§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE,
in moving that the House go into Committee on this Bill, said the measure was one of great importance, and he would endeavour, in a few words, to state its object, having, by arrangement with the noble Earl opposite, refrained from doing so on the second reading. The noble Marquess, after referring to the disgraceful proceedings which had taken place in the borough of St. Albans, and to the conse- 563 quent inquiry before a Committee of the House of Commons, said that this inquiry had not come to a satisfactory conclusion, owing to certain witnesses being prevented attending, whereby the ends of justice had been defeated. A proceeding of a different kind was, therefore, adopted, with the almost unanimous consent of both Houses of Parliament; and a Commission was appointed to make an inquiry on the spot. In consequence of the success of that measure, and of the apprehensions entertained (he feared justly) that practices similar to those at St. Albans extended to other places, the late Government had thought it expedient to introduce a measure, the object of which was to convert that which was a particular law into a general law, applicable to all cases, and which might be brought into operation whenever the House of Commons thought such an inquiry as took place at St. Albans necessary. It was needless, he was sure, to dwell on the importance of extinguishing corruption wherever it existed; for he apprehended that it was not in that House that persons would be found to raise their voices in favour of so flagrant a vice, and one so utterly subversive of constitutional principles. He wished to show how far the measure was calculated to attain its object. The House was aware that various attempts had been made from time to time in the other House to extinguish corruption, but they had proved comparative failures. Young aspirants for the honour of statesmanship had sought to win their spurs, and the most experienced men in the other House had turned their attention to the abatement of this evil; but the result was that corrupt practices remained just where they were before. The inquiries of Election Committees had led to a perfect manual of corruption in the shape of blue books, by which the unscrupulous, combining with the vulgar, were enabled to defeat the law. These details showed that in some places every man's conscience was for sale, and the precise price defined. Such being the case, it became an object of the greatest public necessity to introduce a Bill which should remedy this state of things. And nothing was more likely to promote—what all considered so desirable—the pure and unbiassed, choice of the electors, as holding over every borough the certainty in prospect of an investigation, such as that which had been made by the Commission in the St. Albans case, not confined to 564 the particular matters or the particular corruption of the election which was the immediate cause of the inquiry, but going back, if necessary, to other elections and preceding transactions, to exhibit what was the general state of the constituency, and to enable Parliament to judge, by positive evidence, as to the degree in which corrupt practices had taken root in such places. Upon these grounds the Bill had been brought forward. It armed the Commissioners with great powers, but not more so than were justified by the occasion—if they were an inquisition, they were a holy inquisition, engaged in the prosecution of a moral and justifiable undertaking. They had evidence that the Commission had acted well, and had discharged its duty in the case of St. Albans; the results were unexceptionable, even to those whose interests were affected. The Gentleman who was the principal victim of that Commission, had had the candour and justice to admit that the conduct of the Commissioners had been perfect and unexceptionable; he went the length of saying that he had the same respect towards those Commissioners that a child would feel for the parent who had corrected him. He hoped that was also the feeling of many of the electors. The result had been the disfranchisement of St. Albans, so justly deserved. He trusted that their Lordships would not object to this extension, considerable as it was; remembering that they would still have it in their power to review the decisions of the Commissioners before they were carried into effect. He rejoiced that he did not feel himself called upon to enter into questions to which a noble Friend of his on the cross benches had recently called their attention, relating to the improvement of the existing constituencies; for whatever those constituencies might be—whether they were large or small—that had nothing to do with the principle of this Bill, the object of which was to remove the reproach which in the eyes of the public and of foreign countries attached to our Constitution, namely, that various individuals, or bodies of individuals, had the power of influencing the return of those who were supposed to be the representatives of the whole nation. He anticipated the assent of the noble Earl to this measure, being convinced, if it were adopted, that it would afford the most effectual means for the castigation and exposure of that corruption which, unless it were laid bare and exposed, would remain for ever a 565 corroding canker at the root of the electoral system.
§ Moved—"That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, the object of the Bill, as explained by the noble Marquess, is one which, no doubt, will meet with the general concurrence of your Lordships, as it has that of the other House of Parliament. None of your Lordships can desire that that system of bribery and corruption, by which, of late years especially, many cities and boroughs have been disgraced, and which is, I am afraid I must say, increasing, should remain unchecked. And I admit that it may be necessary, for the purpose of effectually repressing this system, that Parliament should consent to a measure of a somewhat exceptionable character, and not rely upon meeting each individual case by a separate Act of the Legislature; but that you should provide the means by which Parliament may have the opportunity of inquiring into the proceedings of delinquent boroughs. Inasmuch, however, as this Bill is of an exceptionable character, inasmuch as it constitutes a tribunal exempted from all the ordinary forms of judicature, and invested with extraordinary powers, I am sure that your Lordships will think that it is due to the best interests of the country that not only the powers proposed to be confided to that tribunal should be carefully considered, and strictly limited, but also that you should consider the circumstances to which these powers are to be applied, and the conditions under which they are to be brought into action. My Lords, the Bill which you are now called upon to pass is a general enactment to enable tribunals to be constituted, with all the extraordinary powers with which by special Act of Parliament you have felt it necessary to invest similar Commissions, first with respect to the borough of Sudbury, and afterwards that of St. Albans. That tribunal, besides having the power to call before it all persons to give evidence, even such as may criminate themselves, has the very extraordinary power of giving an indemnity to those persons who in their judgment shall have given fair and candid evidence, which otherwise would have subjected them to a prosecution in the courts of law. This applies also to what has hitherto been deemed the exceptional case of confidential communications. I think that there being extraordinary powers proposed to be given, not merely for the pur- 566 pose of inquiry, hut leading to ulterior consequences in the form of disfranchisement, you ought not to consent to confer them upon any Commission without due consideration. Hitherto it has been required that when a Committee of the House of Commons should by investigation come to the conclusion that extensive bribery has been committed in any particular borough, and has so reported to the House, a Bill should be introduced and submitted to the consideration of your Lordships' House, specifying the particular powers intended to be given, nominating the Commission by whom the powers are to be executed, and asking for your Lordships' concurrence, and the sanction of the Crown, for the establishment of a tribunal in the individual instance for the purpose of previous investigation. This Bill, however, proposes, as a general rule, to establish this tribunal for the trial of delinquent boroughs. I think it is important that you should consider whether these powers should be conferred without some safeguard that the House of Commons will not exercise the authority entrusted to it in an arbitrary manner. But I find that it is proposed in this Bill, as it stands, that