§ (Mr. Attorney General, Sir William Harcourt, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Solicitor General.)
§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 22nd June.]
§ [NINTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Corrupt Pracices.
§ Clause 5 (Punishment of person convicted on indictment of corrupt practices.)
§ MR. BIGGAR
moved to insert, in page 2, line 31, before the word "per- 1433 sonation," the words "undue influence or." It seemed to him that the great evil which ran all through the Bill, so far as he could see, was the very slight distinction which was drawn between very great offences and very venial ones. Undue influence and treating seemed to be regarded by the Bill in very much the same light as personation and bribery.
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ MR. LEWIS
wished to draw the attention of the Committee, in a very few words, to the very great alteration which was made by this clause. At the present time, if a man was guilty of bribery he was subject to one punishment; if guilty of treating, to another; and if guilty of the exercise of undue influence to another. The difference between the three was considerable. But now it was proposed, by this clause, to put all three offences into the same scale; and, although his own Amendment was not now before the Committee, he just wished, by way of illustration, to point out the very great alteration that was made in this section with reference to treating. At the present time, treating, when done by strangers, and not by the candidate, was a very small offence, and was punishable only with a fine; but it was now proposed to include it in the wide definition of corrupt practices, all of which practices were to be subjected to one maximum of punishment. He would not now refer to the very heavy character of that punishment, as he should have a few words to offer on the subject when they came to deal with the question of hard labour; but what he wanted to draw attention to was the importance of keeping a distinction between things that were essentially different, such as treating, undue influence, and bribery. He would not now say what lie should have to say when his own Amendment came to be discussed; but he was speaking in the sense of his own Amendment. It was important to follow out what the Attorney General had already done in previous matters, so as to recognize the distinction that existed between the several classes of corrupt practices.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he could not agree with his hon. Friend, believing that the adoption of such a principle 1434 would only weaken the hands of a candidate who was anxious to put a stop to these practices. The effect of arming the law with a severe punishment for such offences would, he hoped, tend to make men more careful as to how they indulged in such practices; and that would strengthen the hands of candidates who really desired to carry on elections in a pure and satisfactory manner.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he thought a distinction ought to be made in the case of treating; but he was glad to see a levelling up of the punishment for bribery, as one year's imprisonment for wholesale bribery was a great deal too little.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he was anxious to add a word, as the Attorney General was going to resist this Amendment. He quite sympathized with the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar). The Attorney General had, unfortunately, in spite of the very strong protests of the Irish Members, still left spiritual influence as one of the matters which would invalidate an election; but the hon. and learned Gentleman must have been rather astonished to find that some of the most pronounced Ministerial journals in the country had taken up the view advocated by the Irish Members, and had opposed the view maintained by the Government. However, the point for which the Irish Members contended would be much better raised upon a subsequent Amendment; and he would appeal to his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan not to put the Committee to the trouble of dividing upon the present proposal.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
wished to point out that the effect of the Amendment, if carried, would be that the two offences dealt with would go without any punishment at all. He did not think that two such corrupt practices should be loft out of the category altogether.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that in response to the appeal of his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) he would not take a division upon the Amendment; but he still felt strongly, in spite of the observations of the Attorney General, that these four separate offences should not be included in the same category. The Amendment might, 1435 however, be raised in another form at a subsequent point. A speech of an ambiguous character might be held to be undue influence, and the person who made it might become liable to a very severe punishment. However, he would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. LEWIS
moved the omission of the words "with or" in page 2, line 34, his object being to take away the power of inflicting hard labour as a part of the punishment. He was not prepared to carry that to an extreme, or to say that it should not be in the power of the Judge to give hard labour in a case of bribery; but he should like to see a distinction made between the greater and the lesser offences. He thought they were going rather far in regard to the question of treating. By the Act of 1854, which was, among other things, to remove doubts as to whether the giving of refreshment to a voter was or was not according to law, it was declared to be an illegal act, and it was provided that any person offending should forfeit the sum of 40s. to any person who should sue for the same, together with the costs of the suit. That was the penalty in 1854, and it was now proposed to make the punishment a year's hard labour, with a fine of £200. He was not prepared to say that the former punishment was sufficiently severe—he did not think it was; but this was going to the very extreme at the other end of the pole, and there was no reasonable ground for suggesting that there should not be a distinction between cases of treating and cases of bribery. It was an enormous punishment to hang over the head of any unfortunate person who might be beguiled unwittingly into an act of a doubtful character; and it was perfectly obvious that, under the terrors of such a provision, many jurors would refuse to convict, because they believed the punishment to be too severe. He did not wish to take up any time upon this point; but he asked the Committee to make a distinction between bribery and treating, and not to leave it in the power of any Judge to inflict hard labour for treating.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 34, leave out "with or."—(Mr. Lewis.)
1436 Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
wished to know whether the hon. Member proposed to retain the punishment of hard labour for bribery?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he could not accept the Amendment, for the clause was necessary as it stood if the House was to deal effectually with the offence of treating, or otherwise a constituency might be corrupted almost with impunity under the present law. He knew of one important case where a person threw the public-houses open from an early hour of the morning at the time of an election, and the election became an impure one from that hour. There were people who wished to punish that person who had so acted, but they had not the slightest power to do it. The man simply laughed at them, and the result was that the constituency was demoralized by the action of that one man. There was going to be some alteration in the law, and inasmuch as treating always was a corrupt practice, why should it be dealt with otherwise than any other corrupt practice? The punishment was, no doubt, a severe one; but only in very grave cases would it be inforced, and nobody who was guilty of treating by an agent could be tried under this clause. He could not recollect any prosecutions for corrupt practices in other than very serious cases on the Report of Commissioners. Parliament desired to deal with treating, supporting the law as it now was, as a serious corrupt practice; but how could it do so otherwise than by making the punishment severe? It would have a tendency to encourage a certain class of offences if distinctions were drawn between these various corrupt practices, and it was laid down that treating was more venial, and therefore required less punishment. He had said over and over again that he could make no such distinction, and that treating was even more dangerous than bribery; there ought, indeed, to be no difference in degree between these four corrupt practices. Another thing he wished to point out was this. No doubt the punishment was 1437 severe; but it would be in the discretion of the Judge, and not of one Judge alone, for these cases would be upon information, and would be heard by three Judges sitting to apportion the sentence. There would, therefore, be sufficient precaution taken to guard the infliction of the maximum punishment. Hon. Members might rely upon it that the power to inflict the maximum punishment would never be used except in extreme cases. Even then a man would have to be found guilty by a jury, and it would be in the discretion of the Judge to apply what sentence he thought fit.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, the Attorney General had informed them that nobody who was guilty of treating by an agent could be tried under this clause. He should like to understand how that was, in view of the wording of the clause in line 11?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the clause dealt with "any person who commits any corrupt practice." That was clearly not by his agent.
said, he thought the Government were themselves to blame for the position in which things had now got. They might have taken either one of two courses. They might have declined to classify corrupt practices at all, and made the punishment uniform, trusting to the Judge to discriminate; or they might have adopted a reasonable classification. But, as a matter of fact, they did neither the one thing nor the other. They did make a distinction, because they gave a separate punishment for personation. If they had done so in that case, why should they not do it also in the case of treating or undue influence? He thought the Government would much improve the clause if they would do ono of two things. They should either give ono uniform punishment for all corrupt practices, trusting to the Court which decided the case to discriminate between one and another; or they should have a proper classification and a schedule of punishments, with a different maximum for treating, for bribery, and for undue influence.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that when the Ballot Act was being passed in 1872, it was found that very great evils might arise through the amount of personation, 1438 especially as there was great difficulty in tracing out the fraud. The Government, therefore, had to safeguard against personation, and he thought it right that that should be done. The Act of 1872 imposed the penalty, and it would hardly be right to go back upon that.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he thought the candidate ought to be protected, and therefore he was willing to leave the matter to the discretion of the Judge. There was an Amendment of some importance a little further on—that "and" should be left out, and "or" substituted. He could imagine a very bad case of treating or bribery, for which the Judge ought to give a very severe punishment; but he did not mean to say that every case should be treated with equal severity.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
said, he was very glad that the Attorney General was determined to stand by the clause. They knew very well that the offence of treating existed long before the corrupt practice of bribery: It was in 1696 that the first Act of Parliament was passed to repress treating, which was then very prevalent; and in every Act since they found the offence of treating recognized and laid down as a corrupt practice. Not only that, but the Courts of Law had held from time to time that it was a misdemeanour at Common Law. Parliament could make it a Statutable misdemeanour, but it could not alter it as an offence at Common Law. Whatever might be now done would make no difference with regard to the law against treating, which would continue to be a misdemeanour at Common Law punishable with fine and imprisonment.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he quite appreciated the difficulty which the Attorney General had in dealing with this matter, and understood his objection to establish a complete classification; because, no doubt, wholesale treating was much worse than isolated bribery. At the same time, he would like the Committee to consider whether the enforcement of this clause, as it stood, was the proper way of attaining the object in view, and whether jurors were likely to convict when they knew that the Judge might impose such a serious punishment as hard labour. He had heard a good deal of ono of the celebrated trials of last year, when certain agents at Macclesfield were found guilty, and he remem- 1439 bered that the feeling in the Assize town where they were being tried was rather one of commiseration for them than of any great indignation for their guilt. Indeed, if it had been known that such a sentence as that pronounced by Mr. Justice Denman would have been passed, he was convinced that neither of the men would have been convicted. That being so, he was inclined to fear whether, if the clause was passed as it stood, its effect might not be to prevent people from being convicted. He was anxious that serious offenders should be convicted; but, having regard to the great chance of failure in such cases, he should be very glad if the Attorney General could see his way, before the discussion closed, to lesson the stringency of the clause in some way.
§ MR. H. B. SAMUELSON
said, that hitherto offences of electoral corruption had been dealt with very tenderly indeed. There had been a very tender feeling about them generally, and he maintained that such offences would never be eradicated until the offenders were treated as what they really were—serious criminals, and not as merely venial offenders. Holding that view, he should support the retention of the words in the clause. At the same time, he had an Amendment to propose further on which would prevent those who really were only venial offenders from being too severely punished.
Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. LEWIS
moved, in page 2, line 35, to omit the word "and," in order to insert the word "or." He explained that the object of this proposal was to give an option to the Judge to fine simply, if he thought the case was one which would be met by a fine. No ono would dispute that where the offence was really trivial a fine ought to be sufficient, and if a discretion was to be given to the Judge at all—and this was done in almost every clause—why should lie not have it in trivial cases which were really not large enough for imprisonment, and in which justice would be amply satisfied by the substitution of a fine? Surely, the Attorney General would allow such an alternative where the class of cases really admitted of it. It would be a waste of time to say more in support of such an obvious proposal.
1440 Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 35, to leave out "and," and insert "or."—(Mr. Lewis.)
Question proposed, "That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that substantially the word "and" in this line really meant "or," inasmuch as the Judge could, if he thought fit, order one day's imprisonment, which, commencing with the opening of the Assizes, was no imprisonment at all. The Judge, therefore, could always if he liked substitute a fine for the imprisonment, or, if he chose to give the maximum punishment, it was open for him to do so. The question, therefore, was not really worth discussing, and there was no need to make any alteration in the clause.
§ MR. H.B. SAMUELSON
said, that that was the very thing he wanted to prevent. He wanted to insure that the same punishment should be meted out to the rich man as to the poor man; but if they allowed a fine to be substituted for imprisonment, the rich man might be fined a large sum, which would really amount to nothing to him, while the poor man would have to go to prison. It was not a good thing to allow the rich man to escape by the payment of a fine, while the poor man, who had not a penny to pay with, had to go to prison.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSGHELL)
said, he quite agreed with the principle that the rich man should not be let off with a fine; but he was quite sure that the Judges would deal with the matter properly. They would say—"The fact that this man is rich is the very reason why a fine would be no punishment to him at all." He was ready to accept the Amendment proposed.
said, he thought that if a discretion was to be given to the Judge it should be given as it stood in the clause, under which the Judge could. either fine or imprison, or fine and imprison.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he hoped the Committee would support the Govern- 1441 ment in this matter, as they had expressed their willingness to accept the Amendment proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr.Lewis). The only object of the Amendment was to introduce greater clearness into the clause.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
wished to point out that one of the candidates at an election might be the popular candidate, who might win by a large majority—a majority, say, of 1,000 votes or more. But the rich and unpopular candidate who was being defeated might go and get up a corrupt practice with anybody who chose to undertake it, and that might void the election. The guilty party might get off with a fine or a slight imprisonment, and there would be no redress for the other candidate whose election would be upset.
Question put, and negatived.
Question, "That the word 'or' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
moved to add to Sub-section 1 of the clause the following words:—Or on summary conviction shall be liable to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding four calendar months, and to be fined any sum not exceeding fifty pounds.He said He proposed this Amendment in all earnestness, and with no notion whatever of injuring the Bill in any degree. He proposed it when the Bill was in Committee last Session, and the proposal was spoken of in terms of approval by at least one Member of Her Majesty's Government. His object in moving the Amendment was to give to any candidate who was earnestly determined, by himself or his agents, to fight a pure contest, the opportunity of immediate protection on the spot against any corrupt practice. He might be asked why he was setting up an Amendment which was rather contrary to the scope of the Bill. If he were asked, with regard to the constituencies of the country at this moment, whether they were corrupt or not, he thought he should be right in replying that a large number of them were pure. He moved this Amendment with some little sense of responsibility, because He was intimately concerned with the General Elections of 1874 and 1880, and he was 1442 also engaged in other contests at bye-elections for 12 years; and his experience had led him to the conviction that the constituencies which were pure in 1874 were not so pure in 1880. They had, therefore, to deal with an evil which was not stationary, but with ono which was steadily, gradually, and surely increasing in all constituencies. There would be very little use in passing a measure which did not provide an adequate and simple machinery whereby a candidate, if he found he was not getting fair play, might have power to summon the delinquents before some tribunal sitting on the spot. What were the advantages that might fairly be urged in reference to such a course? As the Bill stood at present, action under it was only to be taken after Petition; but, by this Amendment, action could be taken so immediately that the delinquent could be caught at once and taken red-handed before the Justices and adequately punished at once. He could not help thinking, however, that when they considered the grave circumstances that might be involved there should be power to appeal. There was another thing he wished to urge in reference to this point. Hon. Members know that Petitions were often checked in this way—the mischief commenced during the election, and the temptation pressed very hard on the other side, although the candidate upon that side might have been endeavouring to fight a pure election. The consequence was that the same corrupt practices were resorted to on both sides; and it was not unfrequently the case that a Petition was avoided, neither side having clean hands, and a constituency became gradually corrupted by those very means. The temptation came so very strongly forced upon the agents, and upon others who were interested in a particular candidate, when they found that their voters were being taken away from them by the exercise of corrupt means, and when they found themselves unable to resist it, that there was a general resort to corrupt practices. There was another point in reference to this Bill, and the Petitions likely to be presented under it, which he desired to urge. He was convinced that the penalties under the Bill were so severe that any person would be cautious indeed before he incurred the great responsibility and the certain unpopularity of presenting a Petition. They were told 1443 that tricks would be played, that evidence would be got up, and, as Party feeling would run high, there was a risk of justice not being done. He had not much to say upon that point; but his own knowledge of the way in which Petitions had been got up assured him that spite and malice generally prevailed for some time after an election was over. He had never known an instance in which one side or the other, when it had suffered defeat, did not arrive at the conclusion that the result had been brought about by the malpractices of their opponents. The consequence was that a Petition was hastily presented complaining of the prevalence of corrupt practices at the election; and when the whole matter was brought to a test it ended in a great deal of wrangling and hard swearing, with very little good result. He, therefore, thought it would be advantageous to provide sonic simple machinery by which a delinquent might be brought up and tried at once while the election was taking place. He had nothing to add, except in regard to the tribunal before which such cases would be tried. For his own part, he would be satisfied with a tribunal composed of two Justices sitting in Petty Sessions; but if the Committee considered the Amendment worthy of discussion or consideration, he apprehended there would be no difficulty in devising an adequate tribunal. He placed the Amendment before the Committee in perfect good faith; and he believed that the adoption of some such proposal would do a great deal towards getting rid of bribery, and keeping a constituency pure during an election contest. He begged to move the Amendment.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 36, after the word "pounds," insert "or on summary conviction shall be liable to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding four calendar months, and to be fined any sum not exceeding fifty pounds."—(Sir William Hart Dyke.)Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was sorry that he could not accept the Amendment; but there were very strong reasons in his mind against it. The proposition was that the trial of a man for corrupt practices should take place before the local 1444 Justices, and that it should be conducted, according to the argument of his right hon. Friend, in the warmth and heat of the election, and before the very persons who, in nine cases out of ten, would have been active political partizans supporting the candidature of one person against the other. He was of opinion that proceedings before such a tribunal were most inexpedient, and would tend to bring justice into perfect contempt. It would not improbably happen that these very Justices, on the eve or morning of the election, would be, by virtue of their position in the locality, acting either as chairmen or members of committees, canvassing with the candidate, or making violent harangues in his behalf, and in other ways taking an interest in the election. Yet it was proposed that gentlemen in that position should be asked at once to re-assume their judicial temper and action. He thought if they were endeavouring to find a really bad tribunal in the country, it would be perfectly impossible to find one that would be worse for dealing with such cases than the summary and local tribunal now suggested by his right hon. Friend. The Government had been reproached for imposing penalties that were too harsh and severe; but, in imposing thorn, they were of opinion that they ought only to be inflicted after a fair and impartial trial, and by a tribunal which could not possibly be charged with partizanship. They had taken care in the Bill that no man was convicted of corrupt practices except by the verdict of a jury. By the 36th section of the Bill it was required that the Director of Public Prosecutions should, by himself or by his representative, attend the trial of Election Petitions and prosecute offenders; and there was power to the Court to hear the case, if the offence was punishable on summary conviction, or to committee offender for trial. But, although they gave the Judge the power of imprisoning a man for six months, the Court was relieved from all suspicion of local influence, and the accused person had the option of claiming the right of being tried by a jury. He contended that they ought to take very great care to protect a man against the possibility of being tried by a partial Court in the heat of an election contest. No doubt, by the 40th clause, on an application made six months after 1445 an election, if there was reasonable cause to believe that corrupt or illegal practices had been committed, or illegal payments made, a Commissioner might be appointed to hold a Court for the trial of persons charged with such illegal practices or illegal payments. But even in that case, although the Court had power to imprison an offender for three months, or to order him to pay a fine not exceeding £100, it was necessary, before proceeding to try summarily, to give a person charged with having committed any corrupt or illegal practice the option of being tried by jury. If persons were to be liable to be sent to prison for four months, it was clear that they ought to have an impartial trial. He, therefore, hoped the Amendment would not be pressed.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he admitted that the objections taken by the Attorney General to the particular tribunal proposed by the Amendment were very cogent; but he was quite sure that his right hon. Friend (Sir William Hart Dyke) was more anxious about the principle of the Amendment than he was about the particular machinery he proposed to provide for carrying it out. The Attorney General had not, he thought, dealt with the one most important point in the conduct of elections; and he would appeal to the experience of his hon. and learned Friend. There had been various enactments which made certain acts on the part of the voters a misdemeanour; but he would ask his hon. and learned Friend, if in his experience, he had ever known anybody prosecuted for those offences? He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) certainly never had; and yet it constantly cropped up on the trial of Election Petitions that such offences had been committed. Witness after witness got into the box and unblushingly confessed that during the election he had committed offences which were prohibited by Act of Parliament. Everybody who knew anything about the election knew and admitted that such offences were going on on both sides; and yet no power interfered to put a stop to them, because nobody would take the trouble to set the law in motion. As a matter of fact, it was nobody's business to do so; and when an election was over everyone wanted to be as good-humoured as possible, and these matters escaped investigation. But 1446 when an Election Petition was presented, the commission of these illegal acts cropped up accidentally, and it was then admitted that multitudes of persons had systematically disobeyed the law. His own opinion was that the adoption, at any rate, of the principle of the Amendment would go far to secure a pure election. He fully admitted the difficulty about the tribunal; but, at the same time, he thought it was a difficulty that might be got over. The Attorney General was himself, in a great measure, responsible for the introduction of a system by which a sort of Commission was sent round the country to try offences committed at municipal elections. Where corrupt practices were alleged to have taken place at a municipal election a barrister was appointed to act as Judge pro hâc vice. That system might be extended to Parliamentary elections, and it would not be difficult to have persons elected for that purpose all over the Kingdom. That would get rid of the local element, and he did not see why they should not have a tribunal sitting locally on the spot without incurring very great expense.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that the tribunal in the case of municipal elections was a special Commission.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, that, no doubt, it was a special Commission after the offence had been committed. What was wanted in this ease was to have someone on the spot, so that an offender might be handed over and tried at once. It was most important that they should have a tribunal which, by its instant interference, could stop the corrupt practices which everybody must know were being carried at an election. What happened now was that when the election was over, the whole thing was passed by; and what his right hon. Friend wanted to secure was the instant trial of the offender then and there. Although he fully admitted all that the Attorney General had said against permitting a trial of this sort by a local tribunal, in the heat of an election, He was of opinion that a satisfactory tribunal might be found for dealing with the matter.
