country tradesman who received a favour from a Member to think anything of offending against this Act, when he saw acts of this sort done by Ministers of the Crown, in the face of day, and in the most unblushing manner, as if they were matters of course? Let them take another instance. How were all the Lord Lieutenancies of counties filled up? Were the most fit men appointed? No. The greatest politician on their own side got the appointment. At one time the Berkeley's had got power in the House of Commons. There were five or six of them in the House, and it was said that the Berkeleys could do anything. So they could. They gobbled up all the public offices in Gloucestershire. If the House took the Garters and other objects of ambition, it would be found that they fell to men who had boon politically useful. The other day he amused himself with looking through the list of Baronets. Out of 124 created since he commenced his political career in 1852, 63 represented Science, Art, Naval, and Military promotions, and retired Judges, persons who had done signal service to the State. The remaining 61 were purely Party appointments. What was the use of hypocrisy on this subject? The fact was that the whole course of public and Party life in this country, illustrated in various ways, was nothing more nor less than bribery—payment for value received and services rendered to Party. How could people be expected to respect laws of this kind when this kind of thing went on? The Bill, in his opinion, was grossly unjust, enormously severe, ridiculously unequal in its operation, and unworthy of support. The Government had been hammering at this Bill for the last three Sessions, and contemplated ending the Session in a blaze of glory, due to their efforts in the cause of electoral purity. But a Bill which would really bring about the desired result should be a just and not an unjust one, and should not, in its operation, be so obviously unequal as this was. With 1662 these few words, and with the fullest confidence that his protest would have no effect upon the minds of hon. Members opposite, and also that he should be thoroughly beaten, he begged leave to second the Motion that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Warton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
MR. GEORGE RUSSELL
said, that the subject was one which had interested him for a very long time. Before, however, he addressed himself to the question before the House, he wished to say a few words of a personal character. He had the honour of the acquaintance of the noble Lord whom the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had alluded to as having received the bribe of a Peerage. Everyone who knew the noble Lord must be aware that he was wholly incapable of seeking or receiving a bribe; and in his name, and on his behalf, he repudiated a suggestion so unfounded and so injurious. With reference to the Bill before the House, he believed there was no measure which was so strongly demanded in the country, both by electors and elected. Among the better sort of electors there was growing up all over the country a determination to rid themselves, at any cost, of the degrading tyranny of the purse. He believed there would be a very considerable doubt of the bona fides and the honesty of any Government which continued much longer to delay dealing strenuously with an evil which they had all condemned, but which they had done so little to check. On that side of the House there could be no doubt as to the desire for purity of elections. There were a great many hon. Members who were already making very heavy sacrifices in their profession, or in their business, in order to perform their Parliamentary duties efficiently; and they did not think it right that they should also be called upon to make heavy pecuniary sacrifices every six or seven years, or even oftener. It was impossible for the House, after the Commission of 1880, any longer to entertain the belief that even the old-fashioned form of direct bribery had fallen into disuse, while the 1663 indirect methods were notoriously numerous. The House would remember how the Report of that Commission mentioned a sum of £3 for putting up a pole with the candidate's colours upon it, £796 for rosettes, and so on. The diary of a candidate had fortunately been preserved by the same means; and there appeared in it the following entries respecting the wants and requirements of the voters:—A wants change of air. B very favourable, but poor. C promises, but wants a little drop. D—wife wants liquoring up.In addition to these there were the various kinds of bribery which occurred between the election times, when gentlemen desirous of representing a constituency gave parks, museums, and similar gifts. This was known as "salting" a borough. He had not intended to specify any particular case; but since the hon. Member opposite had mentioned names, he would refer to the practice which there existed on the part of the Conservative Party at Chester of paying a large portion of the expenses of a Conservative fête, towards which, in the year 1879, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) contributed £100. This was exactly the kind of corruption which contributed so very largely to the results they deprecated, and they were told it was almost impossible to check it. He believed this indirect mode of bribery would perish, by its very affinity to the profligate expenditure at election time, when once that expenditure had been stamped as not only criminal and immoral, but dangerous. The Bill would, no doubt, require to be amended in several of its details in Committee. There appeared to be too much risk, under the Bill, of a candidate being ruined by the malpractices of his agent; and he would be glad to see the responsibility of a Member for the acts of his agents limited and curtailed before the Bill passed into law. Then, in many places, especially in thinly populated boroughs, the number of polling places should be increased, if the conveyance of voters was to be prohibited; and, in his opinion, if the Bill prevented voters being brought up in hired carriages, it should not allow the rich man to use his own carriages for that purpose. Further, the rectification of the Register might well be undertaken by the State, instead of being left to the uncertain tribunal of the Revising Barrister. But these were questions of de- 1664 tail, which could be dealt with in Committee. He begged the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) not to be influenced by mock heroics or mock-pathetics on the question of penalties and expenditure. On the part of those who had long looked for a measure dealing effectively with corrupt practices, he thanked the hon. and learned Gentleman for a substantial boon. In 1877 the Prime Minister wrote that two circumstances struck him most forcibly and painfully in current politics—first, the constant advance of the money power; and, secondly, the reduction, almost to zero, of the chance of entering into Parliament of men who had nothing to rely on except their talents and character, nothing except the two qualities which stood before all others in the capacity of enabling men to render service to the State. That, the right hon. Gentleman said, was likely to lead to a serious amount of mischief; that it was debasing; that it was plutocracy in a most vicious form. Sharing in those views of the right hon. Gentleman, he would give his most hearty support to the Bill, believing that it would go very far to purify both the electoral system and the elected body.
§ MR. SHEIL
said, he intended to follow the example of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), and to enter a protest against this Bill, though on different grounds. He regretted that, as compared with the Bill of last year, this measure dealt much more leniently with offenders, although the modifications had probably been made in order to meet the views which were generally expressed last year. The clause relating to corruption through an agent or sub-agent ought to be much more stringent, so as to make it clear to a candidate that if he shut his eyes to an improper act by his agent or sub-agent he would be made to suffer heavily, and an agent or sub-agent likewise would not be guilty of any corrupt practice if he knew that, in addition to being heavily fined, he would be sent to prison. Under the heading "Illegal Practices" they had a series of new offences created which were called illegal hiring, illegal employment, and illegal payment. For these minor offences there was a mere fine of £100. The principle had been thrown overboard that on no pretext whatever should an elector take part in an election for 1665 payment, except as either agent or sub-agent. He admitted it was absolutely necessary that the best men should be appointed agents and sub-agents; but so far as the other officers were concerned, the polling clerks, messengers, &c., there was no necessity whatever for their being voters. Their task was chiefly mechanical, and could be performed by non-voters. An abuse which would continue under this Bill was what he had known to be done in Athlone—the employment by the candidate of persons who were likely to vote against him. Agents and sub-agents should be debarred from voting. He also regretted that the prohibition of placarding contained in the Bill of last year had been removed. He ventured to say that no elector had ever been induced to change his mind by one of those placards. With regard to the trial of Election Petitions, the custom of protracting legislation in this country throw so heavy a burden on the Judges that it would not be possible to have more than two Judges engaged in trying them. Besides, after a General Election a large sheaf of Petitions was usually presented. But in Ireland, where the judicial business was not very heavy, it would be quite practicable to have three Judges employed in trying Election Petitions. That was the more necessary, because in Ireland Judges were appointed as Party men, whereas in this country, happily, men were made Judges because of their knowledge of law. At present the Returning Officer could claim a sum of money beforehand by way of security. But once the money was handed over to the Returning Officer, it was sometimes found extremely hard to recover any portion of it. At his own election at Meath, which was not contested, he was obliged to sue a Returning Officer for a part of the money. He suggested, therefore, that the security might be lodged in the county bank, in the joint names of the candidate and the Returning Officer. It was clear to him that the framers of this Bill had chiefly in their minds the condition of England and Scotland, and gave little attention to the impoverished condition of Ireland, when settling the Schedule which set forth the proportion that a candidate's expenditure should bear to the number of votes. In England there were very few boroughs with less than 900 voters, and in 1666 Scotland there was only one. In Ireland, however, Dublin and Belfast were the only cities in which there were large numbers of electors. Next came Limerick, Waterford, Galway, and a few others. In Ireland there were at the present time two boroughs with less than 800 electors, two with less than 700, one with less than 600, five with less than 500, four with less than 400, six with less than 300, and two with less than 200. If one of the objects of the Bill was to prevent large expenditure at elections in Ireland, it was to be regretted that those by whom the Bill had been drafted had not kept these facts in view. Notwithstanding these criticisms, he should support the Bill, hoping that in Committee it might be made to resemble more closely the Bill introduced last year. The Irish Members did not expect that much direct benefit would accrue to Ireland through this measure; but, indirectly, good might result from it, for English Members would be sent to Parliament known more for their intelligence and capacity than for the length of their purses, who would be likely to give Members from Ireland a fair hearing in that House.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, he would give a general support to the Bill, because, although he believed it to have very great faults, it was clear that something must be done, and in these days it was difficult to get anything done. The Bill adopted two out of three possible courses dealing with corrupt practices. One course, which naturally could not now be adopted, was that of so enlarging the size of small constituencies that corruption should become impossible because useless. The Attorney General had preferred to adopt the course of, on the one hand, increasing the severity of penalties; and, on the other, of proposing the enactment of what was practically a sumptuary law. If the sumptuary law were enacted, they must be prepared to meet with, at all events, only the very qualified success which usually attended the operation of sumptuary laws, and he hoped that before they got to the Schedules in Committee, the Attorney General would give very serious consideration to the inconsistencies that had been exposed, and endeavour to bring about something like harmony. Of course, they all knew that before long there must be a revision 1667 of the present inequalities of representation by one Party or the other; but until that time, if they were to adopt the principle of restricting expenditure, let it be applicable with a decent amount of fairness to the state of affairs with which they now had to deal. He was sorry that in the matter of expenditure the Attorney General had not seen fit to pay more regard to the representation made to him in respect to printing expenses. That was one of the cases in which undue restrictions were proposed. They knew a great deal of money was spent on printing; but perhaps of all election expenses it was the least describable as corrupt. It might be said that here and there there were one or two individuals who had corrupt motives in their minds by the employment of printers; but in general the evil of restricting the means of circulating a candidate's addresses would outweigh the small amount of good which would be achieved by restricting the expenditure. The error which it appeared the Government were making was confounding large expenditure with corrupt expenditure. Everyone would wish to see elections cheap; but it did not necessarily follow that expenditure which was large was always corrupt, and in the case of printing an instance was to hand. Reference had been made to old stories about Conservative picnics, but he saw nothing in this Bill which would prevent any electoral inducements of that character. He should be glad to see something done to prevent the establishment of richly-endowed political clubs, with sumptuous billiard and dining rooms, at a merely nominal subscription, when the sole and obvious object was to bias the political views of young men and secure votes for one Party or the other. As he began by saying he should support this Bill, he would conclude by adding that he did not thereby pledge himself to all its principles, but would reserve to himself the right to examine it in Committee.