whenever the House of Commons, upon the report of a Committee which may have sat for the purpose of inquiry into the circumstances of an election, shall have arrived at the conclusion that bribery has prevailed, and shall have voted an Address to the Crown desiring further inquiry, such inquiry shall take place at once without reference to your Lordships' House. It cannot be said that this is a matter which concerns the jurisdiction of the House of Commons alone, or that it is analogous to an inquiry before an Election Committee, the result of which was that A. or B. was the sitting Member, and which did not affect the borough or county itself; for this is a Bill which introduces inquiry preparatory to disfranchisement, and which has for its end to bring down penal consequences upon the delinquent borough. It is true this must be done by further legislation; but the appointment of the Commission itself is, for the first time, to be left in the hands of the House of Commons exclusively; and it is put out of the consideration of your Lordships, whether or not it is a case to which these extraordinary powers of investigation are to be applied. It is well worthy of consideration, whether your Lordships are disposed to part so far with the power you at present possess as to sanctioning 567 by vote the application of this machinery to any county or borough at the mere will and pleasure of the House of Commons, on a simple Address to the Crown, or whether your Lordships will, as I confess I think you ought to do, require that the House of Commons, having taken a preliminary examination, and obtained the evidence on which they think it expedient that such a Commission should issue, to communicate that evidence to your Lordships; and that the further proceedings should take place, not upon the Address of the House of Commons only, but upon an Address of the two Houses conjointly. There is a further security also, which has hitherto always been adopted—Parliament will not confer these powers in blind confidence, without knowing the agents to whom the execution of them is to be entrusted, and we have always hitherto required that the Commissioners should be named in the Bill. In this Bill we go somewhat further, for we are asked to give the House of Commons the power for all future time, of putting this machinery into operation—ousting your Lordships of all jurisdiction hereafter, and vesting these arbitrary powers in the other House, to be exercised by persons nominated by the will of any Government which might be in office. I much doubt whether we ought to confer this extraordinary power upon the House of Commons alone, whether it is not just and equitable that we should reserve to ourselves the power, not of joining the House of Commons in passing an Act for each separate case, but of concurring with that House in an Address to the Crown to institute an inquiry in every particular occasion. I think the remedy ought not to be applied beyond the exigency of the case. There is another point also which is worthy of consideration. As the Bill was first introduced by the late Government, it only applied to those places where bribery and corruption had been proved to exist—its operation was confined to cities, towns, and boroughs; but upon the third reading an Amendment was proposed and carried by a small majority, extending the jurisdiction to counties, divisions of counties, and the universities, with respect to which no allegation of bribery has ever been brought. I must confess that, in cases where you are called on to apply extraordinary remedies to great grievances, I think those remedies ought to be confined to those cases simply where the grievances are proved to exist. It is 568 an invidious thing to involve in the reputation of corruption those places against which, I believe, no accusation has ever been made. I shall, therefore, propose that your Lordships restore the Bill to that form which it bore when originally introduced to the other House of Parliament, by confining it to cities, towns, and boroughs, and by rejecting those words which were inserted in the manner I have stated. I also object to that provision of the Bill which gives the Commission power to carry back their investigation to any length of time they may think fit. I think that is a power beyond the exigency of the case. It may be quite right, where the prevalence of corruption has been ascertained in in any borough, to give large powers to the Commissioners; but it appears to go beyond the exigencies of the case to give to unknown and unnamed Commissioners the power of carrying back their inquiries to any period, however remote, which they might think fit to inquire into, without there being any allegation that in the intermediate period bribery had been committed. I think it is monstrous that, in inquiring whether bribery has existed in any particular borough in 1852, in 1847, or even in 1841, you should give power to carry the investigation back to a period even antecedent to the Reform Bill, under a different constituency—so different that it might involve a different generation of men, and be an inquiry into the sins of a generation long passed away, in the time and under the auspices of their grandsons. It would be unjust to visit the errors of a former generation on their descendants; and I think, moreover, it would be exceedingly inconvenient to certain persons of elevated position in the cases of old boroughs, to go into all the instances of bribery which have occurred there, and to call before the Commission all parties who had been concerned in these transactions, for the purpose of stating all they knew about the corruption of the borough. I do not refuse that an inquiry should take place into systematic corruption, limiting it to such elections in the course of which a Committee of the House of Commons may have reported that bribery had existed. I think also that power might be given, supposing that bribery should have been proved to exist at that particular election, to go into the next preceding election; and if it should have been proved to exist at that also, to the next preceding; and so on to unravel a systematic course of bribery and 569 corruption existing in that particular borough for a long course of time. Another objection I take to this Bill is, that for the first time it puts bribery and treating upon precisely the same footing. You must remember that you are examining with a view to penal consequences, and that while bribery is an offence well known to and punishable by the law, there is no legal definition, as far as I am aware, of the offence of "treating," and certainly no punishment affixed to it by the law. The House of Commons has also hitherto always drawn a broad distinction between the two; the fact of bribery being proved to have existed at an election incapacitates the Member from sitting in that Parliament, while the fact of treating merely voids the election, but inflicts no kind of disqualification upon the Member who has lost his seat in consequence of it. You must also remember that it will depend upon the construction of each individual Election Committee as to the amount of treating which may be thought sufficient to justify the recommendation of a further inquiry by Commission. I am far from attempting to palliate that mode of influencing an election which takes the form of beastly intoxication, and which in itself is as discreditable as to receive a bribe of money; but you are to recollect that, although that description of treating may be as objectionable in character as bribery itself, yet there are forms of it so entirely innocuous, so free from all guilty tendency, and all guilty intent, that I am sure your Lordships would be reluctant to visit them with the severe penalty which is contained in this Bill. I think I may say with perfect confidence, that there never has been a contested election for county, city, town, or borough—I do not know about the Universities—in the course of which there has not been committed, by some agent, some offence which might, by a Committee of the House of Commons, be considered as treating. I think, with these modifications which I have enumerated, there will be not only no reasonable objection to the Bill, but we shall be following the precedent which, in reference to tribunals of this kind, has been already admitted—that is, on the principles adopted in the General Enclosure Acts. With these Amendments, I think the Bill will not only be harmless but useful; and from them I hope your Lordships will infer no desire on my part to interfere with the working and application of the measure, because I know the evil is 570 increasing, and will increase, and cannot be checked, except by some stringent measure; and, entertaining that opinion I will not examine very minutely even the extraordinary powers which are conferred by this Bill.
