§ [ADJOURNED DEBATE.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [25th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."1856
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. WARTON
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months, contended that, taking into consideration the grave and heavy penalties that were enacted last year by the Act having reference to Parliamentary elections, time, at any rate, should be given to ascertain how that experiment would work before the same principle was extended to municipal elections. As a rule, when penalties were too heavy they were found to defeat themselves, and it was his impression that they would do so in the Act of last year; and therefore he thought that time ought to be given to see whether the heavy penalties imposed by that Act would defeat their own objects or not. But surely it was unreasonable to apply to elections for Poor Law Guardians and members of school boards the same penalties that were provided with regard to Parliamentary elections. Where the present Bill departed from the Act of last Session the change was for the worse—namely, the omission of the excellent principle of a maximum expenditure, which he considered would be much more effectual than heavy penalties in preventing corrupt practices. It was his opinion that no men would be found to offer themselves as candidates for the petty offices to be obtained at municipal elections if they had to run the risk of all the heavy penalties which men who were desirous of becoming Members of Parliament had to run. For these reasons he begged to move the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he seconded the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, though he disagreed very much from a part of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport's speech relating to public-houses. He himself held very firmly the opinion that the part of the Bill which prohibited the holding of election meetings in public-houses was most valuable, and if its other provisions were equally valuable, he should not oppose the measure. Such meetings could do no good to anyone except the publican. They demoralized the supporters of the candidate in whose supposed interest they were convened, and they increased the election expenses very substantially. There were other parts of the Bill to 1857 which he took exception, more especially for the reason that they were uncalled for in Ireland. Scotland was exempted, and why Ireland should be included he did not know. He had had some experience of elections in Ireland, and such a thing as bribery of any sort in municipal or Poor Law elections did not enter into the mind of anyone. Intimidation and undue influence were, no doubt, practised at Poor Law elections by the landlords, and the Government avoided taking notice of these proceedings. Very stringent punishment was proposed by this Bill if anyone was held by the Judges to have committed bribery or corruption. He did not expect to be mixed up with any municipal or Poor Law election in Ireland; but if he happened to be in any town during the holding of a municipal election, he might have some innocent conversation with a person interested in that election, and he might be held by the Judge to have done something which was illegal. The result would be that not only would he be disqualified from holding a seat in that House, but he would be prevented from taking part in public affairs for all future time. This punishment was too severe. Another provision was against payment for music and banners. Music and banners at Irish municipal elections were never thought of. One of the principal objects of the Bill was the great lessening of expenses. As a rule, Irish municipal elections were conducted very cheaply, and payment for canvassers was not made upon a large scale. Volunteers did most of the canvassing for the dominant party, and instead of discouraging persons from making personal sacrifices at election times for their party by enacting, as this Bill proposed, that only one canvasser should be allowed for each ward, he thought the Government ought to encourage the employment of an increased number of canvassers. In Belfast, if the municipal franchise were made as extensive as in England, it would be impossible to obtain an adequate expression of opinion in one of the wards unless a larger expense was allowed than this Bill sanctioned. Means were found for evading these enactments; but a Bill should not be so drawn that it was impossible for parties to act honestly or in accordance with its provisions, and at the same time to conduct their election satisfactorily. 1858 The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General took care that the costs in any legal proceedings under the Bill should be on the highest scale. That part of the Bill might be left out. The scale of costs should not be higher than that adopted by the County Courts. Having counsel and other paraphernalia in some obscure borough was perfectly absurd. For these reasons, believing the Bill to be uncalled for by the circumstances existing in Ireland, he should vote against its second reading.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Warton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he felt some reluctance in being compelled to speak against the second reading of this Bill, as he approved the measure very much, having regard to most of its provisions. Unfortunately, however, the Attorney General had announced his desire to have the Bill referred to a Grand Committee; whereas, if it had come before a Committee of the Whole House, he should have confined himself to moving certain Amendments in it. At the time of the passing of the Act of last year he had said that he thought the penalties provided would be too severe, and he had seen no reason to alter his views since. The great fault of the present measure was the absence of any provision for the limitation of expenses. When a provision was inserted in the Act of last year for that purpose, he thought it was likely to form a very useful piece of legislation, because it appeared to him to go the root of all the mischief. He could not help thinking that the Attorney General, in passing a Bill without such a provision, would go a great way to undo the good he did last year. One of the most ordinary forms of bribery was to bribe at a municipal election with the view to being successful at the next Parliamentary contest; and, as this Bill stood, it seemed to him that it would turn the whole flood of corruption into the municipal contests. Enormous sums of money would be spent in municipal elections which would, in truth and in substance, defeat the purposes and effect of the Corrupt Practices Act of last year. He 1859 did not see the smallest practical difficulty in the way of a Schedule limiting the expenses of elections in particular wards in the same way that expenses were now limited in particular constituencies. He would, therefore, ask the Attorney General whether he would undertake to engraft upon this Bill the most valuable feature of the previous enactment? If something were not done in this direction, he feared that the flood of corruption at municipal elections would be very largely increased.
