HL Deb 07 August 1854 vol 135 cc1370-5

Bill Read 3a (according to Order), with the Amendments.


said, he wished to propose an Amendment, the effect of which was to disallow the payment of travelling expenses to voters. He felt that it was desirable to make this Bill as perfect as possible, for if the measures which it contemplated failed, we should have to come to the ballot, since, to whatever objections that method of voting might be liable, there was reason to believe that it would be in some degree effectual in putting down undue influence, if not bribery. He objected to this clause, because it was evident that so long as any payments were allowed to be made to voters, a door was left open to corrupt practices; nor was there any way in which such an opening could be more effectually left than by permitting the payment of travelling expenses, which frequently amounted to an enormous sum at contested elections, and usually figured as the greatest part of the expenses of a contested election. It was a kind of expenditure over which no check could be exercised, because there was obviously nothing to prevent a voter's representing himself to have come from a much greater distance than he actually did, or representing himself to have adopted a much more expensive mode of travelling than was in fact the case, and thus obtaining an additional sum beyond his actual expenditure, which was, in fact, a bribe. Since he had give notice of his Amendment, he had indee been told that it had been considered by the House of Commons, and rejected by majority of two to one. He thought, however, that they had already shown sufficient deference to the other House by entertaining this Bill, notwithstanding their Resolution of the 2nd of May, and that they need not, therefore, feel any delicacy in adopting this Amendment. Then it was said that they must either open a door to corruption by adopting this Amendment, or disfranchise voters by rejecting it. Well, if that was so, he did not hesitate to say that he thought the latter the preferable alternative. The argument against the disallowance of travelling expenses, founded upon its anticipated effect of disfranchising voters, could indeed have no force except against the supporters of universal suffrage. For it was once said that a man must have a certain property qualification in order to have a vote; he did not see how any difficulty could he felt in saving that he must also have sufficient property to come to the poll. He meant, of course, from a reasonable distance; because if there were not sufficient polling places in the county, so that every voter might be within a moderate distance of some one of them, more must be provided; and, in fact, there could be no doubt if this Amendment were agreed to, it would be necessary to do this in many counties in Ireland. The Legislature could never put down bribery so long as the payment of the travelling expenses of voters was allowed. They had been told the other evening by a noble and learned Lord that the law was decidedly against the payment of any such expenses, and he had no doubt whatever that that was the law. The House of Commons, however, who were bound to administer the law, did not in practice interpret it in that light; and as Parliament seemed to be sincerely desirous of putting down bribery, it was only fitting that what constituted bribery should be placed beyond doubt. He begged to move an Amendment on the 23rd clause, which would make the clause run as follows— That after the passing of this Act it shall not be lawful for any candidate or other person to pay, or cause to be paid, the expenses of bringing any voter to the poll.


objected upon several grounds to the Amendment proposed by the noble Marquess. He thought their Lordships ought to object as strongly to the introduction of important Amendments into questions deliberately decided by the House of Commons as they ought to undertaking the consideration of such important Amendments at that period of the Session. In fairness and justice to the other House, it was impossible not to refer to the fact, that in Committee, upon the report, and upon the third reading of the Bill, this clause had been affirmed by majorities exceeding two to one, and upon each occasion it had been supported by the Government. Even a proposition to allow travelling expenses only to such voters as came from a greater distance than a mile and a half from the poll was rejected without a division. With regard to the payment of travelling expenses itself, he was of opinion that if no more than the travelling expenses were paid, then it was not bribery, inasmuch as the voter gained nothing by having his travelling expenses paid. The objection which had been urged by the noble Marquess, that more than the expenses of travelling would be paid, would be removed by the provision made in the Bill for the appointment of an election auditor, through whose hands the expenses would be paid. If it had been asserted that a proposal was to be made to set aside a decision of the House of Commons, several times affirmed by large majorities, and to send down the Bill, as amended, to be considered in the other House in the last days of the Session, he did not believe that their Lordships would have thought it reasonable or courteous to the House of Commons to have suspended the Standing Orders in order to enable them to take the Bill into consideration. He was certainly of opinion that, if this clause were omitted, an undue advantage would be given to voters in towns over those residing some distance from the place of polling, and, under the circumstances, he thought it expedient to adhere to the decision come to by the House of Commons.


