§ (Mr. Attorney General, Sir William Harcourt, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Solicitor General.)
§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 21st June.]
§ [EIGHTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Corrupt Practices.
§ Clause 4 (Punishment of candidate found, on election petition, guilty by agents of corrupt practices).
In page 2, line 29, at end of Clause, to add the words—"Provided, That, if it be proved to the satisfaction of the election court that no corrupt practice was committed with the knowledge and consent of such candidate, and that such candidate took all reasonable means for preventing the commission of corrupt practices, such candidate shall not be disqualified, as hereinbefore provided; and if such candidate has been elected, and it is further proved to the satisfaction of the election court that the result of the election was not affected by any corrupt practices, his election shall not be void."—(Mr. Gorst.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."1275
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he was glad to see the hon. and learned Attorney General in his place, because he was anxious to say one or two words upon the very important question raised by the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham. Notwithstanding what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said yesterday, this question could not be divided; they must discuss the question raised by the Amendment, together with the question as to the discretionary power to be given to the Judges. He ventured to say that, although the great object of the Bill was to protect constituencies from being corrupted, it also ought to give fair play to the candidate. The Government would find that if they drew the meshes of the Bill too tight, they would produce a result diametrically opposed to that which they intended. Of this he was convinced—that gentlemen of a certain class, who found that they might be brought up and convicted for corrupt practices of which they had no knowledge whatever, would be very unwilling to stand for the honour of a seat in that House; men of moderate means would not like to be called upon to defend themselves from charges founded upon acts of which they knew nothing. They knew very well that a certain class of men who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing for a seat in the House of Commons would care nothing at all about such matters. But if the effect of the Act should be to prevent a different class of men from being Members of Parliament, there was no doubt in his mind that great mischief would be done. He remembered a case in point which occurred in his own county. He would not mention any names; but it happened that a voter of the borough referred to, coming from a distance to vote, was inadvertently paid his expenses. Being subsequently informed that a Petition was to be presented against the validity of the election, he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) advised that no such steps should be taken, simply because the act was one of inadvertence. However, the case came on, the act of payment was proved, and the Member was unseated. But what was the result? The majority of the electors were determined to return a man of the same principles as those of the man who 1276 had been turned out. This actually took place, and a considerable amount of ill-feeling had existed in the borough ever since. Before they parted with the Amendment, he said they were entitled to hear from the Attorney General the course which the Government intended to take with regard to the now clauses, one of which he hoped to see added to the Bill. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman going to support any one of those clauses or not? Because, if not, he ventured to say the Bill would take a much longer time in passing through the House than otherwise would be the case. The Attorney General had told them yesterday, fairly and honestly, that he would rather throw up the Bill than add to it a certain Amendment. He had not said much with regard to the present question; but he could assure him that, unless he was prepared to make some concession with regard to the power of the Judges, the progress of the Bill would certainly not be facilitated. The hon. and learned Gentleman would give the Judges every discretionary power with regard to the punishment of criminals; yet, when he came to the punishment of men who might be absolutely innocent, he would not give them an atom of licence to say whether corruption had or had not prevailed at an election. He believed that if some discretion of the kind was not given the Act would not be worked as they all desired it should be. He appealed to hon. Members to say whether they thought it wise, or right, or prudent that some discretionary power should not be given to the Judges respecting acts committed inadvertently with regard to elections? As far as the main principles of the Bill were concerned, his opinions with regard to them were as strong as those of any man in the House. He should be glad to see corruption punished; but, at the same time, he remembered that this might be done at too great a cost.
MR. LYULPH STANLEY
said, it appeared to him that the effect of some of the Amendments placed upon the Paper by hon. Members opposite would be to make bribery easier. He would say this—that if they were to have any modification of the clause, he thought, of all the Amendments on the Paper, that of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was the worst. He would rather that the clause were 1277 maintained in its present form; but if any modification was to take place, he thought that in substance the Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) was the most acceptable. He could not avoid looking at the various ways in which it was proposed to modify the clause. The hon. Member for Londonderry, while he held the candidate morally guiltless of acts committed by an agent without the knowledge of the candidate, had framed his Amendment in such a manner that the candidate would get no profit out of the matter. He made the election simply void; it was, so to speak, wiped out, and the candidates started again fair and afresh. That he thought was a fairer proposal than that a candidate should profit by the corrupt practices of his agent, and retain his seat. The hon. Member for Londonderry, in his Amendment, dealt with corrupt practices of inconsiderable extent and importance. But he considered they should rather look to the absolute triviality of the act than to the result which that act might have upon the election; because they all knew that in the case of Election Petitions they could not always prove the extent of corruption which any man of common sense knew to have taken place. He thought they should throw on the Judge the duty of finding affirmatively that he was satisfied that the corruption committed was of a very trivial character, and that it had not had any effect on the result of the election; and, lastly, he thought that the provision of the hon. Member for Londonderry that the election should be void was one of the most vital elements of the question. If the two Judges, being in the position of a jury, concurred in finding that the candidate had done all in his power to keep the election pure, and that the agents were remote agents of whose existence the candidate did not know, then he thought they might give them a discretionary power to relieve the candidate from the consequences of acts of a trivial character; but he protested against the candidate making any profit out of those acts. He agreed that the object of the Bill was not to make life easy or pleasant to gentlemen desirous of obtaining a seat in that House, but to get rid of the corruption which so contaminated the electoral system of the country.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he would rather discuss the question before the Committee than go into that raised by the last speaker in reference to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry and others. It seemed to him that they were now brought face to face with the consideration that the corrupt practices which they would have to deal with in future would probably not so much be committed by persons acting on behalf of the candidate as by political Associations. As hon. Members would be aware, a large number of smart young men were sent out from a particular centre as apostles to various constituencies in the country, who conducted their operations in the interest of one of those Associations; and they must consider how far they would be opening the door to those operations in their desire to protect the candidate. He agreed that it was hard that the candidate should suffer for acts committed by persons only thus remotely connected with him; but in reference to the danger to which he had adverted, it seemed to him that if they passed an Amendment like this, they would really be flooding the constituencies with corrupt agencies such as he had described. Persons of the kind he had alluded to would go into a borough, and proceed to indulge in the methods which they believed would carry the election; and if the successful candidate could show that he was not cognizant of what had taken place, although the election were declared void, he could present himself for re-election, and, so to speak, walk over the course; it would amount, practically, to giving him the seat. Then the hon. and learned Member for Chathm said in the second part of his Amendment—If such candidate has been elected, and it is further proved to the satisfaction of the election court that the result of the election was not affected by any corrupt practices, his election shall not be void.He thought, because the seat would be secured, persons would be perfectly willing to run the risk of the consequences which attached to the acts of the individuals he referred to. They would have got their man in. But if they could not prove what was required by the latter part of the clause, they would rely on the popularity that attached to the candidate to see Lim take his seat. He 1279 said, if they were to open the door to these practices, they might as well put an end to the Bill altogether. However anxious he should be to support any clause which would have the effect of protecting the candidate against practices of which he was not the author, he should think it very undesirable to render possible such a state of things as he had described.
§ MR. R. T. REID
said, he had every respect for the motives which induced the hon. and learned Member for Chatham to move this Amendment, because he believed that he was really desirous of putting down corruption at elections; but he must say that had the hon. and learned Gentleman been experienced in such matters, he could not have drafted a clause which would have greater effect in encouraging corrupt practices than that which he had submitted to the Committee. The first part of the Amendment provided—That, if it be proved to the satisfaction of the election court that no corrupt practice was committed with the knowledge and consent of such candidate, and that such candidate took all reasonable means of preventing the commission of corrupt practices, such candidate shall not be disqualified as here in before provided.That meant that a candidate should be allowed, if the election were declared void, to stand again at once, and reap the advantage of the bribery which had taken place, say, within three weeks preceding the election. If the Amendment were carried, he did not believe there would ever be an instance of any candidate being proved, to the satisfaction of the Court, to have committed corrupt practices at his election; because it would be said that he had taken all reasonable means to prevent them. Every Gentleman whose election was disputed on the ground of corrupt practices would go into the witness box and say—"I did all I could to prevent corrupt practices; I did not put people in possession of money to spend for me. How can I help it if Liberal or Conservative Associations spend money for me?" He would be able to say, in each particular case, that he had no knowledge of, and had never consented to, the bribery which had been proved. What would be the result of that? No matter what amount of bribery had taken place, so long as it fell short of that general corruption which was suffi- 1280 cient to set aside the election, the candidate could stand again at the election, and he would be regarded as a martyr. Why, under such circumstances, the constituency would almost be ready to elect a walking stick. If the corrupt practice fell short of that which was general corruption, no matter how bad it might be, if the candidate could show that it was not committed with his personal knowledge, it was no use to petition against his return, and no man of sense would advise such a proceeding. The result would be that it would be perfectly hopeless to attempt to resist the return of the candidate at the second election which would take place. With regard to the second part of the Amendment, which said—If such candidate has been elected, and it is further proved to the satisfaction of the election court that the result of the election was not affected by any corrupt practices, his election shall not be void.This, in the first place, imposed on the Election Court the duty of carrying on an inquiry for, perhaps, eight or ten days before the Court could say that the corrupt practices committed were such as had not affected the result of the election. Secondly, its meaning was that a candidate might bribe, to a certain extent, with impunity, except so far as personal liability was concerned; and if there were a majority of 1,500, or thereabouts, in a large constituency, he might bribe to the extent of 500 votes, because that number would not affect the result of the election. They could not ascertain one tithe of the actual corruption which took place; and this portion of the Amendment amounted to an invitation to the candidate to bribe sufficiently to make the election sure, because it might be relied upon that not one-tenth of the bribery committed would be discovered, and unless a large mass of bribery could be proved the election would not be found to be void. He drew the attention of the Committee to this fact—that the Bill had been brought in for the purpose of putting down corrupt practices. There were many persons in the country, of various shades of political opinion, who, to his knowledge, were honestly trying to purify the constituencies. It would be a matter of regret to them to find that so many attempts were made to reduce the penalties provided in the Bill. One portion 1281 of the Bill already appeared to be framed directly in the interests of candidates and Members of the House, inasmuch as it placed a limit upon the expenses at elections; and now, whenever any proposal was made for the purpose of inflicting disqualification on the candidate on account of electoral corruption, they found that Amendment after Amendment appeared on the Paper proposing to make the Bill still more in the interest of the candidate. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham would make the law even milder than it was at the present moment; and, that being so, he agreed with the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) in saying that it would be far better to withdraw the Bill than to adopt the hon. and learned Member's proposal.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he was quite as anxious to put down corrupt practices at elections as any Member in that House. His hon. Friend who had just sat down did as several other hon. Gentlemen had done in the course of these discussions—he had begged the question. He assumed the existence of a state of general corruption in the constituencies, and then went on to argue that they were bound to provide facilities for the escape of the candidate. But that was just what he (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would not do. He said if there were corruption of any kind let it be punished severely in the case both of the agent and the candidate. If the Committee would refer to the earlier part of the clause they would find they had already agreed that a candidate found on Election Petition to be guilty by his agents of corrupt practices should lose his seat, and not be capable of sitting for the borough or county during seven years after the date of his election. That was the point they had arrived at. But the Committee must bear in mind that in this Bill they had very much enlarged the definition of corrupt practices. Under the old law corrupt practices were practically confined to bribery, treating, undue influence, and personation. But this Bill made the following additional offences corrupt practices which were not so before:—Paying for the conveyance of electors to or from the poll, whether for the hire of horses or carriages, or for railway fares, or otherwise; payment to an elector on account of 1282 the use of any house, land, building, or premises for the exhibition of any address, bill, notice, flag, or banner, or on account of the exhibition of any address, bill, notice, flag, or banner; also payment on account of any committee-room in excess of the number allowed by the 1st Schedule of this Act. he did not object to any of these being treated as corrupt practices, and he did not object to the candidate who committed them being punished for so doing. But this clause dealt with offences committed by agents of the candidate who, for the purpose of this argument, they might assume acted without his knowledge or consent. He thought the Attorney General had most wisely refused to accept any Amendment in the direction of defining the Law of Agency, inasmuch as it was totally impracticable to do so; but they were now endeavouring to ascertain whether any injustice was involved in the application of the Law of Agency which they ought to try to remedy. It was no argument to say they were trying to extend bribery and corruption. They were trying to deal with existing injustice; and he would invite the attention of the Committee to a statement of one of the most experienced Judges on the Bench upon this very question. Lord Bram well, in the evidence which he gave before the Committee appointed to inquire into this subject, said, in answer to the question whether he considered the election law harsh upon a candidate—"It is very harsh." he went on to say, in answer to the question as to whether the mitigation of the Law of Agency would let in a worse evil, that there was one thing which he had always thought ought to be done—it was not exactly the alteration of the Law of Agency, but the alteration of the law with respect to what followed on the act of agency—he thought that it would be a good alteration to provide that where there had been bribery or treating by an agent, and the Judge was satisfied that the Member was not a party to the act, and was also satisfied, affirmatively, that the election had not been effected by bribery generally, that the Judge should have a discretion in the matter of unseating a Member. The learned Judge went on to describe a case in which he had been compelled to unseat a Member, because a foolish fellow had given a small sum of money to a voter; and he added that 1283 if he had been satisfied that that was the only case of bribery he should have been glad to keep the Member in his seat. In answer to the question as to whether he would be satisfied with an affirmative proof that the election had not been influenced by bribery, Lord Bramwell said—"Yes; mere negatives can hardly prove it." He (Mr. H. H. Fowler) pointed out to the Committee that if the learned Judge had had the discretionary power which the Amendment proposed to confer upon the Court, the Bristol Election would not have been voided, and these complaints with regard to the interpretation of the law by the Judges would not have occurred. Mr. Justice Keating had also said that very frequently cases of hardship arose under the existing law; and he pointed out that in the only case in which he had had experience he found himself bound to unseat a gentleman under what he considered very trivial circumstances, the act of bribery in question having been committed, not by the candidate himself, but by one of his agents. The evidence of Lord Chief Justice Morris, given before the Committee, was also to the same effect. Thus they had three