HL Deb 19 March 1860 vol 157 cc818-32

said, he rose to move a Resolution That it is expedient, in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament, that the Votes of the Electors be taken by secret Ballot. Having presented petitions from Droitwich, Maidstone, Bath, Banbury, Haverfordwest, Chichester, Newport in the Isle of Wight, Redruth, Dundalk, Colchester, Norwich, Guildford, Chatham, and other places in favour of the ballot, he would, in introducing the subject, beg to recall to their Lordships' recollection that the working of our representative institutions involved two considerations of the utmost importance. There was, in the first place, a high moral question bearing strongly upon individual happiness and the welfare of our domestic life, and exercising a powerful influence on our present and future condition; and in the next place because our example would have a most important influence upon the other nations of the globe. There could be no doubt that, under the present system, a foul blot had been cast upon our institutions, which all our legislative efforts had hitherto failed to remove, but which, on the contrary, seemed to be deeper now than at any former period, and it behoved their Lordships to see if that blot could not be expunged, and a system established freer from corruption and more worthy the imitation of our Colonies as well as of independent States. If asked why he brought this subject before the attention of the House of Lords, he would reply that a political practice which had been adopted in ancient Greece and Rome, which was supposed by many to have been one of the secrets, if not the secret, of the prosperity of mediæval Venice,—which had been adopted by various sections of our own community, including the House of Lords, —which had been carried by the children of our forefathers to the eastern coast of North America, and had there become one of the settled institutions of the United States, and which, soon after representative institutions were granted to our colonies in the southern hemisphere, was adopted by them as a means of preventing the transplantation of the evils of the electoral system of the mother country,—was eminently worthy of the consideration of any assemblage of men. When the subject was first introduced "in another place" it met with but little support, but it was re-introduced year after year, and each year the number of its supporters increased, until now the minority in its favour was very large, and the majority opposed to it constantly increasing. It might be that those who supported the ballot were wrong altogether; if so, it would be for their Lordships to set them right. It might be that there was great exaggeration in the arguments put forward in its favour; if so, a debate in their Lordships' House would tone down that exaggeration. What was the state of the question as it stood be- fore the country now? There was not a man in England who did not deplore the evils of bribery and intimidation that now existed. Their Lordships well knew that every effort of the law to put these evils down had failed, and it became them then to make an effort to have the question brought fairly under consideration, in order that they might see whether the reports they had heard of those evils were founded in truth or were exaggerated. If he was asked why he sought to discuss that question in their Lordships' House, he answered that it had been debated in their Lordships' House before. In 1693, the 6th of William and Mary, he read in the Journals of the House that it was "Ordered by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled that a Motion being made for the purpose of considering voting by ballot in their Lordships' House, and that the same be taken into consideration on Saturday, 17th February, at 11 o'clock, and all the Lords in and about town to be summoned to attend." That debate was several times adjourned, but at the last date to which it was adjourned he could find no reference to it in the Journals. The Motion, no doubt, had reference to balloting in their Lordships' House; but, if it were worthy of consideration in their own interests, surely it was much more worthy of consideration with reference to the application of it to the nation at large. It was not so very long since the practice existed in their Lordships' House. He could trace it down to 1820. The last Secret Committee ballotted for was on the 8th of June, 1820, to examine the papers laid before Parliament by command of His Majesty in reference to the conduct of the Queen. If that was so, why should they not try the experiment of the ballot upon the country at large? What was the position of the question before the country now? Parliament was apparently about to concede the franchise to a larger number of electors, but of those who were about to be admitted to the exercise of the franchise the majority would receive it with fear and trembling without the ballot, but would hail it as a boon of first-rate importance accompanied by the security which the ballot would confer. Upon these various grounds he thought he had not exceeded his duty in asking their Lordships to examine the question he had the honour to introduce to their notice. It had been his painful occupation to think over the evils connected with open voting, and he felt he should not be doing his duty by the country or by the question if he abstained from asking their Lordships if they did not think and feel that there were bitter and disgraceful things connected with open voting which it was well worth their while to consider if by the ballot they could not be removed. In the morning of the day that House was a court of justice, and the interests of justice ought to be more highly prized by their Lordships, if possible, than