§ MR. CARBUTT
said, he wished the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had thrown less dirt, and had given the House more of argument. He would not, however, follow the speech of the hon. Member, except to say that all his argument was based on the present state of the constituencies. But he would remind the hon. Member, that when they had a re-arrangement of 1668 constituencies, they would have fewer small boroughs represented, and more Members would be given to larger boroughs, so that the inequality the hon. Member complained of would not then apply. From his (Mr. Carbutt's) own experience he was disposed to believe that there was a great, deal in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Londonderry as to local circumstances requiring a departure from the hard-and-fast rule as to expenditure. His constituency consisted of the three towns of Newport, Monmouth, and Usk, and having to move his committee altogether from one town to another, his expenses were much greater than they would be if three boroughs were in one. With respect to closing public-houses on the day of election, he trusted that the Government would embody the principle of his Bill in a clause in the present measure. He had practically carried the second reading of his Bill in that sense by 55 against 17; but he had been recommended to wait until the Corrupt Practices Bill was introduced, when the question could be more satisfactorily dealt with. This being the case, he considered he had a claim on the Government to make some provision on the subject. But if they did not do so, he should certainly introduce a clause and go to a division upon it; and he hoped he should have the support of the hon. Gentlemen who favoured his proposal two years ago, for he believed that a great deal of corruption would be prevented and public order benefited by closing public-houses when an election took place.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, the House had listened with satisfaction and interest to the very able and exhaustive speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis). No one could contest the accuracy of his statements, or the cogency of the arguments he drew from them. The Bill would, unquestionably, operate in a very unequal way. On some sections of the community it would press with great severity; on others it would have the opposite effect. But he feared all Bills dealing with corrupt practices would be liable to the same criticism. It was impossible to make a perfect measure. His opinion was that the Bill before the House was an honest and sincere attempt on the part of the Government to 1669 deal with a great and admitted evil. It was a difficult, detailed, and delicate subject. It would give rise to a good deal of discussion, and possibly to some delay; but he had no fear that the House would defeat the Bill. Laws against bribery were very much of the nature of the Pope's Bull against comets. As long as there were voters willing to sell there would be persons willing to buy, and vice versa. Political corruption was a very flexible offence. It easily adapted itself to the constantly-shifting conditions of social life. At one time it was open, flagrant, and avowed. At another time it was insidious, widespread, and impalpable. Formerly, a man bought a constituency just as he could buy a commission in the Army or a living in the Church. It was his property, and he did with it as he chose. When he was prevented from doing this, he bought individual voters, and paid for them at one pound a-head or five pounds a-head, according to circumstances. And having bought them, he could sell them. He could not do that now; but instead of buying individuals, a candidate bought classes or trades. A man, or body of men, went before the constituencies, and said to them—"Give us your support, furnish us with a majority in Parliament, and we will legislate in favour of your section of society in such a way as to allow it to be benefited to the extent of a certain number of pounds or shillings." This, in his judgment, was as an objectionable form of bribery as the open purchase of individual votes. Yet it was practised by all Parties, and was commended by them. And it was a perfectly legitimate course of political procedure in the estimation of the community at large. This Bill did not deal with that class of bribery. It would be difficult to draw a Bill that would. It was an unhealthy state of mind that produced this condition of things, and the only way in which it could be mended would be to elevate the character both of the constituencies and the population. When a healthier and purer political life existed, we might expect some betterance in this regard. In the same way, the forms of intimidation had altered. Formerly, a landlord told his tenants to vote for a given candidate, and they had no alternative but to obey. Tradesmen were ordered by their customers, and such workmen as possessed votes were ordered by their employers to 1670 vote in a specified direction; and they did so. This could not be done now, for the Ballot had put an end to it. But a new form of intimidation had arisen. Electoral societies had been scattered over the country. They were to be found in every constituency. They were not established for the promotion of any political principle, nor did they seek the repeal of an old and obnoxious law, or the enactment of a new and a good one. Their purpose was to get a certain political Party into Office, and to keep it there. The candidate or the Member who did not comply with their conditions was subjected to their intimidation. He was put in a political pillory and pelted with all the dirt that partizan prejudice could collect. If he was a poor man, he was compelled to submit. If he was a weak or a timid man, he was coerced into submission. These societies were a copy of the system of electioneering that existed in America. They had created a body of professional politicians—men who drove the electoral machine. In America it was matterless to these machine men what politics a candidate might hold. The same man worked the machine for a Democrat or a Republican. He believed the style of organization that had been established in this country would ultimately and inevitably lead to the creation of a like order of political society. It demoralized the electors and corrupted the Legislature. The Bill proposed to deal with the expenses at, before, and during an election. But these organizations were constantly incurring expenses with a view to damage a candidate or a Member who was not in accord with them. Their canvassing began very often months, even years, before a contest. He could cite a dozen or a score of places in this country where a systematic canvass during the last 18 months or two years had been carried on against Members who refused to wear the Party plush—who insisted upon being Representatives, and not Delegates—who had resolved to act as they thought, and not as they were told. He would like to ask the Attorney General how he proposed to deal with the kind of expenditure that was incurred by such bodies. It ought as clearly to come under the cognizance of the law as expenditure immediately preceding a contest. It was preparatory to a contest. He knew it was difficult to effect this; 1671 but what he wanted was to point out how impossible it was, by any law, however skilfully drawn, to reach the varying forms of political intimidation and corruption. He believed electoral corruption would never be abolished but in one way, and that was to throw the legitimate expense of a contest upon the constituencies and prohibit all other outlay. Some people said, throw the necessary expenses on the constituency. But if you allowed a candidate to incur necessary expenses, it led him to incur unnecessary ones. If you allowed him to incur legitimate, it led him to incur illegitimate ones. A candidate ought not to incur any cost. He knew he would not get the assent of Parliament to that doctrine; but he was satisfied, nevertheless, that it was the right one. The general theory was that a seat in Parliament was a prize to be struggled for and paid for. That theory was a very vicious one. He did not hold it. A seat in Parliament was a service to be rendered. A man could be nominated by his fellow-citizens for the office, or he might nominate himself; but the cost of returning him ought to be thrown absolutely and entirely upon the constituency, or, if they liked, on the State, as the work rendered was for the State, and not for the individual. Until they could screw up their courage to deal with electoral expenses in this way, they would never cure either bribery or intimidation. All the Bills they passed would be evaded or got over. The Bill before the House would mitigate the evils; and, so far as be was concerned, he would contribute cordially to amend it in Committee, and to pass it in the best form it could be worked into. He had no hope that either it or any other measure of a like kind would accomplish the result which some expected from it. As long as ever candidates were allowed to pay for anything at election times, means would be found to twist that payment in an illegal direction. He would vote for the second reading of the Bill, and give it his best consideration in Committee.