eminent Judges — Lord Bramwell, Mr. Justice Keating, and Lord Chief Justice Morris—all admitting that there had been grievous cases of hardship, and all contending that by giving the Judge a certain discretionary power an evil would be remedied. The Attorney General had practically admitted this principle, because in the 17th clause of this Bill power was given to the High Court, or to an Election Court, to except certain innocent acts committed from being illegal practice. Now, the Solicitor General had laid down the principle that in dealing with offences of this description they must reverse the ordinary rule of English law. He (Mr. H. H. Fowler) understood the ordinary rule of English law to be that it was better that 20 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer; but this rule they were now asked to reverse. He said that it was a less evil to give the Judge power to deal with a case on its merits, than it would be to enact an inflexible law to comple him to unseat a candidate under the circumstances described in the Amendment. But he objected to imposing upon the Judges the task of 1284 deciding the question of the character and importance of the corrupt practice. The Amendment had been objected to by the Attorney General on three grounds. First, because he said it would be the removal of a check on the agent. The Attorney General had drawn a picture of an anxious agent on the point of committing an act of bribery, and who, suddenly recollecting that it would imperil the candidate's seat, abstained from doing it. There might be agents of this description to be met with; but he (Mr. H. H. Fowler) did not know where they were to be found on polling days. He knew of a case in which a candidate for a seat in that House was winning by a largo majority. The result of the election was a matter of certainty; but the excitement was so great that a friend of the candidate, anxious to swell the poll, generously gave two cabmen an extra 2s. 6d. each beyond their fares in order to vote for him. The next morning he came and confessed his sin and expressed his regret at what had been done. In this case there was no Petition and the successful candidate was now a Member of that House. Their desire was to meet cases of that kind. They wanted to reach men, who behind the candidate's back, without his knowledge, rendered him liable to the penalties of the Act, by paying, perhaps, for a glass of wino in order to obtain a vote. The Attorney General had objected, in tile second place, to imposing upon the Judges the task of deciding the question as to the character and importance of the corrupt practice. No doubt, it was a difficult and delicate matter; but they had intrusted to them the office of determining what constituted agency, and he said if they could trust the Judges at all, they could trust them altogether. But his Amendment dealt with acts of trivial importance only. The third objection of the Attorney General was that the Proviso would necessitate a scrutiny. But he could not see how the necessity for a scrutiny could arise. The object he had in view was that a candidate should not be unseated for what were really small matters. he asked that the Judge, applying his common sense to the business, should be enabled to say—"These are trivial acts—acts of trivial importance—and do not affect the result of the election." 1285 The Solicitor General's case against the proposal was that it would leave a mass of undetected electoral corruption behind it; he said in the Sandwich case only sufficient was proved before the Judges to unseat the Member, and he put it to the Committee that if the Proviso were law the Member for Sandwich would have remained seated, and the terrible corruption which had taken place would not have been detected. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir Farrer Herschell): I said that with regard to bribery.] But he would call the attention of the Committee to the statement of the Judge who decided the case. Mr. Justice Manisty said—I am sorry to say that, in the present case, the election was conducted upon such corrupt principles that it is difficult to approach the consideration of the evidence on any particular point without being unduly biassed by that fact.That was a case of an election being conducted in such a corrupt manner as substantially to interfere with the purity of election, and the Judges found the evidence of corruption so strong that they reported to the House that "corrupt practices had extensively prevailed." They had two possibilities. They had the possibility, if they granted Judges a discretion, that some act of bribery might be committed which ought to be punished, but which would escape the punishment which ought to be meted out to it; the other possibility was, that a perfectly innocent, upright, and honourable man, who had endeavoured to conduct his election on pure principles, and who had complied with all the requirements of the Act, by some foolish act of his agent, not confined to bribery, might meet with punishment under the section. He admitted that there might be great reason for this punishment falling upon the candidate if it were confined to bribery; but it seemed to him that, for some foolish act of treating, or for some piece of eccentricity on the part of an agent on an election day, it would be unfair to make the candidate lose his seat in the House and be disqualified from representing that constituency for seven years. All the arguments that the corruption might be done in the interest of the candidate did not apply, as things of this kind would not become generally known, and therefore would not be of any prac- 1286 tical utility to the candidate. Let them try to do what was right and just; and while they upheld and maintained, and, if they liked, extended and strengthened, the stringency of the law against real bribery and corruption, do not let them, on small matters and by indirect methods, render candidates liable for acts, the consequences of which struck the public mind as being so notoriously unjust as to create sympathy for the offence they were desiring to redress, and in that way do more public harm than good.
SIR ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not intend to go over the ground which had been so well trodden by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He agreed with every word the hon. Member had said, and he rose only for the purpose of endeavouring to facilitate the proceedings of the Committee. They were now discussing the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). When the hon. and learned Member introduced his Amendment, he said, fairly and frankly, that if it were the wish of the Committee to discuss any other Amendment rather than his own, he would gladly give way, in order that such an Amendment might be brought forward. He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) believed there was a general wish throughout the Committee that they should discuss the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler); and he could not help thinking, therefore, that it would save a great deal of time if they took the division upon the Amendment of that hon. Member. He would remind the House of the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Reid), which was an extremely able speech, although he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) differed from it. It was in a great part spent in criticizing an Amendment they were not going to vote on. Well, it would simplify the proceedings if they were allowed to take the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton in the first instance. He could not sit down without saying how sorry he had been to hear the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Mikes), whom he regretted to find was not in his place. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman felt that he would not be affected by all 1287 these threats which were hanging over these candidates of whom the Committee had been speaking. No doubt, from the right hon. Gentleman's high-up atmosphere, he felt himself safe; but, whether this was so or not, the Committee had bettor discuss this matter amongst themselves. In saying this, it must always be understood that he never neglected to pay all due deference to observations which fell from his right hon. Friend. One sentence had fallen from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) that the Committee ought to pay some attention to. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, very wisely, no doubt, had drawn a great distinction in the 3rd clause of the Bill between bribery and personation and other corrupt practices. It was impossible to put them on the same footing; and though he agreed that there was great danger of a candidate being made responsible for the acts of his subordinate agents in the case of bribery, this danger did not exist with regard to the other offences which were on a totally different footing. But the case had become harder now that the Attorney General had introduced the old offence of treating, and put it on the same footing as bribery; and this he threw out as worthy the attention of the Government. He trusted the Government would give way on this question, and would amend the Bill so as to save innocent candidates from the acts of utterly irresponsible agents in trifling matters—acts which would have no effect on the general conduct of an election. He hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) would withdraw his Amendment on the understanding that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) would be taken, and not that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) or any other Member.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, as his hon. and learned Friend did not propose to withdraw the Amendment, he would give a reason why he, for one, could not consent to support it. It divided itself into two heads. There was, first, that part of the Amendment dealing with disqualification, and he might put it plainly in this way. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham would say—"I would have a different Law of 1288 Agency for the purpose of disqualification from that which I would have for the purpose of having an election declared void." He (Mr. Staveley Hill) could not see where that distinction could possibly arise. he quite agreed that the punishments under this Bill were rightly severe; but he could not, for the life of him, see that if the agency was to be such an agency as would cause the election to be declared void, they could make it an agency which was not to be considered an agency for the purpose of disqualifying the candidate. Upon that point he must entirely dissent from the Amendment proposed by his hon. and learned Friend. When they came to the second part of the Amendment, it was this—the hon. and learned Member went on to say that, under certain circumstances, if there was a certain amount of corruption proved, the Judge was Hot to declare the election void. On that part of the Amendment he should quite go with the hon. and learned Member; but he should prefer to adopt the words put before the Committee in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who gave power to the Judge not to declare the election void, or heap penalties on the candidate, if it should be found that the bribery and corruption, or illegal practice, whatever it was, was of a trivial character. He would prefer not to support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham as it stood; but he would be prepared to vote for the second part of it when it came before them.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would join in the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) to withdraw his Amendment. The proposal to be brought forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) raised the question in a manner which would be much more acceptable to the Committee. Hon. Members could reserve what they wished to say until they came to that Amendment, when they would be able to have the discussion upon an issue which would be more acceptable.
said, he was not generally very anxious to act on the advice he received from the two Front Opposition 1289 Benches, particularly when he found there was a consensus of opinion between those two Benches, because that rendered him very suspicious. This was a matter in the hands of the Committee itself, and any Member who objected to the withdrawal of his Amendment could do so and stop its withdrawal. At the present moment he (Mr. Gorst) was anxious to accede to the proposal made by the two Front Benches, and to withdraw the Amendment. The reason why he had not proposed himself to do it at an earlier period was that he had thought it better to wait until the Committee saw what the Government intended to do. He should have been happy to withdraw the Amendment, if the Government had given any indication that, although they could not accept his Amendment, they would be willing to look favourably upon one lower down on the Paper. He did not quite see how, under these circumstances, when neither the Committee nor the Government seemed to have made up their minds how they would deal with the question, anything in particular was to be gained by withdrawing one Amendment in order to enable another to come under discussion. As, however, many hon. Members thought it would be well to proceed with the discussion of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, he would withdraw his proposal at once.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, there was a pretty general opinion in the Committee that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) best represented the alteration it would be advisable to make in the Bill. He (Mr. J. Cowen) wished to say—
Order! I must call upon the Members whose names are upon the Paper to move their Amendments.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he wished to speak to the question of Order before these Amendments were withdrawn.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, be was willing to take any course which was thought most desirable in order to get to the gist of the matter, and to secure some settle- 1290 ment of this important question on a satisfactory basis. He would pro formâ move his Amendment, leaving it entirely in the hands of the Committee, and merely observing that he should be ready to withdraw it at a moment's notice whenever it was thought desirable to go on with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). His proposal was to add, at the end of line 29, the words—Provided always that if the Election Court shall in such report state—First, That in its opinion the corrupt practices committed were of inconsiderable extent and importance, and were so committed by an agent or agents of the candidate without his knowledge or assent and against instructions bona fide given by such candidate; Secondly, That the general conduct of the election by such candidate was free from illegality and corrupt practices; and Thirdly, That there was no evidence to show that the result of the election had been substantially affected or changed by corrupt practices committed, then and in such case no disqualification of the candidate shall follow upon such report or finding of the Election Court beyond that of his election being declared void.He desired to say just a few words about this Amendment. There was a slight difference between his Amendment and all the Amendments of a similar character on the Paper, because he did not propose to allow the candidate to remain in possession of his seat oven though he were acquitted of any personal delinquency in reference to the corrupt practices technically found against him. It seemed to him that candidates must so far be prepared to stand or fall by the doings of persons who acted with them, and whose actions might or might not have contributed in a material degree to the results of an election. Beyond that it did not seem to him that there was a substantial difference between his Amendment and the tenour of all the other Amendments on the Paper. He should abstain from making any general obsertions on this question until the debate was more advanced; and perhaps, on the whole, he should be meeting the views of most Members of the Committee if he were to abstain from moving his Amendment even pro formâ. It was quite in the power of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, or any other hon. Member, when his Amendment was launched to have it amended in such a way as to meet either the view of such individual Member, or the general view of the Committee. He would only say that he believed it was a 1291 matter of essential justice that such an Amendment as that which he proposed should be added to the Bill. He would not move his Amendment pro formâ, but allow it to pass by, as he did not wish it to be thought that this subject was being dealt with in any way in a Party manner.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he had on the Paper an Amendment to add these words—Unless the said election court shall further report, first, that the corrupt practices found to have been committed were committed by a person or persons other than the election agent, and without the knowledge, consent, or connivance of the candidate, and against instructions given in good faith by him; secondly, that the candidate took all reasonable means for preventing the commission of corrupt practices; and, thirdly, that the court are satisfied that the result of the election had not been substantially affected by any corrupt practices, in which case the candidate shall not be disqualified as here in before provided, and the election shall not be void.He did not intend to insist upon this Amendment. So far as he was concerned, he should be content to accept the discussion on the proposal of the lion. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He, however, should just like to say that he understood from the suggestion of the Attorney General just now, that the division would be taken on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, because it appeared to him to be the least objectionable, or most acceptable, of' the Amendments on the Paper. He (Mr. E. Clarke) only wanted to make the matter clear. They had five Amendments on the Paper which differed in language. He was bound to say that he had carefully drawn the Amendment he had on the Paper, and that he should not at all like to withdraw it if he were to find after he had done so that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was objected to on the ground of some imperfection or difficulty which was obviated in his (Mr. Clarke's). He did not propose to move his Amendment; but would merely say that he understood from the language of the Attorney General that, at all events, he recognized that the form in which the lion. Member for Wolverhampton had put his proposal was the form which would be acceptable, if any form at all were.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he would now propose the Amendment which he had placed upon the Paper, and which hon. Members seemed desirous of taking the debate upon, in preference to others which went before it. His Amendment was to add, at the end of line 29, the following words:—Provided always, That if the election court shall in such report state—(l). That such candidate and his election agent took all reasonable means for preventing the commission of corrupt or illegal practices, and that it had been proved to the satisfaction of the court that no corrupt or illegal practices had been committed with the knowledge or consent of such candidate or his election agent; (2). That the corrupt practices of which such candidate is reported to have been guilty by agents (other than his election agent) were of a trivial character; and did not affect the result of the election; then the election shall not be void.He moved this Amendment merely formally, because he still entertained the hope, from what he had been able to gather from the drift of the opinion of the Committee, that it might be possible to come to some compromise by leaving the stringency of the law untouched as to bribery, and make the alterations in it as to corrupt practices such as treating. If in the debate it should appear to be the general view of the Committee that his Amendment should be withdrawn, he should be ready to modify his proposal. At present, he would move his Amendment to raise the question they wished to discuss.