said, that, after hearing the way in which the Amendment had been met by the Attorney General, he could not believe that Her Majesty's Go- 1447 vernment were really in earnest in endeavouring to put down bribery. He entirely omitted the Attorney General personally. He thought his hon. and learned Friend would be glad to concede the Amendment if he could; but it would appear that He had had orders from his official superiors that the Amendment was to be resisted to the last; and if that was so, and if the Government did not accept an Amendment of this character, he, for one, said—and he said it advisedly—that he did not believe they were sincere in their desire to put down corrupt practices. What was the history of the past? This was not a new law which they were placing upon the Statute Book for the first time; but it had been there since 1859, and the offence of bribery had been punishable with imprisonment since the year 1851. But had they had any convictions? Had they stopped the offence of bribery? His right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) said, on the contrary, that it was on the increase. Why was that? It was because experience proved that the offence could be committed with impunity; and nobody knew better than the Attorney General why it could be committed with impunity. It was because procedure by indictment was so cumbrous, costly, and uncertain, that no one dreamt of sending a man for trial to the Assizes. Unless Her Majesty's Government would substitute for this uncertain, loose, and costly procedure some sure, sharp, quick, and certain mode of punishing the offence of bribery, they might depend upon it the law would never be a terror to the people. In this instance, he would ask the Committee to look at the question of expense. Who was to pay the expense of an indictment for bribery? It was not one of the expenses for which the prosecutor was reimbursed out of the Consolidated Fund. If a man wished to prosecute another for bribery, he must be prepared to bear the whole expense of the indictment, to pay counsels' fees, and the expenses of witnesses. He knew that occasionally two or three persons out of many thousands were prosecuted by the Public Prosecutor at the public expense; but that was a very rare and exceptional thing, and when it did take place, only two or three individuals were prosecuted out of some 10,000 or 20,000 offenders. Then, again, look at the do- 1448 lay that occurred. The offence was triable only at the Assizes, and the prosecutor must wait until the next Assizes before he could bring the case under the consideration of the Court. In the next place, the offence was triable by a jury; and, the sympathies of juries being almost invariably with the briber, the case was one in which it was extremely difficult to obtain a conviction. The Government last year prosecuted a number of cases; but how many convictions did they get? He would like the Solicitor General to tell the Committee if he did not know personally of many cases in which the offence was quite as general as in those in which there had been convictions, but in regard to which juries declined to convict. His hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had drawn a picture of local Justices who had taken an active part in an election having the indecency to sit afterwards on a tribunal to try an election offence. He (Mr. Gorst) did not think the Justices of this country were so entirely lost to all sense of decency, that they would take a prominent part in sitting upon a tribunal and adjudicating upon an election offence in which they had themselves been concerned. He was quite certain that if a power of this kind were given to a local Court, that local Court would be formed for the purpose out of borough or county Justices, whose motives would be above suspicion. In every borough they would be able to find two or three sensible and discerning men who took very little part in election matters, and who preferred to remain aloof from the turmoil of a contested election. It was such men who ought to sit on a tribunal of this nature; and he believed that, by the universal consent of both sides, they would be asked to sit in order to try an election offence. So far as the county Justices were concerned, there was an abundance of men in every part of every county who did not take an active part in election contests. The Attorney General, with extraordinary inconsistency, although he would not entrust this Court with the power of inflicting a fine or three months' imprisonment for corrupt practices, would entrust it with the power of inflicting a fine for illegal practices. If it was improper for such a tribunal to try a case of treating, or a trumpery case of bribery, it was equally improper for it to try a case in which an illegal 1449 practice, such as the employment of a band, or the use of colours, had been committed. Then, again, the Attorney General contended that in every case in which a man was brought before a local tribunal he would refuse to be tried by it, and would insist on being tried by a jury under the Summary Jurisdiction Act. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL dissented.] He presumed that the Attorney General, by shaking his head, was not acquainted with the provisions of that Act. The 17th section of the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879 gave a right to any person sentenced to four months' imprisonment to claim to be tried by a jury; and he imagined that the term of four months had been purposely selected by his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) in order to give an accused person, if he liked, the option of going before a jury. The Summary Jurisdiction Act provided that any person charged with an offence for which he was liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment exceeding four months, and not being an assault, might, on appearing before the Court, and before the charge was gone into, but not afterwards, claim to be tried by a jury. Then, what came of the Attorney General's objection to this Court, seeing that it was a Court in which any person, if he thought fit, could refuse to be tried, and could claim to be tried by a jury? Moreover, it was a Court from which there was a right of appeal, if the person convicted felt grieved by the decision of the local tribunal. Consequently, if anyone thought that the Court was partial, and had given an unfair decision, he would have the right to appeal to the Quarter Sessions, where the case would be reheard, with every element of publicity and perfect security for the proper administration of justice. In this case only the Attorney General proposed to give jurisdiction to the local Justices, and there would be no appeal, because it was not a case of imprisonment, but simply one of fine, although the man might be sent to prison in default of payment of the fine. His hon. and learned Friend did not scruple to give a local tribunal the power of imprison. ment in default of the payment of a fine, although he pretended that he dare not entrust the same tribunal with the trial of a corrupt practice, for which there 1450 was to be a power of refusal to be tried by the Court, and, in the event of a conviction, an appeal to the Court of Quarter Sessions. He thought the only objection which could be made to this Amendment was that this principle was too favourable to the defendant; and it was conceivable that there might be cases in which it would open the door to collusion. For instance, the defendant who had been guilty of gross corrupt practices might be summoned before the Bench of Magistrates, in order that he might be acquitted, convicted, or dealt with in some way, so as to avert the chance of being taken up upon a more serious charge, and committed for trial to the Assizes. No doubt, there would be a danger of such a thing happening; but he did not think it was a serious one. In the first place, they would have the security of the tribunal itself; and if they had a Public Prosecutor who was worth anything he would see that justice was not defeated in that way, but that the case would be taken up by the Prosecutor himself, and properly proceeded with. He believed that the Amendment submitted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) was a most important one; and he thought it should be pressed by the Committee upon the attention of the Government, until the Government were induced to give way. He unhesitatingly asserted that if they relied upon the cumbrous process of indictment at the Assizes as the only means by which corrupt practices were to be dealt with, they would not succeed in putting down those practices at all.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, he did not dispute the statement that this was an important Amendment; but he regretted the charge which the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had made against the Attorney General, of having obviously received orders from higher authorities to oppose the Amendment. [Cries of "Hear, hear!"] All he could say was that he regretted to hear the cheer of those who cheered that statement; and he should not say a word in answer to it. He thought the Government had endeavoured fairly, in the conduct of the Bill, to meet the views of hon. Members opposite. They had endeavoured to meet those views 1451 by arguments as well as they could. Their arguments, he dared say, were not always, to the mind of hon. Gentlemen opposite, conclusive; neither were the arguments of hon. Members opposite always conclusive to Her Majesty's Government. But hon. Members opposite expected, if the Government thought there was danger in an Amendment, that they should give way to it because the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) thought they could not be in earnest if they did not. He could assure the hon. and learned Member that they would consider every argument he used with the attention which an expression of opinion coming from him deserved. The hon. and learned Member said that this was an important Amendment; and he (the Solicitor General) did not for a moment dispute the assertion. He quite agreed that if they could get a tribunal to which they could safely entrust the matter such a course would be extremely desirable. At any rate, they had shown that they considered it a desirable course, because they had gone in the same direction in two other eases; in the first place, wherever the offence was brought out in the trial of an Election Petition, and, in the next, in regard to illegal practices. If, in the hearing of an Election Petition, evidence was given to show that there had been bribery and corrupt practices, they had provided machinery for the summary trial of such offences before the Judges who heard the Election Petition. That provision was adopted on the recommendation of the Select Committee of 1875. They had, however, gone beyond that; and if there was reason to believe, on the representation of 10 electors or the Director of Public Prosecutions, within six months after an election, that a considerable number of the electors had been guilty of some corrupt or illegal practice, a special tribunal was to be created, under Clause 40, to go down to the county or borough and try such cases summarily. The Government had, therefore, shown that they were sensible of the importance of a summary trial. What they were not prepared to do was to remit the questions involved in the Amendment to local Justices. It was said that the magistrates they could not trust would never sit on the Bench for the purpose of adjudicating upon questions of this nature; but he knew of cir- 1452 cumstances which occurred in two cases which had come under his own knowledge personally, which induced him to say that he could not trust the local magistrates, because in those two cases, when the charges came on for hearing, it was found that the Bench of Justices was constituted as it had never been constituted before. Persons appeared upon the Bench and sat to adjudicate upon those cases who had rarely sat upon the Bench of Justice before, and the cases were dealt with in an entirely exceptional way. It was quite true, as the hon. and learned Member for Chatham said, that there could be an appeal by the accused if he liked; but did not the hon. and learned Gentleman see what would be the course that would be invariably pursued? The political views of the Justices who sat on the Bench would be very well known. Almost all of them would be active politicians; and what would happen? A man was taken before a tribunal thus constituted. He would look at its composition, and He would say to himself" I like the complexion of it, and I will be tried by it by all means." If, on the other hand, after looking at the tribunal he did not like the complexion of it, he would say that he preferred to be tried by a jury. Therefore, such a tribunal would not, by any means, secure a greater certainty of justice, because, if the accused did not like the look of the tribunal, he would go to a jury; whereas, if he did like the look of it, he would elect to be tried by it, and a conviction would probably not be secured, although the evidence might be very strong. If anything could be done to extend the provisions of Clauses 36 and 40 the Government would gladly do it. Their desire was quite in harmony with that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—namely, to secure, as far as possible, the aid of local tribunals in cases where they could safely do so. Therefore, they would be prepared, if expedient, to amend Sections 36 and 40; but they did not feel that they could adopt the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, or that they would obtain by it a more certain administration of justice.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the question was really one of very considerable importance. What they desired to do was to put down bribery, treating, and corruption of all kinds; and he 1453 could not help thinking that the most effectual way of doing that would be the knowledge in the county or borough that if bribery was going on it must be put a stop to there and then, and the men taken up. He could not help thinking that if one or two men were taken up there and then it would have more effect than anything that could happen six months afterwards. The Solicitor General appeared to have arrived at the same opinion, that it was important to do this, if it could be done. If they really meant to put down bribery and corruption—and this would be an effectual way of doing it—by all means let them do it, if they could see their way to it. It was only a question of the balance of evil, and he was honestly of opinion that the taking up of one man and sending him to prison for four months during the course of an election would have a greater effect than sending him to 10 months' or a year's imprisonment six months afterwards. What usually happened was this. In the middle of an election somebody came down to a borough whom nobody knew, and they heard tell of sovereigns and half-sovereigns being mysteriously distributed. That was what they wanted to stop. If they could take up that man at once—he did not care whether they could establish agency or not—they would go far towards chocking the evil. It was too often the case that public-houses were kept open during an election, and serious acts of bribery were committed in them. Let them take the men by whom they were committed before a tribunal then and there, and they might depend upon it that they would do more to stop corruption during that election than by any penal consequences they might inflict afterwards. It was only, as he had said, a balance of evil; and he now came to consider the question, could they find a tribunal, or could they not? The Attorney General had objected to the local magistrates; and he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was bound to say that he agreed with what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend near him (Sir Hardinge Giffard) that there were great objections to local magistrates, and that if he were a local magistrate himself he should object to be placed in the position of trying these people; but he saw no reason why they should not extend the machinery because the 1454 expense of getting someone to sit with the Mayor for this purpose, as far as the case of the election committees was concerned, would be very trifling. If they placed it in the power of the Mayor to say that he would have some independent person sent down by the Public Prosecutor for the express purpose of trying these cases the responsibility would be very small, and they would at once have their tribunal, and a tribunal to which there could be no objection. If the Attorney General would only say that, looking at the serious questions involved, and how necessary it was to put a stop to bribery on the spot, He would consider what could be done in the matter, the Committee would, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) believed, have made a great advance. He was quite certain that if the provisions of the 36th and 40th sections were extended to this particular question, that would do more to put down bribery than any other means.
Mr. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he entirely agreed that if they intended to put down bribery and corruption the best thing would be to let the constituency know that the process would be short, sharp, and certain. They were all agreed on that point; and the only difficulty was as to the tribunal. He thought that a tribunal ought to be found, and he did not see why they should not utilize the County Judges, or the stipendiary magistrates, where stipendiary magistrates existed. He did not entertain any regard or affection for the "Great Unpaid;" but he did think that on the Bench of Magistrates men could be found who were altogether free from political influences. He did not know whether the Attorney General could see his way to the adoption of this suggestion; but he thought it was practicable. At the present moment they selected a certain number of the Judges to try Election Petitions, and they set them aside for that special work. Was there any reason why, among the county and borough magistrates, a certain number of Justices should not be selected for the special purpose of trying election cases? [Cries of "No!"] Hon. Members said "No;" but He asked them to consider the proposal fairly. He thought it was quite possible that in every county and borough they might find three or four men who could be set aside for that purpose; and the mere fact of the existence of such a 1455 tribunal would act as a terror and a restraint upon the constituency. Every man was not a Party politician, and they knew that there were many magistrates who took no active part in politics, What he would suggest was that they should select three or four of these men in advance of a General Election, and allow them to be regarded as the election' or petition magistrates. He thought that would be a cheap and easy way of meeting the difficulty; but he merely threw it out as a suggestion to the Government. Whatever proposal might be adopted, the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was most important, and one well worthy of careful consideration. It was said that the Bench of Magistrates was objectionable, because they would take a political interest in election contests. It was not desirable that they should push that objection very far, because, at the present day, they had manufacturers acting as magistrates and adjudicating upon questions concerning the employment of labour; and he believed that game-preserving magistrates were not always unwilling to deal with poaching cases. But, be that as it might, he thought they could cheaply and easily find a tribunal to decide cases of this kind in a manner which should be sharp and decisive.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the hon. and learned Solicitor General had complained of the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst); but he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) thought the Committee would admit that the speech of his hon. and learned Friend had produced a marked change in the manner in which the Government were ready to deal with the question. When the Attorney General got up to reply to the speech of his right hon. Friend on the Front Bench (Sir William Hart Dyke), he held out no hope, and had nothing good to say for it. [Cries of "No!"] At all events, the hon. and learned Member regretted that he could not adopt it, and disapproved of the tribunal suggested by his right hon. Friend. If the Committee seemed generally disposed to think that the Bench of Magistrates was not a proper tribunal for dealing with the question, He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would not say more upon that point; but if the Government took up that lino they ought 1456 to alter the Bill, because, as it stood at present, it gave the magistrates power to inflict a fine of £100 and Parliamentary incapacity for five years, without any appeal on the part of the defendant. It was not consistent, then, for the Government to come down to the House and say it was right to give the magistrates power to inflict a fine of £100; but it was not right to give them the power asked for by his right hon. Friend, although, in the latter case, there was a right of appeal. It was impossible for hon. Members on that side to cross the House and select the tribunal. For his own part, he would be content if the Government would announce that they would take the question into their serious consideration, and either by utilizing some tribunal already in existence, or by some new contrivance, would do what they were now prepared to admit ought to be done—namely, give some power of dealing persons sent down by some central association to corrupt a boroughs and spend money freely in connection with particular candidates, knowing that at present they could do so with impunity, and with the full knowledge that they might hope to escape punishment, because they could only be reached by a very expensive process, which it was nobody's interest to set on foot. They knew further, that they need not anticipate that they would ever be tried, because they were aware, if they found a trial would be inconvenient, that there would be ample time to convey themselves to some safe place of refuge. Under these circumstances, he trusted the Government would hold out some hope that they would contrive some means or other for dealing with these cases summarily.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he hoped that the Committee would dispose of the question without further debate. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had dealt with the matter as if it were a question of summary jurisdiction that could be placed in the hands of the magistrates only. Indeed, he (the Attorney General) knew of no other way in which summary jurisdiction could be exercised. Although his right hon. Friend had mentioned that another tribunal might be suggested, still his leading argument was that these were questions which must be dealt with by 1457 the local magistrates only. Of course, the great question was to provide the machinery, and his right hon. Friend had suggested that the Government should work it out for him. The right hon. Gentleman threw the whole burden upon them; but as to the local magistrates, he thought, notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had said, that the Committee generally would agree that it was not desirable to place the matter in their hands. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No, no!] Of course, he could not expect the noble Lord to agree. The proposal was that during the time the election was going on, because in some other clauses they took power to take certain cases before the local magistrates after the election was over and when an Election Petition was being tried, they ought, therefore, to provide that electioneering cases arising during the election should also be heard by the local magistrates. He did not think there was any analogy between the two cases, and he certainly thought the system was not one which ought to be extended. The Government had provided that, whore isolated cases were brought to light in the trial of an Election Petition, a Commissioner, acting under the direction of the Public Prosecutor, should go down and try them. He did not see what more they could do. It might be suggested that they should send down a Commissioner to every constituency. He forgot what the exact number of the constituencies was; but he took it to be about 350. [An hon. MEMBER: 400.] If there were 400, they would have to send down a paid agent to every one of those constituencies. It was suggested that they should place the matter in the hands of the stipendiary magistrates; but stipendiary magistrates only existed in places where there was a very large constituency, and whore, as a rule, it would not be found that the corrupt practices which they wished to meet had any existence. All these were questions which would have to be discussed before they would be able to find the right tribunal. He, therefore, suggested that the Committee should discuss the question on Clauses 36 and 40 of the Bill; and if a tribunal could be found that was satisfactory, and that could be set to work at a reasonable expense, he would be perfectly willing 1458 to consider the matter. But it was not advisable to bring the question before the Committee in this small way as a matter of summary jurisdiction only, although, no doubt, the discussion which had taken place had not been without its use. At the same time, for the sake of economizing their time, he hoped the Committee would be allowed to defer the question until they came to either of the clauses which did, to a certain extent, raise the principle and carry out the idea aimed at in the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, he was perfectly aware that the question of the tribunal was the chief and almost the only difficulty; and he did not include the tribunal in his Amendment because he knew of that difficulty. There were several Members opposite who were of opinion that the Amendment ought to be amended; and he thought the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to defer the discussion until a later clause, so that some scheme might then be brought forward by the Government, was, on the whole, a fair one. When they reached the clauses referred to by his hon. and learned Friend, the nature of the tribunal might be fairly and practically discussed; and upon that understanding he was willing to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was afraid that his right hon. Friend was acting with a little precipitation in giving way to the Attorney General on this occasion, because the Attorney General had, at present, promised absolutely nothing. When the right hon. Gentleman first proposed the Amendment the Attorney General said the idea was a very bad one, and he would have nothing to do with it. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): No !] The Attorney General did not make a very long speech. In point of fact, he only spoke for three or four minutes, and he certainly said that the idea was a very bad one, and he would have nothing to do with it. But now, so great had been the effect of the arguments which had been used upon the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he now told the Committee the idea was a very good one. There was a remarkable difference between the two statements; but the hon. and learned Gen- 1459 tleman added that if the Committee would be good enough to wait for three or four weeks, when they came to Clause 40, he would, perhaps, then be able to arrive at some conclusion upon the matter. Now, what was the use of putting off important principles in that way? In this case there was a most important principle raised. The Government could not say that in raising it hon. Members on the other side of the House were in favour of corrupt practices; but, on the contrary, hon. Members on both sides of the House who supported the Amendment were in favour of putting an instant stop to corrupt practices. Why they did this was that if they did not put an instant stop to corrupt practices the commission of them would void the election. He failed to see where the remedy was if it only came three or four months after the election. It was the election itself they wanted to preserve; and if ample notice were given during the election that any person who committed bribery or any other corrupt practice would be liable to be summoned before the magistrates, he believed it would have a most salutary effect. The persons they wanted to get hold of by this Bill were the Birmingham gang—Messrs. Nuttal & Co.—to whose credit was to be laid at least a dozen Election Petitions. The moment that such persons arrived in a town, let them be closely watched, and the instant the emissaries of the Caucus were detected in their nefarious practices, let them be sent to prison for four months. That was the way to put down bribery. But by holding a local inquiry that did not take place until four months after the election they would never be able to put it down. It seemed to be the desire uppermost in the mind of the Attorney General to have continual Petitions, and to have the election voided on every imaginable ground; but he took no precaution to insure purity of election at the moment the election was taking place. The Solicitor General, in solemn tones, told the Committee that he was personally acquainted with two very bad cases indeed. Where they had occurred, he (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not know. Perhaps it was in the county of Durham; but the hon. and learned Gentleman told them that what had occurred in these cases would utterly prevent lain from giving any summary power to local 1460 magistrates. Notwithstanding, under the clause which related to illegal practices, the hon. and learned Gentleman was going to give to the very magistrates He hold up in the House of Commons as utterly untrustworthy and as partial Judges, the power of sending a man to gaol for three months in default of paying a fine of £20. Where was the consistency of that course of conduct? The hon. and learned Gentleman would not give power to the local magistrates to put a stop to corrupt practices at once, as their action, under this Amendment, would enable them to do in nine cases out of 10; but he would give the same magistrates the power of sending a man to prison for three months for non-payment of a fine ranging from £20 up to £100; and he would also give them the power of preventing a man from voting for five years. They were even positively to allow these magistrates, whom the Solicitor General said were so iniquitous, to exercise the power, without appeal, of trying a case of illegal practice, and of sending a man to prison for throe months if he failed to pay a fine; whereas they would not give them the power, with an appeal, to try a case of bribery. The position of the Government was absolutely untenable. There was no sense or logic in it; but it was not the only ridiculous compromise they had proposed to make. A compromise quite as ridiculous was made the other day in regard to the power of the Judges. What they should endeavour to do was to put an end to bribery once for all, and if they did put au end to bribery, they would put an end to petitioning, which was fifty times worse than bribery. That would be far better than taking refuge in ridiculous compromises that were worth nothing at all. If they were anxious to put a stop to bribery, they would not put off the Amendment until they came to Clause 40, which they would reach goodness knew when, but they would dispose of it "Aye" or "No" at once.