The DUKE of ARGYLL
said, it was impossible not to feel, with regard to the first Amendment proposed, or rather suggested, by the noble Earl, that by passing that Bill their Lordships would place unreservedly in the hands of the House of Commons a most formidable power; and that whereas now the action of the three branches of the Legislature was required to establish such tribunals as proposed by this Bill, they were asked to leave them to be constituted in future by the single vote of the House of Commons. This was a large concession on the part of their Lordships. The principle of our present law was, that all the movement and inquiry into the criminality of constituencies rested with the House of Commons, but that after that the legislation which might be required rested with all three branches; and this principle was now seriously invaded. But the main reason of his addressing the House was the strong objection he entertained to the noble Earl's second Amendment. It was an Amendment which altered the whole character of the measure. The preamble proceeded on a general assertion, that it was expedient to make a more adequate provision for inquiry into corrupt practices at elections. It contained no allegation against any one class of constituencies; but now, as thus amended, it would amount to a bill of indictment against a certain class of constituencies; and if they were to except counties and universities, why not great cities? To the latter, charges of corruption could not generally apply. He presumed the noble Earl would not assert that no corruption ever existed in the counties; nor would he himself say so much of great cities; hut he did argue, as he thought fairly, that on the same ground on which it was proposed to except counties and universities, they might reasonably be required to except the great cities of the country; and this would be impossible. His objection, in short, to the proposed exceptions was, that they implied a charge of general corruption against the boroughs; and though he knew that the extreme Liberal party went upon the principle that all small boroughs were corrupt, and should have their franchises given over to larger constituencies, 571 he thought their Lordships were scarcely prepared to receive and act upon this opinion as correct. The alteration, he said, would change the whole principle of the Bill, and would have a most injurious effect on the future consideration of those great questions of Parliamentary Reform yet to come before their Lordships. The right principle was to enact a general law against electoral corruption wherever it existed. In conclusion, he confessed that he was very much inclined to agree with the observation made by the noble Marquess at the very outset of his remarks— though he thought the observation a very remarkable one to come from him. The noble Marquess said that this was the most important of the measures of the late Government with reference to the representation of the people, and that it was the least open to objection. He (the Duke of Argyll) thought that this implied a very strong opinion with regard to the operation of this Act—that it should be considered by the noble Marquess the most important and the least open to objection.
§ The EARL of DERBY
With regard to the Amendment mainly objected to by the noble Duke, I am not proposing a bill of indictment against any class of constituencies. I am proposing to restore the Bill to the precise state in which the late Government introduced it.
§ LORD STANLEY of ALDERLEY
said, this was no Bill imposing pains and penalties, but one that was intended simply to facilitate inquiry. It conferred no new power on the other House of Parliament; it simply enabled them to establish new machinery for inquiring into the corruption practised at elections. But when the noble Earl complained of the power the Bill gave of going back into former allegations of corruption, he would remind him how often in small boroughs there were compromises between the contesting candidates, entirely with a view of saving the constituency from the notoriety which their corruption was gaining. He should, therefore, not be at all disposed to limit either the House of Commons or the Commissioners from using their discretion as to how far back they were to go in such an inquiry. But what if they should do so? It was, after all, a mere report upon which a Bill was founded that had to go through all its stages in this House; and if their Lordships should think that it was ill-founded, or that the evidence had not been properly collected, it was still per- 572 fectly open to their Lordships to reopen the inquiry, and to summon evidence to their Lordships' bar. He did not recollect more than one petition being presented against a county for corruption, and of course he did not suppose that corruption prevailed at the Universities; but when there was a Bill for establishing machinery for the purpose of checking bribery, he did not think it at all an imputation upon either the counties or the Universities that they should be included in such a measure. As to treating, although it was not a crime in law, he thought it was a subject which the House of Commons had very properly taken cognisance of, in order to preserve the purity of election. He hoped the noble Earl would not insist upon his Amendments.