§ BARON DE FERRIERES
said, he had on the Paper an Amendment in the following terms:—That the only remedy against corrupt practices is the abolition of small constituencies, and it is, therefore, inexpedient to proceed with the Bill until the whole question of the extension of franchise and Redistribution of Seats is submitted to the House.1672 He regretted that the Rules of the House precluded him from moving that Amendment; but he was convinced that its terms forshadowed the true method of dealing with electoral corruption. He desired, however, to make some observations in opposition to the Bill. The object of the Bill appeared to be twofold—namely, to reduce the expenditure at elections, and to put a stop to corrupt practices. He thought it a mistake to press the Bill forward at present. The desire to reduce expenditure rested upon the fallacy that it was possible to make things cheaper by legislation; but so long as every constituency was run after by two or three candidates, with their pockets full of money, it was idle to suppose that any legislation could materially reduce expenditure. Taking the case of printing, the Attorney General last Session proposed to limit the expense to £150; but in the heat of an election, as the polling day drew near, both parties were driven into issuing posters and circulars, the expense of which it was impossible to limit to £150. It was useless to rely on public opinion to put down the evils of the present system, for sharp practice on the one side or the other only elicited admiration or amusement. Tradition had created a sort of vested interest in the expenditure of money at elections. Stories were current of the lower orders being willing to sell their votes for 5s., but the same spirit showed itself in higher grades. It was the practice at such times for the most respectable members of the Press to charge double for the advertisements known as election advertisements, and tradesmen also considered themselves entitled to charge more than their usual prices. The returned costs of an election were nothing like the actual expenditure. The last General Election cost about £3,000,000. Speaking broadly, out of that£3,000,000, £1,000,000 went into the pockets of the lawyers and the hangers-on of their offices. Then £1,500,000 might be put down as having gone in irregular practices, that was to say, not so much in direct bribery, as in treating, and in conveyances, watchers, boardmen, and other items of that kind. Of this £1,500,000, he believed the great bulk returned into the pockets of the publicans. The result of his calculation was, that of the £3,000,000, only one-sixth, or £500,000, was spent in a 1673 legitimate manner. There being about 3,000,000 of electors in the United Kingdom the expenditure amounted to about £1 per head. The legitimate expenses seldom exceeded 2s. 6d. a-head; but allowing another 2s. 6d. for such expenses, he said that anything over 5s. per head was money spent on corrupt and irregular practices. If the candidate was a local man, he knew pretty well how things were worked; but many Members were not resident candidates, but men of position anxious to obtain a seat in that House. They made up their minds to pay, though they might afterwards be surprised at the amount of the hill; but they paid the money and asked no questions. There was much money spent improperly and indirectly which could not be touched by any laws that were made. The only effectual remedy for corruption was large constituencies. Where they had a large constituency they were not left at the mercy of a hundred or two of disreputable electors, who sold their votes for beer or money, and were able to turn the scale at the election. He looked upon it that the Bill, instead of having the desired effect, would seriously aggravate matters, because no respectable solicitor would act as election agent; and, on the other hand, the Bill was so complicated that it would be most difficult to steer clear of the many pitfalls which would beset the candidate. Under the Bill a candidate must have recourse to a third or fourth-rate solicitor whose practice was worth little, and who, if he found a Petition was lodged against the return in which he was concerned, would go away to America, and the candidate would have to keep him, thus increasing expenditure. One result of the Bill would be, of course, materially to reduce the legal and returnable expense of elections, but greatly to increase secret and irregular expenditure. Months after the election, perhaps, the candidate would find that some of his friends had spent £2,000 or £3,000 in his cause, and, of course, as a man of honour he would not like them to be losers. It was a custom which had been winked at, if not actually permitted, by the Election Judges that a candidate was allowed to invite his committee and his supporters to dinner so long as it was done to a moderate extent and there was nothing that was likely to demoralize the con- 1674 stituency. Under -the present Bill nothing of that sort would he allowed, or, at least, the penalties would be so severe, that nobody would venture to sit down to an entertainment of that kind, because, not only the candidate himself who invited them, but every one of the guests, would be liable to heavy fine and imprisonment. On the other hand, the brewers would be able to treat the electors all the year round in a quiet way. If they wanted to strike an effective blow against the evils that existed they must alter completely the system of municipal elections. A constant system of treating went on at those elections, which took place every six months—that for Guardians in spring, and that for Municipal Councils in autumn—and he would suggest that these bodies should be elected for six years, the elections taking place triennially. One of the best remedies also for the present evil was the establishment of large constituencies, and he would suggest that this Bill should be put off until the question of the extension of the franchise and the redistribution of seats could be dealt with as a whole. As regarded canvassing, that ought to be put a stop to altogether. Instead of large penalties being inflicted, he believed that a number of small fines would prove much more efficacious. He would only add that he looked upon the support given to this measure by the Conservatives as suspicious, and as an indication that it would work in their favour, for the Conservatives were wise in their generation and always had an eye to the benefit of their Party; whereas the Liberals often neglected their Party interests and acted only on principle—as, for example, in promoting restrictions on the publicans which drove them into the arms of the Conservatives.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he thought the Bill was a fair and legitimate attempt for remedying the evils which the Inquiry that took place after the last General Election sufficiently demonstrated. It would certainly get rid of three great causes of those evils—namely, paid canvassers, the cost of advertising, and the conveyance of voters to the poll. There was one defect in the present law which ought to be altered. He should like to see a clause defining what was meant by agency, as he thought the Election Judges had gone far beyond the 1675 limits of the Common Law in the interpretation which they put upon it. That point was not dealt with by the Bill, and he should be grateful to any hon. Member who would suggest anything like a remedy for that evil. In his opinion there could be no doubt that the Bill was a great improvement on the one introduced last year.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Sir, I congratulate the House upon the common-sense remarks of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory). I was glad to hear him bring back the House to a sense of duty in respect to what has been a crying evil for a great number of years. The tone of the debate had rather, if I may say so, lowered itself almost into an apology for bribery and corrupt practice. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) was correct in saying the public would not believe we are in earnest if we believe that bribery is an inevitable evil which it is beyond the power of legislation to alleviate. If we are to believe that this mode of purchasing votes, this inducing a man to discharge a solemn trust on the most miserable and contemptible motives, is inseparable from our electoral system, then the character of the English people has sunk low indeed, and we need not pride ourselves 60 much upon our Constitution. I believe, on the contrary, that these evils can be grappled with—not rooted out, not eradicated perhaps—but the disgraceful abuses that took place during the last General Election, and were revealed by the Election Commissioners, can, to a great extent, be prevented, and they can be prevented only in one way, and that the way the Attorney General has adopted in this Bill—the way of punishing the man who finds the money. I do not believe so much in punishing the man who receives it. Any man knows when he signs a cheque or finds the money for illegal purposes; and all rich men who purchase their way into the House, we, in the interest of the whole country, ought to discountenance as much as we can. So far as the Bill throws obstacles in the way of the rich man finding his way into the House, I hail it with the greatest possible satisfaction and pleasure. No doubt, there are suggestions which I shall be prepared to make in Committee, and with which it is not necessary for me to 1676 trouble the House at this stage; but I should like to impress on the Attorney General, if, in drawing up this Bill, he has allowed the pendulum to swing in the other direction, that to make penalties too severe, to make the law too stringent, lessens the hope of satisfactorily applying it. It is also a mistake to put offences of a different grade of criminality in the same line. A man who gives another £5, and the man who purchases a rosette, to induce a man to vote, ought not to be subject to the same punishment. I shall not waste the time of the House on these matters now; but they will have to be treated in Committee, but there are two matters of principle to which I will draw attention. The first has reference to what the hon. Member for Londonderry has alluded to, the conveyance of voters to the poll. Now I take it our objection is twofold. We not only wish to prevent illegal expenditure, but also to remove all unfair pressure that prevents a man of limited means taking his seat in the House; but, as it now stands, so far as the conveyance of voters is concerned, it gives a direct advantage, a direct premium to the rich man, and places the man of moderate means at a disadvantage. I am prepared to adopt one of two principles, either to prohibit or to permit the conveyance of voters. I object to permitting a rich man to lend a carriage, and prohibiting a man of moderate means from hiring one. Here let me put a concrete instance. Just suppose a vigorous enthusiastic candidate—I will not say of either Party; he may be Liberal or Conservative—is driving round on an election day in a Hansom cab. He calls on a voter—"Well, Jack, been up to vote yet?" "No, I have not; the fact is, I've sprained my ankle and cannot walk." "Oh, jump into my cab, I'll drive you to the poll." Well, the man votes, there is an inquiry, the election is set aside, the candidate cannot sit again for 10 years, and the man himself is subject to penalties. Now, suppose another candidate is driving round in his brougham and he accosts a voter—"Good morning, Tom; been to the poll yet?" "No, I'm not going to walk." "Then get into my carriage and I'll drive you." He does, and votes, and it is a perfectly legal proceeding. Now this is an unfair administration of the law. If it is right for the rich man 1677 to place his carriage at the disposal of one party to bring up voters, it is equally right for the man of moderate means to hire for the day a number of carriages for the same purpose. I know in certain localities one