§ MR. STUART - WORTLEY
said, the Government complained that the Amendment had been introduced in haste. That was not the fact, because a similar Amendment was on the Paper 12 months ago, and was taken into consideration at that time. The Government were themselves to blame for not having utilized the time which had since 1461 elapsed, and they had shown that they had been indolent in the matter. He doubted whether Clause 40 would afford an opportunity of dealing with the question which the Attorney General seemed to think it would. It was quite clear that the Government, if in earnest in the matter, ought to have devised Borne kind of tribunal. The Attorney General had given a somewhat ludicrous estimate of what would be the expense incurred by the appointment of a special Commission to every constituency; but he (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) did not think that more than ono Judge would be necessary for each county. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, for instance, ono competent Judge would be quite sufficient.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, that they had already in every Parliamentary borough exactly the machinery they wanted — namely, a Recorder. [Cries of "No!"] There was a Recorder in almost every Parliamentary borough, who was not connected in any way with the local magistrates; and the Recorder or a Deputy might be employed during an election and paid a fee of £10, or some similar small sum, to try these cases. They had, therefore, got precisely the machinery they wanted — namely, impartial machinery to try these electioneering cases instantly, at the time they were committed.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he regarded this as the most important, because the most practical, Amendment which had been put down upon the Paper; and He hoped it would not be disposed of too readily or too soon. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) would not yield too quickly to the kind of half-and-half promise which had been made by the Attorney General. He had no wish to throw any doubt upon the promises of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but he thought the kind of promise which had been given was of very small value indeed. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred the Committee to Clauses 36 and 40 of the Bill. Clause 36 related to what took place at the trial of Election Petitions, and that would be too late. Clause 40 related to what took place six months after the election, and that was still later. The first important point was to decide in favour of the Amendment, and the next important 1462 point was to decide as to the nature of the tribunal. For his own part, he believed the magistrates would form a fair tribunal; but, whether that was so or not, what lie wished to impress upon the Committee was that the question of instant jurisdiction was of the very utmost importance. He desired to make a practical suggestion to the Government, and it was this—that if they were convinced the Committee was of opinion that this was a sound principle, let them adopt the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, and in some further stage define the tribunal; but let them confirm the principle first. There was another important point with regard to testing the bona fides of the respective candidates. When a case of bribery happened at an election, what took place was this. They heard that the other side were bribing; they received information in regard to a particular case that So-and-so had got £5 or £10; and the moment that was discovered, the men on the other side wanted to bribe also. But if they wished to keep the election pure, the proper course would be to bring the persons who were committing the bribery instantly before a tribunal capable of dealing with them; and then the Election Judge, if a Petition followed, would at once say that Mr. So-and-so had shown his bona fides by endeavouring to put down bribery. These two great principles hung together, because the most important result of the Amendment, as far as the public were concerned, would be the putting down of bribery; and, as far as the candidate was concerned, it would give him a good locus standi when he came to be heard upon the Election Petition. His own opinion was that the best thing they could do was to punish the bribery on the spot. He felt deeply that this was one of the most important and one of the most practical Amendments that could be submitted; and he asked the Government to give their assent to the principle of it first, and then talk about the jurisdiction afterwards.
§ COLONEL KINGSCOTE
said, he would appeal to the right hon. Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) to withdraw the Amendment, and to the right hon. Gentleman's Friends to permit it to be withdrawn. He did so on this simple ground—that, although He was one of those who approved of the 1463 principle of it, he certainly could not support it in its present form. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) and the hon. and learned Gentleman near him (Sir Hardinge Giffard) had both put before the Committee the difficulty that would be experienced in regard to the tribunal, and throughout the discussion that fact had become more and more prominent every moment. Several suggestions had been made, but they were not practical suggestions; therefore, if the Amendment were now withdrawn, it would be for the right hon. Gentleman and the Attorney General to consider whether, later on in the Bill, a clause could not be brought up embodying the principle and pointing out what the tribunal ought to be. It would be childish to vote for the principle without any tribunal for carrying it out. Everyone must admit that there was a difficulty in the Amendment; and, therefore, he appealed to the hon. Member, and to the hon. Member's Friends who sat around him, to allow the Amendment to be withdrawn.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he felt sorry that his right hon. Friend below him (Sir William Hart Dyke) had accepted the proposition of the Attorney General to withdraw the Amendment. [An hon. MEMBER: He has not done so.] His right hon. Friend had certainly done so, and he (Mr. Onslow) very much regretted it, for he really did not know what the proposition of the Attorney General was. When the hon. and learned Gentleman first got up he said he would have nothing to do with the Amendment. The Solicitor General then made some sort of wavering recognition of it, whereupon the Attorney General said he would consider the matter on Clauses 36 and 40; but he held out no promise that he would accept the Amendment. He (Mr. Onslow) did not think they wanted any Corrupt Practices Bill at all if the Amendment were carried. The germ of all corruption in a borough consisted in sending men down to the place to bribe the voters, and they were the men they wanted to catch red-handed. The Attorney General knew very well that there was an association which had sent men down from a particular locality to corrupt more than one borough he was conversant with. He would ask the Attorney General if per- 1464 sons sent down from Birmingham did not grossly corrupt the City of Oxford? Was it not mainly owing to Messrs. Schnadhorst and Nuttal that they had had gross corruption in Oxford? Those were the men they wanted to catch red-handed. Again, who was it who corrupted the borough of Evesham? It was Mr. Nuttal, sent down by the Birmingham League; and if they did not insert some clause to this effect in the present Bill, they would allow the Birmingham League to run rampant in every borough throughout the Kingdom. He quite agreed that this was really one of the most vital parts of the Bill. The Attorney General himself admitted that there was a great deal in it, and he had said that when they came to a certain clause he would consider it; but, notwithstanding, he held out no promises. He (Mr. Onslow) believed that there was a unanimity of feeling on both sides of the House that something must be done. When these people knew that they could be summarily convicted by a local tribunal for bribery and corrupt practices, those corrupt practices would be stopped to an extent which the Attorney General did not appreciate at the present moment. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House had begged the Attorney General to take the matter into serious consideration. The hon. and gallant Member for West Gloucestershire (Colenel Kingscote) said he cordially agreed with the principle of the Amendment; but he thought they ought to leave the matter to future consideration, if the Attorney General promised that he would frame a clause in reference to the tribunal. But the hon. and learned Gentleman had not promised to do anything of the kind. All that the hon. and anything Gentleman said was that he would consider the matter on Clause 36; but he had made no promise at all as to adopting the Amendment. He (Mr. Onslow) appealed to his right hon. Friends, all of them sitting in a row below him, not so readily to agree to any proposition which came from the Attorney General. They should recollect that there were others besides themselves who had taken a deep interest in the Bill, and who were desirous of making some comments upon its provisions. He appealed to his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) to withdraw 1465 his offer to withdraw the Amendment, until he received a satisfactory assurance from the Attorney General that he would bring up a clause dealing with the question.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he thought that the Attorney General had shown the greatest willingness to meet the views of the Committee as to the Amendment; but he pointed out the great difficulty which existed in regard to the tribunal. The way to get the principle of the Amendment carried into law was not to run off upon a discussion as to the operation of the Birmingham League, but to make practical suggestions. He (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would suggest to the Attorney General that in every borough and in every county, at every election, there was a perfectly impartial magistrate available at the present moment, and that was the Returning Officer. [Cries of "No!"] If any hon. Member would tell him of any case in which a Returning Officer had been charged with improper procedure, he would bow to his superior knowledge. The Mayor, moreover, was a magistrate during his year of office, and he did not take part in any election contest during his year of office. Therefore, as there was in every borough, and in every county, either a Mayor or a Sheriff who acted as Returning Officer, and as the whole of the country was mapped out under the jurisdiction of the County Court Judges, he thought there did exist tribunals which might readily be made available.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not think that sufficient weight had been given by his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Onslow) to what had fallen from the Attorney General. He understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that he was perfectly willing to consider the matter, and to frame a clause to carry out the wishes of the Committee. [Cries of "No!"] If he had misunderstood the words of the hon. Gentleman he was very sorry. The hon. and learned Gentleman must be positively certain now that the feeling of the Committee was that some tribunal of this kind must be found. That that was the opinion of the Committee was quite clear; and he had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that he would do his best to frame a clause to carry that view out. He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would, therefore, move an Amend- 1466 ment to that Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke), in order simply to confirm the principle, and leaving it to the Attorney General to carry out the principle. He would move, after the word "conviction," to insert the words "before the Court hereinafter to be described." The Amendment would then read—Or on summary convictions before the Court hereinafter to be described shall be liable to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding four calendar months, and to be fined a sum not exceeding fifty pounds.Amendment proposed, to amend the proposed Amendment, by inserting after the word "conviction," the words "before the Court hereinafter to be described."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, He must appeal to the Committee whether this was a proposal which the Government could possibly accept? He had said that he sympathized with the object his right hon. Friend (Sir William Hart Dyke) had in view, but that the difficulty He had in his mind was how to find a fitting tribunal. The right hon. Member who moved the Amendment had failed to suggest a satisfactory tribunal. [Lord Randolph Churchill: No!] The noble Lord might say "No;" but the Amendment suggested the magistrates, and the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) entirely discarded that notion, and even the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) himself asked the Committee not to accept that proposition. Therefore, He (the Attorney General) was quite justified in saying that that was not a tribunal which could be taken. And now the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South - West Lancashire, finding that nobody in the Committee had been able to suggest a satisfactory tribunal, said that it must be left to the Government to find one. Well, then, what was proposed? They had their hands fully tied up at the present moment. Various tribunals had been suggested. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) suggested the Mayor and the Returning Officer; but did that proposal meet with the views of the Committee? [Cries of 1467 "No!"] Then, although no one could find a tribunal, the Government were not to wait until they could find one; but the Committee were called upon, by affirming an abstract proposition, to say that a tribunal should be found; and it was not to be found by those who said it could be found, but by the Government, who believed it could not be found. Now, he contended that that was an unprecedented proposition to make to Parliament. These who said a tribunal ought to be found should themselves suggest it. They might ask the Government to do their best to find ono; but when they directed them to find one, whether they could or not, they were placing the Government in a position in which no Government ought to be placed; and, if the Government were to accept the proposition, they might be committing themselves to that which they might find to be an impossibility. In point of fact, the Committee were asked to anticipate the discussion of the tribunal by asserting that a tribunal must be established. He admitted that they could find a tribunal; but what they really wanted to find was a satisfactory tribunal. They did not want to find an unjust or an unworkable tribunal. He asked that the Government should receive fair treatment in respect of the Bill; and he complained that it was unreasonable on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to put forward an Amendment of this kind, and then to shirk the responsibility of carrying it out. The right hon. Gentleman never would be able to carry out his own Amendment. If the right hon. Gentleman would postpone the Amendment, and bring forward the tribunal He was prepared to suggest, the Government would deal with it, whether it was a now tribunal, or ono that was already in existence.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he was perfectly willing to find a tribunal; but he would rather leave the matter in the hands of the Government.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that was not what the right hon. Gentleman had previously stated. He was leaving to himself the fullest power of criticism and attack in regard to any tribunal that might be suggested by the Government; and he would probably be found saying—"This 1468 is not satisfactory, and that is not satisfactory." If a tribunal was to be found, and the Amendment was to be accepted, let the right hon. Gentleman say what the tribunal was, even now, or at some future time; but when a right hon. Member, occupying the position of the right hon. Gentleman, said—"I will put in a clause to make a tribunal, whether it can be found or not, or whether it may be satisfactory or not, but I will bear no future responsibility," he would simply ask the right hon. Gentleman whether lie himself considered that that was a fair mode of procedure? If the right hon. Gentleman could suggest a tribunal that would be satisfactory, let Min do so candidly, and at once. The Government could do no more then they had done. He had stated very distinctly that consideration would be given to the subject, and that they were ready to receive practical suggestions from every part of the House. The Committee might ask the Government to do something in the matter; but to ask them to define at once such a tribunal as was required in precise terms, whether it would be accepted by the House or not, was scarcely fair or right. He, therefore, opposed the Amendment which had been moved by the right hon. Gentleman, on the ground that it was an abstract declaration, that it was wanting in responsibility, and that the Committee ought not to throw the responsibility upon the Government.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that, as the Amendment was in the direction of lenity, he should be disposed to vote in favour of it; but he was bound to say, honestly, that he did not think it was a practical Amendment. As he understood, it was to be put into operation as early as possible on the morning of the polling day. Therefore, each party would begin arresting their opponents; each would endeavour to discover some person on the other side who had rendered himself liable to arrest, and they would take out a summons, or procure a warrant, to bring him before the local Bench of Magistrates. That would happen at about 11 o'clock in the morning, and, by half-past 12, the other party would follow suit; and they would have more persons taken before the local Bench to answer charges of bribery and corruption. Indeed, such cases had actually happened. He could mention a borough, 1469 not far from London, where this scheme for checking the operations of rival political Parties was followed by ono Party. But the other side soon followed suit; whereupon both Parties were glad to drop the proceeding. He thought that, so far from the Amendment being a practical check upon corruption on the polling day, it would tend to increase it. If the corruption was not to begin on the polling day, but some days before, all he could say was that the comedy would take a little time longer, and, instead of being a one act farce, it would be a five act drama; and the result would be even more ridiculous as regarded the law. He could not agree with these fanciful remedies in the name of purity of election, because they failed to meet the requirements of substantial justice. It was ludicrous to suppose either that the Mayor or the Returning Officer of the hen. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) would be a perfectly satisfactory tribunal. What would the hon. Member think if the Conservative Party were to find themselves in the hands of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings)? He (Mr. Lewis) recollected when the hon. Member was the distinguished Mayor of the distinguished borough of Birmingham; and. he recollected, further, that there were some remarkable proceedings, in which the impartiality of the hon. Member was impeached, although, no doubt, improperly. Nevertheless, it was the fact; and he did not think that the Tories of Birmingham would be glad to appear even before so illustrious a magistrate as the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) in a case concerning a Birmingham election proceeding. Other instances might be cited quite as strong; and he was surprised that a man like his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), with all the knowledge he possessed, should suggest that a Mayor or a Returning Officer would be a proper tribunal. It was a ten times worse tribunal than the Bench of Magistrates, because it would be undiluted Party spirit and unchecked Party spirit. They knew very well the course pursued in constituting a borough Bench of Magistrates. One Lord Chancellor appointed six magistrates to the Bench, and when he went out of Office the new Lord Chancellor appointed six 1470 others from the opposite side of politics; so that where one had put upon the Bench, say, six Liberals and two Conservatives, the next put on six Conservatives and two Liberals. He appealed to hon. Members whether it was not the case that under the present and previous Administrations they had had piteous appeals made to them as to the state of local Benches of Magistrates, and the condition of Party politics upon them in consequence. The only case in which they ever saw any sign of impartiality was the ease of some poor doctor who had been made a magistrate and did not want to commit himself, and who managed to keep both sides of his patients by voting first with one side and then with the other. He was the middle man, who, according to an American expression, had his feet on different sides of the rail. If he (Mr. Lewis) were, unfortunately, summoned before a Bench of local magistrates in the middle of an election contest, and he saw that the Bench was rightly composed, he would at once say—"Go on with the case; I shall get out of this with flying colours;" but if he did not like the look of the Bench he would, no doubt, say—"This won't do at all, and I should prefer to be tried by a jury of my countrymen." Much as he should like to see anything done that would pull down the atrocious severity of the Bill as to the punishment it inflicted, He could not vote for the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, who, by the way, was a zealous supporter of the Bill. Perhaps that was one of the reasons which induced him (Mr. Lewis) to look on the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman with suspicion. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had become so much in love with the Bill that he was continually opposing its author because the provisions of the measure did not go far enough. He believed that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not only sincere, but awfully sincere. No doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman had many good reasons for his sincerity. He (Mr. Lewis) thought he had found, in going through the Members of that House, the reason of the wonderful love they had for the measure. They thought it would diminish in future their election expenses. Not only was the cost most extravagant now, but 1471 there was very great danger, after a candidate had been returned, that he might lose his seat. He believed that the Attorney General was sincere. At all events, he (Mr. Lewis) was sincere in his opposition to the Bill. He preferred to try things that were practical, and not things that were simply shadowy and vapoury.