§ LORD REDESDALE
considered the Amendments of the noble Earl well entitled to the approbation of the House. He believed every party desired to get rid of corruption, and no party more than the Conservative party; but when a Bill was introduced, conferring powers of an extraordinary nature, it was important that they should be restricted in their application. He reminded their Lordships of the extent to which party feeling not long ago prevailed. Let an allegation of corruption be made against any place, let that be reported to the other House, and then upon the address moved by an individual, and upon the vote of the majority, this Bill would be brought into operation. He thought more protection ought to be afforded the constituencies. He thought, also, it was important for their Lordships to consider how far the privileges of. the House would be affected by this Bill, which empowered the other House to proceed upon an Address to the Crown without the concurrence of their Lordships. Moreover, he was of opinion that the other House ought to insert the names of the Commissioners into their Address, and not to leave it to the Minister of the day, whoever that Minister might be. It was very proper that Parliament should have cognisance of the parties who were to investigate the matter. Parliament had already given a precedent of that kind in the two Bills which had recently been introduced; and he hoped they would not in any case depart from it. But as to the question of the privileges, he thought it very desirable, when the other House was about to call into exercise powers which went quite beyond the ordinary limit of the law, that the initiative 573 ought not to be adopted without the concurrence of both Houses.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
said, with regard to the first Amendment, he could not so readily come to the conclusion that had been arrived at by the noble Lord who had just sat down. If the Bill were to deprive the House of Lords of any privilege it at present possessed, if it made any alteration in reference to the relative position of that House and of the House of Commons, he should concur in the Amendment; but, when they looked carefully at the Bill, they would find that no new power was conferred on the House of Commons, no means were given to that House of punishing delinquent boroughs, no power of evading any existing checks or control of the Upper House, but that it was merely affording a new mode of carrying out those investigations which it was in the power of the House of Commons now to effect by other, but more tedious and less effective means. It was necessary that an inquiry should take place before an Address was agreed to. In the St. Albans case, their Lordships did not rest satisfied with the evidence given before the Commission, but gave the parties liberty to examine witnesses at the bar of the House to rebut the evidence; and they would be at liberty to do that again in reference to any other case, even though the Bill should pass in its present shape. He thought the other Amendments of more practical importance, and one of them still more objectionable. The noble Earl proposed to omit counties and the Universities. He saw no reason for including the Universities, but he could not go so far as to omit counties, which were certainly not free from corruption, though less tainted than boroughs; and he thought it was possible to do all that was required, and in a preferable form, by omitting any enumeration at all of the various classes of constituencies to be subjected to the operation of the Bill. With regard to the Amendment, as to an inquiry into retrospective elections, he agreed that some limitation was desirable; but the Amendment proposed would not meet the case, and would go greatly beyond the professed object, frequently operating as an effectual screen to the very practices which it was sought to expose, and as an immunity to the most flagrant cases and the most notoriously corrupt constituencies. In cases where the corruption had been most systematic, they 574 might find an occasional pure election by arrangement between the parties; and if they were stopped by that accidental and isolated case of purity from going back to previous elections, inquiry would be evaded. Then the noble Earl proposed to omit altogether the words relating to treating. He certainly thought that a Commission should not issue where there was no greater allegation than the issue of half-crown refreshment tickets. He, for one, however, would sooner run the risk, which he thought extremely small, of inquiring into cases of treating which were quite harmless, than let slip the chance of inquiring into such a flagrant case as that which took place the other day at Monmouth, and which, as regarded moral guilt, could not be considered as in any degree less worthy of punishment than bribery by means of money; and he therefore hoped the noble Earl would turn his mind to this subject, and see whether some arrangement could not be made by which that species of treating which, practically, was for the purpose of influencing voters, might be inquired into under the enactments of this measure.
thanked the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) for the course he had taken, according to a pledge he had previously given him in 1847, on the eve of the last general election, when he (Lord Brougham) moved a Resolution, pledging the House, after the meeting of the New Parliament, to investigate all cases in which corruption should have been stated to have taken place. He greatly approved of the measure, with one or two exceptions; but they could not close their eyes to the fact that by the Bill they were creating great changes in the law. By the Bill, they might, for the first time in the history of the law, compel a witness, whether he was a party or an accomplice, or whether he was neither one nor the other, but the confidential and professional agent of a party, or of one who was the party, to answer all questions that might be put to him, and to produce all documents, books, and papers, although his answers, or the production of the documents, might criminate himself; and the only protection afforded to him was, that in giving his evidence before the Commission which instituted so searching an inquiry, they might, if they pleased, give him a certificate indemnifying him from any further proceedings. By the provisions of 575 the Bill, they denounced with serious pains and penalties him who should give false testimony before the Commission. Now, it was only from the utter abhorrence with which he regarded these awful crimes of bribery, of corruption, and of perjury, and from the painful conviction under which they all laboured, that those crimes were too generally, too habitually, perpetrated, that he, or he believed any of their Lordships, could be induced to vote for the passing of a measure creating such a tribunal as was contemplated by this Bill. It was said they were giving no new powers to the House of Commons. In one sense they were not. In the ordinary sense the House of Commons would be endowed with no new powers; but if the Bill stood as it was, the House of Commons would be armed with the power of creating a tribunal endowed with the extraordinary powers to which he had referred. Then the House of Commons were to be the judges on such questions. But there was an important check or safeguard, for there was to be a Committee of the House of Commons, which Committee was required to report to the House, so that there could be no want of due consideration of the address for inquiry. He thought, however, it might be well for their Lordships to consider whether they would not add their interposition to that of the House of Commons. He considered that if general powers were given to the Commissioners—powers of going back for the purposes of inquiry fifteen or twenty years-it would give rise to the greatest inconvenience. Yet if they could only go back for a year, no contest might have taken place that year, and still the greatest corruption and bribery might have occurred in the year before. He thought on the whole it would be much better to lay down a fixed rule, and that it would be the most convenient course to take a certain number of elections—or, better still, of years. For instance, what harm would there be in