§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY,
in moving that this Bill be now read the Second Time, said, the Bill, though large in its professed effects, was so very simple that it required no explanation beyond what was given when it was first introduced. Its principles might be considered to be—first, that the expenses of an election, though defrayed by the candidate, were to be conducted by a public and responsible officer; and, secondly, that the votes of the constituency were no longer to be taken vivâ voce, and in polling booths, but written on slips of paper, and collected from house to house by legal and authorised persons. The advantages of this system would be, as he stated before, that it would take away all pretext for bribery and corruption under the show of travelling expenses, necessary refreshments, and compensation for loss of time; it would simplify the process of elections, greatly abridge expense, and prevent riots, confusion, and in many respects intimidation; it would enable many more person to vote, especially the weak and timid, who shrank with terror from the turmoil and excite- 262 ment of a contested election. If their Lordships admitted these results, and thought them desirable, they had only to look at the machinery whereby the Act was to be carried into operation. Now the Bill, if examined in Committee, would be found, he thought, to have whatever was required. He knew that under the poor-law system this mode of collecting votes had, in some instances, proved a failure; but the causes were obvious; no great interest prevailed on the election of poor-law guardians. No one was disposed to incur any expense. The agents, therefore, were underpaid, very little watched, and hardly any accounts were demanded of them; but by this Bill they secured an agency far better paid—persons duly appointed to watch both the collection and examination of papers, and heavy penalties, both personal and pecuniary, for any misconduct. He wished to propose it for a second reading, and should be glad to pass it through Committee, because he felt assured of its good results.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
assured his noble Friend that it was not from any indifference to the object which he had in view, or from any hostility to the measure itself, that he opposed the second reading of the Bill. But, as his noble Friend did not propose to carry the measure further in the course of the present Session, he (the Earl of Aberdeen) was unwilling to commit the House or Her Majesty's Government to it at this stage, more especially as his noble Friend knew that Her Majesty's Government were pledged to bring forward a measure of Parliamentary reform early in the next Session of Parliament, and that the subject of the present Bill must come under consideration in connexion with any plan of Parliamentary reform that might be introduced. In consequence of this representation in the other House of Parliament, several partial measures of Parliamentary reform had been suspended with a view to that course which Her Majesty's Government were prepared to take. He could assure his noble Friend that the subject of the Bill now on the table would be brought forward and fully considered; and, as his noble Friend would have had the advantage of having his own views on the subject circulated throughout the country, he thought his noble Friend had obtained all the advantage he could propose to himself in bringing it forward. He would repeat his assurance to his noble Friend, that not only would the subject 263 meet with due consideration from the Government, but, as he was at present advised, with the most favourable consideration. He had, therefore, to ask his noble Friend not to press the measure further a this time, as he could venture to assure him that by not doing so he would forward the object he had in view.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
said, that must be confessed that our present system had failed to secure purity of election in boroughs. Now he believed that the, adoption of the system proposed by this Bill—the same as that now followed in the election of boards of guardians—would no only effect a great improvement in this respect, but that it would also induce many, men of great repectability and stake in the country to vote who now abstained from doing so; and that it would thus tend to give us a much more real representation of the opinion of the country than we had at present.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
believed, that of all the modes proposed for securing real representation of the opinions of the constituencies, that contained in the present. Bill was most likely to be successful. He was glad to hear that it was to be can fully considered by Her Majesty's Government, in connexion with the whole question of the representation of the people; for he thought it was infinitely preferable that legislation on such subjects as this should take place on the responsibility of Government, than at the instance of private Members of the Legislature. He hoped that when the Government next year brought forward their plan of representative reform they would be able to devise some plat which, if it did not extinguish bribery at intimidation, would at least reduce the to a minimum, and give us a reasonable chance of obtaining a true expression the feelings of the constituencies.