§ MR. HICKS
said, it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Attorney General had overlooked the suggestion of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), which, to his mind, was of a very practical character. The suggestion that the matter should be left to the Returning Officer had not appeared to meet with general approval; and he quite thought that to leave the decision of such a question as that to any two magistrates who might by chance be at the Petty Sessional Division at the time of an election would not be to leave it to a tribunal which would commend itself to the country at large. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Newcastle was that two magistrates on the Bench should, at a Quarter Sessions, previous to the election, be selected and appointed for the express purpose of trying these cases. The Bench of Magistrates would only elect men of experience and of judicial mind, on whose integrity and honesty they could rely to discharge this duty. He was sure that if a small Bench of Magistrates were chosen in that way there was no borough or county in the country in which the magistrates so appointed would not do their utmost to discharge their functions in a judicial and impartial manner. He had himself some little knowledge of what the result was likely to be, because it would be in the recollection of a large number of Members that some years ago, under the Licensing Act, it was the duty of the magistrates at Quarter Sessions to appoint a Select Committee to sit in judgment upon the applications for licences granted under the Bill. There was, at the present time, no feeling whatever that the magistrates so appointed had exercised their functions in any other than a perfectly judicial and impartial manner, without any reference to Party purposes. They acted as Judges, and L. did what was right and proper under the circumstances, and in accordance with the spirit of the Act; and, therefore, he said that if they adopted the suggestion of the hon. 1472 Member for Newcastle they would have a tribunal, on which full reliance could be placed, always ready to deal with cases which might arise.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he entirely agreed with the object that the right hon. Gentleman had in view; and if it were possible to deal with the offences at the time, and if it were a matter of certainty that punishment would follow upon their commission, he thought that would do more to purify elections than any other means that could be adopted. But he thought the Attorney General had a fair ground of complaint, when he said that there was no chance of any assistance coming from the other side of the House in the form of a practical suggestion. He was bound to say that, although he had listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) with all the respect that was due to his authority in matters of this kind, yet he had not heard from him any suggestion which would afford a solution of this question; on the contrary, he gathered from his speech that there was considerable difficulty in settling the question with reference to the tribunal. He dismissed at once the proposal made by his hon. Friend opposite with regard to the local magistrates. From his knowledge of the magistrates he could not view the hon. Member's suggestion as in any way meeting the difficulty. On the whole, he thought it better that the Amendment should be withdrawn; and he trusted that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General would consider, during the progress of the Bill, whether they could not adopt some means to meet the general desire of the Committee that some tribunal should be appointed for the purpose of dealing summarily with offenders.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), in suggesting a fair and impartial tribunal, had spoken only with reference to England and Wales. The lion. Member said that he excluded Ireland from his observations. But the Committee should bear in mind that this Act would apply to Ireland as well as to the rest of the Kingdom. For his own part, he did not agree that the magistrates would be impartial at elections in England and Wales; but what would be the case in Ireland? It would be 1473 something like that which had been suggested by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), when he said the local magistrates should have the power of dealing summarily with strangers who came down at the time of elections. He remarked that every Member in the course of this discussion had spoken of bribery and corruption; but no one had observed that the Amendment related also to undue influence and treating. Suppose the provision contained in the Amendment was the law in force in Ireland at the present moment; he believed that in 10 or 11 districts in the county of Mallow a corresponding number of persons would be charged with the offence of undue influence, and committed to prison. The magistrates would certainly have committed the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) — who had gone over to Ireland and used intimidating language at a recent election. It was impossible to constitute a Court that would act impartially in this matter; and, therefore, he said that the clause could not work. He was quite sure that neither the Attorney General nor the Solicitor General could hammer this Amendment into a practical shape; and he trusted they would not yield in their opposition to it.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, his desire was to save the time of the Committee. He did not want to have a pre-mature decision upon the matter now, because it might prejudice the question when it again came forward. If the Attorney General would frame some Amendment to carry out the proposal, he could assure him that it would receive most careful and impartial examination at their hands. But if He did not see his way to do that, lie would undertake to bring up an Amendment proposing a form of tribunal, although, in so far as money was involved in the proposition, it would be for the Government to take the initiative; because he did not wish to have any technical difficulty on that ground sprung upon him as a reason for not moving his Amendment.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was not for the Government, but for Parliament to provide the money which might be necessary for the purpose of establishing a tribunal. He would suggest that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) should en- 1474 deavour to place before the Committee, in connection with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, an Amendment which would meet the requirements of the ease. He had no doubt that a proposal coming in that manner would be a very valuable one. He had no objection that an attempt should be made to solve this question; and if hon. Members would put forward any practical proposal, he was quite sure the Government would most carefully consider it, although he wished it to be understood that He could assume no responsibility in this matter.
said, he was not in favour of the course which had been suggested. In the first place, the promise of the Attorney General was absolutely illusory; because, when they reached the clause to which he had referred the Committee, the question could not be revived. If the suggestion of the Attorney General was carried out, he ventured to say that the Government would be sure to quarrel with every tribunal which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire might propose; and, further, that they would not ask Parliament to grant any sum of money for the purpose of carrying out the object of the Amendment.
Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. H. B. SAMUELSON
said, he rose for the purpose of moving—That a person convicted on indictment of treating by corruptly accepting or taking meat, drink, entertainment, or provision, shall not be liable to more than three days' imprisonment without hard labour, nor to be fined more than ten shillings.He made this proposal in the most serious spirit; and he trusted that, although the question might have been regarded somewhat lightly, it would appear to be worthy of the attention of the Committee. The object of the clause was said to be to make treating and bribery dangerous to the candidate, and so take away from him the temptation to commit the offence; but it seemed to him that the way in which the Bill endeavoured to arrive at that result was not the right one. To punish a very poor person, who was tempted by those who ought to know a great deal bettor than to seek to obtain his vote by bribery and treating, seemed to him to be punishing the wrong man. The technical offence of treating, by accepting meat, drink, entertainment, and 1475 provision, so far as elections were concerned, was an entirely new one; it had not existed before, but had been created by this Bill; and he thought it would be found difficult to make an average Englishman of the poorer classes understand that He was committing a sin against the law when he accepted a glass of beer, or some other refreshment, from persons whom he would naturally consider to be in every way capable of giving him moral as well as material guidance. The Attorney General proposed to punish the recipient of treating. In Clause 1 it was provided that a man who received treating was, for the first time, to be considered guilty of corrupt practices, and liable to all the penalties described in this section. He pointed out that it was only in an infinitesimal number of cases that persons would lay themselves open to be prosecuted for the offence of receiving treating, or receiving entertainment, whatever that meant. As a general rule, it would be only the very poorest of the people who would place themselves in that position. The Amendment which he proposed dealt entirely with the passive aspect of the offence of treating, because it seemed to him that a person who was treated stood in quite a different position from him who actively committed the offence of treating others. He thought the clause, in its present form, would not commend itself to the country at large. They had heard what an outcry was raised about those corrupt bribers who were sent to gaol not long ago for corrupt practices in connection with a certain election; but would there not be au immensely greater outcry if poor persons were to be sent to prison for accepting a glass of beer from persons in a superior station, who ought to know better than to give it them? He was quite sure that if severe sentences were passed upon such persons it would be revolting to the common sense of the community. It might be objected to his proposal that there was a discretion given to the Judge. He was aware that it was proposed to give uniform discretion to the Judge; but He did not think that the exercise of that discretionary power would be at all uniform in cases of this kind. On the contrary, he believed that they would see one Judge punishing poor men very severely, and another Judge punishing them very lightly for the same offences—a result that could 1476 have no other effect than to bring the law into contempt. He held that his Amendment would prevent the commission of a gross injustice. But, in making this proposal to the Committee, he was not disposed to stand closely to the figures contained in it. If it was thought that the three days specified in his Amendment were insufficient, He was willing that the number should be extended to six; and, further, that if 103. was regarded as too small a fine, He was willing that the delinquent should be fined £1. In conclusion, he urged strongly on the Committee that, taking into consideration the relative positions of the persons concerned, the offence of receiving treating was not the same as that of giving it. He considered that by adopting his Amendment, or the modification of it which he had suggested, they would be punishing the poor man as severely as circumstances demanded; and. he trusted that the Committee would take that view of the Amendment which he now begged to move.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 36, at the end, add—"Provided always, That a person convicted on indictment of treating by corruptly accepting or taking meat, drink, entertertainment, or provision, shall not be liable to more than three days' imprisonment without hard labour, nor to be fined more than ten shillings."—(Mr. H B. Samuelson.)Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he could not assent to the Amendment, because it almost prohibited punishment in the case of the offence of treating. They had agreed that treating should. be an offence punishable under the Act; but this proposal of the hon. Member for Frome to inflict three days' imprisonment was equivalent to the infliction of no punishment at all. Moreover, he regarded the imposition of the fine of 10s. as quite insufficient for the purpose. He could see no reason for making any distinction between the person who was treated and the person who treated with respect to the punishment. His hon. Friend said they ought not to inflict the same punishment in both cases. That might be so; but then this was a question which must be left to the Judges.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. H. B. Samuelson) had taken up a different attitude towards the penal portion of the Bill than he had hitherto assumed. On every occasion when there had been any suggestion of an alleviation of the punishments to be inflicted under the Act, he had been one of the loudest supporters of the Government in opposing such alleviation. On the last occasion, he said the proposed mitigation of punishment would, if adopted, be equivalent to making one law for the rich and another for the poor. But that was the very thing the hon. Member was now endeavouring to do by his Amendment; because he had himself informed the Committee, in the course of his speech, that the only persons who would be the recipients of treating were the very poorest class of the people. It was clear, therefore, that his proposal was to create one law for the rich and another for the poor. The hon. Member argued that the penalties of the clause ought to be reduced in the case of the man who was treated, because he was a passive party to the offence. But it appeared to him that the reverse was the case; because the man who received the glass of ale, sandwich, or whatever it might be, was the consumer of it; and how in any sense he could be called passive, under those circumstances, quite surpassed his comprehension. He was, however, obliged to the hon. Member for moving this Amendment, because it showed to what a ridiculous length the Bill went in matters of this kind. The hon. Member, who had been one of the most prominent supporters of the severity of the Bill, had shown that he knew very well that the Bill dealt with an act so trifling in its character, and imposed upon it a penalty, to his mind, so ridiculously disproportionate, that he considered the case would be met sufficiently by three clays' imprisonment, or a fine of 10s. He had no doubt that most hon. Members opposite had voted hitherto in favour of the penalties proposed by the Bill, on the same rules and lines as those which regulated the action of the hon. Member for Frome. After they had passed Clause 1, it was found necessary to say—"Oh; but some of these offences are looked upon as being really so trivial that they need only be visited with three days' imprisonment or a fine of 10s." He 1478 had no doubt they would have many proposals, in the course of the proceedings, of a character similar to that of the present Amendment; and hon. Members would be able to go down to their constituencies, and say — "I was the friend of the poor man. Why should he not have a glass of ale when he goes thirsty to the poll? I stood up for the poor man; but I voted for putting the rich man under lock and key." The Amendment of the hon. Member for Frome was a deliberate attempt to make one law for the rich and another for the poor; and he was happy to see that it would not be successful.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he congratulated the Attorney General on having refused to adopt this claptrap Amendment. The proposal was most insidious, and he was glad that it had not escaped the keen eye of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Had it been accepted. it would have opened the door at once to wholesale treating; because to remove the severe penalty which the Bill proposed to inflict on the recipient of treating would be to remove the main instrument for dealing with that form of corruption. The adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Frome would have this effect—treating would no longer be done by the candidate or his supporters; but some worthless or paltry agent would be employed for the purpose who would be willing to run the risk of being discovered. Numbers of persons of this class would be willing to accept an appointment of the kind, and would forthwith begin a system of wholesale treating. Unless those who accepted the tempting offers were amenable to the same penalties as those who gave them, corruption would prevail as largely as ever. If this Amendment were passed, a candidate who did not treat would be accused of stinginess by those who wanted the gifts, and did not much care what happened to the donor. The punishment proposed by the hon. Member was altogether insufficient for the purpose of checking this form of bribery; and he believed the object of the Bill would be frustrated by its adoption.
§ MR. H. B. SAMUELSON
said, the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) was based entirely on false premises, for he had not proposed one law for the rich and another for the 1479 poor, nor had he in any degree changed his attitude with regard to the necessity of eradicating the offences of bribery and treating by the infliction of really effective punishment. By his Amendment He drew a distinction between the offence of treating, which was usually practised by the well-to-do, and that of accepting treating, which was usually committed by the poor. These were different offences; but every man, under his Amendment, would receive precisely the same treatment for the same offence; all that he objected to was, making it an offence of equal magnitude as regarded the possibility of punishment for a poor man to receive a treat, as for the rich and powerful to offer it; but he held that the latter ought to be punished as the law provided; so that the hon. Member for Londonderry had put the shoe on the wrong foot. The remarks of the hon. Member (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) who had last spoken were entirely wide of the mark, the Amendment having nothing to do with the person who treated. But as the Amendment had not received much support he would withdraw it, although He had proposed it in all sincerity.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he should very much like to take a Division on this Amendment, for he was very strongly in favour of it. It was quite right to punish a man for treating or receiving a bribe; but six or twelve months' imprisonment was altogether too severe. He objected, also, to the enormous powers to be given to the Judges. Under the Mutiny Act a court martial had enormous powers, and an officer might be shot or cashiered even for not sending in his report. That might be right in regard to courts martial, although he had always argued against it; but, certainly, such power ought not to be given in regard to electors. It was quite enough to have these very severe laws for the military, without applying them to civilians. He regarded the Amendment as a judicious one, and he thought they ought to begin gently with the new arrangements. He was afraid that in future, if one man offered another a drive during a county election and stood him a drink, they would be associated together, and might be made liable to 12 months' imprisonment. It would not be a matter of so much importance to punish them by a fine of 108. or a week's 1480 imprisonment, and that would not be worth the trouble of a Division; but, as the matter stood, he should challonge a Division, if he could find anyone else to say "No" with him, and to tell with him. He should be glad to see who were anxious to give electors six months' imprisonment, and who were not.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, there had been a good deal of discussion on the subject of treating electors; but he wished to mention another form of treating which he had found infinitely more common and more disagreeable than that dealt with in this Bill. Any number of penalties were provided for candidates who treated voters; but there were no penalties for voters who treated candidates. That was what Irish Representatives suffered most from. The well-known hospitality of the Irish people was so great that every man upon whom a candidate called insisted upon treating him, and considered himself grossly insulted if the offer was refused. Would the Attorney General consider it worth while to introduce a clause to preserve candidates from being treated?
Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
proposed to move the following Amendment:—In page 2, line 40, after "1872," insert—"(3.) A Parliamentary candidate, who accepts a title within three years after his defeat, or a person who, being a Member of the House of Commons, accepts a title, or a person who, having been a Member of the House of Commons, accepts a title within three years after he has ceased to be one, except for eminent services rendered to Ms country, as distinguished from services rendered to a political Party, shall be liable to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for a term of not less than one year, and to be fined any sum not less than one thousand pounds.He hoped the Attorney General would agree to this Amendment.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member; but the Amendment does not appear to me at all to come within the clause.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
wished to point out that his object was to punish any Member who, after having been elected, received what he must term a bribe.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
asked whether he could alter or amend the Proviso in any such way that it would be in Order?
, rising to Order, said, that the hon. Member was not speaking to the point of Order, or to the Amendment, but to some Amendment which was not before the Committee.
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton is not within the compass of the clause.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 12, to leave out "ten," and insert "seven."—(Mr. Kenny.)
Question, "That the word 'ten' stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
Question, "That the word 'seven' be inserted," put, and agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ illegal Practices.
§ Clause 6 (Certain expenditure to be illegal practice).
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (for Mr. GORST)
moved an Amendment to make it clear that the clause included the canvassing of voters. If that was not clear in the clause, he hoped the Attorney General would accept the Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 19, after "made," to insert "on account of the canvassing of voters."—(Mr. E Stanhope.)
