HC Deb 14 February 1893 vol 8 c1389

I beg to ask the Attorney General whether he has considered the grounds upon which the election at Walsall was declared void, and the divergence of the ruling of the Judges in that case and the cases of Stepney and East Clare; and whether, in view of the precedent created by the former case, in which a Member not only lost his seat but had to pay very large costs for an act whose legality had been hitherto unquestioned, he can see his way to legislating during the present Session, so as to make the law more definite; and, if not, whether the Government will consent to the appointment of a Select Committee of this House to report upon the question; and, in that case, if he would include in the inquiry what may be the best means to prevent the issue of au election depending upon the accident of a clerical or accidental error in the voting paper (such as the omission of the official stamp) due not to the fault of the voter but to the fault of one of the officials?


I have considered the grounds on which the election was voided. I cannot admit that there is any doubt about the law that the Judges have declared—namely, that if payment for the purpose of promoting the election is made either for cards, ribands, and other marks of distillation, such a payment is an illegal payment, and any contract made to pay it is illegal, and that if such payment or contract is brought home to the candidate or his election agent the election will be avoided. The difference of opinion amongst the Judges has not been as to what the law is, but as to whether, in the particular cases, the facts contravened the law. The Government, therefore, do not propose either legislation or an inquiry. As to the official errors which are referred to in the question, it is believed they are not likely to recur.


May I ask whether in the East Clare Election Petition the so-called mark of distinction was not proved to be totally distinct in every respect from that in the Walsall case?


I think the hon. Member is correct in his statement.