§ MR. MONK
said, he thought the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman well deserved the attention of the Attorney General. There was another matter which he desired to bring to the notice of his hon. and learned Friend, and that had reference to the presentation of Petitions. There ought to be some official, say the Director of Public Prosecutions or his substitute, who should not only attend the trial of these Petitions, but be required to aid in the presentation of them in cases where there were grounds for believing that corrupt and illegal practices had largely prevailed. Very few Petitions would be presented if the matter were left to the electors; and he would, therefore, suggest that the Public Prosecutor should be authorized to present a Petition whenever his attention had been called to the prevalence of corrupt practices, and he had satisfied himself by a preliminary investigation that there was a foundation for the charge. That was a subject, however, which could be dealt with in Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, he was all in favour of securing purity of election, either at Parliamentary or municipal contests; but the reason he objected to the principles of this Bill was because of its application to Ireland. He thought it was not fair to apply the same rigorous restrictions to a country the conditions of whose municipal life were entirely different to those of this country. The provisions of the Bill were exceedingly severe, and if they were applied to the small constituencies of Ireland they would practically annihilate Irish municipal constituencies altogether. After pointing out the unequal and limited character of the municipal franchise in Ireland, and the rigorous manner in which the provisions of the Bill, if carried out, would work in connection with the punishment 1860 of electors, the hon. Member asked the House to consider the nature of the Courts in Ireland with their political bias. When this was considered, he thought the measure was a dangerous one to bring forward in the present narrow condition of the Irish franchise. In England there was a household municipal franchise, which even admitted women; in every town in Ireland, except Dublin, the qualification was £10, which meant in the towns of Ireland a rental equivalent to £25 or £30, Then, they had a system of registration which prevailed in that country by which the landlords were returned instead of the occupiers—a state of things which was inimical to the rights of the people. The City of Limerick had nearly 40,000 people within the municipal boundary; yet, owing to the restrictions and the high qualifications, the number of municipal electors was only about 400. This extraordinary condition of things—high qualifications in a city of small wealth— led to a result which he would relate. There was one ward in Limerick where only 30 burgesses in a population of 8,000 or 10,000 people were on the list. Out of these, when the election came some had died and some were absent, and there were not available the 16 persons required by law to sign the nomination paper. They were often told how violent and unconstitutional were the people of Limerick and of Ireland. But could it be otherwise when they were thus deprived of the means of exercising political influence? In Dublin a law was passed which, although the Preamble promised everything, gave nothing. With a view of equalizing the Dublin franchise to that of England, household suffrage for municipal elections was declared; but a rider was added that, before a person could exercise this suffrage, he must have resided there for three years, which was taking away with one hand what the other gave. The result was that Dublin, with a population of 300,000, had only 6,000 or 7,000 municipal electors, while the same population in an English city would produce about 50,000 or 60,000 electors. Therefore, to apply this Bill to Ireland under the circumstances he had mentioned, and to bring Petitions before Courts which were, unfortunately, animated by political hostility to the bulk of the Irish people, was to sanction the 1861 passing of a facile machinery by which the small remnants of municipal life existing in the country would be wiped out.