Amendment proposed,At the end of the Clause, to add the words,—"Provided always, That if the election court shall in such report state—(1). That such candidate and his election agent took all reasonable means for preventing the commission of corrupt or illegal practices, and that it had been proved to the satisfaction of the court that no corrupt or illegal practices had been committed with the knowledge or consent of such candidate or his election agent;(2). That the corrupt practices of which such candidate is reported to have been guilty by agents (other than his election agent) were of a trivial character, and did not affect the result of the election; then the election shall not be void."—(Mr. Henry H. Fowler.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that last night the view had been taken by many hon. Mem- 1293 bers that cases might arise where bribery of an extensive kind might exist without being capable of proof, and the Committee therefore were afraid that there would be great danger in accepting this Amendment. On the other hand, there was, no doubt, a feeling amongst a great many hon. Members that if some modification was not made in the clause there would be a difficulty in distinguishing between that which was merely an innocent act of hospitality and that which was corrupt treating. He (the Attorney General) was not egotistical enough to think that anything he said last night would be remembered to-day; but if what he had said should be in the recollection of hon. Members they would know that what he had said affected the case of bribery more than that of treating. He had pointed out that bribery could take place in secret more than treating, and corruption of that kind; and the question was whether, if they adopted the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and drew a new distinction between bribery and treating, they would not be running the risk he had put before the Committee. If he thought that by accepting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and giving a small relaxation, that there would be no danger so far as the interest of the constituencies were concerned, he should be inclined to accept it, and he did not think that there would be any risk incurred in the matter of guarding the interest of the constituencies if they took the view that it would be safe to leave out exceptional and trivial acts of treating. In his experience, treating never vitiated an election unless it was proved to have been carried on to a very considerable extent; in fact, it could not have such an effect unless it had been carried on to such an extent as to be altogether beyond the word "trivial," or some similar phrase There was another reason, as he had said, why there was a difference between treating and bribery, and that was that treating could not be carried on in secret as in the case of bribery. Treating mostly took place in public-houses where there were a great many observers. The offence was clear. It might be of a 1294 very trivial character, and might be unintentional in its corruption; but that could never be said of bribery. Therefore, he thought treating and undue influence might be left to themselves, and bribery might stand alone. He felt that the Government were justified in taking the middle course by accepting this Amendment, if it were confined in a manner to be hereafter pointed out. He did hope that hon. Members who had so loyally supported this Bill and supported the Government would not hold that in this matter he was making a surrender. If any hon. Members said such a thing, he should reply that if he thought what he was now proposing was really a surrender he would not for a moment consent to it, but would adhere to the clause as it stood. If his view was accepted, he would appeal to the Committee to let the matter be settled at once. Those who dissented from him no doubt felt it their duty to do so; but he trusted that from them he would get the credit, at any rate, of having been actuated in the course he was adopting by a desire to facilitate the progress of the Bill. If the Amendment were to stand as at present moved, he would ask the Committee not to assent to it; but he thought its wording might be so improved as to render it acceptable. He would therefore ask the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, if that were the view of the Committee, to withdraw the Amendment for the present. If such a a modification as this were made, it seemed to him that it ought to be done on the responsibility of the Government. He would wish to bring up a new clause upon this subject, and would undertake to put it on the Paper in good time, so that it might be duly considered. To discuss the Amendment that he would propose would, as there were so many opinions to be expressed on the subject, lead to a large consumption of time. Everyone was agreed that this was a matter of great perplexity, and required grave consideration. He had no doubt that, with the assistance of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton in drawing up the clause, they might be able to frame a provision in the sense of the present Amendment. In conclusion, he would again appeal to his hon. Friends who were anxious to get rid of all corruption not to believe that in this matter he was making a surrender.
said, it was very clear that during the last few minutes a little comedy had been played. He now understood the reason why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General were so anxious that his (Mr. Gorst's) Amendment should be withdrawn. It had been to make way for this little comedy, which he had no doubt had been thoroughly arranged between the two Front Benches.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
I am sure my hon. and learned Friend would not wish to misrepresent us. I can assure him that no communication of any kind has taken place between the two Front Benches on this subject.
said, he at once accepted the assurance of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, and probably what had taken place had been only a kind of thought-reading which showed the sympathy existing between the Front Benches on both sides of the House. The Committee now saw the extent to which the Government were willing to make concession; and, for his part, he could not conceive why they had not stated all this last night. It appeared that though the Government would not allow this principle to be applied to the case of bribery, they would allow it to be applied to the case of undue influence and treating. The course taken by the Government had the rare merit of not receding on any principle whatever, because, as he (Mr. Gorst) hail pointed out yesterday, in many respects treating and undue influence were just as disgraceful as bribery itself. Indeed, there were many kinds of bribery which could hardly be called so corrupt, as giving a man half-a-crown to vote against his conscience. To bribe a man with half-a-crown was a very heinous and corrupt thing to do; but the term "bribery" included such a thing- as paying a man's railway fare to the place of polling for the purpose of obtaining his vote, and anything of that kind, which, although it might not in itself be corrupt, was extremely reprehensible. In many cases, treating and undue influence might be much more reprehensible than such a thing as that. However, in legislation he always went on the maximum that half-a-loaf 1296 was better than no bread; and, on the whole, he thought it would be better to accept that which the Government offered than to endeavour to get a great deal more, which probably they would be unsuccessful in obtaining, whilst jeopardizing that which had been proffered. He had always maintained that in dealing with this subject they should not, for the convenience of their election law, depart from the true principles of justice. In supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton Le was actuated by the belief that it was based upon the principles of justice; and his point was, that if they could not get complete justice, at any rate let them have half justice when it was offered. Therefore, so far as he was concerned, he should accept the proposal of the Government; although, at the same time, he did not wish to withdraw a word he had said, and although he was still of opinion that justice required that there should be the kind of amendment of the electoral law which had been so strenuously advocated by the Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell) when he was in Opposition. He always observed that Members in the House of Commons when in Opposition held far healthier opinions than when they were in Office, or when they had been in Office. In this respect he (Mr. Gorst) was uncorrupted either by the possession of Office, or by the memories of Office, and he therefore still adhered to the principles of justice. Though he still stood out for a full measure of that which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton proposed, he would concur with hint and others in accepting the compromise, and taking from the Government what they could get.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, he wished to say a word or two on this question, as he was extremely desirous that the view of the Government in the suggestion that had been made should not be misrepresented. Nothing could be further from their thoughts than to suggest that there was any distinction in point of law or propriety, or anything else, between real acts of bribery and real acts of treating. They objected as strenuously to the one as to the other, and they thought that one should be dealt with as severely and as firmly as the other. He would point out to his 1297 hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) that the reason this distinction in principle was made between the two offences in the particular Amendment before the Committee was because everybody who had taken part in the discussion was agreed that if they could safely, and without danger to the constituency of corruption, provide that in cases which were really trivial and unimportant, and where there could be no doubt the Member elected was the free choice of the constituency, it would be desirable that the candidate should retain his seat. It was agreed that the candidate should not be unseated in consequence of some act of folly committed by some insignificant personage or other who came within the definition of agency. It would be desirable, where it could be safely done, that they should refrain from inflicting upon such a candidate a heavy punishment. He did not recede from the position he had taken up in 1865; but it was desirable to take a course of this kind in the interest of the candidate, and, still more, of the constituency. What he had pointed out last night was this—that the more he reflected on this subject the more danger he saw in giving any kind of mitigation of the present law in cases of bribery, for the reason that he believed bribery might exist to a considerable extent, although the Judge on an Election Petition might find the election to be a pure one, and that there had only been trivial instances of corruption. From this point of view he objected strongly to these Amendments. Everyone must agree that it would be a disastrous thing that a Judge should find an election pure, and unseat a candidate on the ground that the amount of corruption had been trivial, when, in reality, corruption had prevailed to an enormous extent. He did not believe that treating could go on to such au extent as to be equal in gravity to bribery—he did not expect it would go beyond a trivial glass here or a glass there; and although it might be safe to give the Judge a wider discretion in cases of this kind, it did not seem to him possible to give the same discretion in cases of bribery. It was in that view that a distinction was made between the two. Though they thought discretion could not be left with the Judge in the case of bribery, they thought he might safely be intrusted 1298 with discretion in the case of these minor offences. Do not let it be supposed that they agreed to this distinction because they considered treating less an offence than bribery. It was because they believed that the Judge would be better able really and truly to say whether treating at an election was trivial, and the election, therefore, substantially pure, than he would in the case of bribery, which was less easily detected. The Government might be wrong in that view; but he made these observations in order to show the principle on which they were acting.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, he was not going to quarrel with the Government for their complete change of mind which had taken place since yesterday. He was satisfied that the change had taken place. The Committee had made a selection of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and he thought they had made it very wisely. He probably would not be in Order in doing so; but he should like, with the indulgence of the Committee, to read an Amendment he had proposed himself to move to this part of the Bill. The Amendment he should have proposed—which he found, on looking at the Amendments on the Paper this morning, would take up an entirely different ground to that of any other—would have been this—That every candidate shall, on his nomination, publish a list of his committee agents, special agents, and others authorised to act for him, and no candidate shall be mulcted in any penalty for corrupt practices committed by any person other than those so specified"—[Laughter]—perhaps hon. Gentlemen would allow him to finish—unless complicity or connivance given"—
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he did not know what course the hon. Member for Wolverhampton would take as to this Amendment; but probably the Government would have their way in reserving this question for further consideration, and bringing up the form of clause they themselves proposed. Before the Committee dealt with the Amend- 1299 ment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, he (Mr. Clarke) should like to make an observation or two to which he would call the attention of the Law Officers of the Crown when they were considering the clause they wore going to propose. Though the concession the Government had made was welcome to them, such a concession in a matter in which a great many of them felt a great deal of hardship had been done wont a very little way. The Committee would remember the three cases that had been pressed on their attention—cases in which the Judges had complained of the hardships of the law, in consequence of which they found themselves compelled to administer heavy punishments. He alluded not to cases of treating or undue influence, but to cases of bribery. Baron Bramwell hail very much regretted the necessity of unseating Mr. Robinson for Bristol, and there was not one who understood the facts of the ease who did not feel that a great act of injustice had been done so far as Mr. Robinson was concerned. In that case it was a matter of bribery. It was a case in which a man had received material profit by voting for a certain candidate. Then there was another case—the Norwich case—which was also one of bribery, and in regard to which Sir Henry Keating had spoken. He placed these facts before the Committee because they were seeking to modify the law at a time when they were extending liabilities and penalties. They must remember that while they were extending these penalties they were, by limiting the number of persons who might be employed as avowed and paid agents, placing the candidate more at the mercy of volunteers. They were, in fact, increasing the danger and liability of candidates at the same time. They were increasing the severity of the punishment. The Judges had complained that they had to administer a hard law as the law now existed, and in addition to the opinion of Lord Bramwell there were the opinions of Mr. Justice Lush and Mr. Justice Manisty to be considered. In 1880 the words he was about to quote were spoken in a Judgment on an Election Petition by the late Lord Justice Lush, whose experience on this matter, and whose calm judicial character was one which no one could dispute. In giving Judgment in the case of the borough 1300 which he (Mr. E. Clarke) now represented—and it was owing to the reluctant Judgment then given that he had an opportunity of sitting in this House—Lord Justice Lush said that—He was constrained to hold, and he did so with great regret, that Stibbs by this act had rendered the scat untenable. He had never unseated an innocent Member for the acts of his agent without feeling that the law which had punished both the Member and the constituency for a single illegal act of the kind was unduly severe. That feeling was intensified by the consideration that the act of bribery hero was of the most venial description.He went on to say that—The election had been conducted in every respect with the greatest propriety and adherence to the law, and that neither Mr. Woolferstan nor Mr. Stibbs had contemplated that the bringing of the trawlers to the poll was an illegal act.Mr. Justice Manisty, in giving Judgment, stated that—So far as Sir Edward Bates himself was concerned the election had been conducted fairly and honourably and in strict accordance with the law, and that with the single exception of the arrangement made by Mr. Robert William Stibbs with the trawlers of Penzance, he was of opinion that the Petition had wholly and entirely failed.All those Judges had complained of the severity of the law they had to administer; and not only had they complained of it, but they had said they had desired, if they could, to escape from the necessity of putting it in force not in cases of treating and undue influence, but in cases of bribery. It had been said by the Attorney General last night, that in the case he referred to the Judges could not say that the election had not been conducted by corrupt practices. He (Mr. E. Clarke) quite agreed that a Judge ought not to unseat a Member because he did not find that the election was determined by corrupt practices proved in Court. But let him point out that where evidence was given of the smallest act of bribery, if the Amendment of his hon. Friend were accepted, the onus of proof would be shifted, and it would fall upon the candidate, or his agents, to satisfy the Judge affirmatively that the election had been properly conducted. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked, last night, how could the Judge find this? He (Mr. E. Clarke) would reply to that by a practical answer, showing how it was done. The Judge might have had in the witness-box the candidate—the man petitioned against 1301 —and his election agent. He would call the attention of the Attorney General, and still more of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Reid), to this—that those persons might be there, not for the purpose of clearing themselves from personal complicity before the attack had succeeded against them, and the event was a certainty, but for the purpose of satisfying the Judges by their evidence that the election had been properly conducted. He know three cases in which, directly the Judges said the Petition had succeeded, the person petitioned against went into the box and gave evidence and was not cross-examined, and went into the box because he knew he was not going to be cross-examined. In other cases with which he was acquainted, communications had taken place between the counsel defending the seat and the counsel attacking it, the counsel for the Petitioner being asked not to prove cases which would bring home personal guilt to the Member, but to be satisfied with first proving cases affecting an agent, so that the seat might be surrendered and the candidate's honour saved. The course of not cross-examining the respondent was taken in one case, at all events, under the sanction of the Judges who wore trying the Petition, because, they said, that directly the defendants had abandoned their answer to the Petition the duty of the counsel for the Petition was at an end. Let him point out the enormous difference there was between that and coming into the witness-box to face cross-examination. If the candidate and his agent were obliged to go into the witness-box for the purpose of saving a seat and exposing themselves to cross-examination, he would undertake to say they would go away from the witness-box very sorry that they had ever gone into it. It was all very well to say that the candidate was kept in ignorance; but there was a good deal to be ascertained in the course of the conduct of an Election Petition, and those familiar with these matters knew well enough that one great reason why personal charges were made was with the desire of forcing the Member into the witness-box—and not only forcing him, for that was not the important thing and would not be sufficient, but the election agent as well. The great merit and virtue of the proposal of the hon. 1302 Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), which was an object he (Mr. E. Clarke) had also attempted to achieve, was that the agent himself should come into the witness-box and expose himself to cross-examination. He wished to put before the Committee that they were asked to legislate so as to provide that where the act of bribery had been without the knowledge of the candidate or his agent, and where both of them had taken all the pains that in the judgment of the Judge was reasonable to conduct the election in a pure manner, and where the Judge was satisfied that there had been no connivance on the part of either of them at bribery, that the election had been conducted purely, and that the act of bribery was a trivial one on the part of some insignificent individual without the concurrence of the Member or his agent, the candidate should not lose his seat. He contended that, according to all the elementary rules of justice, a man was entitled to his seat under such circumstances. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) had spoken about Caucuses and Associations outside who interfered in election matters. He (Mr. E. Clarke) did not think that question need come into consideration at this point at all; he was not nervous about the action of such bodies, because he considered that if Associations stepped beyond their province and used their powers for an evil purpose, they might be dealt with in other ways. Certainly, if a Judge saw that side by side with the pure and careful action of the candidate and. his agent there was a reckless and corrupt action of a quasi-independent body or association, the Judge could only report that the election had not been won by corrupt influences; and in that case these rules would never come into play at all. The Attorney General (Sir Henry James) said, yesterday, that they could not tell that one act of bribery did not affect the result of an election, because it might be au act of a class. The Judge would be perfectly capable of dealing with such a matter, and if he found one man was proved to have bribed two or three persons he would probably come to the conclusion that that man in the course of his canvass had practised bribery pretty largely. That was a matter the Judge was quite competent to deal with. 1303 The great mischief they were face to face with now was the increasing liability of a candidate for the acts of unauthorized agents, and the increasing penalties imposed on a man who had done his utmost to have a pure election. In consequence of what was now being done, men of honour and position would refuse to accept the dangerous responsibility of becoming candidates for seats in the House of Commons; and in his (Mr. E. Clarke's) opinion it would be the greatest possible disaster that could happen to the dignity of the House and of the country, if they brought the law into such a condition that the only men who would risk the responsibilities and dangers of an election contest were men who had attached themselves by profession or self-interest to the fortunes of a particular Party, and who had become the instruments of a political organization. It was the wealthy and successful manufacturer, it was the country gentleman of good society and old lineage, it was the professional man of good standing who was interested in having a seat in the House of Commons, and he (Mr. E. Clarke) hoped that such men would still be able to find their way to the House. If the door of the House were practically shut to such men, and open to professional politicians, far greater mischief would be done to the House of Commons and the country than good would be done by putting down corrupt practices.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, he felt some difficulty in understanding exactly where they were. They were asked to treat corrupt treating in one way, and bribery in another. He was a good deal puzzled to find how the principle was to be applied, because it appeared to him that in some boroughs treating was a very dangerous practice, far more dangerous even than bribery. The Attorney General would find, when he came to draw his clause, that he was endeavouring to make a distinction which would give him a great deal of trouble. They seemed to be really arguing the question in the air because he understood the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was to be withdrawn. ["No!"] If the Amendment was not be to withdrawn, they could, of course, discuss the question fully; but he certainly understood it was the general feeling of the Committee that 1304 the Amendment should be withdrawn. ["No!"] In that case the whole aspect of the thing was changed. He rose with the object of stating generally his feeling on the matter. He had put on the Paper an Amendment on this subject even stronger in its terms than that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton or any other Amendment in the same direction. Perhaps it was a rather humiliating confession to have to make, that the more he had thought upon the question the more difficult he had found it to carry out the idea he wished by his Amendment to carry out. He sympathized entirely with the views just expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke). He (Mr. W. Fowler) was not the Member for the University of Cambridge, but for the town of Cambridge; the two positions were very different. The Bill made candidates responsible for the acts of men about whom they cared nothing. In certain cases it must happen that they must either sacrifice the constituency or the candidate. They made a candidate responsible for things he ought not to be responsible for, or they had to hand over a constituency to men who were not afraid of any risks they ran. In every town there were men who would do things at election times that they ought not to do. It was because he did not see his way to checkmate such men except by a law, which, in some cases, would be hard on the candidate, that he had altered the view he entertained when he put the Amendment on the Paper. He knew it was very likely that a man who desired to do his duty would be unseated; but, as he said just now, they had to choose between the candidate and the constituency; and if they had to make that choice they should, in the interest of public morality, make a choice which would hurt themselves rather than one which would hurt the constituencies. The case of trivial treating referred to by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) certainly shocked all their ideas of justice; but he (Mr. W. Fowler) had not yet seen words which would satisfactorily meet the difficulty. As at present advised he felt bound, though with some relunctance, to support the clause as it stood.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he did not understand there was a general impression 1305 that the Amendment should be withdrawn, and, as far as he was concerned, he hoped the hon. Member for Wolverhampton would not withdraw the Amendment until they had some more distinct understanding from the Government on the subject. He admitted that the concession which was suggested by the Attorney General was good so far as it went; but, in his opinion, it did not go far enough. No concession and no Amendment whatever would be in the least satisfactory to him which did not extend to bribery, and to treating, and to undue influence. He could not conceive on what ground a distinction was to be made. Why was a candidate to be punished more severely if his agent had been guilty of bribery than if he had been guilty of either of the other two offences? The Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell) said this was so because it might be more safely left to the Judge in the one case than in the other. That was no consolation to an unfortunate candidate, nor did it lessen the hardship or injustice which was inflicted on him. He could not understand why a candidate who was perfectly innocent, and known to be so, should be punished because his agent had been guilty of bribery, while he should go perfectly free if his agent had been guilty of undue influence or other corrupt practice. It seemed to be the height of iuconsistency. The Committee would do well to insist, by every means in its power, for some further concession on the part of the Government on this point. If they showed, as they were capable of showing, that the clause went beyond what was necessary, and that it was likely to produce the results which were so ably described by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke), he had no doubt the Government would yield to what he believed to be the general sense of the House on the matter.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, it was evident there was a general wish to make the Bill effective for its object. At the beginning of the discussion yesterday on the question of agency there was a very widespread feeling that some definition must be adopted; but as the discussion proceeded hon. Members in all quarters of the House saw the impossibility of defining agency, and ultimately the Committee, by a large 1306 majority, fell in with the Government's view. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) considered that this Amendment, if adopted, would tend to destroy the effect of the Bill. The Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell) said the Government wished to make no distinction between bribery and treating, and yet at the same moment he announced the intention of dealing in an altogether different manner with bribery and treating. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that a single glass here and there would be of no consequence. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) quite admitted that in large constituencies a trivial glass here and there might have no connection with a trivial glass in the next street. In the smaller boroughs, however, treating and undue influence were a greater means of demoralization than actual bribery, and it was to safeguard against that that the Attorney General was weakening his Bill. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) certainly did provide that an innocent candidate should be enabled to sit again, but not until he had gone through another election. By that Amendment a constituency would be protected. The proposed Amendment, however, protected the candidate, but it failed to protect the constituency. Under the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) a candidate who might have been returned by widespread though isolated intimidation—undue influence and treating—would be able to continue the occupation of the seat. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) had cited the case of Sir Edward Bates. He had no hesitation in saying that he knew Plymouth, and had much larger connections with Plymouth than the hon. and learned Gentleman who now sat for that constituency. In the case of Sir Edward Bates, the Judge found there had been trivial and isolated acts of undue influence and treating. Those who know Plymouth knew very well that the whole constituency was, by isolated acts of treating, more demoralized than any constituency in England; and yet, if at the time of the Plymouth Petition the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had been law, Sir Edward Bates would have been sitting 1307 for Plymouth at this moment. If the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) was not very careful in the course he took, he would turn the Bill into a Parliamentary guide for corrupt practices—a guide which would show what to avoid; just what cute Parliamentary election agents wanted. He took it that the Attorney General had not accepted the Amendment, but that he was going to draw up an Amendment to take its place. They must wait to see what that was before they pronounced a judgment upon it; but if it would allow a man who had been elected owing to corrupt practices of any kind, although he himself might have been innocent—if it would allow such a man to sit for the constituency, a gross injustice would be done to the constituency. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) dwelt largely on what was due to the candidate. They might be sure that the very door they opened to protect a candidate would let in a flood of corruption that ought to vitiate any election. Was that the object some hon. Members had in view? Take the case of a moderate sized borough. The area over which trivial treating spread might be so large that, although perhaps undetected, it would turn the election. A Judge could only deal in the cases which came before him, and they might be few and very trivial in themselves. The main point was that the Amendment now under consideration would allow a man to sit for a constituency in which corrupt practices had prevailed; indeed, the corrupt practices might have been the means of his return. He did not think it would be wise even in the interest of the candidate to accept the Amendment, for although he granted there might be some slight danger of an innocent man being unseated, if they had faith in the Judges that danger was very small. By this Amendment they would give Parliamentary sanction to a certain class of trivial and small treating. Undue influence would spread, and the result would be that the candidate would stand in a far more dangerous position than he would if the strict provisions of the clause remained unaltered. He hoped the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) would be most careful how he interfered with a provision which would make it dangerous to indulge in corrupt 1308 practices. The stringent provisions of the Bill would protect a candidate far more effectually than any winking at trivial corruption, and he trusted the Attorney General would not give way in the matter.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, it was very important that at this time they should ascertain the exact position in which they stood. He could not help feeling some apprehension that in consequence of the proceedings of the last half-hour or so there might be some chance of their losing the advantage which they had gained by the discussion on the clause and on the questions arising on the different Amendments during a great part of last night and this morning. It would be a very great misfortune if they were now, after having discussed the matter so far, to put it aside, as it were, into a drawer, and leave it alone—leave it to be taken up hereafter, they knew not when. It seemed to him that the 4th clause of the Bill was intended to apply to cases in which there had been any corrupt practices not by the candidate personally, but by his agent; and it appeared to a great number of hon. Members that in laying down the severe punishment for any corrupt practices that might be committed by the agent of the candidate it was of very great importance that they should take care they should not do any unnecessary injustice to the candidate. It was felt that it would prevent men of character and of honour from becoming candidates if the clause were allowed to stand as it did. The first suggestion that occurred to most hon. Members was that if the candidate was to be placed in the hands of his agent and to be subject to severe punishment on account of any illegal and corrupt proceedings on the part of his agent, there ought to be some clear definition as to who an agent was, so that a candidate might know who the person was into whose power he was going to be placed. Therefore, several Amendments were suggested for the purpose of defining agency; but when those suggestions had been discussed, it was found, as was contended by the Government from the first, and as was evident to the minds of a great many Members, that it was impracticable to settle upon any definition of agency which would be satisfactory. A candidate was to be placed in the power of an agent over 1309 whom he would have little or no control, and if there was any serious misconduct on the part of the agent, the candidate must bear the consequences, and the punishments, whatever they be, must fall upon him. But it was pointed out, and it was confirmed by quotations from the decisions of the Judges themselves, that, as the law at present stood, there was great risk of oven the most trivial matters producing consequences which some hon. Members considered ought only to flow from serious and sustained misconduct on the part of the agent. A number of hon. Gentlemen, sitting in different parts of the House, put down Amendments for the purpose of meeting the cases of trivial lapses, adopting, as far as they could, the suggestions that arose from the testimony and from the statements of the Judges who had had occasion to deal with the matters. Discussion arose upon some of the Amendments last night. During the discussion of the first class of Amendments — namely, those with regard to the definition of agency, the Government carefully abstained from saying what their view was with respect to the second class of Amendments. When the time came for discussing the first of the second class of Amendments—namely, that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), the Government stood forward in the person of the Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell) and gave reasons which were satisfactory to their minds against the adoption of any of the proposed limitations. There the matter rested last night, and to-day the discussion upon the hon. and learned Gentleman's (Mr. Gorst's) Amendment was renewed. In the course of the discussion there was some reason to suppose that another Amendment — the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler)—would, on