taking six or seven years, which would generally include two general elections? He saw nothing in this Bill in reference to the intimidation exercised at elections—it was limited to corruption only. He admitted there was much difficulty in getting at intimidation. Yet if a case could be made out, he did not see why that should not form a subject for inquiry. However, he would not risk the fate of the Bill by proposing any addition of this kind. The 576 subject of treating was also one most difficult to be dealt with. Treating was the colour and the shift for bribery, and they who had undergone—he ought to say the misery, but he would only say the honour of a contested election—well knew this. He recollected that he was concerned many years ago in a contested election, where the currency was in beer tickets; and, on speaking of the enormous expense incurred for treating, that is, for bribery, under the form of treating, amounting to 50,000l. or 60,000l., he was told it was much worse the other side of the estuary, for there the tickets were for wine; so that the difference in the expenses was the difference between the price of beer and the price of wine. There were at all those places central committees, where the beer or wine tickets could be exchanged for anything which was not either wine or beer. But why, he might be asked, should they prevent a man who came a great distance to record his vote from partaking of some trifling refreshment? but this hardship was as nothing, compared to the importance of stopping bribery and corruption; and this they could never do if they did not altogether close the door against treating. He was convinced that if the knowledge that all circumstances connected with an election could be entered into upon petition—could be made to reach candidates and their agents—it would greatly diminish the evils complained of. In every contested election where bribery took place, a petition might be brought; and where a petition was brought, a Committee might be appointed to inquire into its allegations, and before that Committee any party might be subjected to examination. Under the new law, his (Lord Brougham's) Evidence Act of last Session, the party as well as his agent might be subjected to the most searching and stringent examination—an examination conducted with all the ability and all the zeal—he would not say all the unscrupulousness, for in such a case there ought to be no scruple—but with all the searching zeal and practised skill of counsel who would inquire not only into what the party knew to have taken place, but into what he believed or suspected to have taken place. Every one knew the effect of refusing to answer, on the ground that it might criminate the party: his seat, or his chance of a seat, was gone. When these things were known to persons engaged in electioneering contests, it was his sanguine 577 hope that the evils so much complained of would be greatly diminished. Sooner or later they must be known; and then the operation of the new law would be, he trusted, effectual.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
was in favour of including the counties and the Universities, because it would be invidious to draw a distinction; but that made the question of treating one of more delicacy. To pay country clergymen their expenses in going to vote at a University election was not with a view to bribery. Should not the thing prohibited be bribery by money or by entertainment—a thing done with the effect and intention of corrupting the voter? In respect of some of the provisions of the Bill—it was an evil to be making conventional offences of what public opinion did not stigmatise as offences; a law of this kind should be such as to carry with it the feeling that the offence was not merely a political, but a moral one. As to a concurrent Address, the objection of the noble Earl well deserved consideration. It would be inconvenient to have investigation after investigation, and their Lordships might not be satisfied with an investigation in which they had no share, and which was made at the instance of a Committee not upon oath, receiving evidence not upon oath. He thought their Lordships ought to insist upon their concurrence in the inquiry as a security for the liberty of the subject; for everything that gave to an investigation a grave and judicial character, was of the highest importance.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
confessed that, with regard to the first point, namely, whether the Bill should extend to counties and the Universities, as well as towns, he approved of the Bill as it stood formerly. The introduction of the words "counties and Universities" was a sort of compliment to towns and cities. He did not wish to speak harshly of the latter, but many of them were notoriously corrupt, and it was on account of their corruption that the Bill was introduced. That, however, was not the case in regard to the Universities, and, in common justice, they ought to be excluded. Then, in respect to counties, though he did not deny there had been bribery, yet no one would venture to say it had been practised to such an extent in counties as to call on the House to include them in this measure. If bribery had not been extensively carried on in boroughs, it was perfectly clear the 578 Bill would never have been introduced. He asked, then, on every principle of justice, whether counties and the Universisities ought to be included, simply because a necessity had arisen to apply stringent provisions to boroughs and cities? In regard to their Lordships' privileges, he asked them to consider for a moment what they were doing? By assenting to it, they would give up their right to the first step founded on the Report of the Committee. The House of Commons was to originate the inquiry by a Committee; but when that Committee decided on an inquiry taking place, how was it to be conducted? The Bill proposed to give the Commission the most unguarded powers, which no man would apply to himself personally, and which nothing but the strongest and most urgent reasons would justify that or any other country granting to a tribunal. By assenting to this arrangement, their Lordships would give up any power they might now possess. The Bill proposed to meet all the cases that had been mentioned by one operation; and if it passed in its present shape, this House would not have the slightest power in regard to the issuing of the Commission. And then, to whom were those powers to be entrusted? The clause provided that they should be barristers of seven years' standing. He had great respect for the Bar; but there were many barristers whom he would not intrust with the inquiry: before he did so, he should like to know their antecedents, what they had been doing for the past seven years, and whether they were likely to exorcise the powers to be entrusted to them properly or recklessly. It was not enough that they were even of seven years' standing at the bar—they ought to be persons of recognised ability, and in whom confidence might be placed. The Bill asked their Lordships to abrogate their powers for the time to come; and he understood the Amendment to be to maintain those powers just as they were at present. He trusted the hope expressed by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham) as to the Bill deterring persons from being concerned in corrupt practices, would be fulfilled, for that was a consummation very much to be desired. He should like to know what good purpose would be effected by this crusade against all past offences. Was it desirable that they should reopen all those past transactions? He maintained that it was not, and that it was most convenient some stop and limitation should be pu 579 upon the Commissioners, in order that they should not extend their investigations beyond a specified period. As to treating, no reasonable man would put it upon the same footing as bribery. There ought to be some provision against treating, provided that it did not strike at the root of fair and legitimate treating. He would, therefore, propose that treating should not form part of this Bill, but should be made the subject of a separate measure. If the Amendments proposed by his noble Friend were adopted, they would greatly improve the measure, and render it somewhat more satisfactory to the public.