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he had listened with attention to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), and he was quite at a loss to know why he should vote against the second reading of the Bill. He understood the hon. and learned Member to say that, unless some maximum amount of expenses was stated, the want of a limitation would be made a sort of auxiliary step to the corruption which would go on in an indirect way in Parliamentary elections. He concurred in that opinion. He believed the real advantage of this Bill was to be found in the fact that it would prevent, to a great extent, that mode of corruption which had been practised in Parliamentary elections through the medium of corruption prevailing in municipal boroughs. He could not see, however, why the question of expenses should not be dealt with separately in a Schedule containing a scale of maximum expenses, and which might be inserted in Committee. It seemed to him that the whole argument of the hon. and learned Member was really an inducement to the House to read the Bill a second time, and to amend it as far as possible in Committee. A great deal of difficulty had been felt by hon. Members in consequence of the Motion by the Attorney General to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee instead of the Committee of the Whole House. So far as this Bill went, his own impression was that it was a measure which might very easily be discussed in Committee of the Whole House. That, of course, depended altogether on the nature of its clauses; but they had also to consider the state of Business in the House. They must consider the character of the measures pending before the House, and when this was done hon. Members would see that the number of Bills at present before Parliament were likely to occupy all the time which the House could devote to them. Having in view, therefore, the state of Public Business, he was in favour of sending this measure to the Standing Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that there was a specific Motion dealing with this subject on the Paper, and that the hon. 1862 and learned Member was not in Order in. anticipating the discussion.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he begged to submit to the ruling of the Chair. With reference to the tribunal appointed to try these corrupt practices at municipal elections, he thought the penalties imposed by this Act were as severe as those imposed under the Parliamentary elections. It was well known that the tribunal which tried corrupt practices at Parliamentary elections consisted now of two Judges, although originally there was only one. No doubt the House was also aware that under the Municipal Corporation Act corrupt practices at municipal elections were not tried before a Judge, but before a barrister, who was appointed Commissioner for that purpose. He tried the cases alone and without a jury. It was, he thought, worthy the consideration of the House whether it would not be desirable to appoint two barristers instead of one to try these petitions in reference to municipal elections. This was a subject which could be attended to in Committee on the Bill, and at present he intended to vote for the second reading.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he thought that most of the objections which had been taken to the Bill were not objections to its principle, but to its details, which could be best dealt with in Committee. He could not agree with the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) that because the position of a Town Councillor or a Guardian of the Poor was not so high as that of a Member of Parliament, therefore they should have a free hand to do whatever they pleased at those elections.
§ MR. WARTON
explained that what he meant to say was that, considering that the post of a Town Councillor or a Guardian was of less importance, the penalties ought not to be equal.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he could not agree with that argument; but even if sound, it only went to support a reduction of the penalties, which was a matter for the Committee. He thought the speeches which had been made by two Members from Ireland were worthy of attention; but as Ireland was about to have an enlarged Parliamentary franchise, so, he hoped, she would soon also have—in fact, she must and would have—an enlarged 1863 municipal franchise; and if that was the case, he thought there would be no objection to the Bill being extended to that country. The penalties contained in the measure might, perhaps, be too severe; but that was not a point that touched its principle, which was the prevention of corrupt practices. Considering the present state of Public Business in the House, he was inclined to support the Attorney General in wishing to have the Bill referred, after its second reading, to a Standing Committee, where it might be dealt with speedily and in a practical manner.