the whole, be more acceptable to a considerable number of hon. Members than the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). In principle, there was no difference between the two Amendments—they aimed at the same object; but, in phraseology, the one appeared to many to be more suitable to the circumstances of the case than the other, and the Committee were rather led to infer from what had fallen from the Government that they held the same opinion. Holding 1310 that opinion, they thought that a discussion taken on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) might lead to something being done by the Government to solve the difficulty. Under those circumstances, his right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) threw out the suggestion that the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) should be withdrawn, and that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) substituted for it. To that proposal the hon. and learned Member for Chatham agreed. The Amendment was, by leave, withdrawn, and the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was proposed. So far they were all clear in the course they were taking; but then the Government got up and said—"We do not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, neither do we move any Amendment upon it. But we suggest that the Amendment should be withdrawn, that the whole matter should stand over, and we will undertake, at a later period, to bring forward a proposal which will accomplish some portion at all events of that which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton desires." The Committee was invited to agree to the Amendment being withdrawn, and to wait for an indefinite time for the Government's Amendment —until, in fact, such a time as all that had just transpired would have passed out of their minds. They would have a proposal brought before them by the Government which they would be called upon to discuss at great disadvantage. he did not think that that would be a satisfactory mode of dealing with the question; and he was bound to say that it would be something like sharp practice towards his hon. and learned Friend, if, after inducing him to withdraw the Amendment in order that a discussion might be begun upon another Amendment, the Committee were now asked to agree to the withdrawal of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), because the Government said they intended to propose certain words of their own on the Report. He would not say that if the Government had intimated what it was they intended to propose on the Report, the Committee would not 1311 have been satisfied, and that it would not have been desirable to withdraw the Amendment; but they had nothing of that sort before them, and as the matter stood at present there was no course open to them, as it appeared to him, but to vote in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler).
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the right hon. Gentleman had stated with accuracy what had occurred since yesterday evening; but the right hon. Gentleman had not been many minutes upon his legs before be charged somebody or other with sharp practice.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, what he had stated was that the Government might be liable to a charge of sharp practice, if they induced the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) to withdraw his Amendment in order that the discussion should be taken upon another Amendment, and then asked the Committee to agree to the withdrawal of that Amendment.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he repudiated the charge of sharp practice altogether, and wished to mention one fact which the right hon. Gentleman entirely omitted. The right hon. Gentleman had stated the facts connected with the withdrawal of the first Amendment; but the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that since the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham had been withdrawn, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton moved his Amendment, the Government got up and made the suggestion that that Amendment also should be withdrawn. He was afraid that the right hon. Gentleman could not have been in the House at the time. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) who rose and suggested that there was such a wide distinction between bribery and treating, that the Government ought to see if they could not find some way of making a proposal. The suggestion, therefore, in the first instance, came from the side of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman now got up and charged the Government with being guilty of something like sharp practice for having made the suggestion, when, in point of fact, they 1312 had simply followed the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire. It seemed to him that the suggestion itself was endorsed by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler); and, under such circumstances, the suggestion having come from the Front Opposition Bench, and being accepted by the Mover of the Amendment, he wondered what would have been said if the Government had refused to take it into consideration. When he (the Attorney General) had suggested that this course should be taken, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire cheered him over and over again; and if anybody had prophesied to him that in the course of Parliamentary conduct, or in the course of Parliamentary tactics, within half-an-hour of that time he would have found the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North-cote) denouncing the Government for accepting his own Colleague's suggestion, after having been led on by the cheers of his right hon. Colleague, he (the Attorney General) would have declined to believe him. He could never have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have repudiated the suggestion of his Colleague, or that he would have set them such an example of Parliamentary tactics. It was the more to be regretted when they knew that it came from one who had hitherto set so high an example of honour in regard to Parliamentary proceedings. What was the course they were now asked to take? He had hoped that the suggestion he had made to the Committee would have solved the difficulty, and he thought he had conveyed to the Committee that he was willing to accept the lines in substance of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. He had taken it distinctly on the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that it should not apply to treating and undue influence, and that was substantially the Amendment of his hon. Friend. He had stated that he would carefully examine the words in order to see if he could not meet the views which had been expressed in regard to the application of the clause to minor offences. That offer seemed to meet most distinctly the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1313 South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross). Then, in what position were they now? The Government had taken this course in the hope that it would meet with the moderate views of the Committee. He should deeply regret to have to vote against the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton as it now stood, because they would be negativing it as regarded all degrees of corrupt practices. But if, under the skilful guidance of the right hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North-cote), hon. Members insisted upon the Amendment being divided upon, with all the objections a present contained in it in regard to bribery, the Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman having already acknowledged that it was a desirable provision against bribery—if, upon the appeal to those who, to a great extent, sympathized with his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), they were forced to take this course, and to decide upon the Amendment, he thought they would be acting most unwisely in relation to the course of conciliation which the Government were desirous of pursuing. But if the right hon. Gentleman insisted upon pushing the Amendment they would have no alternative; and they would be driven into the Lobby to vote against an Amendment which, to a great extent, they were willing to accept. If this Division were thrust upon the Government by hon. Members opposite, acting under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman, he would ask the majority of the house to consider whether the hostility now offered to the Amendment was not hostility on the part of the Government, but in consequence of the tactics pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote)?
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
denied that his right hon. Friend who sat beside him had either discarded his Colleague or denounced the Government. What he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had stated was, that he thought all corrupt practices were not upon the same footing; and he might have been instrumental in inducing his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) to withdraw his Amendment in favour of that of the hon. Gentleman opposite. At the same time, he thought they were fairly entitled to say that they ought to 1314 divide upon the Amendment now before them. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had stated, in the course of his remarks, that, hard as the clause pressed upon bribery, it would be much worse when they came to deal with the minor offences of treating and undue influence; and the suggestion to which the Attorney General had referred came from the hon. Member opposite, and not from him (Sir R. Assheton Cross). There was one sentence in the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton upon which he certainly had made a remark—namely, that he was opposed to the clause altogether as it stood, because he thought that, as to bribery and everything else, it was too severe. He had also stated that if it were carried in regard to bribery, it ought to be modified in reference to undue influence and treating. He had stated that there was, undoubtedly, a great difference between bribery and the other two classes of offences; and he further said that he should be glad if the Government could see their way to meet those minor offences. He had never, however, withdrawn his objection to the clause as it stood, even in regard to bribery. The utmost he had said was that the Government might be able to meet them half-way. If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton went to a Division—and he certainly hoped he would—he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would support him.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) had placed the Committee in a peculiar position. They wore discussing an Amendment which the Mover was anxious to withdraw, and a clause the contents of which they were not acquainted with. He quite recognized the force of what the right hon. Gentleman said, that if the discussion were adjourned it would be renewed again, and all the talk they had now had would come on again, and that it might be brought forward some days or weeks hence to the disadvantage of all parties concerned. He therefore thought that some middle course might be taken, and that they might allow the Amendment to be withdrawn, on the condition that the Attorney General brought up a new clause on Monday, when the discussion might be renewed.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, that, in that case, it appeared to him they had no alternative but to proceed with the discussion of the Amendment upon its merits until the ordinary hour arrived for an adjournment. The discussion would then be renewed on Monday after Question time, and nothing would have been lost, and they would have advanced the Business of the Committee. If the other course could not be taken on account of technical reasons, this was the only course they could pursue. He thought the Government had made a reasonable suggestion, and that they had gone as far as they could be expected to go. They all admitted that it was a very difficult question to settle, and the concessions made by the Government appeared to him to be a reasonable approach towards a settlement. The argument that underlay the consideration of the matter was that a candidate might be made responsible for the acts of an agent whom he might not have seen, and of whom he know nothing. The Attorney General had stated, with great emphasis, that a candidate must be responsible for the acts of his agent. No doubt, in commercial matters, that was so; but a man who had an electoral agent could not be responsible for his action, because such an agent could delegate his authority to a third person, and therein lay the hardship and the danger to the candidate; because under the clauses of this Bill the candidate was made responsible, and punished for the action of the third person. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would get rid of that difficulty, and he apprehended that the new clause the Government intended to submit would also got rid of it. They could not insist on the Government giving them all they wanted, and they ought to accept that which they thought was best. At the same time, it had become evident that they could not make further progress with the Bill until such time as they had some definite understanding as to the position in which this matter rested.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the hon. and learned Attorney General had, no doubt, made a good tactical movement when he devoted some considerable time to an attack upon his right hon. Friend the 1316 Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) and his action. But it seemed to him (Mr. Ritchie) that the attack showed signs of weakness, because the Attorney General did not make a single remark upon the point at issue. He (Mr. Ritchie) would point out wherein the difference between them lay. There might be an exceptional act of bribery and an exceptional act of treating. What was the difference in principle between the two? That was the point they were anxious to ascertain, and they had nowhere heard any definition of it. Of course, it must be borne in mind clearly that, by the Amendment now before the Committee, such a trivial act must not have been done with the knowledge of the candidate or his immediate agent, and that it could not have had any effect upon the election. With these safeguards it was quite possible to draw a line between a trivial and an exceptional act of bribery and a trivial and exceptional act of treating. He therefore hoped the Committee would divide on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. II. Fowler), and not postpone the consideration of the question to a time when all these points would have to be raised over again.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he could not help thinking—and he believed the Committee would agree with him—that the three last speeches they had listened to—certainly the two former of them—were really an argument against any course of conciliation on the part of the Government. He asked the Committee to remember what had taken place. No doubt, they had arrived at a critical and difficult part of the Bill. Hon. Members opposite, and those on that side of the House, desired, if possible, to protect Members of Parliament and candidates from being unjustly compromised by election agents. That was a perfectly legitimate object, and one which it was extremely desirable to accomplish. On the other hand, the Government represented that unless they were careful in their endeavour to protect Members and intending candidates, they might fail to secure purity of election. There was no doubt whatever of this—that if they were determined there should be no risk whatever to candidates or to Members of the House, they might as well give up alto- 1317 gether all attempts to prevent bribery and corruption. It was impossible, in his opinion, to prevent some little injustice being done. That being the state of the case, the Government desired, on the one hand, to meet the legitimate objects of hon. Members who had criticized the Bill; but, at the same time, they were anxious to protect the main principles of the Bill. A suggestion, which came to them in the first place in the shape of a hint, was adopted at once by the Mover of the Amendment before the Committee, and further explained by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross). It was pressed by both of those Members on the attention of the House; and the Government considered that to that suggestion, at all events, there could not be taken the objection which applied to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). They determined, therefore, to give a favourable consideration to the suggestion made to them. His hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Joseph Cowen) told them that the discussion should not cease until the Government declared definitely what they intended to do with regard to the Amendment. Now, that was a course of action which was likely to be mistaken in the constituencies. Every hon. Member who had spoken declared his intense anxiety to see the Bill become law. Therefore, it seemed that every Member was desirous to see the Bill passed. If they did so desire, he must say that they were not materially assisting the progress of the measure by the course they were adopting. The discussion had already occupied two whole Sittings; and yet it was now threatened that the discussion would be continued unless the Government gave an explanation of an Amendment which was not before them. He objected altogether to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton in the form in which it now stood. He was quite certain that if the Amendment was adopted it would provide a loophole through which all the acts they were protesting against, and from which they were expressing their anxiety to be protected, would again creep up. It was asserted that all that was required was that the Election Judge should find that the bribery was a corrupt practice, 1318 yet of so trivial a character that it did not vitiate the election. That would prevent an Election Petition being successful in every borough in which there was anything like a large majority. Take the case of Wolverhampton. His hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton sat for a borough which was as pure as any in the United Kingdom, although that might not always be the case. The Members for that borough were returned by a majority of 6,000 or 8,000 votes. There might have been bribery in Wolverhampton; but what sort of proof must be given in order that an Election Judge should be able to declare the election void on account of bribery? Unless they could show that the bribery had an effect upon the election—in which case they would have to show that more than 6,000 persons had been bribed, which would be an impossibility; or unless they could show that the bribery was not of a trivial character, which must, of course, be considered in reference to the number of the constituency, and the majority — unless they could show one of those two things, they would not be able to void the election. In his opinion, the key-note of this question of bribery and corrupt practices was not so much their dealing with the candidate as with the agents. It was nonsense to talk of the bribery of candidates. A candidate was never personally conscious of bribery; at any rate, he never admitted it. They were never able to prove that a candidate had been personally conscious of bribery. He thought there was hardly a case on record in which the candidate had been proved to have countenanced the bribery or corrupt practices by which the election was rendered void. Therefore, if they dealt with the candidate, and the candidate alone, they would be doing nothing whatever. They must make it impossible, or, at all events, impolitic, for the agents to bribe. The agents were not appointed directly by the candidate, and they could only do that by convincing these persons that they ran great risk in committing bribery. If they allowed the agents to see that there was any possibility of escape, and that no single act committed by any one of them could vitiate the election unless it was shown that general malpractices were going on, no candidate would ever be unseated. He thought the Commit- 1319 tee had to consider, at the present time, which of two things they would prefer—whether they would prefer to make a candidate absolutely safe, in which case they might as well give up all further consideration of the Bill, or whether they would endeavour to procure purity of election, and, at the same time, do all in their power to prevent the possibility of inflicting injustice. He believed that by a moderate Amendment, such as that proposed, in the first instance, by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), they would have gone as far as they could in the direction of protecting a candidate. They would have protected him against trivial acts of treating. He did not believe in trivial acts of bribery. He believed that, as a rule, where bribery was committed it was not trivial. On the other hand, treating might be trivial and unimportant. It was possible, as had been suggested, that a member of an Election Committee might give a voter a glass of beer without considering the effect of what he was doing, and it was just possible that that would be held to have vitiated the election. He must say that a Judge would take an extreme view if he did so hold; and if they could protect a candidate against such a penalty he thought they were justified in doing so. He believed the Government had shown every desire to meet all reasonable objections, and further they did not feel disposed to go.