said, that the House of Commons did at present possess extensive powers in reference to bribery, but they had been found inefficient, and all parties had agreed that it was proper and necessary that those powers should be increased. The object of this Bill was no doubt to confer upon the House of Commons increased powers—powers to investigate and discover the existence of evils in reference to elections, and to apply a practical remedy. It had been suggested that this Bill would in effect take from their Lordships some of their privileges. He (Lord Truro) was not aware of anything contained in this Bill which was at all open to such an objection. The House of Commons possessed at this moment extensive means of inquiry; hut these means had been found not sufficient to effect the object they all professed to desire. The House of Commons did not ask to have the power of themselves to institute such an inquiry: all they asked was that their Lordships should be parties to the creation of such a power on their part. Doubts had been expressed as to the manner in which the powers so created would be exercised. No doubt it was a matter of great importance that these powers should be so exercised as to furnish ground on which reliance could be placed, when they came to further legislative interference with the borough or city in respect to which the Commission had been issued; and he warned their Lordships against interposing any obstacle in the way of such an inquiry, lest they should suffer in public opinion. If the Commissioners misconducted themselves, what would be the result? Simply, that; the House would not act upon their report. In his opinion it would not be politic to limit the period for inquiry. They did not want to know whether there was bribery at any particular election—they de- 580 sired to arrive at what was the character of the borough. If proper persons were appointed Commissioners, they would be able to decide what ought to be the limit of the inquiry. If they found bribery at the last election, they would refer to the preceding, and so on. His noble Friend had referred to some former Bills brought in upon the subject. Now, all former measures had fallen short of the end proposed. No one objected to the present Bill because it would not effect the purpose for which it was designed. The objections were, first of all, that it interfered with their Lordships' privileges, and then that its powers were too extensive. The first of these objections, he thought, was untenable; and the second was an advantage rather than objection. The legislation of past times was always defective because it did not go far enough; and he trusted their Lordships would not, by impairing this Bill, render the measure open to the same reproach. He was anxious that their Lordships should manifest to the country that they were desirous of putting an end to bribery, and of keeping the representation of the country pure. They had good security that the Commissioners would take care that their inquiries did not stretch too far back, in the fact that it would be useless. They had also good security that proper persons would be appointed, in the fact that important interests were at stake, and in the fact that they would have the opportunity of questioning the propriety of their judgments. If they found that they were questionable, it was in their Lordships' power to refuse to act.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
trusted the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) would not press the Amendment, by which an Address to the Crown from both Houses of Parliament, instead of from one only, would be rendered necessary, because it appeared to him that to introduce such a provision into the Bill would make the whole measure a mere nullity. The House of Commons at present could, without legislation, appoint a Committee of Inquiry, and could address the Crown for a Commission, and could introduce a Bill to enable such a Commission to work efficiently, and such a Bill must necessarily come before their Lordships for their sanction; and, moreover, for the purpose of disfranchisement, a legislative enactment must pass both Houses. If, therefore, the Amendment were passed, the Bill would confer, in effect, no powers 581 beyond those already possessed by the House of Commons. ["No, no!"] In what, then, would the difference be? There must be an Address in that House, and an Address in the Commons, and exactly the same discussion must ensue in both Houses. ["No, no!"] To say "no" was to cast a reflection upon that House; for would not their Lordships take as much pains to discuss a question of so much importance as that of depriving a borough of its ancient rights, as the House of Commons? As to the appointment of the Commissioners, he felt that there would be an infinitely better selection made if it was left to the Crown, than if the power was vested in either House of Parliament. The feeling of responsibility would influence the Crown in its selection. If they left out counties and Universities, he did not see on what principle they could include cities or boroughs. With regard to treating, he must say that in the case of the Universities, alluded to by the noble Earl on the cross benches, it seemed to him that of all places in the world exception was least required in them, because the voter from a distance could go to his college and obtain the refreshments he needed without difficulty.
§ On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; House in Committee accordingly.
§ On Clause 1,
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, that the reason he had given notice of the Amendment to omit the Universities and counties from the Bill, was, that they had been inserted in the Bill in its third reading by a surprise; and the noble Lord who was the author of the Bill voted in the minority against their being included. After the discussion which had taken place, however, he was satisfied that, practically, the Bill, in reference to the Universities and counties, as far as bribery was concerned, would be a dead letter; and he should therefore withdraw that Amendment. Their Lordships, however, must remember that the purport of this Bill was disfranchisement. ["No, no!"] Yes! for the House of Commons already had the power of instituting any inquiry they might think fit, and of unseating the Member; but they could only affect the seat for a time. To disfranchise the borough permanently, legislation was now necessary. The object of the Bill must, therefore, be inquiry, with a view to disfranchisement; and he would remind their Lordships that never yet had there been a proposition to disfranchise town, city, county, or University for mere 582 treating. It was, therefore, most necessary to define the grounds of inquiry. The noble Earl then moved his other Amendment that the words "Address of the House of Commons" in the first clause should be omitted, and the words "a joint Address of both Houses of Parliament" be substituted.
thought that the Amendment would be detrimental to the Bill; but admitted that, at the same time, it was most necessary to watch and guard against the encroachments of the House of Commons, in which, he regretted to say, that he had of late seen a disposition practically to legislate for and govern the country alone. The conduct of the other House in reference to an Address to the Crown, touching the better regulation of the Post Office, afforded a bad precedent. Nothing could be more dangerous than that one House should attempt to legislate for the whole Empire. As to the Commissioners, there was no fear of any encroachment in respect to them, as their Report was to be presented to their Lordships' House equally with the Commons. He thought the Amendment was quite unnecessary, and extremely detrimental to the measure.