§ MR. GRAY
said, the question was whether, without any case at all having been made, and on the bare possibility which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Serjeant Simon) thought might arise of corruption hereafter existing in Irish municipalities, this House ought to be called upon to pass a very stringent and severe Corrupt Practices Code for Ireland. He did not think that was a principle upon which this House had been accustomed to act. Some kind of case was usually made by those who proposed important changes in the law such as this. He did not profess to know much about the way in which English municipal elections were manipulated; but he relied upon the assurances which had been given by the English Members on both sides of the House that corruption existed to an enormous degree in certain English municipalities, and that it was exceedingly difficult to prevent bribery. If that were really the character of English municipalities, he should be happy to assist English Members to pass the necessary Code for the prevention and punishment of those abuses. When hon. Members proposed to pass a similar Bill for Ireland, he said— "Show me some reason for it. Give me cases of corruption in Irish municipalities such as have been quoted from England, where hundreds of electors were bought for a pot of beer per head;" and then, even though the franchise was restricted, he should join in seeking to put an end to such abuses. But if no such things could be shown, if it were granted, as was the fact, that Irish municipal elections were pure, then there was no reason for extending this Bill to Ireland. Why should the Bill be extended to Ireland, and not to Scotland? They all 1864 knew that their Scotch friends were pure in everything. He observed the hon. and learned Attorney General taking notes. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL dissented.] He begged the Attorney General's pardon—he meant the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland. He had not any intention of accusing the hon. and learned Attorney General of knowing anything about Irish affairs. The Solicitor General for Ireland, if he should speak on this subject, would admit there was no such thing as corruption in Irish municipal elections. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND assented.] The hon. and learned Gentleman signified his assent; and if that were so, it was not right that a Bill of this kind should be extended to Ireland until some cause had been shown. They had no confidence in the administration of the law in Ireland. They did not believe that those who would have the administration of this Bill, when passed into law, would be impartial. If they thought differently, and if they believed it would not be used by those administering it for political purposes, he would have no objection to it being passed, though it were only for the purpose of meeting the hypothetical case of the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken; but, in view of the arguments he and his Friends had urged, he believed a strong case had been made out for the exclusion of Ireland from the Bill.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he hoped that the House would shortly be allowed to go to a Division. The necessity for that Bill had been admitted, and the question of its form had been much discussed. The principal criticisms passed upon it had reference to the absence of the maximum Schedule which appeared in the Act of last Session relating to Parliamentary elections. That Schedule was his own creation, and he would not have omitted it from the present Bill without good reason; but, having sought assistance from those who, quite irrespective of Party motives, had had practical knowledge and experience of municipal matters both in large and small boroughs, he found that there was a great concurrence of opinion against the introduction of that maximum Schedule into the present Bill, and on that account he had not introduced it. What 1865 had been put to him—and he thought it had great force—was, that it was desired to make it easy for men to enter local councils, to throw no obstacles in the way, and to get a better class of men if they could into those councils. The enforcement of a maximum Schedule for municipal elections would involve the adoption of the complicated and expensive machinery of the Parliamentary Act; and he was told that if this were done all the better class of residents would be deterred from having anything to do with municipal elections. If certain things, such as the payment of messengers, agents, and canvassers, the hiring of rooms, and the conveyance of voters, were forbidden, there was no opportunity for lavish expenditure, as the bribery at municipal elections was of an indirect rather than a direct character. If anyone would attempt to draw a Schedule equally applicable to a ward containing many thousand voters, and a ward containing only 100 or 200, he would find the difficulty of laying down a maximum of any kind that would be reasonable in both cases.
