§ MR. H. G. REID (Aston Manor)
asked Mr. Attorney General, If his attention has been called to the decisions in election petitions under the Corrupt Practices Act, and to the unseating of Members in constituencies where it was proved the provisions and spirit of the Act had been impressed on the committees by the candidates, and carried out, with trifling exceptions over which they had no direct control, and which did not materially affect the elections, specially:—Barrow in Furness, where the sitting Member was unseated and burdened with heavy expenses because refreshments were provided, according to evidence, in very moderate quantities, for actual workers on the day of the election, as was done in the majority of constituencies, and held to be permissible by the legal authorities who prepared 266 editions of the Act for the guidance of candidates; also Ipswich and Norwich, where the elections were voided because small amounts had been paid or promised by irresponsible members of large committees without the cognizance and contrary to the instructions of the candidates and their duly appointed agents; also the Stepney Division of the Tower Hamlets, in which, although the successful candidate retained his seat, he was mulcted in heavy expenses; and, whether it is the intention of the Government to adopt any measure for amending or explaining the Act so as to prevent such uncertainty in the future, and the infliction upon the innocent of heavy penalties?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir CHARLES RUSSELL) (Hackney, S.)
, in reply, said, that the cases which were mentioned did not stand precisely in the same position. With regard to Barrow-in-Furness, the Member was unseated there for an illegal practice in the form of an illegal payment; and, under the 22nd and 23rd sections of the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883, the Election Judges might, if they had seen fit in the circumstances of the case, have held that it was no sufficient ground for unseating the Member. In the cases of Ipswich and Norwich, the acts there were corrupt practices, but of a very small kind unquestionably. They were not cases that came under the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883; they would have been grounds for unseating a Member under the prior law. When the Corrupt Practices Bill was before the House, his hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) moved a clause which would have had the effect of enabling Judges to deal with small and trivial acts of corruption, for which the candidate was not morally responsible, in the same way as under the 22nd and 23rd sections of the Act of 1883. The Amendment of his hon. Friend upon a division was negatived; and, under these circumstances, he could not say that the time had arrived for considering any fresh change in the law with regard to the matter. In ordinary litigation costs followed the event, unless the Judge who tried the case for good reasons saw right to order otherwise. That was substantially the law with regard to Election Petitions—namely, that the costs were in the discretion of the Judges, and the 267 Government did not see that any better rule could be made applicable to that kind of cases.
§ MR. H. G. REID
gave Notice that he would on an early day call attention to the decisions under the Corrupt Practices Act, and move a Resolution.