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he thought this question required some explanation. There was no prohibition of the spending of money in this clause; but substantially the Schedule dealt with that matter. But, if this Amendment was agreed to, it would not be possible for a candidate's agent to canvass, because he would require to have money in order to go about from place to place. He did not see how a candidate could be placed in such a position as that; but the Schedule virtually limited the power of canvassing. If they intended to prohibit canvassing altogether they must do it by express declaration; but his impression was that that could not be done. 1482 The object of the Amendment was affected by the Schedule; and, therefore, he hoped it would not be pressed.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he should not have moved this if he had intended to prohibit canvassing altogether, be-cause he thought that was not possible. If it was clear that the purpose of the Amendment was met by the Schedule he would withdraw the Amendment.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he thought there was great doubt whether canvassing was or was not prohibited by the Bill; but it appeared to him that the insertion of these words would make it more distinct. This was, in principle, an illustration of many other difficulties. They were now going to allow canvassing to exist, and there was danger of all the evils which were complained of continuing to exist; and, therefore, to a large extent, he was disposed to take the view of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) that the further they went the more difficulty he saw in dealing with the subject.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
asked whether a candidate would be brought within the clause if he hired a carriage?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
proposed, in page 3, line 20, to leave out from "on" to "or," in line 21. This was a question of very grave difficulty, upon which he thought everybody would be slow to express a confident opinion; and while the Attorney General, and those who had prepared the Bill with him, had carefully considered their side of the question, he should like to bespeak the attention of the Committee while he put the other side. The question before the Committee was whether hired cabs or carriages, or other conveyances to take electors to the poll, should be or should not be legal. The history of this question was very singular, and very contradictory. For many years it was doubtful whether a payment for conveyances was legal. There had been 1483 a decision upon the question by the House of Lords, which, while it did not decide the main question, decided it upon a side issue, and threw such doubt upon the question that the Legislature interposed, and passed an Act by which any payment for the conveyance of voters was prohibited. No penalty, however, was attached to the offence, and the Act had been evaded for years. If the practice was to be prohibited, it should be prohibited in an effective manner by Parliament; and if it was to be allowed, then that should be open and above-board. The usual practice was for a convenient friend to pay for the cabs, and then the candidate paid him after the election. In 1880, an Act was passed legalizing such payments in England, if not in Ireland; and he was not sure whether it applied to Scotland or not. But these payments were objected to on two grounds—first, as an illegitimate mode of bribery; and, secondly, as an illegitimate cause of increasing the expenses of an election; but He thought there was no bribery involved in hiring carriages; on the contrary, there was great difficulty in getting cabs on the polling day, and the owners dictated their own terms. It was, no doubt, a serious item in regard to election expenses, and if he could see his way to vote for the abolition of this cost he should be very happy to do so; but if they were going to prohibit the hiring of cabs by men of moderate means, they must prohibit the lending of carriages by men of wealth. If the Attorney General would prohibit all round, he should not say another word; but he objected to men of the middle class being subjected to this great disadvantage. He did not know what clause the Attorney General would be prepared to consider later on in reference to increasing the polling districts; but, as a matter of fact, according to the present system of polling districts—putting several polling booths in one district, it was impossible to poll a constituency without the use of carriages, especially where the constituency consisted, to a large extent, of working men, because, otherwise, the men would have to ask them to sacrifice their breakfast or dinner-hour in order to walk to the poll. He did not wish to treat this matter in any Party spirit, but simply to do what was fair, and what was the 1484 best thing in order to do justice to candidates of all pecuniary capacities and all classes. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had, later on, a clause on the subject; and if the Attorney General would say he would accept the hon. Member's clause, he would withdraw his. There was a class of gentlemen of both political Parties who went into boroughs and could command the loan of almost unlimited carriages by which they could take voters to the poll; and if the Committee provided that other men should not have the opportunity of hiring carriages, they would be placed at a great disadvantage. If the clause were agreed to as it stood, it could be easily evaded by wealthy men, who would buy up all the cabs and carriages in a borough, and then sell them again after the election was over. He hoped the Committee would have a full discussion on this subject.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 20, to leave out from "on" to "or," in line 21.—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he did not believe that electors in counties wanted conveyances, for they were quite able to walk three miles to the polling place. He objected to the enormous powers which it was proposed to give the Judges; but this was a very sensible clause, except that it allowed a certain number of committee rooms. If conveyances were not wanted in Ireland, as they were not, why should they be wanted in England? Possibly, they might be required in some parts of Scotland; but He should heartily support the clause, which he considered the most valuable clause in the Bill.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he thought the effect of this clause would be to disfranchise a great number of voters; and that seemed to be the general tendency of the Bill. It dealt in a factious spirit with a number of minor subjects; but it ignored a great question with which the United States had found it absolutely necessary to deal, and that was the question of conspiracy to corruption. That matter had hitherto been omitted, and when the time came he should be prepared to show an enormous contrast between the legislation of the United States and the legislation now proposed 1485 for the regulation of elections under the Ballet. He did not know whether the hon. Member intended to divide upon his Amendment; but the whole tendency of the Bill was to disfranchise voters, and disqualify candidates.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he liked this Bill very much, and he was anxious that the words proposed to be left out should be retained in the Bill. He know of a county in which the election at several boroughs was held on one day, and in others on another day; and the carriage proprietors in the borough in which the first election took place sent the carriages to the others on the next day, and put them up for auction between the two opposing parties, so that, literally, one side or the other had to purchase the carriages at most exorbitant prices. About £6 a-day for each carriage was paid in one borough; and He had no doubt that if these words were expunged from the Bill, candidates like himself would be put to enormous and exorbitant expense with regard to the hire of carriages. He did not see how, in connection with this Bill, the Government could deal with the matter of private carriages and conveyances. He knew not by what means it was possible to exclude persons who had private carriages or carts from making use of them during an election—nor was he very anxious about the matter, because he thought property of that sort was pretty equally divided; but if it were not, he did not think it would be possible for the Committee to interfere in a satisfactory manner in that respect. There could, however, he thought, be no doubt that if these words were omitted one of the most fertile sources of expense would be left open. In one borough with which he was acquainted the cost of carriages in 1880 amounted to £3,000; and from such expenses hon. Members on both sides of the House, he was sure, must desire to he relieved. He wished to point out that this clause, if passed as it stood, might be evaded by persons conveying voters not "to" the poll, but to within a short distance of the poll. He hoped the Amendment would not be adopted.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, he considered the arguments of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) as, in many respects, unreasonable. If they allowed a rich Man to 1486 collect the carriages of his friends to convey voters to the poll, they certainly ought to allow a comparatively poor candidate to hire conveyances; and he could not see any difference in principle between refusing to allow a candidate to pay railway fares, and then to allow him to borrow his friends' carriages. The real remedy for this difficulty was to do away with the necessity for carrying voters at all, by increasing the number of polling places.
§ MR. E. S. HOWARD
said, that he had had considerable experience in East Cumberland with regard to this subject; and he should think that out of £4,000 or £5,000 spent on an election £2,000 would be for carriage hire, while only about £300 would be for railway fares. Formerly the charge for the use of a two-horse carriage was £10; but at the last General Election the two sides agreed to pay only £7 108. and He was afraid that price could not be reduced. If the hiring of carriages could not be carried out without the prevention of carriages being borrowed He would go that length, for he found that by Clause 44 there was to be a polling place within three miles of every elector. He believed that was the distance within which schools were supposed to be of labourers' cottages, and if a child could walk three miles surely a voter could. He observed that Clause 45 made special provision for conveying voters by sea; and if it should be found in any county that there were voters living more than three miles from a polling place, the Sheriff should have power to send a carriage to a particular place for the use of both sides.
said, he thought that if the hiring of carriages was to be stopped, the borrowing of carriages ought to be also stopped; but that, he believed, was impossible. He also thought there was no reason to exclude railway fares, for in many cases it might be found more convenient to take voters to the polling places by railway than by carriages, and the principle seemed to him to be precisely the same. The object to be aimed at was to render it as easy as possible for every voter to go and give his vote. This matter raised a very large question; it opened up the whole question of the out-voters. If this clause was not carried, and no provision was made for paying the expenses 1487 of those voters, he should endeavour, by some clauses in the Ballot Bill which he hoped to get before the House this Session, to provide voting papers which might be filled up by the voters and sent to the Returning Officer. In the meantime, they must confine themselves to the question of how far it was desirable to pay for the expenses of voters going to the poll. He was bound to say that he thought there were certain objections to that; but, on the other hand, it had always been done. Although it was not legal, it had never been held sufficient to void a seat, and he did not see anything wrong in it. He should vote for the Amendment; but he should also propose to amend the Amendment by including railway fares, by inserting the words "or for railway fares." If the Amendment was not carried, probably some other Member's Amendment might effect the same object—namely, legalize the carrying of voters to the polling places. He could not see why a poor man should have to walk more than three miles. His own borough was 10 miles in one direction, and eight in another; and it was impossible for working men to walk that distance and record their votes during their dinner time or in the morning; and they could not afford to sacrifice half-a-day's work. In his borough it had been customary to have a half-holiday on the polling day; but it was at the sacrifice of half-a-day's work. To avoid that disadvantage, there ought to be some provision of this kind adopted.
§ MR. CARPENTER GARNIER
said, he had given this question great attention; but He was bound to say he could not agree with his hon. Friends. By this Bill, they were endeavouring to reduce the expense of elections; but if this source of expenditure was allowed their efforts would be futile. He should have thought that in most boroughs working men could walk to the polling places; but in the counties, it was said, a great many voters would be disfranchised. But the polling places, it must be remembered, would be, as a rule, within three miles. He did not think this lending of carriages was a question of the higher classes as against the lower classes, because carts and other conveyances in the counties could be lent. Therefore, he did not see that that question at all affected the case. In many 1488 cases there was great abuse with regard to hiring conveyances; one side would, perhaps, engage all the conveyances; and the other would bring conveyances from a great distance. In the case of Durham County, conveyances were brought all the way from Edinburgh; and it would be perfectly impossible to keep down the cost of elections if this great item was allowed to remain. As at present advised, he should vote for the clause as it stood.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, he was almost sorry the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had made this proposal to the Committee. In spite of the length of time they had been considering the subject, he failed to see that the proposal was one which deserved support. He remembered that, just before the last General Election, the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had been a Member, had passed a short Act to make it legal to employ cabs in borough elections; and he also remembered that amongst the great mass of the working classes of this country this was considered the most unpopular thing they had done for some time, as it was thought that it would make it easier for the rich man to win an election than the poor man. Whether that prediction was true or not the Election of 1880 would prove. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had asserted that it would be unfair, in the case of the poor candidate, to deny him the right of employing cabs, when the rich candidate would be able to avail himself of the private carriages of his wealthy friends. Yes; but his hon. Friend appeared to forgot that cabs were luxuries which poor men could not by any means indulge in. The charge for hired cabs on the day of the election amounted, if he were not mistaken, to a guinea each in most cases, and in some cases to a great deal more. He should like to know where the poor candidate was to be found who could indulge in the luxury of 600, or 700, or even 100 cabs at a guinea or two guineas a day? He ventured to say that if they moved at all in the matter of this clause, it should be rather in the way of amending it in the sense of prohibiting the conveyance of any electors to the poll either by cabs or by carriages. Some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side—the hon. Member for North Warwickshire 1489 (Mr. Newdegate) he thought—had said that unless the use of conveyances was permitted a great many electors would be disfranchised. He (Mr. Broadhurst) did not think they would be disfranchising many persons if they insisted that all those who recorded their votes should walk to the poll to record them. He did not believe it would disfranchise 1 per cent, or anything like it, of the voters throughout the whole of the country. Of course, there were always a number of people who were sick or lame, or otherwise incapacitated from walking to the poll when the election day arrived; but in those cases there would be every opportunity of adopting other means of getting them to the polling place. He had known enthusiastic voters and electors to carry their sick relatives to the polling booth on their hacks. That had been done in more eases than ono. During his own contest, in the borough of Stoke-upon-Trent which was a large borough like Stroud, being 12 or 15 miles in length, and five or six miles broad—at the General Election of 1880, it was necessary for him to tell the electors that he could not possibly provide cabs to take them to the poll, but that if there were any exceedingly anxious to vote for him and unable to walk, if they would provide a wheelbarrow, he would undertake, on his part, to wheel them to the poll to record their votes.
§ MR. BROADHURST
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said the use of a wheelbarrow would be prevented under this clause. He should not object to its being prohibited, because he had not been anxious to wheel a dozen or so lame electors, particularly if they were well-conditioned, to the poll. His idea of the Amendment was that it would give every advantage to the wealthy candidates, and work, in a proportionate degree, to the disadvantage of poor candidates; and he, therefore, sincerely hoped that the Committee would not agree to the proposal. Hon. Members had said it was impossible for workmen to walk to the poll during the dinner hour, and that, therefore, unless candidates were allowed to convey them in carriages to the poll, they would be disfranchised; but it seemed to be for- 1490 gotten that they had a Bill actually in Committee which proposed to extend the hours of polling very considerably, and that, with extended hours of polling—which he sincerely hoped would be brought about—the very general complaints of inability to go to the poll without losing time would be considerably reduced. Then, as to the assertion that it was very hard indeed for electors to walk three or four miles to record their votes, he could assure the Committee that, by the great majority of working men electors, it was looked upon as a high privilege to vote; and the more they insisted upon enforcing that view of the case the better it would be for purity of election. They ought not to pander to the novel idea that the election day was a holiday or festive occasion, when men in the habit of toiling all the other days of their lives were to be conveyed up and down the borough behind a pair of horses in a carriage, the owner of which would not turn round to recognize them either the day before or the day after the election. It appeared to him, if he might use such a strong term without offence, nonsense to say that men could not be expected to walk two or three miles for the purpose of recording their votes. He himself had, at least three or four nights a week, to walk four miles in order that he might remain in the House after 12 o'clock at night to discharge his duty in recording votes; and if he, and probably other Members besides, were to be called on, six or eight months out of the twelve, to walk four miles after 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, in order to discharge a Parliamentary duty, surely hon. Members ought to be the last to hesitate to call upon electors to walk three or four miles, once in the course of four or five years, in order to record their votes for a Member of Parliament. He trusted his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton would not go to a Division on this question, because He was certain the hon. Gentleman would himself see, on second thoughts—if He had not given second thoughts to it already—that the proposal was absolutely in favour of the rich, and to the disadvantage of the poor man.
said, he agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken in trusting that this Amendment would not be pressed to a Division, as he was quite sure that the power of using carriages 1491 wholesale would result in great corruption. On this matter he (Mr. Gorst) was rather in the position of a person standing before them in a white sheet, because in the last Parliament he pressed on the Government the desirability of adopting one of two alternatives—either to make the hiring of carriages a corrupt practice which should void the election, or else to legalize it. The reason he did that was because the law, as it stood, down to the end of the last Parliament, was a dead letter. It was habitually evaded, which circumstance produced a very bad moral effect, and led to a great deal of corruption. The course taken by the Government, though it was taken with a good intent, led, he believed, at the last Election, to a large amount of corruption. He was very strongly of opinion that if they wished to have purity of election in boroughs they must certainly put down the practice of hiring cabs. In boroughs which were real boroughs there was no necessity for paying for the conveyance of voters to the poll; and he did not think that either in boroughs or in counties they should be without proper provision for enabling voters to record their votes without putting themselves to a great inconvenience. He did not see why the Returning Officer could not go to the house of a sick voter, or the house of a lame voter, and take his vote—they should not carry the elector to the poll, but the poll to the elector—and he failed to see what objection there was to that. The same thing might be done in sparsely populated districts. In these exceptional cases it would be far better to establish some system by which the poll could be taken to the elector than to run the great risk of producing corrupt practices by permitting the conveyance of the voter to the poll. While admitting there might be some cases where it was necessary to make some provision for taking the vote where the elector was either infirm or lame, or such a distance from the poll, or that it was impossible for him to walk or convey himself there at his own expense, he was sure that so sweeping an Amendment as that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton would open the door to a vast amount of corruption; and, for that reason, if the hon. Member went to a Division, he (Mr. Gorst) should have to vote against him.
§ MR. MONK
said, he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would take the advice offered to him, and not press his Amendment to a Division. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) had alluded to a Bill, which was brought in during the latter days of the preceding Parliament, which legalized the conveyance of electors to the poll by means of carriages. Many hon. Members now sitting on that side of the House made earnest appeals to the Government not to press that part of the Bill; but, unfortunately, it was after the Dissolution had been announced, and few Members remained in their places except those who were obliged to be present to support the Government of the day. There were, however, a few Scotch Members who made so strong a protest against legalizing the conveyance of voters to the poll by means of hired vehicles, that the Government gave way in the matter with regard to Scotland. Surely, if they had made it illegal to convey voters to the poll in the Scotch boroughs, there was no reason—at all events as far as he could see—why it should not be illegal to convey voters to the poll in the English boroughs. The practice was quite unnecessary, because, with the exception of four or five large boroughs in England, which were, in fact, small counties, there were no polling places at a greater distance than half a mile from the residence of the voter; and it was, of course, easy enough for the voter to walk to the poll. But in the case of invalids he thought the suggestion a good one—that the Returning Officer, or one of his deputies, should be allowed to attend the house of a voter, on a sufficient medical certificate being produced, to take his vote. He trusted his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to go to a Division on his Amendment.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he gathered that the practical effect of this Amendment, combined with subsequent Amendments, would be to legalize the conveyance of voters both in boroughs and in counties. He could not speak from any personal knowledge as to the necessity for the conveyance of voters in boroughs; but he was certain, with regard to counties, that the prohibition of the conveyance of voters to the poll would be equivalent to the disfranchise- 1493 ment of a large number of electors, who must necessarily belong to the very poorest class. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) had informed the Committee that every night after the adjournment he was accustomed to walk home—a distance of four miles—and be concluded that, therefore, a working man would be able to walk the same distance in his dinner-hour for the purpose of recording his vote. But that reasoning He thought perfectly absurd. Again, he did not believe there was any proposal made in the Bill which so handicapped poor candidates as that of stopping the conveyance of voters to the poll. How were the Government going to deal with the acknowledged difficulty involved in this question? They proposed to bring the poll to the voter—that was to say, they intended to have more polling places; and he understood that in every county and borough there would be a polling place for every 500 voters. The effect of this would be that, as the number of voters would be greatly increased, so the expenses of the Returning Officer would be proportionately increased. But the expenses of the Returning Officer was compulsory on the candidate, whereas the expenses set forth in the Schedule to the Bill were optional. Thus they were going to relieve optional expenditure in order to increase compulsory expenditure. Therefore, he said that in proportion as they increased the expenses of the Returning Officer they would disqualify the poor candidate. That was a point which he believed had not yet been mentioned in the Committee by any hon. Member. The Bill was designed to produce purity of election; but did anyone say that the sanctioning of the conveyance of voters to the poll had in any way led to corruption? There was not a single allegation of the kind in the last Election Petitions; it was never hinted that the expenditure upon conveyance had, in the slightest degree, influenced the result of any election. He maintained that if the Bill passed in its present form, the Government were disfranchising a large number of persons belonging to the poorest class of the community. He had an Amendment lower down on the Paper, which, after listening to the various opinions which had been expressed on the subject, he intended, if the present Amendment were not carried, to lay before the Committee. 1494 the proposal was that the conveyance of voters should be allowed in counties, and not in boroughs. The Government had admitted that there were material obstacles in the way of a voter recording his vote, which would have to be overcome. It was agreed that when a voter lived in an island, the candidate might convey such voter across that part of the sea which separated him from the main land. In this case a material obstacle was offered to the voter's recording his vote by the sea; but the obstacle was just as great when a distance of three or four miles on land separated him from the polling place. If a man could be rapidly conveyed to the poll he could get through all the business of voting in his dinner-hour; but if he had to walk there it would take him more than an hour to record his vote. That being so, if an employer wanted to prevent his men voting he could easily do so; he would be enabled by the Bill to exercise a considerable amount of undue influence. Looking at the matter from a perfectly impartial point of view, he thought the best plan would be to allow the conveyance of voters in counties. The amount of expenditure could, of course, be limited; and, if that were done, it would protect candidates standing for counties from undue exaction for the hire of carriages; it would reduce the amount which the poor candidate had to pay to the Returning Officer, and generally, he believed, the plan would work well. If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton went to a Division he should support him, because he was generally in favour of the conveyance of. voters to the poll. If the Amendment were lost, he hoped the Government would bear in mind the observations he had made. One thing was clear—they could not make conveyance of voters to the poll an illegal practice. It was all very well to say that a rich man should not be conveyed; but suppose a costermonger gave his friend a lift on the road to the poll, did the Government propose to make that an illegal practice? He thought the Amendment before the Committee was one which common sense and experience had shown to be worthy of attention.