§ MR. ONSLOW
asked whether the hon. and learned Gentleman conld name any of the small boroughs that had been consulted?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he had had a mass of correspondence and many interviews; and, while he could not specify any particular boroughs, he should be glad to satisfy the hon. Member privately. He had included Ireland in the Bill so as to obviate any objection that there was not to be equal law for the two countries. With regard to the Amendment which had been placed upon the Paper by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and also the expressed opinion which had fallen from the hon. Member for Carlow upon the phase of the question relating to Ireland——
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
, continuing, said, that on the subject of Ireland he was about to state that some of the hon. Member's views upon the Bill were presented very strongly. It was quite true there had been no petition for corrupt practices at municipal elections in Ireland. He would, however, ask, was the hon. Mem- 1866 ber aware that the Act of 1872, which controlled municipal elections, was still in force, and applied to Ireland, and if this Bill was not passed would still apply with full force? The hon. Member for the County Carlow had dwelt strongly upon the subject, and had, no doubt, put his case very clearly. However, he would ask the Irish Members to consider that if this Bill, did not become law, the objectionable portions of the former Act would still remain the same. What had been objectionable in those parts of the former Act which applied to municipal elections were by this Bill given a new definition. If, however, this Bill were not passed into law, the old definitions under the Act of 1872 would still be enforced. If, after the Irish Members had considered the effect of that Act, they still thought that Ireland should not be included in the present Bill, and if the majority of the House were of the same opinion, the Government would have the greatest desire to do what was right. By mistake the Bill had not been extended to Scotland; but that would be amended in Committee. He desired to repeat that the inclusion of Ireland was a question upon which the opinion and votes of the Irish Members would have the fullest and most extreme weight.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, the first part of the speech of the Attorney General furnished sufficient grounds for voting against the Bill, for it was a forcible statement of the objections which he (Mr. Lewis) took last year on the principal Bill. A painful picture had been drawn of the incomprehensible difficulties in which a respectable citizen of a small country borough would be placed by this Bill. All the miserable definitions of new crimes which were set forth last year were repeated. The hon. and learned Gentleman might have stated that candidates must not spend more than £500 upon an election, and have left out all those wretched and frivolous details. The candidate was now to be directed how he should conduct himself night and morning. They were told they must not have a blue ribbon; they might eat one thing, but not another; they might meet in one sort of club-room, but not in another. All these and other tyrannical inventions were the outcome of the modern Liberalism of the 19th century. For a long time he had been unable to discover 1867 the object of the Bill; but at last lie had found that its object was to find work for the Grand Committee on Law, which had such ill-success last year with the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. They could not make that stalking-horse serve their purpose any longer, for that wretched creaking old mare, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, had ultimately broken down. The Government said to themselves that corruption was out of favour; they were fond of so-called purity, and so they would have a new purity Bill. Having done all they could to make Parliamentary candidates miserable, the Government had turned their attention to municipal elections, and proposed to worry the country grocers and drapers. They had even proposed to apply this Bill to ladies who submitted themselves as candidates at School Board elections; but whoever heard of Mrs. Fenwick Miller, Mrs. Westlake, or Miss Hill being guilty of corrupt practices, or resorting to little wheedlements, caresses, or embraces in order to secure votes? Where was the corruption suggested by the Attorney General in connection with School Board elections? Did he, before he took an affectionate leave of Taunton, mean to suggest that corruption existed in connection with the election of the School Board there?
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he was delighted to find that the Liberal Party had not succeeded in visiting Taunton with that infliction. He had never before heard it suggested that School Board elections were corrupt. This was just the sort of legislation which, in the good Radical time to come, they should have repeated over and over again. The Bill might be inscribed with the motto, parodying the words in a famous novel—"Here is an election; let's have a petition," so needless and irritating were the majority of its provisions. How could the Government say that they trusted the people, when they would not allow a School Board election to take place without providing that a barrister might be sent down to institute an inquiry into the circumstances of the election in order to ascertain whether corrupt practices had existed? The Bill applied to Poor Law Guardians, School Boards, and Town Commis- 1868 sioners, and in every case where there was an election the people might indulge in the prospect of a petition. They had heard that if in a Parliamentary election general corrupt practices existed, a candidate, even if he knew nothing about those corrupt practices, might be unseated. That doctrine, which was said to rest upon Common Law, was to be introduced for the first time by the 16th clause of this Bill into elections for Town Councils, Boards of Guardians, Town Commissioners, and School Boards. That clause showed that the Bill had been entered upon by the Government without due consideration.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