by any other class of the community. Surely, for the purposes of legal advice one solicitor was sufficient for each candidate. But he had a letter from a solicitor on this subject on the evils of the present system, one of which, the writer stated, was the employment of every solicitor on one side or the other during an election, and that the candidate who retained the most lawyers was sure to gain his election. If a solicitor, engaged as an electioneering agent, used the influence which he gained by a knowledge of a man's affairs, he could thereby induce a man to vote contrary to his convictions; and if a man told a he as a voter, how was he to be expected to tell the truth as a witness? Justice might miscarry, and therefore, in the interest of justice, he contended that it was our duty to make this change. The next evil in connection with open voting which he had to bring before their Lordships was that of drunkenness. If many were of opinion that he who employed the greatest number of solicitors gained his election, it might be equally asserted that he who retained the greatest number of public-houses had the best chance of success. But what was the result of that? They read it in the Reports of Election Committees, and they saw it with their own eyes in every country town where an election was going on. They knew there were great temptations to drunkenness on such occasions, and they knew to what that led. Then they came to treating. There might be those who would not sell themselves for money, but would sell themselves for drink, as many a man did when he was half-seas over. To what did the whole of that tend? It tended they knew to that which destroyed public morality, and which contaminated our electoral system with awful and disgraceful scenes of drunkenness. What was there besides? The religion they professed was one of peace, and proclaimed "peace, goodwill towards man." Their very magistrates were styled "justices of the peace;" yet they all knew that at elections it was a common practice to hire "roughs" for the very purpose of committing violence. Next he came to bribery, A man who received a bribe for his vote took a bribe for that which was given to him by his country for its welfare. If a man took a bribe to vote according to his convictions he still proclaimed that his country was not worthy of being served without money, and if he took a bribe and voted against his convictions he asserted that his country was not worthy of being truthfully served. In the one case he was extortionate, and in the other sordid and faithless. The extensive bribery which prevailed at the last general election was the result of bribery at the previous general election. The voters had learnt how to require money and how to conceal all trace of the bribe up to the Member being returned—they had reduced bribery to a system. By maintaining the present law they could not make them ignorant of the system, but, under the Ballot, those who had accepted bribes would not again be trusted. Whatever might be said as to the necessity of doing away with open voting, the case was much stronger when they came to intimidation. A man might give a hint that he had a right to dispossess a tenant or to withdraw his custom from a tradesman, and no law could prevent it. It was well known that at many elections female influence was employed, and ladies became canvassers; and the common feeling he believed was that female canvassers got few votes, but the result of their pleading was to prevent men from voting by hints of losses. If there was one thing which more than another should induce them to do away with open voting it was to deter females from canvassing, which deteriorated the female character and the tone of female influence among our countrymen. He now came to consider the effect of direct open voting on their representative interests. The first effect was to prevent persons, who were qualified, from putting their names on the register at all. The next effect was that it prevented many persons who were on the register from recording their votes; and a great many of those who were on the register did not exercise their franchise. The House of Commons ought to be elected at least by those who possessed the franchise—it should represent the mind of the electors, but if they found—as they did find—that a very large por- tion of the electors never voted at all, they were bound to come to the conclusion that the House of Commons was not in that condition which the theory of the constitution designed that it should be. It could only be supposed that these persons abstained from voting from the fear of the intimidation and coercion to which they would expose themselves by coining forward to vote. The same effect was observed in America. He admitted that the Ballot existed in the United States, but the Ballot which existed there was not the Ballot which he wished to see in this country. The system in America was the Ballot with open voting. He desired the Ballot with secret voting. He, therefore, designedly used the word "secret" before "ballot," as there were two kinds of ballot, open and secret. The consideration he had last referred to was well worthy the attention of Conservatives. In proof of that he referred to a petition from some electors of Ayrshire, who complained of violence, and declared that unless they received protection nothing would induce them to give their votes again. If, then, votes were given under the influence of bribery and intimidation, and not according to truth and uprightness, were they not bound to come to the conclusion that the candidates who were returned by so imperfect a system were neither those who were designed by the constitution, nor those who would be returned were secret voting the practice of the land? He