HL Deb 27 July 1858 vol 151 cc2163-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill said, its object was to give to those who had the franchise the power of enjoying it. Any one who had witnessed the contested elections in English counties since the Act was passed with reference to corrupt practices must have seen that if the old Acts of Parliament were religiously obeyed the poor voter could not enjoy his right. There was furthermore the temptation at every contested election to endeavour, either on the one side or the other, to convey surreptitiously the voter to the poll, and to charge the cost among the other expenses of the election. It therefore became a question what was to be done? Were they to deprive the electors, under the circumstances of the case, of the means of enjoying the elective franchise, by not providing them with the means of going to the poll, or would they enact some mode by which the candidate might, without committing any improper act, give them the opportunity of recording their votes? The Bill before the House effected that, and enabled the candidate to convey the voter to the poll. There were means also provided in the Bill for registering the votes, and for providing for the expense incurred. The Bill appeared to him to remedy a great difficulty that had heretofore occurred, and he thought that if it was adhered to by one party and the other no corruption or bribery could occur.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a


thought, that the noble Earl had not succeeded in giving their Lordships any very clear explanation of this measure. He wished to make an earnest appeal to the noble Earl at the head of the Government to reduce this to a mere continuance Bill. It was now a continuance Bill, but with one or two Amendments, and one Amendment was very important, its object being to enact that that which had been considered bribery for many years should no longer be such. Of course the matter would affect both sides equally, and therefore it ought to be treated without any party feeling at all. He well recollected that when a very similar clause was strenuously endeavoured to be introduced into a measure four or five years ago it was rejected on the Motion of the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) by an overwhelming majority, and he thought it would not be wise in the absence of the two noble and learned Lords—Lords Brougham and Campbell—who took a prominent part in the discussion—and of Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Wensleydale, and Lord St. Leopards, who entirely concurred in their views—to settle a question which the House then refused to decide. This matter had been very much canvassed in the House of Commons, and it now came before their Lordships on the last day when it was possible that by the Standing Orders it could be read a second time, so as to be passed this Session. He did not wish to go much into the matter of the Amendment, but he would say that there was no doubt some advantages in conveying voters to the poll, especially in some constituencies, though there were, on the other hand, great disadvantages. He knew that there was a provision in the Bill intended to obviate some of the inconvenience by providing that the voter might be offered the means of conveyance, but not the money to pay for it. It was perfectly certain that under this Bill the expenses of elections would be enormously increased, if every voter thought that lie had a legal right to be conveyed to the poll. Feeling that this was a subject which should be referred to a Select Committee, and as a Bill was to be introduced by the Government to deal with the whole question next Session, he trusted that the noble Earl would consent to make this a mere continuance Bill.


said, he could not accede to the suggestion of the noble Earl on the subject of this Bill, which had for a considerable time engaged the attention of the House of Commons, and where a Bill of a much more extensive character than the present had been originally introduced and very much discussed. It was true that it was the intention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, early next Session, to bring in a still more extensive measure; but it was absolutely necessary that a Bill should pass in the present Session, because the existing Act, being only a temporary measure, expired next month. But there were certain provisions introduced on which there were great differences of opinion, but which were ultimately decided by a majority; and amongst them the provision alluded to, which, although it might be said to introduce a new law, in point of fact it hardly went so far, because it was a point on which for a long time there had been very great doubt, and on which Election Committees had come to conflicting determinations and contradictory reports; and he believed that in the case of Slade, in the case of the Cambridge election, the decision had been reversed by one of the superior Courts. He considered that the settlement of the question in one way or another was a matter of considerable importance, and this Bill proceeded to settle it in the most equitable manner possible; and, although in certain cases the expense might be considerably increased, he did not think the payment of the travelling expenses of a voter was a point of such comparative importance as the enormous injustice of practical disfranchisement, which the present system inflicted on a large portion of the electoral population. The noble Earl had said that the Bill would virtually give the voter a legal claim to be conveyed to the poll; but that was not so, as there was no obligation on the part of the candidate to incur the expense, and his not doing so did not render him punishable. The measure did not involve the question of bribery, but provided that no money should pass into the hands of the voter; and although the candidate might provide the means of carriage for voters, he had to give a return of the expenditure to the auditors. He thought this was a question which it was most desirable to have settled, and that the House of Commons had settled it by their vote in a manner consistent with justice and sound policy; that being the case, he was un- willing to consent to abandon the clause sanctioned by the Commons.