§ EARL GREY
said, that he could not help expressing a little astonishment that their Lordships should be called upon to divide on this question. He would remind the House that this measure had been introduced into the other House of Parliament by the noble Lord lately at the head of the Government, and had been prepared by it with the greatest care; and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated at a very early period after the late Government leaving office that it was one of the measures which he was anxious to carry through Parliament. The Bill was read a second time by a majority of 281 to 6. No Amendments were moved in the Bill during its progress on the part of the Government, with the exception of the insertion of words making it applicable to counties and Universities. It was under these circumstances, most unexpectedly and without notice of any kind, that the noble Earl now proposed the present Amendment. He did not believe that their Lordships' privileges required the protection afforded by the proposed Amendment. The best possible results might be anticipated from the operation of this Bill, even in cases where it was not considered necessary to agree to the disfranchisement of any place to which the inquiry had been direct- 583 ed. For instance, he could easily suppose that extensive bribery and corruption might be found to exist in a large county or borough constituency, such as the county of York, or the town of Liverpool. It might not be considered necessary to disfranchise either of these constituencies; but even if it were not, still the exposure of the corrupt practices could not fail to be attended with beneficial results. The single object of this Bill was to obviate the risk that every man knew practically existed of a difference between the two Houses of Parliament, as to whether there should be an inquiry or not, and to make provision, once for all, that upon an address of the House of Commons an inquiry should take place. The noble Earl now called upon their Lordships to accept an Amendment, the adoption of which would be only an indirect, and therefore a less honest and straightforward way of throwing out the Bill. If they were to agree to this Amendment, it would be idle to go on with this Bill, for every one knew there would be no chance of the other House agreeing to it with the words suggested by the noble Earl. He thought it would be much better at once to move that the Chairman report progress and sit again next week.
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, that the noble Earl had thrown new light on the motives of those who had introduced the Bill. He (the Earl of Derby) had previously thought that the Bill had been introduced for the purpose of putting a stop to bribery and corruption at elections, by affording the means of a very extensive inquiry into those alleged practices before a competent tribunal. But the noble Earl had just informed them that the Bill had been introduced for the single purpose of enabling the inquiry to be made by a vote of the House of Commons, without the necessity of asking the concurrence of their Lordships in the inquiry; and the noble Earl had further said, that this mode of proceeding would obviate the inconvenience of a difference of opinion between the two Houses. Why, the very same argument would apply to every other subject of legislation; but he begged to say that this was setting their Lordships' House and authority altogether out of consideration, and giving them no weight in the constitution of the country; for he believed that by the constitution of the country it was intended that in all matters of legislation their Lordships should have a full and equal share with the House of Commons. 584 What the Government proposed to do by the Amendment which he had proposed, was to facilitate the operations of Parliament—not the House of Commons alone, but of both Houses—in exposing and punishing gross bribery and corruption; and the noble Earl could not go further than he (the Earl of Derby) would in obtaining that end by a regular and constitutional mode of proceeding. But the noble Earl said that the Amendment would make an alteration with respect to the authority of that House. He (the Earl of Derby) would take the liberty of contradicting the noble Earl upon that point. The Amendment would not add to the existing power and authority of their Lordships' House, hut would retain it precisely where it stood at present. While agreeing now, once for all, that a machinery should be adopted for the discovery and punishment of bribery in all future cases, their Lordships, by this Amendment, claimed for themselves—and he believed they were entitled to claim—the same power which they now had of deciding in each case whether the machinery which was intended to be applied was applicable to that particular case. It might he that this point did not strike the mind of the Members of the House of Commons so forcibly as it would strike their Lordships in the maintenance of their own privileges; but could it be said that their Lordships were really seeking a single extension of the powers of that House when they asked that the same concurrence should be given in future in regard to the single stage of an Address, as was now given in all stages of legislation?
§ EARL FITZWILLIAM
was of opinion that if the Amendment were adopted, the House of Commons would have some reason to say that it was an encroachment on their privileges; but that was not precisely the ground upon which he objected to it. He objected to it principally because it appeared to him that in many cases it might place their Lordships in a position of difficulty and embarrassment, for they must institute some inquiry of their own before they could join in any Address of the Commons, as proposed by the Amendment. He was not satisfied with the manner in which the Commissioners were to be appointed. He thought it would be much better to take their appointment out of the hands of the Executive of the day, and vest it in some high legal authority.
EARL ST. GERMANS
complained that no notice had been given of the Amend- 585 ments which the Government intended to propose in Committee on the Bill. It was quite in the power of their Lordships, if they thought the inquiry had been improperly conducted, to reject the Bill which happened to be sent up; but the Amendment of the noble Earl, if adopted, would entirely alter the character of this Bill.