explained that the 16th clause did not refer to corrupt practices, but only applied to illegal practices.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that that made his objection all the stronger. The fact was the Bill contained nothing to recommend it to the consideration of the House. The Attorney General, in his Bill of last year, had two modes of annoyance—he limited the aggregate expenditure, and directed the mode of its application. For the former some excuse could be made; but that was the part now abandoned by the Attorney General, while he retained the latter and more objectionable detail. The objections of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who sat below the Gangway were of a very peculiar character. If some evil was to be done to England which it was not proposed to inflict upon Ireland, they complained that the two countries were not dealt with on an equal footing. He thought it was quite clear that there was as much ground for the suggestion that impurity existed in connection with Irish municipal elections as there was for the statement that corrupt practices existed in municipal elections in England. Ireland was no better than England and no worse. The Bill, on the whole, was contemptible and worthless; it was the mere breaking of the fly on the wheel; and a specimen of the Radical legislation they were to have in the good coming times.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the mind of the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House appeared to be in a very confused condition as to the relative cases which England and Ireland presented upon the present question. Where the circumstances of the two 1869 countries were similar they should be equally judged by the same laws. No such case had, however, been made out by the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Bill. The most corrupt and insidious forms of bribery had been practised upon the burgesses in England; but no such thing was known in Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman had himself said that no cases of bribery were known in Ireland. Municipal and Parliamentary elections in Ireland were conducted upon entirely different lines to those in England; and therefore the circumstances of the case of Ireland did not call for the provisions of this Bill, which would be superfluous. So far as he could see at present, he would be disposed to say that Ireland should be struck out of the Bill. They had a struggle last year to procure a clearer and safer definition of the offence of undue influence, as they feared that in certain cases in Ireland the Courts might be inclined to deal harshly with the clergy. He recognized the spirit shown by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had charge of the Bill when he stated that if it was the opinion of the Irish Members that Ireland should not be included he was ready to strike the clause out. The Irish Members, during the interval which would elapse between the present stage of the Bill and the Committee stage, would look more closely into the matter, and ascertain what public opinion in Ireland was upon the subject. The Irish Members would, therefore, now cease from discussing the Bill; but reserve for the present giving their opinion as to the advisability of retaining or striking the clause out.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he would not detain the House any longer than to say he disagreed with the hon. Member for Sligo. He felt bound to enter his protest against the statement that no improper influence was used in municipal and Poor Law elections in Ireland. The clergy in elections in Ireland extensively used improper influence. He regarded it as most important that this Bill, if it passed at all in that House, should pass for Ireland as well as England.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he rose to ask the ruling of the Speaker on a matter 1870 which affected the powers, privileges, and rights of the House. In ordinary Bills they always had opportunity for discussion on the second reading and also upon the stage of going into Committee; but this Bill was to be referred to a Standing Committee, and would thereby be taken out of the cognizance of the House. The point of Order was this—whether, seeing that the Attorney General was now seeking to take two stages of the Bill, the House should not have a full, free, and fair discussion on the Motion for referring it to a Grand Committee?
§ MR. SPEAKER
On the question of Order, I have to say that the point raised by the hon. and learned Member was raised in April of last year, and was emphatically decided by my Predecessor in the Chair. His ruling was to this effect—that after the second reading, on the Motion to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee, there was not the same latitude of discussion allowed as upon the question that the Bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. It is not competent—that was the effect of the ruling—to discuss the whole merits and principle of a Bill upon the Motion that it be referred to a Standing Committee. But it will be for the House to take into account the specific considerations which point, on the one hand, to a reference to a Standing Committee, and on the other to a reference to a Committee of the Whole House as the preferable tribunal. There is an express provision that the Standing Order for the consideration of a Bill as amended does not apply to a Bill which, has come back to this House from a Standing Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, and Courts of Justice, and Legal Procedure."