§ (1) If any person at a General Election votes for more constituencies than he is entitled to vote for in accordance with this Act, or asks for a ballot or voting paper for the purpose of so voting, he shall be guilty of a corrupt practice other than personation within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883; and the expression "corrupt practice " shall be construed accordingly: Provided that—
- (a) the Court before whom a person is convicted under this Section may, if they think it just in the special circumstances of the case, mitigate or entirely remit any incapacity imposed by Section six of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883; and
- (b) the fact that any person has asked for a ballot paper in a constituency in circumstances which entitle him only to mark a tendered ballot paper in pursuance of Rule 27 of the First Part of the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, shall not, if he does not exercise that right, prevent his voting or asking for a ballot or voting paper in another constituency; and
- (c) the fact that any person who is registered in more than one division of a Parliamentary county or Parliamentary borough has asked for a ballot paper in a division of the county or borough in which he has been marked as not entitled to vote shall not prevent his voting or asking for a ballot paper in the division in which he is entitled to vote; and
- (d) the giving of a vote by a returning officer in pursuance of Section two of the Ballot Act, 1872, in the case of an equality of votes, or the asking for a ballot paper for the purpose of so voting, shall not, for the purposes of this Section, be deemed to be the
1722 giving of a vote as a Parliamentary elector, or the asking for a ballot paper for the purpose of so voting.
§ Sir ERNEST POLLOCK
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "a corrupt practice other than personation," and to insert instead thereof the words "an illegal practice."
Under the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883 there are two categories in which improper practices fall. One is corrupt practices and the other illegal practices, and it is because I think the punishment inflicted in the case of corrupt practices is too severe that I desire to propose this Amendment to reduce the offence to an illegal practice rather than to let it stand as in the Bill as a corrupt practice. Corrupt practices are those higher offences such as bribery, treating, undue influence and personation, while illegal practices are matters connected with the election itself, such as the absence of a printer's name from a placard, the improper conduct of matters at an election, and so on, and excessive election expenses. The House will remember that in most cases whether it is an illegal or a corrupt practice, if the candidate himself is responsible and is found guilty of either the election is avoided; but the penalty is a very severe one in the case of a corrupt practice. If it is found that the offence, be it corrupt or illegal, has been committed either by the candidate or by his agent, the election is avoided, and in election law the agent referred to is not the authorised agent of the candidate, but any person who is associated by assistance or management in the progress the election. A man may be found by an election court to be an agent and to avoid the seat of the candidate although he was never known to the candidate at all by name or in any other way. He may, by his association and the energy and zeal with which unknown to the candidate, he has worked on his behalf, prove to be an agent in election law.
What happens in the case of an illegal practice? The election is not only avoided—I do not want in any way to minimise the importance of the improper practice to which this Section refers, and I am quite content to leave it as it stands—but the candidate who is unseated remains ineligible and cannot be a candidate during the lifetime of the Parliament for which he was proposed to be elected. A person 1723 who is convicted of any corrupt practice, whether on indictment or before an election court, is incapable during seven years from the date of his conviction of being registered as an elector or voting at any election, whether for Parliament or for any public office, or of holding any public or judicial office, or of being elected to or sitting in this House of Commons. If a man has been found guilty of a corrupt practice, he is really incapable of taking any part in public affairs, Parliamentary or municipal, and of giving a vote or being elected to any public office for seven years. That is a very heavy penalty. I know a late member of this House, a very honoured member, who for a period of seven years has been debarred from all public affairs and from holding any public or judicial office. That is a penalty which ought not lightly to be imposed, and I ask the House whether it is necessary in the case of the offence with which we are dealing. We are dealing with the case of a man who asks for a voting paper for the purpose of voting twice. If that is made a corrupt practice, and if by reason of taking a leading or energetic part in the election he can be deemed in election law to be held to be an agent, it avoids the seat and puts the candidate to these very severe penalties. If, on the other hand, it is left an illegal practice, then, if it is done by an agent or through the influence of an agent, the seat is still avoided and the candidate cannot stand during the Parliament for which he was proposed to be elected. Surely that is sufficient punishment to impose. Unless Members are familiar with election law and fully appreciate that the word "agent" is construed in a very wide sense indeed, they will hardly appreciate the danger to which they are being exposed.
We are really creating a new offence, the offence of asking for a voting paper, and we ought to be very careful before we impose the very heavy penalties that I have indicated. It is really no answer to say that under paragraph (a) the Court may mitigate or remit any incapacity imposed. One wants to be quite sure that there is no danger of it. It is all very well to say that you can apply for the mercy of the Court, but it is not right for such an offence to put candidates into such peril. If you make it an illegal practice you avoid the seat and put the candidate under a heavy penalty, and I 1724 think you do enough. I hope the House will pause very carefully before it imposes this very heavy punishment. The right category in which to put the offence is that known as illegal practices, rather than to put it on a par with bribery, treating, or other offences which have always been considered serious offences, whether at Common Law or elsewhere. This offence ought to find itself in the lesser category, and ought not to carry the very serious disability which it does under the Section as drawn.