§ MR. CAINE
said, he hoped the Attorney General would not give way, because he was satisfied there was not a readier way of corrupting constituencies than the hiring of cabs at elections. In 1495 some constituencies there were a great number of voters who owned public carriages, and nothing would be easier than for a rich candidate to hire every cabdriver in the town, paying him considerably more than he could got for his day's work, and in that way corrupt a number of voters, sufficient, perhaps, to turn an election. He had a Return in his hand which related to the elections for the borough of Preston; and he found that on the occasion of one election £211 17s. 6d. was spent in cab hire by the Conservative candidate, and £117 2s. 8d. by the Liberal candidate. On the second occasion, Mr. Simpson, the Liberal candidate, polled, without employing a single cab, almost within 100 votes of Mr. Thempson, who was better known in the district. He did not hesitate to say that this clause of the Bill was as necessary in counties as in boroughs; he believed that 99 out of every 100 electors walked to the poll, and that so long as the system of hiring vehicles for conveying them there lasted it would lead to the most extensive bribery.
§ MR. HICKS
said, there could be no doubt that this was a most important and difficult question. If they drew the line too strictly they would disfranchise a number of electors; on the other hand, if they relaxed the clause they might open the door to a great amount of bribery and corruption. But there appeared to him a way out of the difficulty. As far as boroughs were concerned, he thought it might be met by the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Gorst), that in special cases the vote might be taken at the house of the elector; while He was of opinion—and he asked the attention of the Attorney General to this point—that in counties the same privileges might be allowed to electors who had votes in districts other than those in which they resided as were now enjoyed by electors who lived outside counties. At present, an elector living in Westminster, having property 20 miles from London in Surrey or Kent — might vote at the nearest polling station to the river-side; but if he had happened to live on the other side of the river, he would have been obliged to travel 20 miles in order to record his vote. That appeared to him an anomaly. He thought there would be no necessity for the conveyance of votes if they were 1496 allowed to vote in the district in which they resided. With regard to those voters who lived out of the county, he thought they might, with great advantage, adopt the practice of voting by papers, which was now in operation in the Universities. That system prevailed not only in the English, but in the Scotch Universities; and, as far as he was aware, there had never been any complaint that abuse or malpractice of any kind had resulted from it. Therefore, he thought Her Majesty's Government would do well to take into consideration the two small but important alterations he had suggested—namely, that every elector resident in counties should vote at the polling place nearest to his residence, and that the elector who lived outside should vote by papers. If these proposals were adopted, he thought the other Amendments on the Paper could be got rid of, and the sub-section they were engaged upon easily passed.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, his hon. Friend had stated that the employment of cabs was a source of corruption; they were, undoubtedly, a source of expense; but there was a difference between those two things. In some districts the mine owners had been known to utilize the pit ponies for the purpose of conveyance; and He said if a poor man were to be put in the position of not being allowed to hire conveyances, or to allow his friends to do so for him, and if the large employer was to be allowed to use the means of conveyance in his possession, then the poor man would be placed in an unfair position. He was disposed to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler); but, if that were not agreed to, this matter would have to be carried to its legitimate length. As the question now stood, he should vote for the Amendment, because he thought the Government position was at present inconsistent and inconsequent; and, as it had been justly said, it would. place the rich man at an advantage.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, that he should be glad if the hon. Member for Wolverhampton would accept the invitation from that side of the House to withdraw his Amendment. If the hon. Member went to a Division he was sorry to say he could not support him, because, in the first place, he was sure that legalizing the conveyance of voters to the 1497 poll in carriages hired by the candidate would seriously increase the cost of the election. It was quite true, as the noble Lord had said, that it was optional upon the candidate to spend money in this way or not; on the other hand, if it were not permitted to the candidate to convey voters to the poll, the expense of the Returning Officer would be increased, because the number of polling places would be increased. But he thought the voluntary hiring of carriages was practically compulsory, because, if the number of polling places were not sufficiently increased, it would be almost impossible, if one side hired all the carriages, for the other candidate to get voters to go to the poll. The borough which he had the honour to represent was one of those improperly so-called, for it was, in fact, a small county; in it the voters lived a considerable distance apart, and unless the number of voting places was increased, it was almost a necessity that the voters should be conveyed to the poll. The increase of the number of polling stations meant an increased expenditure; but that would be less than the present expenditure, which, although it was said to be voluntary, was, in fact, compulsory so far as the candidates were concerned. Not only did he think that to allow the candidate to incur expense for the conveyance of voters to the poll would lead to corruption, but he disliked a system which led the voter to suppose that it was the duty of the candidate to convey him to the poll; the idea ought not to be encouraged that it was any part of the candidate's duty to afford facilities for voting. He held that the more the electors were made to understand that they had to discharge a public duty in recording their votes, and that they were not to place themselves under any obligation to the candidate, the nearer would be the approach to purity of election. The system of allowing candidates to hire carriages for the purpose of conveying voters to the poll, even in the case of those who lived at a distance from the polling stations, would, in his opinion, be attended with bad effects, because if they allowed it in one case the electors would expect it to be done in another. It was practically the case now that they expected the candidate to take them to the poll, even though they could and ought to walk there. For these reasons, he could not vote for the 1498 Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. They must remember that, although people in the middle rank of life and the lower rank of life did not keep carriages or drags, a great many of them kept carts, which they were very ready to utilize on the day of an election in conveying voters to the poll if they knew they were to be paid. He was quite sure that if they legalized the hiring of carriages, persons who threw a cart into the work would expect to be paid for the loan; if they made it illegal to hire carriages, a great many of a candidate's supporters would voluntarily place their carriages and their vehicles at his disposal.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would stand firm, and refuse the Amendment of the lion. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The Committee would be extremely sorry to learn that there was no one in Wolverhampton who would lend his carriage to the hon. Member to carry voters to the poll, just as they would be extremely sorry to hear that the cab-drivers of Scarborough were open to corruption, as the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine) had described them. This was a very important clause; and it was perfectly evident that in boroughs, especially largo boroughs, the employment of a great number of vehicles might not only be the cause of large expense, but of a very serious amount of corruption. He, however, should be disposed later on to support an Amendment which would justify the conveyance of voters residing beyond a certain distance. He considered that a distance of two or three miles warranted the conveyance of voters to the poll. The borough he had the honour to represent was, undoubtedly, the purest constituency in England. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] Corruption had never been known in the borough of Eye. He was sorry that the mention of the borough was received with a good deal of misplaced levity by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst). Certainly, Eye had never returned such Members as the borough of Stoke was in the habit of returning. Reference was made by the hon. Member who had just sat down to the impossibility of preventing persons, whether they belonged to the wealthy or the poorer classes, offering to convey 1499 their friends to the poll. It was quite obvious that such a prohibition was quite impossible; indeed, as the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) had put it, how could they prevent a costermonger carrying his friend in his cart to the poll? How could they in the country prevent a farmer carrying any of his brother electors to the poll? Anyone who knew country districts well knew the amount of good feeling and good fellowship which prevailed at election times; and when one man conveyed another in his cart to the poll it was certainly not for the purpose of influencing his vote. It would be impossible to carry out the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), supported as it was by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), to its extreme conclusion. In large boroughs it was unreasonable to prohibit the conveyance of electors. For instance, the borough of Eye covered 50 miles in circumference. It comprised 11 large-sized villages, and many of the inhabitants were over two miles from the polling-stations. Certainly, no one would say that such voters should not be conveyed to the poll; and he imagined that there would be no difficulty, ultimately, in accepting some of the Amendments which referred to this point. But, as a general principle, if the Government were in earnest in wishing to put down corruption, they ought, in this matter of hired conveyances, to stand firm.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, there appeared to be some difference of opinion with regard to the conveyance of voters in counties. He listened with interest to the remarks of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) with regard to this matter, because a few years ago he had the honour of contesting Middlesex with the noble Lord, and he knew how expensive the carriage of voters was on that occasion. He believed between them they begged, borrowed, and hired every single carriage they possibly could in Middlesex. In looking over the Return, he found that it cost the noble Lord as much as £1,064 for the carriage of voters, and that did not include the whole number of carriages that were used, because he believed the noble Lord himself was very popular in Middlesex amongst the "gigocracy," and 1500 if he had not borrowed a large number of carriages he would have been required to spend considerably more. He quite admitted, with the noble Lord, that there was very great difficulty in having polling places so numerously situated as to bring them home to the door of every elector, and that it seemed hard upon a man if he had to walk four or five miles to a polling station, while someone else lived next door. He thought, however, it would be a still greater evil and objection to continue to permit this large expenditure of money in the counties upon the conveyance of voters. Many Gentlemen might be able to afford the expense; but when they had in one constituency au item of above £1,000 for the conveyance of electors simply, it was clear they limited the choice of electors. So far as He was concerned, he should be glad to see the polling places increased, and that not at the expense of the candidates, but of the community at largo. He would go even further than his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), because he admitted there were places in which the electors were so few that it was impossible to have a polling station. If electors were required to walk a long way He would do what was done in America. In America, if a man lived a long way from a polling station, his expenses were paid to the polling place. If that were done bore everyone would be put upon an equality. That, however, could not be provided by this Bill, because the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) had declined to accept the view that the expense should be thrown on the constituency. They had actually to choose between two evils—namely, some sort of inequality on the one hand, and large expense to the candidate on the other hand. Personally, he held it was undesirable to allow the present largo expenditure for conveying voters to the poll to continue.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper providing that if a voter resided more than 15 miles from the nearest polling station he should be permitted to send in a voting paper stating which of the candidates he voted for. Of course, he did not tenaciously hold to the limit of 15 miles. If, however, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) went to a Division, he (Viscount Galway) would feel 1501 compelled to vote against him, on the ground that if the Bill was to be of any practical use it ought to put down the largo amount of unnecessary expense which was now incurred in conveying voters. He know something of election contests in counties, and it was quite true that it was necessary very often to bring a certain number of voters up to the poll. As the law now stood, electors seemed to think they had a right to be conveyed at the cost of the candidate. That was a notion that ought to be at once disabused. Certainly, he should strongly oppose the suggestion of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) that no one should be allowed to convey himself or a friend to the poll, because he regarded that as an unjustifiable interference with the liberty of the subject.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he could not understand the noble Lord's (Viscount Galway's) position. The noble Lord would be very willing to prohibit the very extravagant methods which were now adopted for bringing up people to the poll; but he desired to reserve to himself, and to Gentlemen situated like himself, the privilege of taking voters up to the poll in their own carriages. Did the noble Lord suppose that that was not a bribe? What had they been doing? The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) had said they surely would not prevent a costermonger taking his friend up in his own cart. Yes; he (Mr. Rylands) would; he would prevent a costermonger giving a friend a shilling for his vote, just as he would prevent him giving him a lift to the poll. [Viscount FOLKESTONE: Oh!] Yes; the noble Lord (Viscount Folkestone), with his carriage and pair, might very easily bribe—["Oh, oh!"] Yes; he might very easily bribe a farmer. The very fact—
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
rose to Order. He wished to know if there was any Question before the Committee as to conveying voters to the poll except in carriages paid for?
§ MR. RYLANDS
, continuing, maintained that he was strictly in Order. He was remarking that it was necessary to stop the use of private carriages; and he was arguing, further, that the noble Lord (Viscount Folkestone), if he chose to use his carriage and pair in bringing farmers and others up to the poll, he 1502 could, by so doing, exercise a considerable influence upon the voters. The very fact of riding in the noble Lord's carriage, or the noble Lord's friend's carriage, would, no doubt, have considerable effect on a voter's mind. He (Mr. Rylands) had experience on this matter, and he would give the Committee the benefit of it. In 1868—he saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) looking very earnestly at him, and he could understand the reason, because the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well what he was going to say—there was an Act passed which prohibited the use of conveyances in boroughs, and it was supposed by some very simple people that they must not infringe the law by taking anybody up to the poll. He (Mr. Rylands) was one of those simple people; and so anxious was he not to do any illegal act that he did not engage a single carriage. But what happened with his opponents? In Warrington, where the contest in which he was engaged took place, all the butchers, for some reason or other which he could not understand, were all Tories; and what with Cheshire squires with their yellow carriages, and butchers with their spring carts, the supporters of his opponent were brought up in such numbers that very early in the morning his committee began to think that He would be defeated. Two hon. Friends of his stood for Salford, and they determined not to use cabs. Their opponents did, and the result was that his Friends were defeated by a small majority; he had no doubt if his Friends had used cabs they would have been returned. They must either do one thing or the other. It was absurd to say it was not a bribe to bring a man up to the poll in their carriage. A Friend of his, Mr. Harrison, a man of the highest respectability and honour, was returned for Bewdley. One of his friends was in the habit of lending a threshing machine to his poor neighbours. The man was a Quaker, and he said to a voter when he agreed to lend him the machine—"I suppose thou wilt vote for our friend Harrison?" The result was that, because the man had said that when lending the threshing machine, Mr. Harrison was unseated; it was held to be a bribe. The Government were bound to say one thing or the other. Did they wish to prevent the conveyance 1503 of voters to the poll in private carriages? If they did, they must lay down a rule in such a form that it could not be evaded. He could buy a dozen carriages, and he supposed some hon. Gentlemen opposite would; if Gentlemen were allowed to take voters up to the poll in their own carriages, there was no difficulty whatever in their being well provided with vehicles. The noble Lord (Viscount Folkestone), there was no doubt, would be able to obtain the use of two or three dozen, or oven 100 carriages. He (Mr. Rylands) would put a stop to the conveyance of voters to the poll altogether. It was absolutely necessary they should do something, and if they did anything at all they ought to do it thoroughly.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was disposed to agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) that the Government ought to say explicitly what they meant to do. The Bill as it stood was perfectly useless, and could be easily evaded. It would be very possible for a friend, before an election, to lend a carriage; he was aware that carriages would be wanted to convey voters to the poll, and He lent his carriage, the loan of which was to be repaid by another loan some time or other, after the election. That was the usual practice, and the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) had put nothing in the Bill to prevent it. In rural districts the hiring of conveyances led to a great deal of corruption, because all publicans and hucksters kept a carriage, or cab, or wagonnette, or some sort of conveyance, and if a candidate would not hire a vehicle the owner would not vote for him. He defied any hon. Member who had any experience of rural elections to contradict that statement. The only way to grapple with the evil was to make the hiring of conveyances illegal, and then, by every means, multiplying the number of polling places. It was certainly hard for a man to have to be required to go a long way to a polling booth; but if the Government would consent to enlarge their Schedule of expenses so far as the provision for polling places was concerned, it would make very little difference in the expenses of the candidate, but would obviate the need of conveying voters.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
said, he objected to the fixing of heavy pains 1504 and penalties upon what was no offence whatever; he could not conceive what possible corruption there was in conveying a man to the poll. It certainly was no inducement to a man to vote in any particular way, and it certainly was no pleasure for him to be jolted on a bad road for four or five miles for the sake of performing a duty the country expected of him. It often happened in counties that the electors were not in a position to walk four or five miles, and neither were they in a position to pay the expense of a conveyance. In Hampshire, his own county, there was a considerable number of very poor electors. Supposing one of these electors came to him, or to any other county Member, and said—"I have voted for you on many previous occasions, and I was anxious to do so again; but I am now so old and infirm that I was not able to walk to the polling station; I had no conveyance, and I therefore hired one which cost me 4s. or 5s. As I am a very poor man, it will be very inconvenient for me to pay that money, and I would be much obliged to you if you pay me a little towards it." He (Sir Rainald Knightley) could not conceive that he would be guilty of any great moral offence if he were to pay the cost of the conveyance; but, according to this Bill, he would be liable to a penalty of £100, and deprived of voting at any municipal or Parliamentary election. Nowadays they did not require a voter to be intelligent; but they did require him to be able to walk three or four miles. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) went to a Division he should support him.