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was sorry that the President of the Board of Trade had interposed in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman seemed utterly unconscious of the course which opinion had taken in the Committee last night and that clay. The right hon. Gentleman was still sticking at the point which they had disposed of last night, and was reproducing arguments which had already been effectively answered. He protested against the proposal to put the question off. The Amendment was proposed in the right place in the Bill. There had been ample Notice of it, and the Government ought to have made up their minds. It would be ridiculous to put it off to some other stage, when it would be impossible to give sufficient attention to it. It was now raised at the proper time, and in the proper place; and it was the duty of the Government to say if they could not do something to 1320 moot the demands of justice. It was perfectly clear that candidates were often placed in the most painful position, and in a position in which they ought not to be placed. Ample proof of this was to be found in the opinion expressed, over and over again, by Baron Bramwell, Mr. Justice Lush, and other Judges.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, that a good deal of the present discussion would have been rendered unnecessary if hon. Members had been present last night when the Attorney General made his able speech. The hon. and learned Gentleman then pointed out the reasons why he could not accept the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), not because he did not seem satisfied with the object aimed at, but because he knew there would be great difficulty in drafting an Amendment. At the same time, the general feeling in the House was that something ought to be done in the direction of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham. He believed there were some hon. Members who would have taken either the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham, or the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler); but, on the whole, there was a strong feeling that some terms ought to be arrived at. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) told them that those who supported the Amendment showed that they possessed no confidence in the Judges. Now, he (Mr. Heneage) ventured to say that the speech of the hon. Member, by that very remark, entirely fell to the ground, because all that was now asked was that a dispensing power should be given to the Judges.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, he only wished to remark that they showed their confidence in the Judges by asserting that they were quite ready to accept their decision; and yet, at the same time, the Committee were not content to put that amount of confidence in the Judges which the Government asked them to do, by giving them power to absolve persons whom they really did not think had committed corrupt practices. He thought the attacks which had been 1321 made on the Government from the other side of the House were unfair. His own opinion was that the Government had endeavoured to meet the feeling of the House; and, during the last hour, the discussion had gone backwards instead of forwards, owing, he thought, to the fact that many hon. Gentlemen were now present who wore not in the House last night. It was quite clear that a dispensing power ought not to be given to the Judges in the case of bribery; but the rule must be laid down in the Act fairly, and the Judges must have no dispensing power. In regard to personation, it was equally desirable that they should put down the offence; but his own opinion was that the best way of doing so would be to keep the Register free from dead men. He was acquainted with an instance in which there were 11,000 names on the Register, and 3,000 of them were those of persons who were either dead or duplicated. That fact afforded a considerable chance to persons for committing personation. He trusted that the Committee would support the Government in the line they were taking. He hoped a compromise would be come to, because it would be a most disastrous thing now to go to a Division. A great many Members did not like the clause; but they must either vote for that, or for the Amendment which had been fairly made by the Government. he believed the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was himself of that opinion; and he was sure that a very largo number who were in doubt this morning as to the course they should take now found themselves freed from difficulty by the course adopted by the Government.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he hoped the Committee would insist upon going to a Division; and he wished to say that, so far as he was concerned, he was not the least to be deterred from speaking on this question by what the President of the Board of Trade had said. The right hon. Gentleman complained because the Committee had not accepted, in a spirit of conciliation, the suggestion of the Attorney General; but he must say that a more objectionable speech he had seldom listened to than that of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not at all take exception to the speech of the Attorney General; but when the right hon. Gentleman came for- 1322 ward in an entirely different manner, and told hon. Members that, if they ventured to discuss this matter any further, their conduct would be misunderstood in the constituencies, he thought there was a little too much of this reference to the constituencies. It was felt throughout the House that this threatening and dragooning was really becoming intolerable. Their conduct was to be misunderstood by the constituencies! What was the conduct that was to be misunderstood? The Government brought forward a clause in this Bill so harsh that it was likely to defeat the purpose of the Bill itself. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): It does not alter the law.] True; but they were now re-settling the law in regard to corrupt practices. The Government had largely extended the scope of the penalties by this Bill, and imposed greater penalties; and they were now asked to modify some of the clauses, on the suggestion of the most learned Judges in the land. A harsh enactment would be perpetuated in the law of the laud if this clause was to stand in its present shape. But now he wanted to know what was the conduct that was to be misunderstood? Here was a proposal, in this 4th clause, which had been objected to from every quarter of the House, and upon which Amendments had been placed on the Paper. They could get no satisfactory statement from the Government as to what they were prepared to do; but to-day, when a number of various Amendments were on the Paper which might have occupied a long time, a suggestion was made, and strongly supported by the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (sir R. Assheton Cross), that all these Amendments should be cleared off, in order that they might come to a discussion and decision upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), which gave the best promise of narrowing the discussion. Then the Attorney General made an offer, which he certainly thought was to some extent a concession, and which some Members were disposed to adopt. He himself was not at all disposed to adopt it, for reasons which he would submit presently. Some difference of opinion was expressed as to whether this Amendment was now offered for the first time; the Attorney General 1323 said he quite agreed in what he understood to be the meaning of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire; but then it had turned out that he quite misunderstood the matter. They had not been discussing this new offer on one of the most important questions raised by this Bill for more than a few minutes, when the President of the Board of Trade got up and told them their conduct was to be misunderstood by the constituencies. Concession was useless, and conciliation impossible, if such language as that was to be used. The conviction was growing in his mind from day to day that those charges were not made in the interests of particular measures, but for the purpose of creating and strengthening a cry which might be availed of in the country hereafter. Now, he desired to pass from that controversy. It was most unpleasant to have to refer to such a matter; but if there was any truth in such charges, let them be brought forward and tested; and, if not, then let them not be thrown down upon the floor of the House in order to provoke irritation amongst those against whom they were made. What was the real point? The Attorney General said he was willing to adopt the policy of the Amendment, except so far as it dealt with bribery; and that, without exactly saying how it was to be done, at some future stage of the Bill he proposed to bring up a clause for that purpose. The ground upon which he was not satisfied with the proposal was this. No doubt, it was a great object, as far as possible, to get rid of corruption and obtain purity of elections; but, on the other hand, they must not make the law so hard that it would become unpopular in the constituencies. It was, above all things, important, as far as possible, to preserve the innocent man from undeserved consequences; and he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) that there was a danger of making it impossible for the very kind of men they most wished to have in the House—men of great respectability and honour—to come here because they would not be willing to confront the dangers they would have to risk if the law was laid down as was now proposed. What were they asked to do by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton? There were two pur- 1324 poses aimed at by the Amendment. One was, in certain cases, to declare that an election should not be void; the other was to declare, in certain cases, that the penalties should not attach to the candidate. These were two perfectly different purposes, and he approved of both of them; but the real object was to give the Judge, in certain cases, an equitable power of extricating a candidate from penalties of a severe kind; and in certain cases, also, to prevent the election being declared void. The first of these objects was the one which pressed upon his mind, and it was with regard to that that he could not accept the Amendment of the Attorney General as satisfactory. What difference was there between giving a man an "occasional" glass of beer, and giving him an "occasional" half-a-crown? Where was the distinction in principle? Why should a candidate be made to suffer a penalty of the most dishonouring kind—namely, that he should not be allowed to be a candidate in his own town or county for seven years—in one case, and not in the other? He could understand, to a certain extent, the distinction as applied to the other part of the clause—namely, as to invalidating an election; but as to a candidate who was to be thus punished, it was impossible for the Attorney General, by means of any subtlety, to draw a distinction. They were now dealing with a very important matter. If they made the law so severe that they could not get the best men to come forward—the men who had been described by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) as the successful mercantile and professional men, the county gentlemen, and the wealthy and popular men in the boroughs or counties—their places would be taken by men whom they least wished to have in the House, namely, the "carpet-baggers"—fellows who went about ready to face any danger. The consequence would be that while the constituencies would not be in any appreciable degree purer than if this Amendment had been adopted, a serious barrier would be raised up, and the doors of the House closed against the very men whom they wanted here. Therefore, with great earnestness, he implored the Committee to pause well before they rejected this Amendment.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the right hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had ended his speech with a mild and moderate argument, although he had entered on the discussion with a great deal of warmth. Having taken up the hard canon put forward by the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), that Members for the Universities ought not to interpose in this debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not, he was glad to see, adhered to it. But the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) had really said what the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunkett was now so indignant with the President of the Board of Trade for saying. The right hon. Gentleman said, if they passed any of these Amendments, they would make things a great deal worse than they now were. Was that true or not? If it was true, then he did not wonder at anybody saying that the constituencies would think the House had done a very bad thing indeed. The right hon. Gentleman had not disputed that this proposed Amendment was a relaxation of the existing law. If that was so, it was quite obvious that the tendency was to relax the existing security against bribery. The Attorney General had said that would be totally unsafe, and that if they relaxed the law against bribery to the extent of this Amendment they would make things worse. He had admitted that a relaxation might be made with regard to matters which did not include bribery; but as this Amendment would relax the existing law against bribery it could not safely be adopted. Did the Committee intend to make the security against bribery less severe? If so, then let them vote for this Amendment; but the Government, through the Attorney General, said they could not consent to the Amendment, because it would make things much more dangerous than at present. What did this Amendment do? Corrupt practice, of course, included bribery; but under certain circumstances, according to the Amendment, that was not to make an election void. That was the real issue, and the Government held that that was not a safe course to adopt. Desiring, as they did, to repress more strongly than before corrupt practices, and especially bribery, the Government 1326 could not assent to an Amendment which was, in point of fact, a relaxation of the security against bribery. That was a very clear and distinct issue, upon which he thought the Committee might very well come to a decision; and he could not see why the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite should be so indignant at the President of the Board of Trade for saying that to support an Amendment which confessedly relaxed the security against bribery was a course of procedure very likely to be misunderstood. He thought it was, and that it was just as well that that should be said; but lie did not see that there was anything menacing in that at all. They were conducting affairs is that House in the presence of the country; and they must be extremely careful, with every endeavour they could use, not to relax any security which at present existed against bribery. With reference to equities generally, and to the position of the Judges, he was very much disposed to hold that none of those provisions were wanted at all. The fact was that able Judges did administer equities already, and had always done so. [Mr. WARTON: They cannot.] Well, they did so; and he ventured to say there were hon. Gentlemen opposite who knew that equities had been administered. The right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) know that equities could be and were administered by the Judges. When Baron Martin sat as an Election Judge, he gave free expression to these equities, and said he was not going to upset a man for 1s. 6d. No legislation that could be passed could compel a Judge, who had not the disposition or the strength to administer the equities, to do so. He believed that, as the law now stood, a Judge had power to take a rational and common-sense view. [Mr. J. COWEN: Why not put that in the Bill?] There were some things that could not be put into a Statute, and of all things the most difficult to define in a Statute was common sense. Men were called upon every day to act upon one side or the other; and if the Committee attempted to put into words the principles upon which they acted they would entirely fail, and probably very much embarrass the men who had to come to a conclusion. He believed the Judges had all in their power that it was desired to give them. 1327 As to this Amendment, it seemed to him to give a sort of letter of licence to modified crime. No doubt there were Gentlemen who held a different opinion; but to the Government that was the real meaning of the Amendment, and they were unable to accept it.