almost shrank from touching on the bearing of this question on individual political liberty. The man who was offered a bribe and declined it, who lost his shop or his farm by refusing to vote as his landlord wanted him, or who exposed himself to any other sort of intimidation, had to make a heavy sacrifice for his liberty, and it was both impolitic and unjust to impose so high a tax on the freedom of the individual. There were men, certainly, who did not shrink from paying that tax to the full extent that they might retain their liberty; but there were, unhappily, many who yielded to a temptation to which they ought never to have been subjected. The question of a man's moral nature—his sincerity or insincerity—was therefore very much bound up with this question of secret voting. It was absurd to establish a system which exposed a man to the temptation of voting one way in order to escape oppression or to supply his pecuniary needs, while in his heart he wished to vote in another way, and at the same time to expect him to discharge his duty as an elector honestly and uprightly. What the friends of secret voting desired was to push out the secret bribery and wickedness that now existed, and substitute in their place a secret act that had no wickedness whatever. What did he propose, then, in asking their Lordships to assent to the Resolution? He did not seek to interfere with the freedom of any man. Any one who wished to express himself openly in favour of a particular candidate would be at liberty to do so, both previous to the day of election and on the day of nomination. His antipathy was not to the open expression of opinion, but to the bribery and intimidation which accompanied open voting. He did not wish for the system of the United States, which was the Ballot with open voting; nor the system of Victoria, which was the Ballot with a subsequent exposure of the voters on a scrutiny; but he desired the system which existed in the other Australian colonies where the vote was secret both at the time and for ever after, and although the people might think it tautology to speak of the "Secret Ballot," yet he had called it so advisedly, as there was a Ballot not secret. With regard to the objections which had been urged against the system of secret voting, he wished to make a few remarks. The first objection was, that secret voting led to secret lying—that men would promise to give their votes to one candidate and actually vote for another. Now it was very well known that promises of votes were given long before the election took place, and it often happened that a man who gave a promise of his vote under certain circumstances might change his mind and wish to give his vote for a different candidate. In such a case it was difficult to reconcile the voter's conscience with his promise. He therefore thought that on the day of nomination all candidates should be compelled to absolve all voters from their promises. The argument that secret voting would promote lying, might be used against every law and obligation, and the higher the law the stronger would be the temptation to lying. It was said, for instance, "Thou shalt do no murder;" "Thou shalt not steal;" but if a man was guilty, or supposed to be guilty, of the crime of murder or stealing, and was reproached for it, he would, of course, tell any number of lies. That argument, therefore, would tell against the very best law that ever was made, or could be made. Another argument made use of was that secret voting was for the protection of cowards and of those who gave and received bribes. On this point he would call the attention of their Lordships to a fact in the history of their Lordships' House. On the 6th of March, 1733,—the 7th of George II.—it was moved that for the better securing the freedom of election in electing the Peers of Scotland, the election should be by way of ballot. There was a majority of thirty-three against that Resolution. But there was an able and earnest Protest against its rejection by thirty-four Peers, headed by the Duke of Marlborough, and the arguments therein put forward were so cogent that he begged leave to read some extracts from it. In the debate upon the Motion the Duke of Argyll had objected to the Resolution, not upon its merits, but because he thought that as a clause in the Act of Union declared that the election should be taken by open voting he was precluded from voting that it be taken otherwise. In the Protest, however, the minority gave as their third reason for their dissent, Because in an election of this nature the method of voting by ballot appears to us infinitely preferable on many accounts; for as it is well known, there are several alliances amongst that body of nobility, many of the Peers may be put under great difficulties, their alliances drawing them one way, and their opinion and inclination another way; it is also possible that by pensions from the Crown, or by civil or military preferments, some of them may be under obligations to a Court, and be reduced to the hard necessity (under the power of an arbitrary Minister) either of losing their employment, or of voting against their nearest relations, and their own opinions also. We apprehend that no election can be called perfectly free where any number of the electors are under any influence whatsoever by which they may be biassed in the freedom of their choice. The people at large had the same feelings as the Scottish Peers of 1733. The Ballot was as much required to protect the virtuous English peasant as the virtuous Scottish Peer. On what ground did they expect that the secret Ballot would answer the expectations of those who supported it? Here we would refer to authorities. Wood, in his Oxonienses, was in favour of the ballot. Relating the history of James