observed, that the noble Earl was incorrect in speak- ing of this as a settled question; for if he understood the matter rightly, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, having charge of this Bill in the Commons, had expressly stated that he considered it was no settlement of the question, and so little did he so consider it, that he intended next Session to introduce another Bill on the subject for the express purpose of referring the matter to a Committee of the Commons for a settlement of the question. He thought that at this period of the Session they could not do better than simply pass the Bill as a continuance Bill without any Amendments. It was said the Bill did not involve any question of bribery; but the fact was that a candidate with plenty of money would be able to take possession of all the carriages for conveyance at once, and thereby virtually commit an ac 10 f bribery, and destroy all his antagonists' facilities for bringing his voters to the poll. This Bill could not be a satisfactory adjustment of this question. It might, indeed, answer well enough as regarded those voters who lived in the immediate neighbourhood of the election, and who therefore did not really require to be carried at all. But in the case of the outlying voters, properly so called, the provision could not possibly work. How was the Middlesex voter living in Yorkshire to come up to the poll from so great a distance if he was not to be repaid the expense of his railway ticket. But the principle of legalizing travelling expenses in any shape was highly questionable. They might pass what laws against bribery they pleased, but they would never fully accomplish their object until they subjected the elector to those moral influences which would convince him that he was exercising a solemn trust, and that it was his duty to put himself to the trifling inconvenience of going to vote for the person whom he thought fittest to represent him. Under all the circumstances, it was most undesirable to pass at that period of the Session a measure on a subject which the Government proposed to submit early next year to a Select Committee, who would probably upset all that they were now doing. Under this Bill they were likely to see every voter in a borough insisting on being taken to the poll in a chaise-and-four; and thus they would have revived all the worst extravagances which marked elections in former days. He trusted, therefore, that the Bill would be passed as a mere continuance Bill.


observed that it was the opinion of the Commons that it was undesirable to pay the conveyance expenses of the voter, and that before they settled the law either one way or the other, an inquiry should be instituted. It would be a great misfortune if they were to sanction a reversal of the course adopted for many yeary past in curtailing election expenses. They had done away with a great many expenses connected with elections, and pretexts for bribery such as colours and ribbons; but he thought that this system of conveying electors to the poll opened the door to greater bribery than any other. Suppose the case of a voter for an election at Plymouth desirous of being brought from York, and of taking the opportunity of seeing his friends, the candidate had no choice but to send for him and for all other out-voters similarly situated, and that would be the working of the measure. The voters would claim a legal right to be brought, and that was objectionable.


earnestly joined in the appeal which had been addressed to Her Majesty's Government to make this a mere continuance Bill. The clause relating to travelling expenses was not originally proposed by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure into the other House, but emanated from a private Member of Parliament. He had himself, when in the other House, used his best exertions to persuade that assembly to put down treating at elections, by disallowing refreshment to voters at the charge of the candidates. And though the gloomiest predictions had been uttered as to the result of such a step, he had succeeded in inducing the other House to adopt it. He had never been able to understand why a candidate should be saddled with the personal expenses of the voter, and, although he had asked the question repeatedly, he had never obtained a satisfactory answer to it. He reminded their Lordships that the clause with regard to travelling expenses had been rejected by that House four years ago, when it had been sent up by a much larger majority than that which had sanctioned it in the House of Commons upon the present occasion.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.

House adjourned at a quarter past Nine o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Four o'clock.