said, He approved of the course the Government had adopted in this matter. In some parts both of West Somerset and East Cornwall the number of electors was exceedingly small, and the polling districts were very large. He believed he was not wrong in saying that in the polling district of Exmoor the number of electors was not more than 90, and the district was not less than eight miles across. To put an increased number of polling places in these districts there would result in throwing an unreasonable expense on the candidates. He was certain there were several other constituencies in which the same kind of thing occurred. He did not know Yorkshire well; but 1505 there must be many parts of Yorkshire in which there must be a similar state of things. They were told that the voluntary conveyance of voters was a means of great corruption. He, however, believed that it was exactly the reverse. There was nothing more common than a combination of voters to provide for their own conveyance to the poll, and there was no reason in the world why electors should not be able to carry one another to the poll. He objected to anything like legalizing in counties or boroughs payment for conveyances; it was almost impossible that that should be done without corruption; and he sincerely trusted that the Government would not agree to any Amendment on the subject.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he considered the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Acland) had the very opposite effect to the one intended, because the hon. Gentleman had pointed out the great difficulty there was in large counties of voters exercising the franchise. The hon. Gentleman hinted at Yorkshire. Now, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) could speak with some knowledge of the neighbouring county—Lancashire—in which the polling districts were very large. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) had said it was impossible that polling places could be provided in sufficient numbers to meet all cases. Now, the object of the Government in this Bill was two-fold—the one was to stop corruption, and the other to prevent extravagant expenditure at elections. Personally, he did not consider there was any corruption at all in hiring carriages. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, that was his opinion. And, speaking from experience, he did not think that one single voter was influenced by being carried to the poll. When they came to the question of expenditure, he agreed that the conveyance of voters was a very serious matter; and he entirely agreed with what was evidently in the mind of the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) that if the expenditure now incurred in conveying voters to the poll was allowed to continue the Schedule of expenses would have no chance whatever of being carried in the form in which it existed. The question seemed to him to divide itself into two parts, one with regard to boroughs, and the other with regard to counties. Boroughs and counties stood 1506 on a totally different footing; and if hon. Members would recollect how this Bill came to be introduced they would see on what a very different footing counties and boroughs did stand. According to the old law, it was illegal in boroughs to hire cabs; but though it was illegal the result was that in some cases both parties entirely disregarded the law; in some boroughs the political Parties decided that neither would prosecute the other for that disregard of the law. It was under these circumstances that the late Attorney General (Sir John Holker) brought in a Bill, in 1880, to allow the use of conveyances at elections. It was impossible that the then state of things could be allowed to exist, and the Government were obliged to decide what they would do in the matter. They were required to decide what they would do, and the result was that they resolved to legalize the conveyance of voters in boroughs, and an Act was passed accordingly. The right hon. Gentlaman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) made a remark which He (Sir B. Assheton Cross) thought was extremely sensible. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not the course he would have recommended, for he considered it would have been far better to have put a stop to the practice altogether; but he felt the late Government could not have carried a proposal to that effect, and, that being so, the Government were driven to do what they proposed, for nothing could be worse than to leave the country in its then state of uncertainty. He believed that in boroughs, if polling places were increased, people would be able to get to the poll without conveyances; but in counties the case was very different. If they were to say that the voters in the distant districts should not be convoyed to the poll they would be practically disfranchised, and thus a great hardship would be worked. He could not understand how there could be two opinions as to the right of a man to convey a voter to the poll in his own carriage. The question, however, was, how were they to vote in this matter? If the question only affected boroughs, he should not care two straws which way the vote of the Committee went, because he really did not think it made any difference. He confessed he should be rather glad to see the practice done away 1507 with in boroughs; but in counties the case stood on a totally different footing. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) proposed to strike out the words "on account of the conveyance of electors to or from the poll." He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would like to see those words struck out; and he would like to leave it to the Attorney General, if he wanted to confine the clause to boroughs, to introduce words to that effect. He should vote for the omission of the words.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, this was a question of great importance, upon which hon. Members might take a different view, and which he was happy to say had, from first to last, been discussed in a spirit which was likely to lead them to a right conclusion. He could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) that because he was a county Member lie ought not to care what was done for boroughs.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he distinctly stated that he should be glad to see the practice of conveying voters to the poll in boroughs abolished.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that was a question of degree, because, so far as the principle was concerned, if counties claimed exemption on account of distance, in boroughs there were infirm voters who could not vote, however near the polling place might be. The position of the question before 1880 was that the conveyance of voters in boroughs was au illegal payment, whilst in counties it was a legal payment. The late Government legalized payment for conveyance of voters both in boroughs and counties; but they had now their experience since 1880 to guide them. The result of that had been that, without doubt, the expense of elections had been vastly increased since that time; and, as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had said, one of the objects of the Bill was to prevent extravagant expenditure at elections, and the conveyance of voters was one of the items of expenditure that could be readily got rid of. It was proposed, both in respect of boroughs and counties, that it should be rendered illegal to expend money in the conveyance of voters. Now, the evil with regard to expenditure was far greater in counties than in boroughs, quite independent of corruption. The 1508 present large expenditure shut out all men of moderate means from the representation of counties; and as they increased the expenditure in counties they diminished the worth of their Representatives. The necessity of this Bill, therefore, was forced upon them. Let them take particular county Members opposite into council. What did they say? What was the view with respect to this question entertained by the bulk of county Members? Did they wish to maintain that great expenditure? Did they desire that their election should be carried at much expenditure? If they said they did, he almost thought they could approach the question from a Party point of view. He would accept their view; and He believed, if any question could affect his mind in relation to this Bill from a Party point of view, it would be the most satisfactory result to the Liberal Party of continuing the conveyance of voters in counties. He had received remonstrance after remonstrance that this Bill was detrimental to the Liberal Party. Liberals were constantly urging upon him that the hiring of conveyances should be permitted, because the vast majority of carriages that would be placed exclusively at the disposal of voters were those owned by Conservatives. It was quite plain that the Conservative Party, owing to their superior social position, had a far vaster number of carriages at their disposal than the Liberal Party; but it appeared to him that that was a consideration that ought not to weigh with them at all. They must take the good and the bad together; and if it was a right thing to do, they ought to do it. If hon. Members opposite would take that view, and say that the practice of employing carriages in counties should no longer prevail, he would undertake to say that those who were mostly interested in the Liberal Party in counties would agreeably accept the same view. They, however, ought not to look at this question from a Party standpoint; they ought not to be guided by any consideration as to which Party would gain or which would lose by the change. He hoped the Committee would understand the effect of the Amendment. He saw no way of effecting the principle of a Maximum Schedule if the Amendment was carried. If they were to say that this expenditure was to continue, they would have a rich candidate engaging 1509 carriages of every kind — a fact that would place him in a much superior position to a poor opponent. Were they going to suggest that they should have limited expenditure in counties in respect to conveyances? He asked the Committee to beware of accepting the Amendment, unless they were going to abandon the Maximum Schedule. What would become of the constituencies? He believed that they would be polled to a very great extent, and that everyone who wished to go to the poll would got there in some way or other. In olden times no elector was taken to vote. The freeholders of Buckinghamshire who supported John Hampden were not conveyed to the poll; the Yorkshire voters who supported Wilberforce in 1784 found their own way to the poll; and, to come down to recent years, the hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham) found his way into that House without hiring one single carriage. He had no hesitation in saying that, without conveyances, men who really desired to record their votes would find their way to the poll, just as they now found their way to the church or the market town. Those, then, who wished expenditure at elections to be reduced would do wisely if they accepted the Bill as it was now framed, and did not agree to the Amendment.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had made a great point about diminishing the expenditure in the counties. He wished to remind the Committee of this—that it might be true that isolated county elections were expensive; but that it was not, in the long run, an expensive matter to sit for a county. Often one election was very expensive and another was very cheap. If they looked at the county Members in that House they would find that some hon. Gentlemen had sat for counties for many years without a contest. In the case of North Wiltshire, the uncle of his hon. Friend (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), who now represented that county, sat for 30 years without one. It frequently happened that when the strength of Parties in counties was once decided there was no election for 30 or 40 years; and the county Member who had fought his way into the House at considerable expense very often sat for the term of his natural life without having to go through any further election contest. He very much doubted whether the cutting clown of 1510 expenditure in county elections would be found to be a cheap thing, in the long run, for county Members. The question, however, now before them was that of the conveyance of voters; and they were told by hon. Gentlemen opposite—they were told by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) that every gentleman ought to walk to the poll. As he understood his hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands), if he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) rode to the poll on his horse he would commit an illegal act. The hon. Gentleman did not wish electors to drive in their own carriages or ride on their own horses, but to walk to the poll. That seemed to him (Mr. R. N. Fowler) to be a very novel principle to set up. It seemed to him that the Bill was intended to enable any man to got into the House of Commons without expense. They all wanted to see the amount of expenditure diminished; none of thorn wanted to spend more money than they need; but, at the same time, he did not think the course the Government were pursuing on the Bill was one that would raise the character of the Members in future returned to the House.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, He hoped the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) would see his way clear to withdraw the Amendment. He was sure, in so doing, he would meet the wishes of the Committee. As far as boroughs were concerned, cabs were not wanted. Anyone who had seen a borough election would see that there was a cab given to each canvasser; in that cab possibly a voter was brought up who lived, perhaps, only 30 or 40 yards off, and as the day were on they found the cabs standing near the polling booths in large numbers absolutely doing nothing. Setting aside the question of corruption, the Government ought to stand by this proposition on the ground of expense, seeing that this was a Bill to reduce expenditure at elections. The only excuse for the use of cabs in boroughs was that named by the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton)—namely, that it very often happened that working men were at work some distance from the polling booth, and could only vote in their dinner hour; but the real remedy for that was to keep the poll open until 8 o'clock at night. He j believed that neither side wanted to be put to the expense of cabs; but if one side did it the other side did it. The 1511 remedy in counties would be found in the multiplication of polling booths. Although that might throw extra expense on the Returning Officers in some cases, there would be a distinct advantage gained. It was a positive disgrace to see the expense to which county Members were put with regard to the conveyance of voters. For instance, in the last election for East Cumberland £2,680 was spent in convoying voters to the poll; in North Durham, where there was a constituency of 13,000, £4,069 was spent in conveyances; in Bedfordshire, however, the successful candidates only paid something like £46 in conveyances; whilst in Montgomeryshire as much as £5,800 was expended in the conveyance of voters. He thought that the Committee ought to sympathize with the position in which county Members were placed against their will. It must be against their will, because, as long as the law allowed it, as long as there were the means to do these illegal things, they would be done; and no county candidate dared refuse expenditure when it was made for him. They seemed to have been mixing up two questions—namely, the hiring of conveyances and the loan of conveyances. The two things were not necessarily connected, and they had better dispose of the one, and secure the candidate from unnecessary expense, by rendering it illegal for him or his agent to hire a conveyance, and then turn to the consideration of the other question.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, that the question was one of considerable importance. He represented a largo city, and the majority of the electors there were of the working classes. A large number of them lived at least five miles from their places of business. Many hon. Members had suggested, as a remedy, an increase in the number of polling stations; but that would not meet the difficulty in such a city as Liverpool. The place at which a man was to vote was generally near his place of residence; and if a man had to go five miles to work, it would be utterly impossible for him, during his dinner hour, to record his vote, unless he could be conveyed to the booth. The abolition of the right of conveyance would mean the disfranchisement in Liverpool of at least 20,000 working men, unless they were prepared to sacrifice their day's labour. He would not be one who would in any way attempt to disfranchise the working classes of 1512 this country; and, therefore, he should support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler). He regretted very much that he had not spoken before the Attorney General addressed the Committee, because the hon. and learned Gentleman had not alluded to this question, and He seemed to suppose that the extension of committee rooms would meet the difficulty. He (Mr. Whitley) wished to point out that the extension of committee rooms would not meet the difficulty, and that it was absolutely necessary that they should have some means by which these people could come to the poll—otherwise they would be practically disfranchised. The question was a difficult one, but it had to be faced; and he earnestly hoped the Government would give it their best consideration.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, the hon. Member appealed to the Government as to what plan they would propose to meet the case of the working men in Liverpool who would be disfranchised by the present proposal. In reply to the hon. Member, lie would point out that there was another Bill before the House—namely, the Ballot Bill—in which the Government had made a proposal which they thought would meet the point raised by the hon. Member. Did not Liverpool follow the practice adopted in the other large towns of Lancashire of giving a half-holiday to the working people on the day of election? [Mr. WHITLEY: No, no!] At any rate, that had always been the statement of Lancashire county Members. Those hon. Gentlemen had always opposed the proposal for extending the hours of polling, on the plea that it was the custom in Lancashire to give a half-holiday on the election day to enable the working men to record their votes. But if, as the hon. Member for Liverpool had said, this facility did not exist in Liverpool, then, as he had pointed out, the remedy for the evil would be found in the extension of the hours of polling, which would be given in the Ballot Bill.
said, that before the Committee wont to a Division on this point he wished to ask a question of the Government. For himself, he was opposed to the use of vehicles at elections; but there were many districts where voters were eight or nine miles from the polling place, and the hon. and learned 1513 Gentleman the Attorney General had not as yet said one word as to how he proposed to meet that difficulty. It was suggested that the difficulty might be got out of by enabling electors to vote by means of voting papers; but not one word had fallen from any Member of the Government with regard to that matter. There were also some other questions, such as that which had been mentioned by an hon. Member sitting below him—namely, the case of those who were not allowed by their employers, who differed from them in politics, to be absent on the polling day, except at the dinner hour, which the hon. and learned Gentleman had not dealt with. How did the hon. and learned Member propose to deal with the case of these electors? Then, also, there was the case of voters who were either too old or too infirm to walk to the polling place. were they to be disfranchised? The case of these three classes of men had been brought under the notice of the Attorney General, and yet, in his speech, he had not said one word about them. How were all these men to get to the poll? If they were to receive no facilities to enable them to got to the polling places, were voting papers to be allowed? This question should be answered by some hon. Member from the Front Ministerial Bench.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
said, he wished to bring before the notice of the Committee a matter which was unique in county electioneering. They had heard a great deal about the expense of county contests; and He would, in this regard, tell the Committee what had occurred during the last two elections in South Northumberland. There was au election in consequence of Lord Eslington going to the other House. There had not been an election for a very long time, and, consequently, both Parties made up their minds to have a great fight over the seat. No less than £8,000 was spent on each side, and the result of the election was a tie. At the next election, in 1880, there was great enthusiasm about the fight; but there was a great difficulty as to the means of carrying it on. About £2,600, however, was subscribed and put into the bank; they determined to have only one agent; they did not employ any conveyances, and they returned their man at the head of the poll. When the accounts came to be made up, the solicitor who had charge 1514 of the financial arrangements had the pleasure of returning to the subscribers 50 per cent of their subscriptions. Out of the £2,600 only £1,300 was spent.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the very touching story they had just heard from the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith) was capable of a very simple explanation. The expenditure at the former election carried the candidate at the latter. Everyone who was familiar with election matters knew it was sometimes necessary to invest a large sum on one election in view of an election which was to follow. People were not so ungrateful as it was supposed. There was one class of electors who would be largely disfranchised by this provision—namely, men who held small properties, but who did not live in the county. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were constantly declaiming in favour of a division of property; and he would point out that as soon as property was divided amongst persons not blessed with other moans, and who, in all probability, would have to earn their living in the towns, they would be practically disfranchised. He admitted that wealthy men who bought small freeholds were able to convoy themselves to the polling places; but poor men who acquired small properties in the counties, very often their birthplace, who, he would venture to say, would be as valuable and independent a part of the constituency as any others, would be disfranchised by this Amendment.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he was in this unfortunate position—that he cared a great deal for the boroughs and little for the counties. The Amendment had received support mainly from considerations drawn from the counties. With regard to the position of the boroughs, he did not think the Committee had fully considered the grievance under which they laboured, and to which he wished to draw the attention of the Government, for the purpose, if possible, of getting it remedied. The grievance of the boroughs was this—that it was not easy to poll the men under the existing law without means of conveyance—that they could not, between 8 and 9 in the morning, and 1 and 2 in the afternoon, walk from the places where they were working to the poll. It was said that they were going to extend the hours of polling; but, whatever might be the intention of the Government in that respect, that was not yet the law; and he 1515 was sorry to say that there was no provision in the Bill for increasing the number of polling places in boroughs—there was for counties, but not for boroughs. He presumed he should be defeated on this question; but if he were, he should certainly submit an Amendment in favour of providing accommodation in boroughs for additional places of polling. No one had contended that this employment of conveyances was a means of corruption. There might be places like Scarborough, for instance, and other seaside and pleasure resorts, where the employment of conveyances might be made a means of corruption, because, in these places, there were a large number of people who attached themselves to the business of hiring out vehicles; but it would be easy to cope with that difficulty, by prohibiting the person who hired out his conveyances exercising his vote. It would be fair and just to both Parties if, whilst they were preventing the hire of cabs and carriages in order to save their own pockets, they, at the same time, prevented wealthy persons from using their own or their neighbours' carriages. If they were going to save themselves expense in this matter of' hiring conveyances, they should be equally fair to the men who had not the long pockets which they possessed, and who might be able to pay something for the hire of conveyances, though he could not command the use of private carriages. If they were going to prohibit the hire of carriages, then, in justice, they should prohibit also the lending of carriages. He contended that for hon. Members to enact, for the purpose of saving their own pockets, that carriages should not be hired, and to decline to make a law against using private conveyances, they were making one law for the rich, and another for the poor. Perhaps it would meet the views of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) if he withdrew his Amendment in order to enable him (Lord George Hamilton) to bring his proposal forward free from any embarrassment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
, said, his Amendment was to insert in line 20, page 3, after the word "poll," the words "in a borough." He had already stated his views, and it would be, therefore, 1516 unnecessary to go into the subject again. He was aware that the conveyance of voters had been the means of extortion, and that, in consequence having to hire vehicles, candidates had been put to great expense. Should the Government favourably entertain this Amendment, he did not see any objection to putting some limit to the expenditure that might be incurred for the conveyance of voters into the Bill. The expenses might be proportioned to the number of voters in the county and, on looking at the Schedule, his impression was that a very slight addition to the amount already allowed in counties would be sufficient to cover all the necessary expense of the conveyance of that small number of voters who would be unable to make their own way to the poll. He hoped the Attorney General would understand that if his Amendment were adopted, he did not believe it would add materially to the expenditure of county elections, and that, by a little alteration of the Schedule, they could make the amount a small one. He quite admitted that the present expenditure was extravagant, as it led to everyone expecting to be taken to the poll, and refusing to walk.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 20, after the word "poll," to insert the words "in a borough."—(Lord George Hamilton.)
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the noble Lord was good enough to say that He would not repeat his argument; and, as he had kept his word, he (the Attorney General) would follow his example in the matter. He had stated his objections to the proposal in his observations in regard to the last Amendment. Therefore, he would not repeat his remarks. The noble Lord's Amendment would leave the expenditure in counties as it stood at the present moment—that was to say, it would leave the expenditure on conveyances unchecked. To that he (the Attorney General) had already stated his objection.
SIR TREVOR LAWRENCE
said, that the Metropolitan constituencies, such as he represented, which were partly borough and partly county constituencies, had not been properly considered in this matter. In the constitu- 1517 ency he represented there were a large number of out-voters. One gentleman had written to him from Toulouse to the effect that he should be glad to come to record his vote, if a first-class return ticket were sent out to him. In many constituencies there were people who were anxious to record their votes, but whose position was not such as to enable them to pay any considerable sum in railway fares. As to what had been said against the Amendment by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith), he could not conceive any stronger argument for leaving the law as it stood at the present moment. It had been pointed out that it would be impossible to carry out elections without expenditure, and the arguments had gone against the course advocated. Those voters who, in order to record their votes, would have to travel a considerable distance should be supplied with some means for doing so; otherwise they would practically be disfranchised. It appeared to him that this clause would have the effect of disfranchising them.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
said, that, if he understood the purport of the noble Lord's (Lord George Hamilton's) Amendment correctly, it was this—that in regard to county elections, eliminating from it the conveyance of electors at borough elections, the law should stand as at present. He thought that the expressions they had heard coming from persons in high position—persons, in fact, in the Government—at public meetings that there should be payment of Members for carrying out their duties to the State, justified the Committee in contending that the Amendment could not be reasonably refused—that if Members were paid for the trouble and inconvenience to which they put themselves, the expense, at least, of electors coming to the poll should be defrayed for them. There were a great number of people in this country who had small freeholds in the counties, and whose business lay in manufacturing centres in which they were obliged to spend their time. As had been pointed out, it was not right, especially whilst advocating payment to hon. Members, that they should put these small freehold owners to the double expense of losing a day's wages, and of paying the cost of conveyance to the poll. These expenses were expenses which should be entirely defrayed by the election agents. He was ac- 1518 quainted with a district in which many of the electors who possessed small freeholds had to attend to business in industrial centres, and he had always considered that this was a class who ought to be encouraged to come to the poll. It was very unfair to these people to say—"It is a corrupt practice to pay your expense to the polling place." It was in the highest degree unfair to say that they must themselves pay the cost of recording their votes, when they could not possibly be, for the time being, in the place where their votes had to be recorded.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, that, before they went to a Division upon this matter, he wished to point out that to his mind they were somewhat in a difficulty on this question. First of all, if they allowed payment for the conveyance of electors to go to the poll, it would be impossible for them to keep within the bounds that were permitted by the fourth part of the 1st Schedule, referring to the maximum scale. The Schedule said that the expenses, exclusive of personal expenses and sums paid to the Returning Officer for his charges, should not exceed, in the whole, £350 where the number of electors on the Register did not exceed 2,000, and should not exceed £380 — an additional £30 for every 1,000 electors above 2,000—where the number of electors on the register exceeded 2,000. In counties these expenses were not to be more than £500 where the number of electors did not exceed 2,000, and where the number exceeded 2,000 they were not to be more than £540—an additional £10 for every 1,000 above 2,000. It did not seem to him very plain how, under these circumstances, a candidate at a borough election would be able to spend a very large sum for the conveyance of voters to the poll. It was suggested that the payment for conveyances should be allowed, and that, if it were not, candidates and their friends should not be allowed to use private carriages for this purpose. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had suggested that he (Viscount Folkestone) would be able to get an unlimited number of carriages in his constituency. He did not agree with the hon. Member; he should not be able to do that. He should not be able to buy them, for if he were an honest man—and he did not think that he had even yet been converted by Parliamentary 1519 contests into a dishonest man—he should consider himself rather a blackguard if He had returned his expenses as below the maximum, and had bought a number of carriages for the purpose of conveying the electors to the poll. If they were not to hire carriages or to have them lent by their friends, the result of that—in his constituency at any rate—would be that hardly any voters whatever would go to the poll. His was a large and scattered constituency, as hon. Members knew, part of it being Salisbury Plain, upon which the inhabitants were not very thickly located. Hon. Members on the other side of the House had been talking a great deal about the expenditure, as well as the extension of household suffrage to the counties; and he wished to put before the Committee these two points—that either they ought to be allowed to hire conveyances to take voters to the poll—which would defeat the object of the Bill, which was the lessening of the expense of elections—or else, in a short time, they would be extending household suffrage to the counties, and giving the greater part of the newly-appointed constituencies votes which they would not be able to exercise. So far as he was concerned, he should save himself the trouble of voting by walking out of the House, instead of remaining to take part in the Division.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
said, he hoped that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Stanton), or in his own name, would be adopted in order to enable out-voters to send in voting papers. He would point out that though they took voters to the poll in hired carriages they did not always know how they were going to vote. In a neighbouring constituency to his, the minister of a Dissenting chapel at a recent election had begged all his parishioners to ride in the Tory carriages to the poll and then vote for the Liberals.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 105; Noes 200: Majority 95.—(Div. List, No. 150.)
