§ Lord Wynford
rose to move the Second Reading of a Bill for the prevention of Bribery and Corruption at Elections. He had delayed for some time moving the second reading, in the hopes that a measure of this kind would be proposed by Government in the other House; but no such measure had come from the other House, and it might be doubted whether any such measure would come up this Session; and yet it was a subject on which it was incumbent on their Lordships to legislate without delay. He had opposed the Reform Bill; but it had been adopted by Parliament, and he was, therefore, bound to suppose that his opposition was wrong. But in the preamble of the Reform Bill it was stated, that its object was to prevent abuses, and although bribery at elections was one of the greatest abuses, yet there was no provision in the Bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections. In bringing forward the present measure, therefore, he was only completing the Reform Bill. The nomination boroughs were not the only boroughs in which bribery and corruption prevailed; and it was the object of this Bill to prevent bribery and corruption in all boroughs. Some persons thought that bribery at elections was a good thing, as affording additional security to property. He did not think that it afforded additional security to property; but even if it did, still he should say, that bribery and corruption ought to be prevented, because, however desirable it was, that property should be protected, it ought not to be protected at the expense of the destruction of the morality of the country, and it was impossible that the practice could be suffered to prevail without injury to the moral 540 character of the people. But bribery afforded no protection to property. It was well known that some candidates went down to boroughs and there expended every shilling they were worth, and came into the House of Commons the poorest and most dependent Members of that House. Sometimes those who had no money contrived to get themselves seated by means of promises which they were unable to keep. It was proved in the East Retford case, that a candidate carried his election by means of promises, and had disappointed the expectations of those to whom the promises were made, and that, consequently, his name had become a bye-word at the place, and that when any candidate was afterwards introduced, it was common to say in his recommendation that he was a man of honour, and would not serve the electors as the other person had done. This was a case which could not be got over. It was clear, therefore, that desperate adventurers sometimes became candidates for boroughs, and gained their seats by means of promises which they were unable to keep. Ready money at these boroughs was, however, all-powerful; and it was of the last importance that this demoralising practice should be put an end to, as its direct tendency was to involve the people in misery and wretchedness. Archdeacon Paley had said, that when a bribe was once accepted, it destroyed all moral feeling in the mind of him who accepted of it; and, consequently, when an oath against bribery was to be taken, the bribed elector did not hesitate to take it. At an election for Grampound, forty-five persons had been bribed, including some Magistrates; and how many of these did their Lordships think had taken the oath against bribery? All of them had taken it. Blackstone and Paley had denounced this practice of bribing at elections. The House of Commons had passsd Resolutions against it in 1700 and in 1702. The Common Law condemned it; and three Statutes had been passed against it. Blackstone said, that the law was sufficient to put an end to the practice, if that law were duly executed. But in that respect Blackstone was mistaken. It was impossible, as the law stood, to get evidence to prove the facts. These cases were not susceptible of proof by collateral circumstances, and it was next to impossible to get direct proof. If a theft or a robbery, or if murder was committed, all these crimes might be proved by circumstances; but bribery 541 could not, and, consequently, the law could not be executed. In this Bill he, however, added only one penalty, to that which was already established by law, and the whole of the other provisions of the Bill merely went to facilitate the execution of the law as it stood. He proposed to give to Committees of the House of Commons, and to Courts of Justice, an opportunity to examine the parties, and to prevent the objection to answer being taken by witnesses, and allowed on the ground that, as they were participes criminis, their answers would criminate themselves. As the law stood, a witness was not bound to answer a question where the answer would criminate himself; and, as long as this was the case, it would be impossible to get evidence of bribery. But, in putting an end to this privilege of persons examined, he had provided that they should be neither convicted nor even tried for matter arising out of their answers; and he had further provided, that no verdict could be given against them in an action of debt arising from any such matter. There were precedents for this proceeding, from the cases of Retford, Aylesbury, Shoreham, and Cricklade, the witnesses were compelled to answer, on protection being given to them against the consequences. In stock-Jobbing transactions too, it was impossible to get direct evidence as long as the rule of law which he had mentioned remained in force, and, therefore, in the case of Sir John Barker, the party was compelled to answer, but was protected by a law for the purpose of indemnifying the witnesses in such oases. There were people in some towns who lived on the bribes they obtained at elections, and they could never be brought to account. Blackstone said, that it would be much better to administer the oath against bribery at elections, to the candidates than to the electors, and he agreed with Black-stone. Give him only this oath, and he would dispense with all the rest. Desperate persons might become candidates, but they would be afraid of the infamy which would attend an exposure of a violation of the oath, and they would be afraid also of losing their seats, in case they were returned, and of the costs which they would incur, for there was a provision in the Bill, that the person convicted of bribery, should pay all the costs, those of the petitioners, as well as his own costs. As Sir William Pulteney had said on a former occasion, all persons were interested in the purity of elections. The Bill contained a provision for fixing 542 those who voted in consequence of promises, and those who gave promises, although they should not amount to a contract; and the electors might be examined in order to ascertain in what cases the votes were given, in consequence of such promises. This was the nature of the addition which he made to the existing law. The other provisions of the Bill went merely to enforce the execution of the existing laws. It had been said by a noble Lord, that a Bill of this kind could not properly originate in their Lordships' House, but a high Whig authority had given a contrary opinion, and had distinctly stated, on an occasion when the Lords had made amendments in a Bill of this kind, that the Commons were much obliged to the Lords for assisting them in preserving the purity of election. He was sure, therefore, that the Commons would not object to such a Bill as this originating in this House, or if they did he could not help it. He had only done his duty in bringing forward this Bill, and he moved, that it be now read a second time.
The Lord Chancellor
expressed a hope that his noble and learned friend would not press his Motion, but leave the further prosecution of the subject to the other House. He agreed with his noble and learned friend that this House was not precluded from originating a Bill of this kind, but at the same time there was a peculiar propriety in its originating in the House of Commons, the election of the Members for which it alone affected. His noble and learned friend had before postponed proceeding with this Bill, on an assurance that a Bill was to be introduced by Government in the other House, on the same subject; and a Bill had been introduced there, and had been read a second time, and was to have been committed on Tuesday last, when this was unfortunately prevented for the time, by the House being counted out. But still it was the intention of Government to proceed with the Bill; and there were hopes that it would receive the assent of the Legislature in the course of the present Session. He agreed with his noble and learned friend, that bribery at elections was a most heinous offence; and the more heinous now, after the passing of the Reform Bill, than it was before; and he agreed that the Legislature ought now to render the law against bribery at elections—he would not say more efficient—but for the first time efficient. He had not thought that his noble and learned friend Mould persevere in proceed- 543 ing with this Bill, and, therefore, he had not read it; but on casting his eye over some of the clauses, he found that there was a new principle introduced in the penal and election laws, and this ought not to be done except with due caution and deliberation. He was not prepared to say, that in no case ought a man to be compelled to answer so as to criminate himself, upon an indemnity being given him. But as the law had hitherto stood, a person might object to answer where the answer would subject him to infamy, against which there could be no indemnity; and this objection was allowed, on account of the danger that perjury would be committed where the temptation to commit it would be so strong. It required very grave consideration before an alteration was made in this principle. He would not, however, proceed to discuss that question at present, as he was in hopes that his noble and learned friend would not persevere in his Motion.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that after what had fallen from his noble and learned friend, he would certainly not press his Bill; but he hoped that his noble and learned friend would not object to its being read a second time pro forma.
§ Bill read a second time.