Harrington, a remarkable character of that day, who had a large number of followers, he said, "This gang had a balloting-box— by which they decided who should be their rulers, than which choice nothing could be invented more fair and impartial." Going back to ancient days, he found, in a tract supposed to be written by Andrew Marvell, in the reign of Charles II., the following passage:— And certainly Rome, nor Athens, had never attained to their grandeur and reputation but for the Ballot. By this only art, we had almost said, Venice preserved itself against the world for 1,300 years. Persons were elected for their virtues and accomplishments, and the public purse was protected against the influence and power of the country, If the ballot had that power in Venice, who would say that there was not a necessity in this country for some such protection of the public purse? In 1698 an embassy was sent from England to Venice, under the direction of the Earl of Manchester; and Mr. Cole, who accompanied the Embassy, and resided some time in the country, said, "All voting in the Great Council is done by ballot, without any mistake, or any sort of confusion or disturbance; and it prevents bribery, faction, animosities, and those ill consequences which they might otherwise produce." Might not similar blessings be expected to result from the adoption of the Ballot here? But he need not to go to Venice or to Scotland, he would come to their Lordships' House. In March, 1703, there was a Bill before their Lordships' House for taking, examining, and stating the public accounts of the kingdom. Three Commissioners for carrying the measure out were to be named by that House; and it was wisely resolved that they should not be of either House of Parliament, nor in any public office or employment, nor accountable to the Government; and also that they should be chosen by Ballot. The mode of voting was by their Lordships putting their ballots into a glass, which was carried round, beginning with the lowest in the House; the ballots were then examined, and the result was reported by the Duke of Richmond to the House. If that was a wise course to be pursued in the election of Commissioners who were to have the control of the public accounts, why should not the Ballot be adopted in the election of Members of the other House, which had so much to do with the public expenditure? The Ballot was no novelty. In the State Tracts of the time of William III., vol. i., there was a letter written by a member of the great Convention holden at Westminster, in which it was stated that it was then customary, in the borough of Lymington, in Hampshire, to elect Members by Ballot; and the author added:— "This method I know to be a great advantage. It prevents animosities, and assists that freedom which ought to prevail at an election; for it can be by no means discovered how an elector gave his vote." If the Ballot worked well then in Lymington, why should it not do so now in all the boroughs and counties of the kingdom? All efforts had hitherto failed to stem the tide of corruption and intimidation at elections, which was well known to their Lordships. He contended that the Ballot would put down intimidation, corruption, drunkenness, bribery, and other evils. The facts which he had adduced proved that it had been successful within and without that House. If their Lordships thought that it would not be successful, it was their duty to provide some other remedy for those admitted evils. The noble Lord concluded by moving to resolve, That it is expedient in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament that the Votes of the Electors be taken by secret Ballot.


had listened with great attention for an hour and a half to the address of the noble Lord, but he was at a loss to understand how the noble Lord made out any connection between the evils he complained of and the remedy he advocated. He had told them, on the authority of some old entries in their Journals, that the Ballot was an old institution of their Lordships' House, and he quoted some precedents from the Journals of the time of William and Mary; but he (the Duke of Newcastle) apprehended that the ballot he found entered there had no more to do with secret voting than the ballot adopted in the House of Commons in appointing Committees, or that which took place at the opening of every Session, when the Queen summoned them to attend to hear the Speech from the Throne, and when, in order to prevent over-crowding at the bar, Members were selected for precedence by the chance of the ballot. That was the ballot alluded to in the Journals of the House, and not the secret voting by ballot. The noble Lord had endeavoured, but probably with small success, to catch some votes on the other side of the House by telling them that the secret ballot, if adopted, would tell as much in favour of the Conservative party as any other. He (the Duke of Newcastle) believed he was perfectly right. He did not oppose this Motion on party grounds, or because he believed it had any democratic tendency at all. He believed there was at least as much intimidation on the democratic side as there was on the side of any body of landlords in the kingdom; and if there were no other objection to this measure, so far as political parties were concerned, they might all agree to vote for the measure. He did not look at it as a party question, but as a moral and social one; and, moreover, as a political question, but in a sense quite apart from party considerations. The noble Lord quoted a vast number of examples of the working of the Ballot, and in so doing had skipped from the Republic of Venice to the borough of Lymington; but in the three great examples he had produced as to the efficiency of the Ballot, he was at a loss to understand