§ MR. A. H. BROWN
said, hon. Members who had spoken on the opposite side of the House desired to have a Division taken as to whether bribery was to come within this Proviso or not; but the Government said, and he believed with great truth, that it was impossible to allow bribery. He wished to put it to hon. Members that those who voted for the Amendment of the hon. Member would then be able to vote upon the question of including or excluding bribery. he thought the compromise offered by the Attorney General reasonable and acceptable, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would adhere to it; but as there was a disposition to force matters to a Division, and get the Government to include bribery in the compromise, he would propose to insert in the second line of the Amendment the words "other than bribery," so as to limit the action of the Proviso to corrupt practices which were not bribery—namely, treating and undue influence.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, after the word "practices," to insert the words "other than bribery."—(Mr. Alexander Brown.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'other than bribery' be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, the Government had complained of the words "sharp practice" having been used; but, although he should not have used such words, it seemed to him that, by this change of front, the Government had done an exceedingly good stroke of business. What occurred last night? He was anxious that one of these Equity Clauses should be adopted; but, seeing that there were four or five of them, and thinking that if those who favoured the Amendments spread themselves over all of them they would be defeated, he suggested that other hon. Members should withdraw their clauses in order that the discussion and Division might take place upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. 1328 Fowler). Hon. Members had withdrawn their Amendments on that understanding, and he thought it was very hard upon them to find this compromise. What did the compromise mean? It meant that when they asked for a shilling they only got a halfpenny. Could the Attorney General say what distinction there was between treating and bribing? He himself could not see the slightest difference between giving a man a glass of beer and giving him the money to buy beer with; except that beer was a more insidious way of bribing than money. The President of the Board of Trade complained of some observations by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), and incidentally of some observation he (Mr. Labouchere) had interjected. His observation was that he thought it would be advisable not to take a Division to-day; and the reason why he suggested that was that the hon. Member for Newcastle had expressed a hope that the Amendment of the Attorney General would be brought up on Monday. The reply of the Attorney General was that that would be impossible; but if they divided at once, they would then pass to the next clause, and the Amendment would have to come in at the end. Under these circumstances, and considering that a discussion on this question was necessary, he did not think it was anything monstrous to propose that the discussion should go on for a while longer this evening, in order to give the Attorney General an opportunity of bringing up his Amendment on Monday. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that they wore to be threatened with the constituencies. ["No, no"] Would the right hon. Gentleman state what he did say?
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that what he did say was that, in his opinion, the course which some hon. Members had taken was likely to be misunderstood, and that the constituencies might very likely doubt the extreme anxiety for the passage of this Bill which some hon. Members had expressed.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he did not think he had misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman; but, so far as he was concerned, he would relieve the right hon. Gentleman of all anxiety. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that, great as was the confidence which he had no doubt his constituents felt in 1329 Her Majesty's Government, they felt a great deal more confidence in him (Mr. Labouchere). When he took one view of a measure and the Government took another, they were perfectly convinced that he was right and the Government were wrong. What his constituents thought was not that this Bill should be hurried through, but that it should be a good and a sound Bill; and he denied that that would be the case if this compromise was accepted. What were the facts? He would take Northampton. A good deal had been said about that constituency; but he thought it was admitted to be a pure constituency—both on the Liberal and on the Conservative side. There were a large number of gentlemen in that borough who took an active interest in politics. They were members of a Committee, or of a Three or Five Hundred; but they would come in the category of agents. Suppose that one of those should be so carried away by his feelings during an election as to say to anothere lector—"Come and vote. You are a working man; you don't seem to like giving up a day's work in order to vote; but I will give you 2s. or 3s." As he understood it, the Bill, as it now stood, even with the proposed compromise, would enable a Member to be unseated upon that. It was all very well to talk about Members not thinking of themselves in these matters; but he had no hesitation in saying that he did think of himself in this matter. If there had been bribery, the election must be declared void; but it was monstrous to say that they would trust the Judges when it was a matter of beer, and not when it was a matter of money. If, as the Home Secretary said, the Judges bad this power already, why did the Government object to putting it in the Bill? He did not want to define common sense; but he wished to give the Judges a plain power such as the Home Secretary said they already had, but which they themselves said they had not, and in consequence injustice had been committed. It was unfair to say that anybody who took that view was in favour of bribery. There were Gentlemen who were just as strongly opposed to bribery as the Attorney General himself, and they were anxious that this power should be inserted in the Bill. If the Attorney General limited his Amendment to treating and undue influence, he should him- 1330 self at once put down an Amendment to include bribery; and he was perfectly convinced that his constituents would not think he had done so from any desire to evade the consequences of bribery, or to encourage bribery.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he did not wish to re-open this debate; but the hon. Member had challenged him to say what was the difference between bribery and treating. His belief was that one was as great an evil as the other; but he know of no case in which trivial treating had ever unseated a Member. He did, however, know of cases in which what was termed bribery had unseated a Member. Treating, when it was at all general, was well known; but bribery was secret. he made no distinction between the two things morally; but in respect to the proof, and also because there might be greater danger in respect to what was termed innocent treating, he thought he might draw a safe distinction under this 4th clause. He must appeal to the hon. Member (Mr. A. H. Brown) not to press his Amendment; and he hoped the Committee would consider his Amendment in conjunction with that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and see whether the ideas expressed by the Amendment would be strengthened by the bringing up of a new clause. Some disadvantage, he feared, would result from this discussion. He had done all he could to meet the view of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton; but the result would teach him to be more certain, before he made a concession, that it was the general wish of the House. Now he was taunted for not giving way; but when he accepted the very suggestion that came from those who had a right to make it, then he was told that there was something which was not keeping faith. What deduction could he draw other than that in future he must be much more careful and cautious?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he had not the slightest intention to say anything that could, in the slightest degree, cause annoyance to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he must enter his strong protest against the statement of the Home Secretary that this Amendment was confessedly in- 1331 tended to relax the securities against bribery, and was intended to give a letter of licence for modified corruption. He utterly repudiated that suggestion. This Amendment was the suggestion to that House of one of the most eminent of our Judges. It was a suggestion stamped with the authority of Lord Bramwell, and it had been met by the Attorney General on totally different grounds from those of the Home Secretary. he regarded the Amendment as intended to strengthen the securities against bribery, and to promote purity of election; but, apart from that personal question, in what position were the Committee now? The right hon. Gentleman opposite had correctly said that this suggestion did not come from himself in the first instance, but from him (Mr. H. H. Fowler); but a great many Members were not present last night, and the Committee were at a great disadvantage in pursuing this discussion. The strain and the strength of the arguments last night was the hardship of this stringent law on treating. The force of the Attorney General's reply was with reference to bribery. He (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had thrown out the suggestion that if the Government were not prepared to accept the whole Amendment they might meet it in some degree. "Half a loaf was better than no bread." He should very much have preferred the Amendment as it stood, although he was free to admit that the language might be improved and its legal bearings might be amended; but the Government had stated that they would not accept it as it stood. They said, however, that they would meet the Amendment half way, and would remove from this stringent law a large number of the offences to which he had called attention this afternoon; but they would not alter the law as to cases in which there was an actual passing of money. If they could not get everything, was it not better to get what they could? If the Amendment was taken to a Division, the Committee would vote upon it as a whole, and would vote against the principle of relaxation. He should, therefore, ask leave to withdraw his Amendment. If leave was refused, he should, of course, vote for his own Amendment, which he very much preferred; but, as a matter of Parliamentary strategy, he thought it would be better to get what he could from the Government in the way of a compromise, with- 1332 out attempting to get what, under the circumstances, was impossible.
§ MR. A. H. BROWN
asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
Amendment to proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 180; Noes 209: Majority 29.—(Div. List, No. 148.)
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he now wished to move a Proviso which, he believed, embodied the views of the Attorney General. It would be found to include bribery, personation, and other corrupt practices. He thought the Committee were not prepared to part with the subject until the Government either adopted this proposal or amended it, notwithstanding the decision they had just arrived at. In order to give the Attorney General an opportunity of modifying the clause in any way he might suggest, he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) would move the Amendment which now stood in his name.
In page 2, at the end of the Clause, to add"—Provided always, That if the election court shall in their report state that the corrupt practices, of which such candidate shall be found guilty by his agent, were not personations, or of a trivial character, and that they did not affect the result of the election, then the election shall not be void."—(Sir Hardinge Giffard.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would appeal to the Committee to assist the Government in the confusion into which the matter had got in consequence of this particular course of action before the Government had time to consider the subject. Owing to the hurried way in which his hon. and learned Friend had drawn the Proviso, the effect of the words was to prevent an act of bribery voiding an election. Nevertheless, the disqualification of the candidate remained. His hon. and learned Friend had undertaken the task of drawing up the Amendment which he asked the Committee to accept as final legislation; and, nevertheless, he submitted to them a Proviso which did not carry out what he meant. The whole object of the Amendment was to relieve a candidate, and yet it did nothing of 1333 the kind. Then, ought the Government to be asked, in this hurried manner, to accept words which did not for a moment carry out what his hon. and learned Friend desired? Did his hon. and learned Friend mean to relieve a candidate from disqualification? [Sir HARDINGE GIFFARD Yes!] He had certainly understood that that was his object; but the words submitted by his hon. and learned Friend certainly did not carry out that object. Instead of allowing the Government calmly to consider the matter, as he (the Attorney General) had promised they would do, if the Committee would allow him to draw the clause as he wished on the lines of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and, acting in conjunction with his hon. Friend, an Amendment was submitted which it was impossible for them to accept. He had promised to draw up the best clause he could, and although hon. Members opposite had departed from the arrangement he still adhered to his promise. He would not treat the Division which had just taken place as final; but, at the same time, he could not accept the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend, and he did not see why they should be required to come to a conclusion in a hurried manner without due consideration.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he must express his surprise at the remarks which had been made by the Attorney General. These Amendments had been on the Paper for the last 10 days, and the Government had never suggested what line they were going to take in reference to amending them until that day. They had had ample opportunity for doing so; but, instead of clearly indicating what their intention was, they had made loose statements and delivered loose speeches two or three times a-day. He thought the Committee ought not to part with the clause until they knew from the Government what they meant to do. In the course of half-an-hour the time for adjournment would have arrived; and they were quite entitled, when the House met on Monday at 4 o'clock, to be in possession of the words which the Government proposed to incorporate in the clause. This was the place in which they ought to appear; and it was only right and proper that they should be put in. He did not accept the criticism of the Attorney Gene- 1334 ral upon his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard). The closing words of the clause were "that if the candidate had been elected his election should be void," and the Amendment provided that if the Election Court should state that the corrupt practices wore of a trivial character, and that they did not affect the result of the election, then the election should not be void. It was quite right that there should be some Amendment upon that important point when the House reassembled on Monday; and if the Attorney General wished to put it in better words he could do so. There was nothing to prevent his hon. and learned Friend from placing on the Paper an Amendment to carry out the views he had announced to the Committee, and which he desired to carry out. He himself (Mr. Gibson) had the most entire faith in what the Attorney General had said, and he gave implicit credence to his good intentions in the matter; but he did not think that it was either convenient or desirable to pass away from the clause until the Committee knew what the Government intended to do. He saw no reason why the Attorney General should not make the statement now which would have to be submitted later on in the form of a now clause. It must be remembered that the clause dealt with penalties for corrupt practices, and was a most momentous one, and it ought not to be parted with without a clear understanding. He had a very strong opinion that the ideas of many Members in reference to other clauses of the Bill must be substantially affected by the way in which they saw that these corrupt practices were dealt with. He wanted to know now, as it had not been stated clearly, whether the Attorney General meant to convey that he intended to present to the Committee, for its acceptance, an Amendment which would enable an Election Judge to say that in cases of undue influence and treating of an exceptional and trivial character they would not affect the result of the election, and the election would not be declared void? That was a clear and specific question. It was all very well to convey to the Committee that the Government intended to deal with treating and undue influence in a way different from that in which they dealt with bribery and personation. He 1335 could quite understand that; but, nevertheless, it still left them very much in the dark. At present, they knew that bribery and personation would entail the loss of the seat and all the other consequences provided in the; and, as there would also be the finding of the Election Judge of undue influence and treating, he wanted to know from the Attorney General what his ideas were as to the powers of the Election Judge, if he were to arrive at the conclusion he had been speaking of in reference to undue influence and treating? Was he to have the power of declaring that the election was not void, and of freeing the candidate from all consequences?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would take the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He would take up the 1st clause, which required to be safeguarded, by the fact that the corrupt practices were committed with the knowledge and consent of the candidate. He would also take the 2nd clause, subject also to verbal alteration; and would apply both provisions only to bribery and personation, and not to treating and undue influence. He would do more than that. Instead of only making the election void, he would carry it further, and remove the disqualification from the candidate.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that, after the very clear and satisfactory statement of the Attorney General, he hoped his hon. and learned Friend would withdraw his Amendment, and that the Committee would be able to finish the 4th clause before the hour for adjournment arrived.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 5 (Punishment of persons convicted on indictment of corrupt practices).