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he had an Amendment to submit to the Committee which He trusted would be accepted. He proposed to leave out the words "or railway fares," and he believed hon. Members would see that in making that 1520 proposal he was raising a question totally distinct from that which had occupied their attention for the last two hours. The Committee had been engaged in considering as to how far it was practicable to prevent any candidate from carrying a man to the poll in his own vehicle, or how far it was desirable to prevent him hiring a conveyance for the purpose in his own immediate neighbourhood. That was a question which he did not desire in any shape or form to re - open. He had voted with his noble Friend on the last occasion because he agreed with him in principle, although he was ready to admit that with regard to the question raised there was a good deal to be said on both sides. The Committee would be aware that there was a large number of voters having qualifications in the counties which did not involve residence, and who were, for the most part, owing to circumstances, resident outside the constituency. He asked whether they were to embark under a Liberal Government in a policy of disqualification and disfranchisement with regard to these voters? He was quite aware that many hon. Gentlemen opposite approached this question with considerable equanimity, because they were of opinion that the Register was far too full of the names of persons who represented the interests of property and proprietary rights in this country. He knew that many of those who in the loudest tones proclaimed their principles as to a peasant proprietary, and desired to carve out the land of the Kingdom into the smallest fragments, at the same time took care to prevent that property, when so carved out, possessing any weight in regard to elections to that House. The noble Viscount the Member for North Nottinghamshire (Viscount Galway)had an Amendment on the Paper, which would, no doubt, to a considerable extent, remedy the grievance to which he had called the attention of the Committee; and he must admit that if the Government would undertake to accept that Amendment, he should not put the Committee to the trouble of dividing upon his own proposal. But he thought the Committee would clearly perceive that they must do one of two things—the Government must, so to speak, allow the mountain to be brought to Mahomet, or Mahomet to be brought to the mountain. He asked the Attorney General to say which of these things 1521 he was prepared to do. Was he willing to adopt either of the Amendments referred to, or expose himself to the charge of having disfranchised a class of men who possessed the most ancient franchise in the Realm?
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 22, to leave out "or railway fares."—(Mr. J. Lowther.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he thought the Committee would see that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman could not be seriously entertained after the decision which the Committee had just arrived at. In his opinion, of all the objectionable payments at elections, the payment of railway fares was the most objectionable.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he thought the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was, to some extent, open to the objection taken to it by the Attorney General, although, at the same time, lie was willing to admit that it raised a question of considerable importance. They would shortly have to consider the question as to how those voters who lived at a distance from the polling stations were to record their votes. This subject would be worthy of the consideration of the Committee, because the persons interested in the question were generally of the best class of the constituency; but He did not think that the question should be raised on the present clause, although he saw upon the Paper several Amendments proposing to deal with it. When the subject was handled it would require great consideration and elaboration of detail in order to arrive at a satisfactory result. His object in rising was simply to suggest that the question should be reserved for consideration at the proper time, when He trusted they might be able to provide fairly for the necessities of the case.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, He did not altogether agree with what had fallen from the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) with regard to this question; because, as far as out-voters were concerned, he was bound to say that they were deserving of a certain amount of consideration at the hands of the House. They had before them a proposal of the Government, which was practically one 1522 of disfranchisement of out-voters. He was aware that the Attorney General was very much in favour of abolishing out-voters, and that he wished to see residential voters only recording their votes at elections. Therefore, he asked whether the clause was aimed at that result? because, if that were stated to be its object, they would know the position in which they stood. If that were not the object of the clause, He was bound to say that the subject was deserving of more consideration than it had received. They knew well that any voter living at a distance from the constituency who was not a man of means would not, if the clause were passed in its present form, have an opportunity of recording his vote; its effect would be entirely to shut out the poor man so situated. He thought the Government ought to meet that contention with something more effective by way of reply than the arguments they had addressed to the Committee; and it would certainly be necessary to consider further how it was possible to preserve to out-voters the franchise with which Parliament had entrusted them.
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
maintained that it was not the duty of the candidate to get electors to the poll. Whether resident or out-voters, the expense should fall upon the electors. But He took it that one of the main objects of the Bill was that the representation of great county constituencies should no longer be the heritage of rich men; and he should, therefore, support the proposal of the Government.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, as the point might, perhaps, be dealt with by the Committee in a more impartial spirit on the Amendment of his noble Friend the Member for North Nottinghamshire (Viscount Galway), he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
, in moving, to insert in page 3, line 22, after "otherwise," the following Proviso:—Provided always, That in constituencies where the electors are widely scattered, and where it has been found impracticable or inexpedient to establish so many polling districts as to bring a polling station within reasonable distance of every elector, it shall be the duty of the returning officer, at his discretion, to provide conveyance for the use of electors whose residences are three miles or upwards from the nearest polling station, and to include 1523 the expense thereof among his other charges recoverable equally from both candidates,said, the panacea of the Government for the relief of voters living at a distance from the polling places was to increase the number of polling stations in districts where a certain number of voters could be got together; but there were many parts of Scotland where the voters were so widely separated that it would be impracticable to establish polling places sufficiently near to enable them to record their votes. In no part of the Kingdom had the Bill been received with more enthusiasm than in Scotland; but it was feared that, by this clause, many people would be disfranchised. There were some parts where voters travelled 10 or 15 miles to the polling stations. To remedy that difficulty there ought to be more polling stations; but the drawback to that was the expense; and, secondly, there would be great inconvenience in regard to getting all the ballot boxes to the central station in sufficient time. In such cases as these, he thought some little driving might be allowed, because the expenses would then be very much less than if the stations were increased. The arrangement might be carried out by the Returning Officer, and the expenses should be equally divided between the candidates. A voter might be old, or poor, or unable to walk 15 miles, or the road might be bad, or the weather rough, or the conditions of work might be such that He might be unable to leave his work for a whole day. Under these circumstances, many worthy electors would be disfranchised by the operation of this clause. It must be remembered that they were legislating for the future. The franchise was being extended; and he, therefore, hoped the Attorney General would be able to give way in this respect, and to propose some machinery—perhaps better than he had suggested—by which these people might drive to the poll.
Amendment proposed,In page 3, line 22, after "otherwise," to insert—"Provided always, That in constituencies where the electors are widely scattered, and. where it has been found impracticable or inexpedient to establish so many polling districts as to bring a polling station within reasonable distance of every elector, it shall be the duty of the Returning Officer, at his discretion, to provide conveyance for the use of electors whose residences are three miles or upwards from the nearest polling station, and to include the expense thereof among his other charges 1524 recoverable equally from both candidates."—(Dr. Farquharson.)Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he should be very glad to do something to meet this case if he could; but whenever hon. Members found themselves faced with a difficulty they said—"Oh, the Attorney General will provide the machinery." With regard to this proposal that the Returning Officer should, at his discretion, provide certain carriages, in the first place the Returning Officers were now hard-worked. They complained of the great difficulty they had in making all the required arrangements; and he was afraid that under this Bill more work would be required from them. Then he thought this power of discretion might, in some cases, be very much abused. Returning Officers were but human; and, in some instances, they might not be so zealous in finding carriages for one side as for the other. But, if that were not so, they might have great difficulty in finding carriages; and yet, if they did not, they would be liable to penalties for a misdemeanour. Then, where were the carriages to be sent, and how were the Returning Officers to know who were voters? The expense was to be equally recoverable from both candidates; but one might have no out-voters, and yet He would have to pay for the cost of conveying his opponent's electors. He had done—he would not say enough, but what he could in this matter. By Clause 44, he proposed to increase the number of polling districts, and to reduce the distance from every voter from four to three miles. Under the 45th section, provision was made for voters in the Highlands, where men could not possibly walk the distance. He had put himself in communication with many Members for Scotch counties, to which this question was more important than to England, and He did not find them in favour of expenditure in the direction suggested by the hon. Member; but if the hon. Member would raise the question on Clause 44, he would communicate again with hon. Members; and if a solution of the difficulty could be found, he should be very happy to help them to find one.
said, he agreed with the hon. and learned Attorney General as to the difficulty of putting this 1525 extra duty on the Returning Officers; but he believed those who knew the North of Scotland would hope that some provision would be made by which scattered voters might be brought to the polling places. If that were not done, He was certain that in several Scotch counties 20 or oven 50 per cent of the voters would be practically disfranchised. In the county of Argyll there were 14 polling stations—one to 150 electors. In one of these polling districts—the one in which he voted—there were 219 voters; and it was no exaggeration to say that of those, there were not 15 who lived within five miles of the polling station. He himself lived 10 miles away, and He had to go eight of those 10 miles by sea, and then drive the rest of the way. But, as the Attorney General had said, Clause 45 met many of the difficulties connected with the Highland counties. It did not, however, meet them all; and, unless something further was done, many electors would be disqualified and disfranchised. He had an Amendment to propose to that clause, which he hoped the Committee would accept; and He believed he should be able to satisfy them that some such provision was absolutely necessary. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press this Amendment now; but would move it or a similar one upon Clause 45, or else support the Amendment he (Mr. Craig-Sellar) should propose; but if the hon. Member went to a Division he would support him.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he was glad the hon. Member (Mr. Craig-Sellar) had drawn attention to these remote districts where there were but sparse populations; for he feared the Bill would prove a disfranchising measure with regard to them. It was all very well to say that voters might be convoyed to the poll for corrupt purposes; but, unless there was some means of taking them to the poll, they would not be able to vote at all, and would be disfranchised. Clause 44 provided that there should be a polling station within three miles of every voter; but in some parts it might be impossible, even with a reduced franchise, to get together 100 voters, and, consequently, their case would not be met by anything in the Bill. He did not know whether the Government would attempt anything to meet the case of the scattered districts; but he thought there 1526 could be no greater evil than that people having votes should not be able to use them, through not having the means of going 10 or 15 miles to record them. He hoped, when Clause 44 was reached, something would be done to meet these cases. Additional polling stations would meet the difficulty to some extent; but if they were going to increase the polling stations indefinitely, how were the expenses to be reduced
said, that, although he was not disposed to support the Amendment, He must support his hon. Friend in pointing out the necessity of making provision to meet the case of the Highland counties of Scotland. English Members did not generally realize how widely scattered population in these counties was. He found that in England there were about 16 county voters to the square mile; but in Scotland there were only three, taking the average of the whole country. In Argyllshire there was only one voter to the square mile; in Ross and Cromarty, somewhat more than half a voter to the square mile; in Inverness-shire, somewhat less than a-half; while in Sutherlandshire there was little more than one-fifth of a voter to the square mile. The distance of many voters from the polling stations was thus very great. In Inverness-shire, where he had himself a vote, there were only eight polling stations, having each an average of nearly 500 square miles connected with it. If the Bill passed in its present form, one-half, at least, of the voters in these Highland counties would be disfranchised. That was a state of matters for which some provision was required; but he thought the proposal of his hon. Friend contained a remedy almost worse than the evil it was designed to cure, so far as the candidates were concerned, as it would entail on them enormous expense. He hoped the Attorney General would consider whether some means might not be devised to meet the exceptional circumstances of these Highland counties.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, he thought this was not a purely Scotch question. In the Northern parts of Yorkshire, there were instances in which it still took two days to get to Quarter Sessions; but the planting of polling places in remote villages, where only sheep were to be seen, would not meet 1527 the difficulty. The fatal objection to the Amendment was that the Returning Officer was to provide the carriages, and the candidates were to pay; but where one man found the carriage, and another man paid, there was not great economy. It would facilitate the discussion very much, and would have done so previously, if the Government would announce now whether they would give any support to a proposal of the nature suggested by the noble Lord the Member for North Nottinghamshire (Viscount Galway).
said, he hoped the Attorney General would seriously consider the contention of the hon. Member opposite (Dr. Farquharson); for that was the direction in which some solution of the matter must be sought. There was an example of his proposal in the Irish system of peripatetic polling for the election of Guardians, by which the policemen took voting papers round to the voters' houses; but he did not suppose that system would be generally introduced into Parliamentary elections. No doubt, the proper course was to open polling stations, and make those who wished to vote go to them; but, in districts where there was a sparse population, it was impossible to provide sufficient polling stations to enable every elector to vote, and the proper course was to take the station to the voter in those cases. If the Government would consider that proposal a great many of the present difficulties would be met.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he hoped the Attorney General would not break down the principle of not allowing, under any circumstances, travelling expenses to voters, if he meant to adopt that principle in the main. This was only a question of degree. There were many places in Cornwall, Northumberland, and Yorkshire, where the same difficulty existed as in Scotland. He voted in the last Division with the minority, and his view was that the Committee had gone wrong in its decision; but if the rule they had laid down was to be followed at all, it should be followed throughout. As there were questions of degree in Cornwall or Argyll, Inverness or Yorkshire, if they laid down a principle they must stick to it, and not make fish of the Scotch Liberal Members and flesh of the English county Members. He thought that a 1528 blot on the Bill was the inconsistency of the 45th clause, with the part now under consideration. Whether there was to be a movable polling - booth, and an ambulance corps going about to pick up the dead and wounded at an election as well as to take votes, he did not know; but if the Committee seriously intended to assist voters in going to the poll, let them be consistent, and not have one principle in one set of constituencies and a different principle in another set. He could not support the Amendment.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
said, he thought there was no desire to disfranchise anybody; and if the Government would not allow any expenses for bringing voters to the poll, perhaps they would consider a method which he thought would meet the difficulty. At Swindon there were 7,000 or 8,000 men, of whom only half were residents. They could not afford to lose a day's work in order to vote; and if they were paid a day's wages in order that they might vote, that would come under this Bill. But there was no advantage in electors voting at the precise place where they had their qualification; and he would suggest that if a few days before an election a voter wrote to the Returning Officer that he was anxious to vote, the Officer might send a notice to that effect to the officer for the district in which the man was engaged, and the elector could then vote where he was—in the same county. There would be no difficulty in that, and no personation. He believed that method would provide a solution for the difficulty now discussed.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
said, he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR. HERBERT MAXWELL
said, the Amendment he had on the Paper differed, in some respects, from that of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Dr. Farquharson); and he thought the Attorney General had hit the blot on the Amendment of the hon. Member when he pointed out that the payment of expenses for conveyances was left to the discretion of the Returning Officer. He thought that would be a most undesirable power to put in the hands of any public official, and in his Amendment that provision was altered. He proposed to add, after ''otherwise"— 1529Provided always, That it shall be the duty of the Returning Officer to authorize the conveyance of such electors as reside more than three miles from any polling station, and within the constituency, if they have signed and delivered a request for such conveyance, and include the expense thereof in those to be borne by the candidates equally.He thought that Proviso would meet several of the Attorney General's objections to the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson). In the first place, it was only made incumbent on the Returning Officer to authorize the conveyance of voters resident within the constituency, but more than three miles from the polling place. Hon. Members acquainted with the greater part of Scotland must be aware that, short of peripatetic polling, such as had been suggested, it was impossible to give voters the means of voting, unless they were conveyed to the polling places; and if they were deprived of the franchise, that would mean the disfranchisement of the most thoughtful and most intelligent part of the constituencies. Representation would be thrown entirely into the hands of those who resided in small villages and populous places; and by this enactment a great injustice would be done to the people of Scotland. He hoped the Attorney General would see his way, if not upon this clause, at any rate upon Clause 44, to make some provision for these voters, who otherwise would be disfranchised.
§ MR. MONK
rose to Order. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Stanton) and the noble Lord the Member for North Nottinghamshire (Viscount Galway) had Amendments on the Paper which came in after the word "otherwise." Was it competent for any hon. Member who had not an Amendment on the Paper to propose one between the Amendments he had referred to?
I have taken note of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet; and as it relates to exactly the same subject as that of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) it seems to me that it can very properly be put now.
Amendment proposed,In page 3, line 22, after "otherwise," insert" Provided always, That it shall be the duty of the Returning Officer to authorize the conveyance of such electors who reside more than three miles from any polling station, and within the 1530 constituency, and who shall sign and deliver a request for such conveyance, and to include the expenses thereof amongst the other charges recoverable in equal proportion from the candidates."—(Sir Herbert Maxwell.)Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
appealed to the Government to report Progress at this point. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) had promised to make a statement to-night in regard to the Contagious Diseases Bill. Surely they ought not to be asked to listen to a statement of such an important character at a very late hour of the night.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he understood that the statement with regard to the Contagious Diseases Bill would not be made that night. He would not ask the Committee to sit unduly late; but he trusted they would dispose of this question before they separated. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet (Sir Herbert Maxwell) was, of course, substantially similar to the one which had just been withdrawn. The only difference was that it imposed upon the elector the duty of applying to the Returning Officer for a carriage to be sent to him on the day of the poll. His experience had led him to believe that it would be impossible to carry out a proposition in accordance with which any elector in any sparse district might write to the Returning Officer for a conveyance to take him to the poll. In the county of Inverness-shire many electors lived 30 miles from the nearest polling station; so that, if this Amendment were accepted, Scotch Members particularly would see that the Returning Officer would be bound to send many conveyances enormous distances.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that was the same thing. Someone, at the request of the elector, would have to find the carriage. There was no doubt that, if the Amendment were accepted, every elector in a sparse district would want a conveyance sent for him. He appealed to the hon. Baronet (Sir Herbert Maxwell) not to press his Amendment, and thus prolong the discussion upon the question. He had already said, in reply to the hon. 1531 Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson), that if, in conference with hon. Gentlemen, he could find a solution of the matter, he would gladly lay it before the Committee on a subsequent clause.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General was utterly ignorant of the mode in which Scotch elections were conducted. He despaired of convincing the hon. and learned Gentleman; and he, therefore, must ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, of course, if it was the wish of the Committee to report Progress, he would offer no opposition; but he hoped that if they reported at this hour it would not be taken as a precedent.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, lie thought it would be advisable to settle this particular question to-night, if it were possible to do so.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
said, he was quite prepared to proceed with his Amendment; but he would prefer to postpone it until the next Sitting.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would consent to report Progress.
Question put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before One o'clock.