said, that he was glad his noble Friend had become a convert to the opinions which he (the Duke of Newcastle) had expressed the other night. As to the Amendment of the noble Marquess, he entirely concurred in the opinion, that when they were dealing with bribery and every other kind of illegitimate expense, it was most desirable that they should put an end to that very heavy item in election expenses which had hitherto gone under the name of "travel- ling expenses;" and if he were obliged to give a vote, "aye" or "no," on the question that had been raised by the noble Marquess, be would unquestionably vote with him that travelling expenses should be made, like the expenses for refreshments, illegal for the future. At the same time he readily admitted that there was a good deal to be said in regard to the particular moment at which they were debating this question as affecting the decisions of the House of Commons; and consistently with the views which he had advocated on Monday last, although individually he approved of the Amendment of the noble Marquess, he did not think it would be expedient to adopt it on the present occasion. He came to that conclusion—he would not say the more readily—but with the less reluctance—on account of the temporary nature of the Act as it now stood. He had already said he approved of the spirit of the Amendment, but he could not approve undoubtedly of the exact form of the Amendment of his noble Friend, even if he felt at liberty to vote with him; for this reason, he did not think his noble Friend had proceeded in the best way to accomplish his own object. He doubted if the adoption of the Amendment; as it was now worded, would not create greater difficulties than exist at the present moment, and render it exceedingly uncertain what they meant; for instance, he thought the insertion of the word "not" would render it uncertain, whether if a man residing in a village, and being obliged to hire a fly to go to the poll, should ask a neighbour to take a seat in the fly with him, he would not come under the terms of the Act, and be indictable for a breach of the law for taking his neighbour in the fly he had hired, though he would be at liberty to take him in his own gig if he had one. The noble Marquess seemed hardly to have looked at his Amendment in this point of view, and the difficulty which suggested itself showed that the question was one which required more consideration than had been given to it. Undoubtedly, as his noble Friend opposite had stated, the clause had been affirmed on two or three occasions in the other House by large majorities; and looking to the advanced period of the Session, and to the certainty that when the Bill should be sent back to the other House there would be only a portion of those Members present who had voted "aye" or "no" on the question, it was undesirable, within a few days of the close of the Session, to add any new provision, or to alter any provision of the House of Commons, and completely, as was proposed, to reverse the decision deliberately adopted by the other House. He should, he repeated, adopt the course he thought it necessary to take with greater reluctance, were it not that the temporary nature of the Bill ensured its revision at an early day, when he hoped a clause would be introduced in future specifically making travelling expenses illegal. Nevertheless, he was not prepared to show unlimited deference to the House of Commons, by accepting the clause in its present shape, because he considered there was a wide difference between reversing a decision of the House of Commons, and leaving the law as it was at present. One of the good features of the Bill was, that it defined what hitherto had been left undefined in many respects, and had settled by an Act of the Legislature those questions which had been so much disputed before Committees of the House of Commons, and had led to such expensive and unnecessary litigation. As the least evil of three courses, the course he was about to propose he thought ought to be acceptable to their Lordships, and ought not to be objected to by the House of Commons. If his noble Friend's Amendment should be negatived or withdrawn, he (the Duke of Newcastle) would propose that this clause should be omitted, that they should leave the law as it at present stands, and leave this question to be decided, when the subject, in the course of two years, should be brought forward for the reinvestigation of the Legislature. He should like to have met the Amendment of his noble Friend with another form of words, but looking to the circumstances under which the measure came from the other House, and the way in which the clause had been introduced after three divisions in the House of Commons, he hoped their Lordships would agree with him that the course he proposed was the preferable course, and that the clause should be omitted altogether.


said, he should not have agreed to the suspension of the Standing Orders if he had thought that they were not to be at liberty to examine and consider the different clauses of the Bill. It would be most injurious to pass this clause in its present condition, and, though he would not give any opinion himself as to whether the payment of travel- ling expenses was bribery or not, he might observe that it had been decided to be bribery by no less an authority than Lord Mansfield, and that that decision had never been reversed by any court of law. If the clause were agreed to, it might admit of universal bribery, and those enormous evils would be called into existence which were experienced before the passing of the Reform Bill—namely, of bringing up to the poll non-resident voters from distant parts of the kingdom, and even from distant parts of Europe. For his own part, he doubted whether, under the construction of this Bill, travelling expenses would come at all under the cognisance of the election officer, and he was quite at a loss to imagine how, if their Lordships agreed to this clause, they could separate from the travelling expenses the refreshments provided upon the journey. He would, however, suggest to the noble Marquess the propriety of withdrawing his Amendment, and agreeing to that of the noble Duke.


observed that, though he would not interpose to prevent the passing of a measure which had been maturely considered by the House of Commons, he certainly thought there were some parts of it which required amendment.


begged again to call attention to the fact that this clause had been supported by the Cabinet Ministers in the House of Commons, though it was now proposed by another Cabinet Minister that it should be omitted. He desired to know whether he would receive on a division the support of the other Cabinet Ministers in their Lordships' House, and whether it was their intention to support the decision of their colleagues in the House of Commons.


expressed his concurrence in the observations of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell), and for the reasons stated by him. He wished the Bill to pass, but he should be alarmed at sending it down with any considerable alterations to another place, where, it should be recollected, it had been carried by a narrow majority on the third reading.

Amendment negatived.

On Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," their Lordships divided:—Content 4; Not Content 30: Majority 26.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned till To-morrow.