party will have more carriages than the other, and I dare say the Attorney General will give us the instance of the hon. Member for Hereford, when farmers and tradesmen placed all kinds of vehicles at his disposal; but in boroughs you must have carriages lent or hired. There are many ways of evading the clause. A rich man might buy up all the conveyances one day on the condition that they are to be brought back at a moderate figure the week afterwards; and I say you must either do away with this distinction, or you must do away entirely with conveyance of voters. I do not say which. You do not allow a candidate to give a voter a glass of wine or a lunch on election day; why should you allow him to give the use of his carriage? If you allow the rich man to do this, then you must allow the man of limited means to hire. The other point to which I would refer is the tribunal. The hon. Member for Londonderry incorrectly stated that the Attorney General proposes to abolish the two Judges, going back on the system of one Judge. I regret that he has not done so, not that I subscribe to the hon. Member's opinion, But I object to a man's character, position, and station in Parliament being placed at the mercy of one Judge. It would be far better to try before one Judge and allow an appeal to the Court of Appeal, instead of having in every case two Judges, like the old custom at the Old Bailey, when two Judges sat with the Lord Mayor. The only other point I need mention is that of agency. It ought not to be dealt with as a non possumus; the ingenuity of the Committee ought to be brought to bear to see if in some mode or shape we could not limit or define an act of agency to limit the extraordinary, the extravagant extent to which Judges have carried the doctrine of agency, which practically places a man at the mercy of 800 or 900 men nominally his committee. With reference to the general principles of the Bill, I feel that I must put in just one word as to what has been said with regard to the lower classes being associated with bribery. 1678 I believe that there is no class in this country so interested in putting down bribery, and that there is no class so determined to put it down, as the working classes of this country. I am quite sure that any hon. Member who represents a working-class constituency will know that what I state is correct, and that there is no class which is so anxious to put down the practice of bribing as the working class. I trust that in Committee this Bill will be made a most satisfactory measure, both to the country generally and the constituencies, and that it will wipe out of the annals of the House of Commons a feature which has impaired and tarnished its lustre for a great many years.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, his great fear was that when the Bill came to be practically tested it would be found that it did not limit electioneering expenses in a reasonable way. Although it might be very laudable to desire that poor people should be admitted to the House of Commons, yet it was equally necessary that expenditure should not be so limited as to prevent an election being properly conducted. The Bill, however, curtailed the maximum amount of expenditure allowed in such a way as not to allow for those which it actually permitted to be incurred. In a constituency like that which he had the honour to represent (East Surrey), one agent would be allowed with nine deputy agents, 52 clerks, 52 messengers, and 46 committee rooms. If he paid 100 guineas to the head agent, and small sums to the other persons employed, and moderate sums for the various committee rooms, the total would amount to at least £1,330, assuming the election to last for a month; while, as the total maximum expenditure allowed according to the present number of his constituency being only £1,380, it would leave only £50 for printing, stationery, postage, telegrams, the hire of rooms for public purposes, and the like—a sum that was absurdly inadequate, especially when it was remembered that it cost just upon £100 to post a single letter to each constituent. It would be almost impossible to conduct an election in the manner prescribed by the Bill. The great error into which the Attorney General had fallen was in confusing corrupt with legal expenses; while among other points requiring consideration was this one—that no distinction was made 1679 between a contest in which one candidate on each side was engaged, and another in which two on each side were fighting, and no allowance was made for the varying circumstances under which an election might take place with respect to length of time. A measure of this sort should be practical above all things, or it would be useless; and the Bill, if only it were conceived in a more practical spirit, would be a good one. He should support the second reading as a matter of principle, and in the hope that the unsatisfactory clauses might be withdrawn or amended in Committee.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that while he welcomed any measure which would purify elections, still he should say he regarded with suspicion a proposal which gave the power of administering this Act to Irish Judges. They might be perfectly satisfied with English Judges, but the Irish people were not satisfied with their Judges. Some of the Irish Judges, no doubt, were excellent men; but there were some in whom the people had no confidence, and the result would be that while the people had the power of electing Members the Judges in Ireland would have a power of ostracizing from public life for 10 years the Members in whom the Irish people had confidence. Some Irish Judges might have extraordinary ideas as to what was undue influence; they might imagine that a man in whom the whole of Ireland had full confidence exercised thereby an undue influence on the people; and for this reason he should object to the provision which took away from jurors the privilege of saying what undue influence was, and intrusting that power to Judges. There were other objections to this Bill, amongst which was one to the effect that a candidate might be disqualified because he did not appoint an election agent, but took the matter into his own hands. Bat, on the other hand, if he did provide himself with all the machinery which was contemplated in the Bill, a single flaw in any part of it would lose the candidate his seat. This Bill was brought in to check the evils of a system of bribery and treating which prevailed in England, and of which there was very little in Ireland, and on that ground Irish Members would be justified in watching very narrowly the progress of the Bill in Committee.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, he regarded the Bill as an honest endeavour to deal with a pressing and crying evil, and should therefore be sorry if it were opposed by the Members of his Party, who were as interested as their opponents in stopping bribery and corruption, the dealing with which ought never to be come a Party question. He recognized the good faith with which the Attorney General had considered Amendments suggested by Members of the Opposition, and he was sure he would accept any further Amendments which would be an improvement to the Bill. He was not going on the present occasion to discuss the clauses of the Bill, many of which he had no doubt would require considerable amendment; but one of the principles of the Bill which struck him as worthy of the attention of the House was the question of agency. The Attorney General had said, and perhaps very truly said, that there was nothing so difficult to define as the Law of Agency; but to his (Mr. Whitley's) mind this Bill did interpret the Law of Agency to the detriment of innocent candidates. In his own constituency (Liverpool), one of the largest in the Kingdom, there were 128 districts. Now, he should be very willing to be liable for the acts of an agent appointed by himself; but this Bill went further, and if a man either volunteered his services, or was appointed by an agent, it would be so governed by the provisions of this Bill that such a person would undoubtedly become his agent. He wished to point out to the Attorney General the very great difficulty the candidate would be placed in in those circumstances. An agent not appointed by himself but by the election agent became an agent. It was very difficult indeed to get a set of men together to act properly as agents. He believed the 120 men who would be appointed under this Bill would very much prejudice a candidate. It was, to his mind, a very serious thing for any gentleman seeking to represent a constituency to feel that his personal honour was at the mercy of any of those men. Although he might not be breaking the law himself, although he might wish to prevent bribery, yet if it was done on the part of one of these men they might disfranchise any one in the House. Therefore, they were all concerned in the Bilk As it at present stood, an act 1681 on the part of one of these agents would disqualify a candidate from sitting. This was a Bill to which any Member was subject, but much more was it the case in the instance of a large constituency. He thought there should be no responsibility on a candidate for the acts of those over whom he had no control. It was a very serious matter in deciding the Law of Agency to make a man directly responsible by this Bill for the acts of those over whom he could have no possible control, and he thought they were placing Members of the House in the greatest peril by this provision of the Bill as it stood. It appeared hard that some of the 240 agents or sub-agents should imperil the candidate, because by this Bill the candidate was made directly responsible. These were questions which all of them felt very much, and he should be very glad indeed if the Attorney General could see his way to limit the responsibility of innocent candidates for the acts of thoughtless men, or men for whom they were really not responsible. For his own part, he did not care for strengthening the penalties against the candidates. He would make the law as strong as possible, so strong indeed that men would be afraid to commit a breach of the law or an act of bribery; but he did think they owed something to themselves as men anxious to put down bribery, anxious by the Bill to make bribery almost impossible, and yet at the same time anxious that their own interests might not be imperilled by the conduct of others. This was the point to which he would direct the attention of the Attorney General. If he saw the peril that candidates were placed in by the Bill in its present position, the hon. and learned Gentleman would amend it; and he did trust that when the Bill went into Committee, and Amendments were proposed to limit the responsibility of candidates for acts over which they had no control, he would consider this the main point in the Bill, because he (Mr. Whitley) was one of those who would do his best to put down bribery and corruption. He thought every hon. Gentleman in the House—he was sure that those sitting on the Opposition Benches were as strongly opposed to corruption and bribery as anyone on the Government Benches, and he hoped the time was not far distant when bribery 1682 and corruption would be no Party question—when men of every Party would try to put it down. The observations made by his hon. Friends behind him that, because the Bill was introduced by the Government, there should be suspicion with regard to it, he did not endorse; and, for his part, he believed the Attorney General had met those statements. He believed it was an honest endeavour to deal with a pressing and crying evil, and he should be sorry if Members on the Opposition side of the House were to oppose the second reading. He believed they desired it to pass, and, therefore, he hoped and trusted the second reading would be carried, and that when the Amendments to the Bill came to be considered the Attorney General would see his way to meet the requirements of the case in the direction which he (Mr. Whitley) had pointed out.