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he rose to propose, as an Amendment, that the Bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. He would frankly say that he was not himself in favour of Grand Committees, and he believed that all the Members who served on them last year had come to the conclusion that where there was no great principle to be discussed those Committees might possibly work; but that where prin- 1871 ciples were to be raised and there was to be serious opposition, there were grave doubts whether the Standing Committees would do the work for which they were appointed. The Standing Order with reference to the subject said that two Standing Committees be appointed, one dealing with Bills relating to law and Courts of Justice, and the other with Bills relating to trade and manufacture. He had never understood what was there meant by "law." Such a Bill as that upon the Paper relating to the Law of Evidence and the Bill of last year relating to legal procedure might be referred to the Standing Committee on Law. But here was a Bill which might subject members of Town Councils, for instance, to deprivation of their privileges for a long time; and he did not think it was one of the Bills contemplated by the Standing Order to which he had referred. At all events, it was for the House to consider whether this was the sort of Bill to be referred to a Standing Committee. The Prime Minister agreed to the insertion of words proposed by him to the effect that it was for the House to decide in each case whether a Bill was to be sent to a Standing Committee or not. It was, therefore, for the House to consider whether this was not a Bill which would be better considered in Committee of the Whole House. There was another important question. When the Corrupt Practices Bill of last year was introduced it was stated by the Attorney General that there should be a maximum of expenditure, which was a vital principle of the Bill. In this Bill there was nothing of the kind, and that was a question which ought to be discussed by the House itself; for it should be recollected that the very same people who would be employed at municipal elections would be employed at Parliamentary elections. He begged to move that the Bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "referred to," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Committee of the whole House,"—(Sir R. Assheton Cross,) —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1872
§ MR. TOMLINSON
contended that the House, by its action last year in reference to the Corrupt Practices Bill, was precluded from referring the present Bill to the Grand Committee on Law. The Bill was one which could not adequately be considered but by the House itself
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, Her Majesty's Government would labour under a very serious misapprehension and a very great delusion if they thought the House of Commons was prepared to surrender its functions to any body, Grand Committee, Standing Committee, or otherwise. With regard to these so-called and miscalled Grand Committees, they were told by the Prime Minister not long ago that by their machinery nothing less than a revolution would be effected in the mode of conducting Public Business, and that the capacity of the House of Commons to discharge the functions of a Senate would be largely increased. But now the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to admit that his new methods of procedure were a failure. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Not at all.] The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also prophesied great results from the institution of Grand Committees, saying that the House would be like a giant working with many hands. Now, however, Grand Committees as means for enabling the House to discharge important legislative duties, had practically been given up by the Government; for this Session no Bill of even third-rate importance was to be referred to a Grand Committee. The Government had realized that the House was determined not to allow Bills of first, second, or even third rank to be withdrawn from its cognizance. Every Member of the House had a duty to discharge towards his constituents and the country, and his responsibility was not diminished in the least by the reference of a Bill to a so-called Grand Committee. That being so, Members must narrowly criticize Bills referred to such Committees at the stage of Report. He objected altogether to the delegation or devolution of Parliamentary responsibility. The Prime Minister had called these Grand Committees a great experiment. How long did the right hon. Gentleman intend to make this House a chopping-block for experiments in legislation of this kind? If the experiment of last Session, would 1873 not convince the Government of the failure of these so-called Grand Committees he was at a loss to know what would. Of all subjects, matters of law were least suited to be dealt with by a Grand Committee, for those Members who had the advantage or disadvantage of a legal training were unable, owing to the pressure of their other duties, to attend such Committees. The Members who commanded the greatest weight were the most absent. This scheme of Grand Committees had been a signal, and, he might add, a well-merited failure; and he hoped the Government would withdraw the Motion to refer this Bill to a Grand Committee.
I shall not reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, because, were I to do so, I should be grossly abusing my privileges as a Member of this House. [Colonel MAKINS: Oh, oh !] The hon. and gallant Member for South Essex interrupts me with exclamations.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
I had no intention of interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. I merely expressed my disapproval of what the right hon. Gentleman said.