§ Sir G. CAVE
This is not a matter of great importance. We are creating by the statute a new offence, the offence of plural voting, and the question is what is to be the penalty for that offence. I confess to a good deal of sympathy with my hon. and learned Friend's argument that it is quite enough to begin with to make it an illegal practice. If we find that there are many breaches of the statute, it might be quite right to increase the penalty. I therefore hope that to-day the House will be content to limit the penalties to those imposed by this Amendment. Of course, there is no question of principle involved, and I hope the House will agree to the Amendment.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
There is a great deal to be said for the Amendment so far as the effect upon the candidate, who of course may not have any personal cognizance of the offence, is concerned, but I hope the House will not agree to anything that mitigates the penalty so far as the man who votes more than once is himself concerned. It is extremely important that the offence of plural voting should be just as serious as the offence of bribery or treating, because it is a much easier thing to do though it has just the same effect. By bribing or treating you endeavour to secure a vote or votes which otherwise would not be obtained, but by plural voting you actually succeed in registering votes that ought not to be registered and doing what must be known to be against the law of the land. If the hon. and learned Member's plea with regard to the consequences on candidates finds favour, I hope that nothing will be done to make the man who commits the offence subject to less severe penalties than attach to other offences known as corrupt practices under the existing law.
§ Mr. HOLT
I should like to support what the hon. Member has just said. The hon. and learned Member (Sir E. Pollock) really spoke altogether too lightly of the offence of voting more frequently than Parliament had authorised. I see no difference between a man who votes three times and the roan who votes in the name of a person who is dead. He is voting illegally and whether he does it in his own name or in the name of someone else does not appear to me to make very much difference. It is a very serious offence. Voting twice is not an absolutely new offence. It is already an offence at municipal elections. A man may have several different qualifications, but he commits an offence if he votes for more than one of them, and, the penalty not being a very severe one, there have been cases where there has been something like organised voting twice in constituencies where the result was likely to be very close. If there is any of this excessive voting in an election decided by a narrow margin, the defeated candidate is almost bound to present a petition. That is a very costly and objectionable proceeding giving rise to a great deal of ill-feeling which it takes years to get rid of, and people whose conduct causes an election petition ought not to be considered mild offenders. Election offences are treated far too lightly as it is. There are a great many more of them than people suppose, and we want to increase the penalty, rather than whittle it down. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will not be accepted.
§ Mr. NIELD
It is extraordinary, and this House is the best illustration of it, how men's minds can take entirely different views, and while putting forward one aspect shut off as a separate department another aspect which presents itself as a corollary. It is said: "Do not make this alteration, because it is just as bad as if you tried to corrupt by treating or by bribery." Do hon. Members realise that the opportunities for finding out this offence are great, and that it can hardly fail to be detected at the time when the second vote is taken? The man who gets his ballot paper must first of all apply to the clerk at the table, and his name is there and then cancelled as having voted. If he comes again to get a second ballot paper, obviously he must be found out.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
This Section is directed against the man who votes in one constituency and then goes and votes in another, and then in a third, not twice in the same constituency.
§ Mr. NIELD
That may be so, but contrast that with the man who himself, or by his agent, deliberately seeks to corrupt others, whether by the payment of money or by treating. That involves a question of evidence, and therefore means an election petition and all the paraphernalia of a petition. The question whether a man has voted twice, even if it is in different constituencies, is a matter which can be decided by the voting papers and the poll clerk's books.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NIELD
Supposing "A. B." lives in the Hexham division, has his business in Newcastle, and is a municipal voter in Shields, his name appears on all those three registers, and he is a well-known person, and if it is a question whether he has voted in all those constituencies it can easily be ascertained whether his name has been cancelled by the poll clerk as having been given a voting paper. I cannot for the life of me see how that can possibly be involved in the same way as evidence in regard to persons who have been approached with a view to being bribed, either by drink or money or in some other way, which must be a question of fact to be decided by the judges. That makes all the difference. Both the hon. Members who have spoken in opposition to this Amendment and their friends belong to those people who, ever since I have been a Member of this House, that is for twelve years, have been responsible for introducing more provisions for punishing the people than I have ever known to be done in the life of any Parliament. Those who have sat here during the last twelve years will know the multiplication of offences which commoners have had to put up with in this realm in consequence of the legislation that has been passed The Mover of the Amendment pointed out that a corrupt practice involved all sorts of consequences. It practically deprives a man of civil rights for a number of years. It 1727 prevents him from sitting in this House and from doing a number of things. Surely that is sufficient punishment without adding these severe penalties. The word "corrupt," as it appears in the Corrupt Practices Act means doing an act which is deliberately intended to influence not one isolated vote, as it would be in the case of a man voting twice, but an attempt to influence the whole of the election by improper means. Let us be reasonable. Do not let the House go on legislating and putting fresh penalties on the community. You already have a substantial penalty for the offence. I think the Home Secretary realises that there is substance in the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In Subsection (1) leave out the word "corrupt" ["and the expression, 'corrupt practice'"], and insert instead thereof the word "illegal."
§ In Sub-section (1, a), leave out the word "six" ["imposed by Section six"], and insert instead thereof the word "ten."—[Sir E. Pollock.]
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out paragraph (c).
I think this paragraph got into the Bill by a mistake. It was taken from the old Plural Voting Bill and says,
"The fact that any person who is registered in more than one division of a Parliamentary county or Parliamentary borough has asked for a ballot paper in a division of the county or borough in which he has been marked is not entitled to vote shall not prevent his voting or asking for a ballot paper in the division in which he is entitled to vote."
No one under this Bill will be marked as not entitled to vote, and apparently by some error the paragraph has crept in.
§ Amendment agreed to.