§ COLONEL KINGSCOTE
said, he was in favour of the second reading, for no one could be more anxious than he was to see a stop put to bribery; but he thought that before the Bill was passed it ought to be in a workable shape, which at present it was not. It appeared to him that the Bill was drawn more for boroughs than for counties. The Schedule of expenses was drawn in too hard a line. In West Gloucestershire, for instance, which he represented, there were 28 polling districts. If the polling agents, sub-agents, and messengers were represented by a moderate sum per day, and then compared with what was allowed for the actual number of voters, the sum required would be a great deal more than was permitted in the Schedule of the Bill. The Attorney General relied greatly upon volunteer work. In towns competent volunteers might be obtained; but in counties men who understood their work properly could not be procured, and if the work was not systematically done it might be less efficient and cost more than the services of those who understood their work and were bound to do it. He trusted these provisions of the Bill would be made a little more elastic in Committee.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he thought their best acknowledgments were due to Her Majesty's Government for having, even, if rather late in the day, exhibited some practical vigour in their desire to push this question to a settlement. He wished, 1683 however, that the three years which had elapsed since the General Election had been employed rather more carefully by the Attorney General and those who acted with him in endeavouring to modify and amend the measure which was now before the House. Still he admitted that the present measure was a decided improvement on the Bill of last Session. Practically the Bill might be divided into three parts. First, there was the part relating to the extending of punishments for corrupt practices; secondly, there was the part relating to the creation and definition of new illegal practices; and, thirdly, there was the Schedule dealing with the question of electioneering expenditure. The whole importance of the Bill was contained, as in a lady's letter, in the postscript. The real and main object of the Bill was rather to reduce the expenditure at elections than to produce any other effect upon them. It was a most laudable object to seek to reduce electioneering expenditure, which was, at present, a great deal in excess of what it ought to be. But, after the terrible process of evisceration to which his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) submitted the Schedule, he thought it was a pity that the Government had not more fully considered their scheme, and had not proposed some system for regulating election expenses that was open to less objection. After the exposure which his hon. Friend had made of the inequalities and absurdities of the Schedule, he hoped the Government would not press its precise provisions upon the House. If the Attorney General would incorporate in the Bill the Preamble and some of the provisions of the measure of last year, by which it was proposed to deal with corrupt boroughs, they would have before them in a complete and intelligible form the real mind of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the question of corrupt practices at elections. He should be sorry to accuse the Attorney General of anything like insincerity, as he knew how painful it must be for anyone who sat for the borough which his hon. and learned Friend represented to come forward as the exponent of anything like austerity in dealing with electioneering. He must say, however, that the action of hon. and learned Gentleman in his 1684 peculiar position was that of an extremely patriotic Minister, and he hoped if Taunton was to be represented in future, that it would at least be represented by a Minister equally patritic. Although the Bill did not impose penalties on persons who had been guilty of corrupt practices in the past, he would not now propose to stay its progress on that account; but he submitted to the Government that they were putting the cart before the horse, and that they might find it difficult to get the cart through Parliament when they had not placed the horse before it. The present Government, since they had been in Office, had shown a very laudable and noble animosity against persons committed of corrupt practices. Certain unfortunate men had been dragged before the tribunals and sentenced to terrible penalties. Sentences of exceptional severity had been passed upon the bribers of Macclesfield and Sandwich; but those boroughs had no friends, because nobody of importance could be compromised or injured by any revelations in regard to them. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Home Secretary, with Spartan virtue, should have refused to mitigate the sentences passed on those unfortunate people. The discussions on this Bill would be regarded in the country as perfunctory, and the constituencies would entirely decline to believe in the reality of the debates in that House when no penalty had been dealt out, he did not say to individuals, but to boroughs which had been conspicuous for corrupt practices at the last General Election. Having had himself to give a good deal of attention to the circumstances of those boroughs, and having been examined before one of the Commissions, he had been looking from that moment to the present for some expression of the public virtue of Her Majesty's Government with regard to those particular constituencies. The measure introduced last year with a view to dealing with what were called the peccant boroughs was withdrawn from the consideration of the House before it had been fully discussed. He thought a measure more unequal or unjust had never been submitted to the consideration of Parliament. This year the Prime Minister told them that the question of the peccant boroughs was to be postponed till after the passing of the 1685 present Bill. Therefore, they would have passed their Bill without recognizing the political and electioneering offences which had given rise to it. Could it be supposed that any Parliament would act so entirely in contravention of the plain rules of common sense? He desired, therefore, to obtain from the Government some precise declaration that they would, before this Bill became law, give the House an opportunity of pronouncing upon the cases of these boroughs. If the boroughs were innocent, let them be absolved. He believed a good case could be made out for more than one of those boroughs. But if the boroughs were guilty, let the Government show that they were in earnest by dealing with them as if they were guilty. With regard to the present measure, he would comment, firstly, on the provision relating to the modification of the penalties to be imposed on persons found guilty of corrupt practices. Very few persons would wish to make those penalties more severe. But the question with the Government was rather how far they would defend the position they took up in a former Session of imposing on the persons found guilty of any of those practices the greater penalties which they now admitted to be undeserved. Another point to which he wished to draw attention was that the conviction of persons before a Judge at the trial of a Petition was to have the same effect as conviction before a jury. It was a novel principle that the Court which was convened for another purpose, that of inquiring into the propriety of an election, should have the new duty cast upon it of trying persons for election offences and imposing a serious penalty upon them. That was a matter which might well occupy the House in Committee. The better and more effective course would be for the Judge then and there to commit for trial any person who appeared to have been guilty of corrupt practices. That method would be more consonant to justice and the principles of English law than that which was proposed by the Bill. He had already said that the main object of the Bill was to diminish the expenditure at elections. There could be no doubt that elections had become purer, and one of the circumstances coincident with that increased purity had been that, while gross and old-fashioned bribery had 1686 gone out of vogue, there had grown up an irregular and illegitimate expenditure which this Bill sought to curtail; but, in curtailing that expenditure, the Government were likely to cause the revival of the older and grosser forms of corruption. The Bill would make it impossible for a man of character to become an election agent. Enthusiastic and imperfectly-instructed persons would act as agents for what they could get, or for nothing; and candidates well knew that there was no more dangerous man than the enthusiastic' greengrocer, who indiscriminately spent his half-crowns. There was a danger lest in making elections cheap the House should make them extremely nasty. He was not now under the necessity of seeking the representation of a borough; but the Attorney General would appreciate the danger of employing volunteer agents in the delicate work of managing an election. There were most careful provisions made as to the single agent and the precise number of sub-agents. The provision as to the sub-agents was preposterous. In the constituency which he represented for 12 years—the constituency of Chester—according to the Bill, only 10 messengers and clerks would be allowed. That meant only one clerk or messenger for each polling district. The staff absolutely necessary for such a borough would be at least 100, or 10 to each polling district. He therefore ventured to dismiss the Schedule relating to the number of those officers as absolutely incompatible with the satisfactory working of any election. Besides, while it starved the legitimate machinery of elections by thus limiting the number of persons to be employed within the constituency, it opened an enormous field for persons who were not the agents of the candidate, but the agents of some particular organization. He found nothing to prevent 40 or more of those highly respectable young men from Birmingham who were interested in the conduct of elections upon strong "purity" principles from doing whatever they liked, whether in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) or in the name of that organization of which the President of the Board of Trade was at one time, but no longer, so intimately connected. Whatever might be the particular form of political doctrine which they proposed to exemplify 1687 in their manipulation of elections, it was certain that "where the carcase was there would the eagles be gathered together." The Bill thus did not deal with what was the growing evil, the cancer of our political system. If, however, the Government failed to deal in some effective way with those agents of central organizations who were not deterred by any penalties, and to make it impossible for persons of that sort to interfere with elections, they would simply be pouring water through a sieve, and placing in a position of danger, and possibly of disgrace, the unhappy man whose ambition prompted him to seek a seat in the House of Commons. It was the men who did the dirty work of those organizations, and who ran no risk, who were bringing discredit upon political life in this country; and in failing to deal with that evil the Bill would fail of what ought to be one of its main purposes.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, and would do his best to help in passing it this year. If it did not pass the country would have a well-founded suspicion that the House, and, still more, the Government, were not very much in earnest in the matter. Every year that passed without a good Bill on that subject made it more difficult to deal with the agents of corruption. It was, therefore, most desirable that both sides of the House should join their efforts in carrying out the measure in a sound and practical form. He wished on the present occasion to suggest a few Amendments which he should desire to see embodied in the Bill. But he would first express his satisfaction that a clause to which he had objected in the former Bill had been withdrawn. The former Bill contained a provision for the trying of Election Petitions by a single Judge, and he was glad that that clause had been dropped, as he was sure it would have been a dangerous and invidious position for a single Judge to occupy. Doubts might be thrown upon his impartiality, and it was much better that the responsibility should be divided. With regard to the trial by two Judges, he was at issue with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He had been engaged in seven Election Petitions in the year 1880, and in every one of them the two Judges had taken 1688 an active part in deciding those Petitions. But there were two or three matters in the Bill which would have to be altered if it was to make a useful enactment. Among the more objectional features of the Bill were those relating to licensed victuallers. He thought those sections were unfair, and that there was not the smallest occasion for them. They seemed to be only another attempt on the part of the Liberal Party to insure the continued opposition of that trade which they so persistently assailed. He did not, however, intend to repeat his remarks of last year with respect to that matter; but he would call attention first to the 36th section of the Bill, which introduced an entirely new process with regard to Election Petitions, and one the adoption of which he believed would be fatal to the administration of the Law of Election Petitions altogether. That section provided that the Election Judges should have it as their duty, not only to decide whether the election into which they were inquiring was a valid election or not, but they were to sit as a Criminal Court for the trial of everyone who appeared before them, against whom any charge of corrupt practices was formulated, and pass sentences on offenders. Then, again, under Sub-section 7, by the direction of the Public Prosecutor, a