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, he could not refrain from adding his humble tribute gratitude to the noble Earl for bringing the subject before the House. He thought that any scheme of reform of the representation in which extensive alterations for the purpose of improving the manner of taking the votes, did not form a part would prove utterly futile for preventing those corrupt practices and disgraceful scenes which were the blots and by-words, of our earlier system. Though he was not prepared to say that this measure to all its details was the best that could he devised, yet he must own that he was 264 not prepared to suggest any plan which, upon the whole, seemed likely to work better. The mode of election for Members of Parliament proposed by this Bill had been found eminently successful when applied to the election of boards of guardians in England; and, though it was said not to have worked equally well in Ireland, he did not see why it should not by proper arrangements be made to do so, He trusted, therefore, that some measure of the kind would form part of the Reform Bill about to be brought forward next year.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
thought that neither the noble Earl who had introduced the Bill, nor other noble Lords who had followed him, had any right to complain of the absence of encouragement to this measure on the part of Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, no other course could have been taken, unless Her Majesty's Government had been prepared to enter at once in a detached form upon this most important branch—in his mind perhaps the most important—of what was called Parliamentary reform, and unless their Lordships had been prepared to decide how votes should be taken, without considering if any alterations, and what alterations, should be made in the quality and numbers of those on behalf of whom they were legislating, and for the appearance, or rather non-appearance, of whom at the hustings they were endeavouring to make sufficient provision. Entirely agreeing with his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Aberdeen) that they could not take the subject into their consideration at the present time, he was quite prepared to say that it had derived additional importance and additional advantage from the present discussion having elicited opinions from various quarters of the greatest weight, all concurring in the importance of considering, if not this Session, at least at some future period, some measure for absolutely putting an end to what he would call corrupt intimidation. Place the power in what class they pleased, place it with the few or with the many, unless they gave encouragement and protection to those to whom they gave a vote, they would not accomplish the object in view. They could not have a stronger proof of this than when they heard his noble Friends on the cross benches (Earl Fortescue and Lord Wharncliffe), both of whom had had the advantage and honour of being returned to the other House of Parliament by large bodies of the consti- 265 tuency, and of obtaining what might be called the greatest constitutional triumphs that this country could afford, nevertheless compelled to admit, in the very moment of triumph, that in the course of those transactions they had seen prevailing among the voters an amount of intimidation and interference calculated to prevent a great portion even of that very constituency whom they represented from duly recording their votes, and thereby, as far as the were excluded, annulling the effect of the free election. No stronger testimony could be given; the very circumstance of its having been so stated from such high authority, even if the noble Earl opposite had not given his attention to the subject, was sufficient to call to it the attention of Parliament, if not of the whole country at large.
§ EARL GREY
quite concurred with the noble Marquess, that the noble Earl who had introduced this Bill had no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception which it had met with. On the contrary, he thought the manner in which the Bill had been received ought to be highly gratifying to his noble Friend. He also concurred with the noble Marquess in thinking that it would not be expedient for the Government and the House at once to pledge themselves to the principle of this Bill. His own impression however, was very strongly in favour of the measure. He believed that in balancing the advantages and disadvantage which would arise from the measure, the advantages greatly preponderated; but he could not, however, shut his eyes to the fact that it would be attended with very serious drawbacks and dangers, which would require to be carefully guarded against. For instance, the adoption of this system of election in a small constituency would be open to this objection that it would be in the power of one or two persons to sell the borough with tho most perfect certainty to the highest bidder simply by buying up the majority of the voting papers signed in blank. That was a danger which might very well exist under such a system of voting, unless carefully guarded against; and he mentioned it to show how inconvenient it would bet o[...] pledge the House to the principle of the Bill without having the details fully before them. With reference to the elections of boards of guardians, so far as his experience went, they had been conducted generally in a most satisfactory manner He was himself a ratepayer of one of the metropolitan parishes, in which a most se- 266 vere contest had taken place, and he believed it had been conducted in a manner highly creditable to all parties. Certainly, in the metropolitan parishes the polling papers were distributed and collected by the police; and the noble Earl proposed also to have the polling papers, under his new system, distributed and collected in a most efficient manner. Undoubtedly, he