said, he proposed to move an Amendment in the first part of the clause. The clause provided that a person who committed any corrupt practice other than personation, or aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the offence of personation, should be guilty of a misdemeanour. He proposed to omit the words, "other than personation, aid- 1336 ing, abetting, counselling, or procuring the offence of personation." He saw no reason why personation should be placed in a different category, and he thought that all corrupt practices would more properly be treated alike. The effect of putting personation in another category was to make it a slightly more severe penalty than it was at present made. Instead of a misdemeanour, it was made a felony punishable by two years' imprisonment with hard labour; whereas other offences were punished by only one year's imprisonment with or without hard labour. It seemed to him much more reasonable that there should be the same punishment for personation as for other corrupt practices. At any rate, the maximum should be the same for all corrupt practices. He knew that at the time the Ballot Act passed there was a great fright and scare got up that there would be an immense amount of personation under that Act, and the punishment was made severe in order to satisfy some people who thought that there ought to be an aggravated punishment for the offence of personation. He should like to ask the Attorney General how many people had been punished under the Ballet Act for personation? He thought it would be found that the number tried or convicted had been extremely few; and he did not think there was a single instance in which a person convicted of personation had ever received so heavy a punishment as one year's imprisonment. What, then, was the good of keeping up a distinction between personation and other corrupt practices? Why not simplify the clause and the law?
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 30, leave out from "other than" to "personation" in line 32, inclusive.—(Mr. Gorst.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'other than' stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he intended to accept the Amendment in form only, but not in substance. he accepted the proposal to omit the words referred to in the Amendment; but he proposed to accede to an Amendment which stood further down on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), in order that the specific 1337 punishment for the offence should appear in the Bill, instead of simple reference to the punishment provided by Section 24 of the Ballet Act of 1872. He wished, however, to retain the punishment as it stood, and that he understood to be the desire of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) wanted to go further and reduce the punishment. He thought it would be more convenient to have the punishment specified in the Bill; and, therefore, to that extent, he accepted the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment; but he intended in substance to adopt the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire, which provided that a—Person guilty of the offence of personation, or of aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the commission of that offence shall be guilty of felony, and any person convicted thereof shall be punished. by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, together with hard labour.The Ballot Act of 1872 made personation a felony. It was felt that there would be considerable difficulty under the Ballot Act in avoiding personation; and he was afraid, to a great extent, that it did go on. There could be no unintentional personation, and, therefore, no person whatever could suffer innocently; and the Government felt that they ought to retain the penalty already enacted for the offence. It should be remembered that many persons had been deterred from personation by the severity of the penalty; and if they were now to make it less than they had made it 11 years ago the effect might be bad. They had made it a felony, and they must mark their sense of the fact that the offence was as bad as it could be. he proposed in the 1st section of Clause 5, after the words "corrupt practice," to strike out the words "other than personation, or aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the offence of personation." The clause would then read—A person who commits a corrupt practice shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and on conviction on indictment shall be liable to be imprisoned. with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding one year, and be fined any sum not exceeding £200.Then, in the 2nd section of the clause, he proposed to insert the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), I making the offence of personation a 1338 felony punishable by two years' imprisonment with hard labour. He wanted to make it clear what the punishment for personation was; and he was afraid he could only agree to strike out these words, not in substance, but as a matter of drafting, with a view of making the subject more clear, when he came to the sub-section which declared what the punishment for personation should be.
said, he could not accept the proposal of the Attorney General, and he should feel obliged to take a Division on the matter, not as a friend of personation, because he wished to put a stop to personation, but because he knew that people had not been deterred from committing the offence by the severity of the penalty. The offence of personation was very common in the North of England—[Cries of "No!"]—it might not be so common in the South of England, but it was very common in the North—[Cries of "No!"]—probably not all over the North; but, still, it was very common in parts of the North of England. [Cries of "No!"] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen who said "No!" did not know as much about it as he did; and, so far from offenders having been deterred by the Ballot Act, the offence was just as common now, or even more so, than it was before the Ballot Act passed. It was precisely because the punishment was so extremely severe, and because the people knew what the terror of the law was, and that an indictment for felony involving two years' imprisonment with hard labour never was or never would be put in force, that they wore not deterred from committing this offence. For this reason persons were never afraid of the punishment, and so committed the offence with impunity. A lighter punishment would be far more effectual than a severe penalty which nobody dreamt of putting in force. If the punishment for the offence of personation was one month's imprisonment, or a fine of £20, £30, or £100, according to the means of the offender, it would have been found that a great many more persons would have been brought up for that offence, instead of nobody receiving any punishment at all. Many persons would have received a light and speedy punishment; and, in short, the law would be certain to be enforced much more effectually. He would like to ask the Government to tell the Committee whether, as a matter of 1339 fact, the provisions of the Ballot Act had not been a dead letter; whether it was not so severe a law that it had never been enforced? In the interest of purity of election and a stoppage of the offence of personation he advocated a milder punishment, a punishment which would not shock the sense of public justice, and which could be enforced.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he was justified in the remark that, although the Amendments had been on the Paper for 14 days, the Attorney General (Sir Henry James), who had charge of the Bill, had not yet arrived at a right understanding in regard to them. At all events, they had the admission of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself that sometimes he did not deliberate quite as much upon the Amendments as he ought to do. He (Mr. Lewis) had understood they were going to put the law relating to corrupt practices in a compact state. After all, they were not going to do anything of the sort; for, whereas they had been told over and over again that bribery was the grand climax of all electioneering offence, it appeared that in the estimation of the Government it did not stand at the top of the tree, but that personation did. It was absurd to class personation with all sorts of things which in the mind of man formed the category of felonious offences. If his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) went to a Division he should vote with him.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he was glad attention had been called to this question. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) seemed to think that personation was confined to the North of England. That, however, was not the fact, as it prevailed in other large constituencies. He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) recollected a remarkable case of personation in the constituency he had the honour of representing. A member of the Conservative Committee in the City was polled for the Liberal candidate, though it was well known at the time that he was sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar. It was questionable, however, whether, by making the law too strict, they would put a stop to personation.
§ Question, "That the words 'other than' stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, the next Amendment stood in the name of the hon. 1340 Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), who was now in Ireland; and it was, practically, similar to an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis). Seeing that the hon. Member for Londonderry had taken so much interest in the Bill, he (Mr. Biggar) and his hon. Friends thought they might allow the Amendment of the hon. Member for Sligo to pass, and let the issue be raised upon the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lewis). Perhaps, however, he had better move the Amendment of the hon. Member for Sligo. It was, page 2, line 31, before "personation," insert "undue influence or." As the Bill now stood, a person guilty of the offence of undue influence was liable to all the penalties proposed in the Bill. It had been agreed by the Government that a distinction should be made between bribery and personation, treating and undue influence. His hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton), therefore, had put this Amendment on the Paper, so that the offence of undue influence, which was acknowledged by the Government to be comparatively of a slight nature, should not render the guilty person liable to the severest punishment under the Bill. It must be remembered that in many cases—in most cases in fact—undue influence was not used by the candidate himself, but by persons of more or less responsibility.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 31, before the word "personation," to insert the words "undue influence or."—(Mr. Biggar.)
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, they had already declared undue influence to be a corrupt practice. They ought not, therefore, to allow the offence to go unpunished. It was not possible to accept the Amendment, because it would allow undue influence to be used with impunity and without any punishment.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he considered the Amendment most important; and he asked what was the punishment attaching to a person guilty of undue influence? It seemed to him that those who had drafted the Bill had entirely forgotten the relation of the guilt of the offence to the extent of the punishment. He would not go into the gene- 1341 ral question of hard larbour; but he thought it was entirely out of the question to go to such extremes with a person who might be found guilty of such an offence as undue influence. What was a common form of undue influence, leaving, for the moment, Ireland out of the question? That of exclusive dealing. A person went into a shop, and said to his tradesman—"I will take away my custom if you don't oblige me on this occasion." Unquestionably, that would be the extent of the undue influence in many cases. It had never been suggested in the House—it had not even been suggested by the Attorney General (Sir Henry James)—that that was an offence which ought to involve imprisonment at all, much less imprisonment with hard labour. There was no corrupt practice that was more elastic in its definition or interpretation than undue influence. It might moan anything that a Judge chose. Expressions used professionally might be construed into undue influence, although they might have comparatively harmless application. What difficulty was there in meeting the various classes of cases? Why should not the Attorney General have pointed out and made a distinction, as he had already promised to make a distinction in the 4th clause, with reference to bribery? There was no difficulty in saying that a person found guilty of treating or undue influence should be liable to a milder punishment than those found guilty of bribery. Though the Amendment now under consideration was not so comprehensive as the one which he had placed on the Paper, it was one which deserved support.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, he hoped the Committee would observe they were not now dealing with the question of punishment, or whether there should not be imprisonment with hard labour for undue influence. What they were dealing with was whether the offence should be punished at all; and what was proposed was that the candidate should be unseated, but that his agent should go free, even if he exercised as much undue influence as he pleased. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had spoken about the severity of the punishment. They did not admit that treating or undue influence was always 1342 in its character a minor offence to bribery. There were many cases of undue influence quite as serious as cases of bribery. It was suggested that discretion as to punishment should be left to the Judges. Technically, a boy who put his hand through a window and stole an apple was liable to penal servitude for life; but no Judge would think of passing such a sentence in such a case.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, it would have been well if the Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell) had made these obversations an hour ago, when the previous Amendment was under consideration. The hon. and learned Gentleman had just said that the law left such very great power to a Judge as to punishment that he might sentence a boy who had done a certain thing to one day's imprisonment, or to a long term of penal servitude. The very Solicitor General who said this had, a short time ago, argued against any extension of the power of the Judges.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, in this case the Judges would know the facts; but in the case which might have arisen under the previous Amendment they would not know the facts.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, it was a regrettable circumstance that the Law Officers of the Crown did not leave the conduct of the Bill in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), and the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), both of whom seemed to have a more practical knowledge of the law than either of the hon. and learned Gentlemen, and certainly they were more imbued with the spirit of justice and fair play than either of the Representatives of Justice in the House of Commons. The Solicitor General said there were many cases of treating which were much more gross and criminal in their character than cases of bribery. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman give the Committee one or two examples? He (Mr. Callan) supposed the Solicitor General could furnish examples from the experience of some near neighbours of his on the Treasury Bench.
§ And it being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to report Progress; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.1343
§ The House suspended its Sitting at Seven of the clock.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.