§ The EARL of POWIS
asked what chance there was for an effective inquiry under the Bill as it then stood? Suppose the Address carried, and Commissioners appointed to make a Report to the Crown against some borough, their Lordships would be placed in the position of being obliged either to accept the Report, in the obtaining of which they had given no concurrence, and which had been made by persons in whom, perhaps, they had little confidence, or to institute an inquiry of their own, and exposing themselves to the charge of trying thereby to screen a corrupt borough. It had not always followed that evidence which had satisfied the House of Commons had succeeded in satisfying the House of Lords, as their Lordships would remember in the case of the borough of Stafford. He therefore supported the Amendment, which he did not consider as any interference with the privileges of the House of Commons.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
thought that the argument which the noble Earl had urged in favour of the Amendment was an exceedingly strong argument against it. His noble Friend very truly said that there had been cases in which the House of Lords were not satisfied with the evidence which had been taken by the House of Commons, and he deduced from that circumstance the inference that they would probably dissent from the report of the Commissioners appointed under the Address by the Commons. Now, that was an argument which was directly opposed to that which the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) asked them to do. The noble Earl asked them upon the strength of a report of a Committee of the House of Commons to join that House in an address to the Crown, which report their Lordships could have had in no proper sense before them unless they requested a copy of it by an address to the Crown.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, that if he thought the privileges of their Lordships' House at all interfered with by the present Bill, he should have been the first to accede to the Amendment of the noble Earl. He should have acceded to 586 the Amendment, although he had not had the opportunity of considering it before; for, until he heard the Amendment from the lips of the noble Earl himself, he was not aware that any such Amendment was intended to be proposed. But he felt satisfied that in no respect did it do so. It should be borne in mind that the whole object of the Bill was simply to provide the means for a preliminary inquiry, and to render such inquiry more efficacious. The noble Earl had said, that the necessity of the Amendment was not so likely to strike the Members of the House of Commons as it would their Lordships; and certainly it would seem that there was a great difference between the atmosphere of the two Houses—and that the difference had affected even the noble Earl's own Colleagues in the other House, for although those eminent persons were enjoying the confidence of the noble Earl, and were in weekly, daily, nay, hourly communication with him during the three weeks that the Bill was before the other House, they never discovered by the light of their own understandings, assisted though it was by the light of the understanding of the noble Earl, that there were any constitutional objections whatever to the Bill. Night after night these eminent persons had moved the Bill—they were invited to state their opinions—night after night they heard Amendments moved by other hon. Members, some of which they supported; but on behalf of the constitution, on behalf of the head of the Government, it never once occurred to them to move this Amendment.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment:—Content 78; Not-Content 34: Majority 44.587
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|Combermere||Colvile of Culross|
The LORD CHANCELLOR
proposed an Amendment, in regard to the appointment of the Commissioners, that they should be named in the Address to the Crown before it left the Commons.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE was understood to oppose it.
would have supported a proposal that the Government should name them, or rather that the Lord Chancellor should do so; hut, although he had been a Member of the other House, and felt a great respect for them, the last thing he would have them to do would he the appointment of Judges. In the case of St. Albans, the appointment was made by the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench. He should be very sorry to hold the patronage, however, for he had just now to appoint two revising barristers on the Northern Circuit, and 150 applications had been sent in to him.
§ The EARL of DERBY
By the Bill as it stood at present, the names of the Commissioners were to be inserted in the Bill as it passed the House of Commons. It was afterwards sent up to their Lordships' House for their concurrence. But the names would now be inserted in the Address to the Crown, and instead of being considered by their Lordships in the Bill, they would now be considered in the Address.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
wished to know what would be the exact course and purport of the joint Address? If there were two separate independent Addresses, the House of Commons Address might contain the names of individuals selected by that House, and the other might con- 588 tain separate and distinct names. The noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) perhaps meant to have recourse to a conference between the two Houses; but he (the Duke of Newcastle) apprehended there would not be an opportunity for a conference between the two Houses, so as to arrange the matter of the names to he inserted in the Address.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that the object of the Amendment was to secure the nomination of competent persons upon the commission; and the names would be selected with great care, diligence, and inquiry, under the spur of the knowledge that they would he submitted to the approval of the Crown and the House of Lords,
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ On Clause 6, giving the Commissioners power to inquire whether there had been corrupt practices at elections "for such a period retrospectively as they should think proper," and "whether any corrupt practice by way of treating has been carried on at any such election,"
§ The EARL of DERBY
proposed to strike out the words "for such a period retrospectively as they should think proper," and to introduce words providing that if the Commissioners found that there had been corrupt practices at the election which was the subject of the report of the Committee, they might inquire into the next previous election, and so on in like manner from election to election, as far back as they should think fit, until they reached an election where, upon inquiry, they found no corrupt practices to exist, and then they should not inquire further back. It had been suggested that this limit should have reference either to a certain number of years, or a certain number of elections; but neither of those limitations were satisfactory. There might be, as in the case of Harwich, five elections within a very brief space, and then, if the limit was that of a certain number of elections, it might not extend over six months. On the other hand, there might be a place which had had no election for seven years, and then, unless the period extended over many years, the inquiry would be limited to one election. It appeared, therefore, to the Government that the only method of really carrying out the objects of the Bill would he by first examining into the election which the Committee of the House of Commons had decided as being tainted with corrupt practices, and then to go back until they came to a pure election, 589 at which point it was proposed by the Amendment to stay the inquiry. The noble Earl also proposed to strike out the words relating to treating. Cases of treating could still be investigated by Committees of the House of Commons; but it had not been made cause of disfranchisement, and the powers of the Commissioners should be reserved for the gravest offences. It was exceedingly difficult to deal with treating, and impossible legally to define it, and it would be better not to place it on a footing with that which was a statutable offence.
§ The Marquess of LANSDOWNE and Earl FITZWILLIAM were understood to object to this mode of limitation.
§ After a few observations from the Earl of HARROWBY and Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY,
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ On the Amendment respecting treating being moved,
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
observed that systematic corruption had been effected by treating, and if all other means of bribing were cut off by an Act of Parliament, treating would be still more resorted to for the same purpose.
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, the fact of Parliamentary Committees having disagreed as to what amount of refreshment constituted bribery, showed how difficult it was to deal with such an undefinable offence.
§ EARL GREY
admitted it was perfectly true there was a great difference of opinion on the question of treating. He thought it would be very hard to deprive a Member of his seat because he gave some trifling refreshment to the electors; but the practice was blameable, inasmuch as it was capable of considerable extension. There was one form of corruption which had not been mentioned in the course of the discussion. It was a very common practice, in small boroughs, to buy up the public-houses; and he recollected when he was canvassing for a seat in Parliament, he was told by a publican he would not vote for him unless some money was spent at his house. In some instances the publicans got up a contest themselves, in the hope of personal gain. In conclusion, he thought no reason had been shown for excluding the Commissioners from exercising their discretion whether treating was or was not one of the forms of corruption practised.
§ Their Lordships then divided: Content 68; Not-Content 35; Majority 33.590
§ Other Amendments made. Report to be received on Friday next.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.