thought there was nothing in poor-law experience which ought to discourage the introduction of this system; on the contrary, he believed it to be a fact that a much larger number of persons entitled to vote had voted at elections in metropolitan unions, than had voted at the elections for Members of Parliament. It was well known that large numbers of the constituents were deterred from coming forward at elections for Members of Parliament by the tumult and confusion which prevailed at the poll, and to which they were not inclined to expose themselves; and the worst of it was, that these were precisely the persons whom it was for the public interest to induce to vote. They were generally sensible, quiet people, not violently excited on either side, whose opinion as to the persons to be chosen it was most desirable to obtain. He quite agreed that some system of the sort ought to be adopted hereafter; but it was not desirable that the House should pledge itself to the Bill until they had learnt how it was to be carried into effect. He hoped, however, if the Bill were brought in again, with a view of its ultimately passing into a law, that it would be extended to counties, where, in his opinion, it was much more needed than in boroughs. In no county election with which he had ever been acquainted, had there been a return which would not have been declared void, and the Members unseated, if the law had been rigidly enforced, because it was utterly impossible that voters scattered about as they were in county constituencies could be brought up to vote without having their actual expenses provided. At the elections in which he had been concerned, there had never been anything like real substantial corruption, but there had been a general agreement between the candidates that both parties should pay at the same rate for travelling expenses, so that there should be no inducement to vote for one side more than another on that score. He did not think there was any real corruption in that arrangement; but still it was contrary to the clear letter of the law, and, if it were proved in evidence, an Election Committee could not 267 help unseating a candidate who had been concerned in such a practice. On that account, therefore, he thought it highly desirable that some means should be devised for taking votes in the counties in this manner, relieving the voter from expense, and enabling him to exercise his franchise without any interruption to his business. He thought the thanks of the House were due to the noble Earl for having brought this subject before their Lordships, and he hoped at some future period to see the principle of his Bill carried into effect.
The EARL of DONOUGHMORE
hoped, if the Government intended to adopt the principle of this Bill at some future time, they would take care that it was not extended to Ireland. It appeared to be well suited to remedy the great evils of English elections, which were bribery and corruption; but the great evils of Irish elections were violence and intimidation, and these it would not touch at all. He trusted, however, if the Government intended to include Ireland in any such system as this, they would take care to read the report of the sub-inspector of police with respect to the election of guardians for the union of Castle Coote, in August last. Certainly, helmets ought to be provided for the collectors of the votes to prevent their heads being broken, and a sufficient force of military and police to protect their lives, otherwise they might rely on it that far more fearful scenes would be witnessed at Irish elections than had ever yet been enacted.
§ After a few words from Lord WALDEGRAVE, which were inaudible,
§ LORD REDESDALE
pointed out several defects in the machinery of the Bill which would greatly stand in the way of its efficient working. For instance, it ought to be maturely considered whether or not the voter should be required to deliver the vote himself. If he were not, that might lead to the withholding of the vote altogether, if the man's wife or the person intrusted to deliver the paper could be bribed; and, on the other hand, if he were required to deliver it himself, and if he had any employment, he would be obliged to remain at home all day from nine to four, or until the collectors called upon him for that purpose. Again, there was no proper provision made for checking the delivery of the papers, and in case of any violence on the part of the mob, such as happened at the last election at Hereford, the election must be void altogether. These were points which must be considered with great care 268 before any measure on the subject could pass.
§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY
said, that after what had fallen from Her Majesty's Government, it would be useless for him to attempt to push this Bill further at the present time. He wished to observe, however, that he had expressed no dissatisfaction at the manner in which the Bill had been received; on the contrary, he was extremely grateful to their Lordships and to the Government for the kind reception they had given to it. He hoped the noble Earl would have no objection to the circulation of the Bill during the recess, in order that it might be considered in the country. He had no doubt many improvements might be introduced into the details of it, and a certain amount of experience of its working would be required before its machinery could be perfected; but he believed when carried out it would go further than almost anything else to put an end to the present system of bribery and corruption. He had no objection to withdraw the Bill.
§ Order for Second Reading discharged.