barrister or a solicitor might be sent down invested with the powers of a Court of Session, in addition to the powers under the Act, and could imprison for a period not exceeding three months, or inflict a fine of £200. He ventured to say that those sections would either be disregarded altogether, or it would be impossible to carry out Election Petition arrangements. Then, again, the Special Commission appointed by Section 40 would consitute a Court as novel as it was unnecessary, and there could be absolutely no justification for it. Passing, however, from these points, he desired to mention to the House four Amendments which it was his intention to suggest. The first had been brought to his notice by a high authority, and related to the interval which elapsed between entering into recognizances by the parties to a disputed Election Petition and the presenting of the Petition. At present, when an election took place and a Petition was lodged, no recog- 1689 nizances need be entered into until 21 days afterwards. That interval afforded scope for communications and diplomatic overtures between the contending parties, and if the bargain was successfully made the recognizances were never completed. He would suggest that the recognizances should be entered into at the time of presenting the Petition, and then the Court would have a considerable sum of money—£2,000 or so—to deal with according to its discretion, and if the Court saw reason to believe that there had been corrupt practices, it could insist on having the Petition tried out. In the second place, he would limit the inquiry which should take place into what had happened at the then election, and would forbid any inquiry into past offences. That would give those boroughs where there had been corrupt practices a fair start, and was the only way in which they could hope to induce them to enter on a course of electoral purity. It was a mistake to suppose it was desirable to increase the severity of existing penalties; that would only defeat the object they had in view. It was very difficult to get rid of the sympathy felt towards those who committed acts of bribery; and in that view he must bear testimony to the firmness of the Home Secretary in refusing to remit the sentences inflicted on the offenders at Macclesfield and Sandwich. If any persons ought ever to be punished at all, it was clear that such flagrant cases ought not to be passed by unnoticed. But what they wanted in the case of a corrupt election was an immediate inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining how far that corruption extended, and who were guilty of it, and not an inquiry as it was at present got up by the other side for the purpose of unseating the sitting Member. It was often arranged between the two parties that just so much evidence should be produced to unseat the Member, and no more, since neither side desired that the general corruption of the borough should be exposed and an inquiry invited. On one occasion when he was counsel he had asked the Judges whether he should produce further evidence in support of the existence of corrupt practices after a seat had been abandoned by the opposite party, and he had been told that it was not necessary; the issue which the Judges had been sent 1690 down to try was determined, and there was an end of the matter. In order to try the Petition, let them send down two barristers as Commissioners to inquire. These barristers ought to have powers to call for papers, and to summon witnesses and examine them. Then let them report to the High Court of Justice whether, in their opinion, the election was a pure one, and ought to stand. Let there be an appeal by either side against their judgment. He believed they would not find there was an appeal in nine cases out of ten, because, after the facts were got at, the man whose seat was assailed would know that it would only be throwing away money to fight. In that way they would save the time of the Judges, and arrive at a solution of the immediate question whether the man elected ought still to retain the seat. He would be glad if he were allowed to make a useful contribution to this legislation in getting the clause she had thus sketched incorporated in the Bill. It had been said over and over again, and the fact was perfectly evident, that the present Law of Agency was in a terrible condition. It was really shocking the risk a man ran, because it was not only the time and the labour, and might be thousands of pounds spent, but the fact that the man went away from the Court branded with the imputation that he had been trying to bribe a constituency, and liable to be met whenever he appealed to another by placard and denunciation—"This is the man who was turned out for corruption," although there was not a word of insinuation against the man personally, and although, on the contrary, he had striven with all his might to preserve complete the purity of the whole proceeding. It was difficult indeed to frame a definition of agency; but there was a way in which the matter might be dealt with at once. There was a good deal to be said in favour of the Committee of the House of Commons as the tribunal to try Election Petitions, as compared with the Judges. The Judges found themselves bound by strict rules—and they had made those rules stricter for themselves—but the Committees of the House of Commons did give something like equitable consideration to the matters brought before them. Now, could they not get both advantages—the trained intellect of the 1691 Judges, and their reputation for impartiality, together with the equitable power exercised by the Committees? He thought they could. On this point he would like to fortify himself by the opinion of one of their greatest Judges. Lord Bramwell was examined before the Committee of 1875, and was asked this—In general, what is your opinion of the success of the Act of 1868?—I think it has been successful. …. I do not know of any decision which you could say was wrong. The most doubtful one that I know of was decided by the full Court of Common Pleas, where they unseated a man. I do not presume to say it was wrong, but it was under very cruel circumstances (the Bristol election petition). As to the election law itself, it has been suggested to the Committee that the law of agency is very harsh upon the candidate. Do you agree in that suggestion?—It is very harsh. Do you see any means of mitigating it without letting in a worse evil?—Yes, there is one thing I always thought ought to be done. … I think where there has been bribery or treating by an agent, and the Judge is satisfied that the member was not a party to the act, and is also satisfied affirmatively that the election has not been affected by bribery (I do not mean by that particular act of bribery, but by bribery in general), I think the Judge ought to have a discretion, not to unseat. …. If there were an act of bribery by an agent to which the candidate was not a party, and. I was satisfied that that was not one of many, the others of which had not reached mo, I should like to be enabled to continue the member in his seat.He would submit to the House an Amendment on the clause providing, in words similar to those of the learned Judge, that where the Judges reported that they were satisfied that the act of bribery proved was contrary to the instructions and adverse to the desires of the candidate, and of his recognized agents, and where they found that the result of the election was not in any way affected by bribery, there would be power to retain the Member in his seat, although at the same time, perhaps, charging him with the cost incurred. They could not treat the case as a frivolous one if the person offering the Petition had proved that there had been one or two cases of bribery; but they might protect the Member elected from the tremendous penalty of losing his seat as well as the costs he had incurred. He was anxious to mention these substantial Amendments on the second reading, because he was only too ready and willing to do what be could to help to get the Bill on the Statute Book in a satisfactory form. He hoped, therefore, 1692 that it would be seen that be bad made the suggestions he had introduced in a spirit of the strongest friendship to the Bill, and that the Government would see their way during the next few days to give their support to some of them.
§ MR. WADDY
said, he did not at all agree with the fears of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) that this Bill would make agency wider than it was at present. The Law of Agency, as it existed, was so loose and wide that he thought the Bill would rather do a great deal towards contracting it, and placing it upon a safer and sounder footing. He did not think this or any Bill could entirely prevent corruption; but he believed it could and would do what legislation had done in times gone by in regard to other matters. It was a very common but a very false statement that they could not legislate people into morality. Legislation tended to form public opinion, and he believed this Bill would tend to form public opinion on the question of bribery and corruption. As long as they found people ready to give extravagant sums, they would find people ready to take them. He very much regretted that there should have been, on the part of one or two Members on either the one side or the other, a disposition to introduce anything like Party, and, what was worse, personal spirit in the consideration of this Bill. But since that was done, it was a remarkable fact that it was done by those who ought, of all others, to have held themselves at the greatest distance from it. They could not expect to do much good so long as they found people ready to give 18s. 2d. for each vote, as was done at Londonderry at last General Election, or so long as they found people ready to give 14s. 10d., as was done at Chester at last General Election. He could not help thinking that these facts and figures might have kept one or two Members from indulging in insinuations and throwing out suggestions.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, it would not be right that the debate should close without some Members sitting on the Front Opposition Bench giving their opinion of the general features of the Bill, and he rose to state that the second reading would have his hearty and his entire support, as well as that of his Colleagues who sat near him. He desired to state also that he thought 1693 the Attorney General had done well in accepting a number of the Amendments put down to the Bill of last year. The Amendments that were put down by himself and some of his Friends were not brought forward without great and careful consideration, and it was a satisfaction to them to see the spirit in which those Amendments had been accepted by the Government. In his opinion, the Bill had been greatly improved by them. At the same time, he thought there was room for improvement in one or two parts of the Bill; for he feared that as the Bill was framed there was a great many pitfalls in it to what he might call the really honest candidate, and he should like to see those pitfalls removed as far as possible. The very severity of some of the penalties would probably have the effect of preventing the law from being put into operation, and he would much rather that a summary process had been provided for dealing with those who ought to be punished. It was a happy and a wise feeling in many constituencies that when a contest was over the parties agreed to shake hands and remain friends. But the great evil of the present system was that it gave the losing side, when an election was over, the opportunity to set about presenting a Petition, and the next object they had in view was to see that the tribunal which tried their own cases did not try the cases of their opponents. In most of such cases, they might depend upon it that if there had been bribery one side there had been some on the other also; and he should not be sorry to see means adopted by which an inquiry should always take place all round, under such circumstances. He did not quite understand the new offence of illegal payments, and he thought that was a matter to which they would have to pay some attention. He also thought the clause prohibiting the conveyance of voters to the poll would operate as a disfranchising clause, and they must, to be logical, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had pointed out, prevent anyone from driving a voter to the poll in his own carriage. He also thought the 5th clause was very misleading, as it did not tell them what the law was, and he hoped it would be entirely recast; and he would recommend the Attorney General to reconsider the 1694 whole question of agency in the direction suggested by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke), and, on the lines suggested by Lord Bramwell. He still objected to the great penalty for illegal practices. If a practice was bad in itself, mal in se, there was no doubt people might be convinced of it and induced to put a stop to it; but that was not the case where it was a malum prohibitum. They were really in some of these matters placing them on the same level as corrupt practices. He now came to the new offence, and there was one question he should like to call the attention of the Attorney General to. An hon. Gentleman behind him had called attention to the 2nd sub-section of the 46th clause, and he would take that as an example. It was to the effect that if anybody used any premises or any part thereof for a committee room or hired it on behalf of a candidate when he knew or had reasonable cause to believe that part of the premises had been engaged or would be required by the Returning Officer as a polling station, he should be deemed guilty of illegal hiring. That offence was by that sub-section put in the same category as illegal practices. As to the Law of Agency, as applied in the Bill, he thought that the willingness of the Attorney General to meet the question showed that he knew how dangerous it was; and he could not help thinking that as there was an equity of law in the 17th section, it would be a very great safeguard if some clause were put in in order to limit the terrible stretch of agency. There was only one other matter to which he would call the attention of the House, and that was the Schedules, and as to that he thought the Schedules of expenses was very much improved. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also greatly improved the Bill by making a distinction between counties and boroughs, for they did not stand on the same footing. If it could be clearly shown that some other figure than that named in the Bill in any particular instance might produce less inequality, he was sure from the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman had dealt with other parts of the Bill that he would accept it. There was one matter he deeply regretted, and that was that no difference was made between those cases in which there 1695 were two candidates standing and those in which there was only one candidate standing. It would be necessary to convince people that if they transgressed the maximum sum set down they would be doing something wrong. But suppose there was a three-cornered constituency, one man spent £510, while the other two, standing together, spent £ 1,000. They could not convince people that that man should lose his seat because he spent £510, while the two who stood together spent only £500 each. He hoped, therefore, that means might be found to prevent two persons standing together from being able to spend double the sum which a single candidate was allowed to spend. Human nature was human nature, and he feared that means would be found of evading the Act. He could not help thinking that persons from outside would come forward and spend money without the knowledge of the candidate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was rather startled by that assertion. But there were persons from Birmingham who did go about the country at the last General Election and spend considerable sums of money. He saw nothing in the Bill to prevent people from Birmingham or anywhere else virtually carrying the election in that way, and yet the candidate would hold his seat because it would be assumed that he knew nothing at all about it. He hoped that would be prevented when the Election took place in 1883 or 1884. Then there was another matter. Suppose a candidate went down and stayed with a friend in the town or county for which he was standing. Naturally the gentleman with whom he was staying would like to ask a good many of his friends to come and stay in his house to meet the candidate. Last year the Attorney General said that hospitality was not bribery; but he would like to know how the line was to be drawn? The Prime Minister at the last General Election went to stay with a noble Friend of his (the Earl of Rosebery), who, very naturally, asked a number of gentlemen to come and see him. A similiar thing was done in his own county. That was quite natural and proper; but what he wanted to know was—would such a proceeding be legally right under this Bill? He did not want to stop the practice, but only that it 1696 should be clearly defined and not left to the Election Judges to say whether it was right or not. He sincerely hoped that in a few weeks, when they had taken measures to prevent an innocent man from being caught unawares, that the Bill would become law, and prove a great benefit to the community at large.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was sure that those who had charge of the Bill ought to feel well satisfied with the debate which had taken place that evening. The numerous criticisms that had been applied to some of the clauses of the Bill had all been brought before the House with a strict desire and in the full wish to improve the Bill and make it more effective. He would say at once in respect to many of those criticisms, that if he did not notice them in the few observations he had to make to the House, he hoped it would not be thought he was passing them by unheeded. As a matter of fact, he wished to reserve any notice of them until he had had time to consider them—until, for instance, the points in respect of which they were raised were discussed in Committee. He repeated the promoters of the Bill ought to be satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, because, as far as he knew, there was only one speech made in opposition to the second reading of the measure. He had listened to every speaker who had taken part in the discussion, and he believed that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Baron De Ferrières), who made a very remarkable speech, and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), no one had done otherwise than declare himself as a supporter of the Bill. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Warton) who moved the Amendment, would forgive him if, for one occasion, he put him aside as having made a speech of secondary importance, and if he referred to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), who, perhaps, would consider he (the Attorney General) was paying him a compliment when he said the hon. Gentleman was not only an opponent, but a bitter opponent, of the Bill. He felt that the opposition of the hon. Member was the only substantial opposition offered to the measure, and if he did not follow him into all the details into which he entered, but only referred to a few 1697 topics upon which the hon. Gentleman in his long speech touched, he would, no doubt, be pardoned. The hon. Member had entirely misunderstood the object of the Bill; he had entirely misunderstood the grounds upon which it was based; he seemed to be ignorant of the lines upon which it was drawn. In replying to the hon. Member, he must remind the House of the reason why the Bill had come into existence. When the summer and autumn of 1880 had closed, when the country knew there had been electoral corruption, which seemed to increase as the constituencies grew in size, when it was found that that corruption had been applied to that portion of the constituencies not long existent—ho meant those men who had been lately enfranchised, and whose poverty rendered them an easy object to those who wished to corrupt—there was a general feeling that some steps must be taken by the Legislature to prevent the spread of corruption at elections. There was another evil, too, that was disclosed, and which had to be met. The Returns obtained showed the increased expenditure at Elections, an expenditure which also was increasing with the same rapidity and at the same rate that constituencies were increasing; the Returns showed that this was an evil almost as great in its effects as the evils of direct corruption. If the expenditure wore to be increased, and were to continue to increase, even if there were no great abnormal change in the way of additions to the constituencies, it was manifest that the effect must be that men of position in the country would be driven to refuse to become candidates at elections. The old influences of a man's name, or position, or worth, were gradually being destroyed by the mere fact of the wealth, and often the unmeritorious wealth, of his opponent. Apart from the fact that extravagant expenditure was so near akin to corruption that it was almost the very father of corruption, it appeared to him, and to many other Members of the Government, that, even if it were not corrupt expenditure, it was necessary to check it, in order that they might maintain the character of the House and the position and character of Members who sat there. He appealed to hon. Members whether they had not all felt regret at the expenditure which, against their will, they had been obliged to incur— 1698 an expenditure which did not add either to the strength of their candidature, or any credit to the position which they occupied in the House, but which the mere fashion of constituencies had made it imperative upon them to incur. He had said that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) apparently was either forgetful or ignorant of the objects of the Bill, because throughout the whole of his speech he clung to the old manner of electioneering. The hon. Member, to use his own words, had said that they could not "work their elections" under the Bill in the same manner as they had done heretofore. All that was admitted, and the hon. Gentleman might not have raised this point; it was to alter the old system, which the hon. Member was endeavouring to show could not be perpetuated under the Bill, that the Bill had been introduced; and he (the Attorney General) admitted that if the hon. Gentleman's case proceeded on the proposition that the Bill was simply to maintain the system that had existed in the past, he at once admitted that the hon. Gentleman was in the right. What was the value of the hon. Gentleman's argument when he endeavoured to show the House that they could not proceed in the future as they had done in the past? Allow him to give one or two instances of the hon. Member's contentions. The hon. Member said they would spend the money that was allowed under their Maximum Schedule, and they would spend it in paying professional agents and solicitors; and he placed before the House the argument that the solicitors who conducted elections would insist upon receiving the whole sum that would be allowed under the Schedule. He (the Attorney General) considered that was a slander upon the Profession of which the hon. Gentleman himself was so distinguished an ornament. He did not believe that the higher class of professional men would necessarily make a demand upon the maximum amount allowed in the Schedule. He appealed to the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley), whether that was a true statement of the character of the Profession? He believed that the best professional gentlemen they could have were men who were zealous politicians for their own sakes; he believed 1699 there were many solicitors who gave to candidates their labour, and the assistance of their skilled knowledge and ability, simply for the sake of serving the Party which they believed to be right, and that they were as willing to volunteer their efforts as men who did not happen to be solicitors. Was it true that the higher class of solicitors had no regard whatever for their political views? He believed the contrary to be the case. He believed it was the lower class of professional men who had no political opinions, and who sought only to work for their pay; that they were the men who, having no particular political views, sought to obtain the higher amount of remuneration, and that the distinguished men of the Profession to which the hon. Member belonged were the last men to make a bargain, or demand to be highly paid for their services. The hon. Gentleman seemed to feel that election agency could only be conducted by solicitors. He spoke of "Mr. Roger Chaw-bacon; "and he put forward the proposition that if the agent a candidate had to assist him was not a solicitor they would be left to the mercies of "Mr. Roger Chawbacon." But surely the support which proceeded from a man's zeal was equally as good as that of a man who worked for pay. He did not object to the saying that everyone was worthy of his hire; but he did object to men being employed at elections for political purposes. He could not understand why, in the counties to which the hon. Member had referred, elections should not be conducted, as in many places, solely and entirely by voluntary effort. Let him give the hon. Member and the House two instances in support of what he said. The first case he would mention was that of Hackney, whore the two successful candidates combined polled 19,000 votes, with an expenditure of £914. Where were the services of professional men?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the hon. Member instanced Londonderry, the borough he represented, as a reason why the Bill should not pass into law; and now, under the pressure of the one example of Hackney, he said he referred to counties. He (the Attorney General) would, perhaps, be allowed to carry out 1700 the example; £914 was spent in Hackney; but in another Metropolitan borough—Southwark—where fewer than 9,000 votes were polled, £8,000 was spent. So large an expenditure was incurred in Southwark simply because it was the mere fashion and the habit of the place. In the one case there were men to whom the hon. Member referred—professional men, whom he said would be paid, and whom it was the habit of the place to employ and highly pay—but in the other case, that of Hackney, a healthy system prevailed. In Hackney there were men ready to volunteer their work, and his two hon. Friends who sat on the Government Bench polled between them no less than 19,000 votes at an expenditure of £900, which meant volunteer effort only. Now, one word more in regard to what the hon. Gentleman had said; he had spoken tonight as if he were advocating the interests of electioneering agents; and he (the Attorney General) could not, under such circumstances, expect his support of the Bill, which waged war against those very persons. Electioneering agents added strength to neither Party. Let both Parties fight without them. There would be found, in their absence, the real strength of each Party, proved according to the true convictions of those who would then labour and fight. The candidates would then depend on the zeal and enthusiasm of those who laboured voluntarily in the interest of the cause which they considered to be right. An election would not then depend upon the clever trickery of an electioneering agent fighting with all his knowledge against those who would be raw and unskilled in the fight. The two Parties ranged on each side of this question were those who were candidates representing the public, and those who represented the interests of electioneering agents. Might he remind the House of an incident that occurred on the second reading of the Bill on the 25th of April last year? The right hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke), speaking from the Front Opposition Bench, made a sincere and earnest speech in favour of the Bill. He spoke as one occupying the position that any man might envy; he had done good service to the locality, and he was prepared to tight the battle both of himself, personally, and of the 1701 Party to which he belonged, by his own worth, rather than by wealth and the tricks of election agency. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) rose to reply, and told the House that he had been the agent for the right hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Kent. The hon. Member for Londonderry as strongly and as bitterly opposed the Bill as he had done to-night. The lines were fairly marked out between those two speeches, and between him who opposed the Bill and those who supported it. He (the Attorney General), for one, should take the side of the candidate as against that of the agent. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Kent had very truly stated that it was in the interests of everyone who sat or would sit in the House of Commons to seek to get rid of extravagant and unnecessary expenditure; and he (the Attorney General) thought the hon. Member for Londonderry would forgive him if he said that he believed his judgment would go in the same way if it had not been a little warped by his professional feeling. One word more as to the hon. Member's attack on the Bill. He pursued a course which it was for himself to judge whether it was quite right as a matter of advocacy. People who fought bitterly always fought badly. The hon. Member seemed to forget his situation, for, while disclaiming Party feeling, he did not spare his political opponents. He devoted a considerable portion of his speech to an analysis of the election expenses of the hon. Members whose names appeared on the back of the Bill. He said he assumed, for the sake of the hon. Members themselves, that every expense they were put to was absolutely necessary; that they spent not one farthing more in the Election of 1880 than they were compelled to spend; that the sum they were then called upon to spend they would always have to spend; and then he argued that, inasmuch as they would be allowed by the Maximum Schedule to spend much less than they were bound in 1880 to expend, the House ought to throw out the Bill. He appealed to any hon. Member whether such a contention could for one moment be supported. Was there one Member in the House who had not seen expenditure going on around him which he had to bear, which he had deeply regretted, which he had tried to prevent with as 1702 much earnestness as he had at his command, but in which endeavour he had been overborne by those around him, who told him such expenditure was necessary; it was permitted by law, and was incurred by their opponents? It was to protect themselves from foolish and unnecessary expenditure that the Bill was introduced; it was introduced to guard themselves not only against absolute corruption, but against the fact that candidates were being constantly preyed upon by a class of men who delighted in elections on account of the money they might obtain from the candidates. It was by reason of the large expenditure incurred in election contests that many good men were kept out of the House; but the hon. Member for Londonderry seemed to assume that no one was subject to large expenditure unless he wished it, and that everything was spent by the permission of the candidate. With the permission of the House, he (the Attorney General) would refer to certain words which, at the time he read them, struck him very forcibly. They were the words of a Gentleman who was formerly a Member of the House, and whose words would have considerable weight, he believed, with the hon. Gentleman himself. Mr. Alfred Hardy, whom the House would recollect contested one of the Divisions of Yorkshire in May of last year, at the end of an exciting contest made a speech in which he spoke of the expenditure that had taken place in the election. He made use of sentences which expressed a great deal of what he (the Attorney General) was endeavouring to lay before the House. Mr. Hardy said it was his belief that if half the paper, paste, and printers' ink used in the election was saved, and the other half pitched into the sea or burnt, it would be better for the candidate and better for his supporters. He did not suppose that anybody was such a fool as to be influenced by such bills as "Vote for Holden and down with Forster," and "Vote for Holden and the Land League." It was a way he did not approve of. He (the Attorney General) ventured to think that if Mr. Hardy was now a Member of the House he would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill; yet, in the opinion of the hon. Member for Londonderry, such expenditure was necessary expenditure. 1703 When they discussed the Bill in Committee he (the Attorney General) would show to the House there was no greater severity under the Bill than existed under the present law. He apologized to the hon. Member for Londonderry for having interrupted him once because he was stating his opinions pretty generally. The hon. Member, for instance, had said that if an agent paid even for a cockade the candidate would lose his seat; but what, however, the Government were dealing with now was a whole class of extravagant expenditure. If they were going to say there should be a maximum expenditure and no more, there should be some penalty if that maximum were exceeded. If there was not a sufficient penalty attached to the matter, honest men would obey the law, and dishonest men would disobey it. The hon. Gentleman's whole argument went on one proposition, which he stated very concisely to the House. He said that a candidate might not know what took place; and, therefore, he was not fairly liable, and, therefore, he would not be legally responsible. The object of the Bill was, to some extent, to get rid of the existing state of agency, which raised questions difficult to decide. The hon. Member said that a candidate might not know when a particular act took place; but, at the present moment, a candidate who lost his seat lost it probably through acts of which he knew nothing. At present a candidate was liable to lose his seat on account of the acts of some constituted agent, such as a committeeman; and that was an injustice for which he ought not to suffer. The hon. Gentleman said he had a remedy for the evils of the present system, which he would introduce at the proper time. He (the Attorney General) would listen most patiently to any suggestion which the hon. Gentleman could make, or which the right lion. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) could suggest in Committee. He had already said that every opportunity would be afforded for the full discussion of every Amendment that was proposed, no matter from whichever side of the House it came; and if any Amendment could be suggested to remedy the practical inconvenience that might be shown to arise from the Schedules, they would be gladly ac- 1704 cepted. He should fully consider any such suggestions, and accept them as cheerfully from one side as the other. There had been a great deal said by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Baron De Ferrières) against the Bill, because, as he said, it did not provide for legitimate treating. He (the Attorney General) supposed that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) was speaking of hospitality, he had in his mind the hospitality which the Prime Minister received when visiting a noble Lord in the county of Mid Lothian, and that he meant to instance that as a case of legitimate treating. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester—he begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, he ought to have said the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes)—speaking not very courteously, in some respects, of himself (the Attorney General), made an attack upon the Government for not having disfranchised Chester. Such was the burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There was an Eastern proverb which said—"Cast not dirt into the fountain at which you have drunk; "and he should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have spared his late constituents, instead of turning accuser against them, and of reproaching the Government for not disenfranchising the constituency, a portion of which, at least, at one time, gave him earnest and enthusiastic support. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Grantham) criticized the Schedule of the Bill, and said it could not be supported. He mentioned in detail the expenses that existed in his own constituency, and said it would be impossible to carry on an election under the Bill. It might be, in East Surrey, impossible to carry on an election, as at present conducted, without such expenses. He would like to ask his hon. Friend (Mr. Grantham) if he was satisfied with things as they were in East Surrey, because he saw that the hon. Member and another Gentleman spent £13,000 on their election? Was the money well spent? If he objected to the Schedule of the Bill, did he not object to the account which was presented to him after the last election? Did he not think that much expense would have been avoided if there had been in force some such Schedule as was suggested. He (the 1705 Attorney General) had little more to say now, for this "was not the time to enter into the question in detail. The hon. Member for Londonderry said such legislation was demoralizing; that it would have a demoralizing effect upon the constituencies. His argument appeared to encourage bribery, for he sneered at the punishment which would be visited upon any man who accepted a bribe for his vote. He asked if it was possible to punish a man for receiving a bribe? When he heard that argument used by the hon. Member it did not affect him to be told by him that their efforts were demoralizing. Had the hon. Member nothing to say in respect of the demoralization that was now going on in the country, among rich and poor, on account of extravagant and unnecessary expenditure at elections? He (the Attorney General) was perfectly aware how inefficient the attempt he was making was to grapple with all the evils that existed in relation to our present electoral system. Hon. Members might point out one mode of corruption after another, and say the Bill did not deal with this or that. Let them propose to deal with those other forms of evil, and he would do his best to meet their views. He hoped the House would not condemn the Bill because it was not complete or perfect in every respect, which he believed to be impossible. He had set his mind on the work; he had done his best; and he hoped the House would meet the Bill in the same spirit in which it was proposed—namely, as an attempt, without one trace of Party feeling, to remove an evil which was a disgrace to all concerned, an evil which could do nothing but harm to the best interests of the country.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, that as an Amendment stood in his name, which, by the Forms of the House, he had not had an opportunity of moving, he hoped the House would indulge him while he made a few observations. He wished to express his deep regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, in bringing in the Bill, had abandoned another Bill which was introduced last year for the punishment of certain corrupt boroughs. Those boroughs returned 11 supporters of the Government and only three Conservatives; and it was possible that some people connected with Her Majesty's 1706 Government thought it was well that, as this Parliament was getting old, those boroughs should have an opportunity of returning 11 Liberals and three Conservatives on a future occasion. He did not suppose that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General allowed any such feeling to enter into his mind; but he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) in what he had said as to the action of the Home Secretary respecting the persons who were convicted of bribery at Macclesfield and Sandwich. He considered the right hon. Gentleman deserved the thanks of the country for the course he took in that matter. It seemed to him that the way to put down bribery was to deal severely with those who were convicted of the offence. The Government would have done well to adhere to the Bill they introduced last year for the disenfranchisement of Sandwich, Macclesfield, and Gloucester. If they were to spare boroughs which were proved to be steeped in corruption, he did not think the country would believe they really wanted to put down bribery. This Bill bristled with penalties, and he feared its effect would be to drive honest men from the House, and to fill it with men who were ready to perjure themselves and to take the risk of swearing that they had conducted a pure election, knowing full well that their election had not been pure. He would heartily support any honest attempt to put down corruption. There were many parts of the present Bill which he should be glad to support; but he regretted that Her Majesty's Government had determined to spare constituencies which were notoriously corrupt, and that the Bill, on the whole, would make it difficult for honest men to enter the House, while dishonest men would find little difficulty in obtaining an entrance.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed for Thursday."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he understood that a large number of Members wished to put down Amendments to the clause referring to agency; and he 1707 had to ask that, for greater convenience, the Bill should be committed for Monday.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
did not think any inconvenience would arise by the Committee being taken on Thursday. Many Amendments to the clause dealing with agency were already put down; and he hoped the Motion he had made would be agreed to.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill committed for Thursday.