Well, perhaps he will allow me to say why I used the expression; and then let the hon. and gallant Member, if he likes, renew his exclamation. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman, from beginning to end, was a speech on the question whether there ought to be Grand Committees at all; and inasmuch as that question has long ago been settled, and it was perfectly well understood among us at the time of the discussion that on a Motion for the reference of a Bill to a Grand Committee the only question to be debated should be whether that Bill was a suitable Bill to be referred, therefore I say that a speech on the general question of Grand Committees on this occasion is an abuse of the privileges of a Member of the House. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was in marked contrast to that of the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire, for although the right hon. Gentleman very frankly ad- 1874 mitted his objections to Grand Committees as a whole, the bulk of what he said was as to the fitness of the present Bill to be referred. What were the allegations of the right hon. Gentleman? He urged that this Bill could be better discussed in Committee of the Whole House. I am free to say that if it were a question of a state of things where we had a perfect capacity of discussing all measures in Committee of the Whole House, I should think it better that they should be so discussed. But this is an expedient to enable the House to do its duty, and to meet a state of things under which that duty cannot be done. Then the right hon. Gentleman said there were certain points in the Bill that were points of principle and not fit to be raised in a Grand Committee. So far as that is concerned, I freely admitted at the time that any such points of principle might be excluded from the reference, or might be considered again when the Bill came back. The right hon. Gentleman says that the question of whether there should be a maximum placed on the expenditure at municipal elections is a question of principle that ought not to be referred. I must say that I do not see that that proposal is of such importance and of such sweeping character as to render it incompetent for the Committee to decide upon it. I do not see why it cannot be rediscussed, if necessary, in this House, if Members are not satisfied with the way in which the Committee may deal with it. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not understand how this could be considered a question of law. He said that all Bills were Bills of law in a certain sense. But in the most restricted sense no Bill is one of law. This Bill mainly deals with penalties for certain offences, and is therefore, I think, eminently associated with the class of Law Bills. The right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that we gave Notice at the beginning of the Session that it was intended to refer this Bill to a Grand Committee, and the present proposal is only in pursuance of that arrangement. The right hon. Gentleman has not shown any case why this Bill should not be so referred; and while I regret the necessity under which the House of Commons now suffers of devolving some of its duties on any subordinate body, yet the House has de- 1875 liberately and advisedly adopted the principle of Grand Committees, and nothing that has been said has shown that this Bill is not perfectly well suited, in every practical point of view, for reference to a Grand Committee.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, the Prime Minister had commenced his remarks with a somewhat savage attack on the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther); and when he (Colonel Makins) ventured to interject the monosyllablic remark "Oh!" the Prime Minister left off worrying his right hon. Friend, and turned with equal savageness upon him. He heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire, and it dealt with two points — the question of Grand Committees generally, and the desirability of referring this particular Bill to a Grand Committee. With regard to the first portion of the speech, no doubt there was some justification for the warmth of the Prime Minister; but, with regard to the speech as a whole, the Prime Minister was not justified in the attack which he made. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman's remarks had had the good effect of drawing a speech from the Prime Minister, and thus preventing what would have been a public scandal. The late Home Secretary made a Motion, and there was no reply from the opposite Benches, except the cry of "Divide !" from the Attorney General.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that, at any rate, the hon. and learned Gentleman did not reply, nor did any other Member on the Government Bench; and had it not been that his right hon. Friend rose, the debate would have terminated. Therefore, he thought the right hon. Gentleman's speech had had a good effect. Speaking for himself, he would not be deterred from expressing his disapproval of anything he objected to; and he protested against the uncalled-for attack which the Prime Minister had made upon him.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, the House had, unfortunately, become recently only too familiar with these attempts on the part of the Prime Minister to interfere with the course of debate, and to consider any expression of opinion distasteful to him- 1876 self as being an abuse of the Privileges of the House. What had occurred was entirely due to the unwillingness of the Government to justify the proposal which he had submitted to the House. It was, however, to be hoped that there would not be an exhibition of the same sort for some time to come. The question of penalties to be imposed in respect of acts connected with the performance of public duty was one that ought to be discussed in the House; there was hardly a question upon which it was more important to preserve the Constitutional rights of Her Majesty's subjects; and if the Bill was referred to a Grand Committee he would reserve the Amendments which he intended moving, and bring them forward on the Report stage, when they could be adequately discussed. He was inclined to think that the difficulties of the Bill in the Standing Committee might, perhaps, lead to a proposal to have it re-committed in the whole House when it returned. He protested against the attempt of the Government to coerce the House into a renunciation of its Privileges of debate.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 206; Noes 149: Majority 57.—(Div. List, No. 90.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill referred to the Standing Committee on Law, and Courts of Justice, and Legal Procedure.