what kind of ballot he really advocated. There were three great examples of the working of the system of vote by Ballot. The first was that which obtained on the Continent of Europe, and more especially in France; the second, so commonly quoted, that in use in the United States of America; and the third, that recently adopted in the Australian colonies. The noble Lord did not touch much on the French system; but he must he permitted to ask the noble Lord whether, when he was advocating a greater degree of popular freedom, he would point to France, where the Ballot had never been adopted with a view to resist the influence of the Government, but where at this moment, under the influence of the Ballot, a despotic Government existed inimical to freedom of discussion and the liberty of the press? As regarded the United States, the noble Lord had taken a different course to that adopted in the other House. He entirely threw over the United States, and he believed rightly, for the Ballot in the United States was not the Ballot in the sense that we spoke of it. It was no secret Ballot in America, but voting by ticket. He believed that in one of the States of America the secret ballot was once adopted, but it only lasted for a year, and was repealed in the year following, and did not now exist; and he thought the reason of the failure obvious. He believed that in a race of British origin the Ballot would never be found to work either successfully or without much greater attendant evils than those it was intended to rectify. The noble Lord said that the Ballot he advocated was that in use in the Australian colonies; but then he said he did not approve of the Ballot in the colony of Victoria, but as adopted in some other colonies. But opinions in favour of the Ballot in the Australian colonies were by no means of so decided a character as the noble Lord would have their Lordships believe. If the Australian colonies believed that they had found a successful Ballot at all, it was in Victoria. The noble Lord said he did not like this Ballot on account of the possibility of a scrutiny afterwards; but that was what the Australians believed to be the very virtue of the scheme. Were we, however, to conclude that the example of as many years in the Australian colonies as they had had experience of generations in the United States was to be their guide? It might succeed in Australia; but at present he could not say it had succeeded. They must look at the different state of society and of circumstances altogether, and recollect the utter absence of those great vested interests that existed in this country, and that were supposed to bear so hardly on the voters. We must look, moreover, at the entire independence of their labour upon capital; and then he would ask their Lordships whether, even with a few years' alleged successful experience in Australia, it would be safe to try the experiment here? He was at a loss to know whether the noble Lord really meant the secret Ballot, or the American Ballot, and whether, moreover, he wished it to be optional or compulsory. On that depended the whole essence of the scheme. If he intended it to be compulsory he must carry out his principle to its legitimate conclusion. If he made it compulsory he must make it penal on any man, not merely to give his vote openly, but to tell how he voted afterwards; and he must go further, and alter the whole system of election, abolish canvassing, forbid election committees, do away with nomination days and the appointment of solicitors; and, in short, entirely alter the whole system of election. Did the noble Lord himself believe that such a state of subserviency to secrecy would ever be maintained or tolerated in this country? But if it was to be an optional ballot, which he understood was now the mode in favour, and the one most likely to be accepted in the other House, how would the noble Lord effect his object? If they had it, the great majority of men on either side would go and vote openly. That might not be of any great consequence in such large constituencies as metropolitan boroughs, but certainly in the ordinary constituencies of this kingdom it would be perfectly easy to intimidate and bribe where the parties were nearly balanced. Then there would be no secrecy at all. The noble Lord had dwelt on the evils of intimidation and bribery, and said that no law had been able to reach intimidation, although legislation had been to a certain degree successful in the suppression of bribery. The majority of noble Lords present remembered the period that had elapsed since the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, and he would ask them whether at this moment bribery was more rife than intimidation was then, and whether the intimidation of thirty years ago was not reduced to an immense extent? The noble Lord had said that no law had touched it; but something had, and that something was the moral feeling of the country and its improved moral sentiment; and if they allowed these motives to operate they would be far more effectual than either the ballot box or any other scheme. As regarded bribery, it was provable to demonstration that under the system of the Ballot they gave increased facilities to bribery. To accept the Ballot would be to put the business of the elections into the hands of the lowest attorneys of the place, who would receive £2,000 or £3,000 to carry an election, and the candidate would say, "If you return me, I will pay a certain further sum to you: but if I am not returned you shall not have it;" and he had no doubt that this last stage of bribery would be worse than the first. Their Lordships would forgive him for not going further into this subject; for it was one with which everybody was familiar, and the arguments in reference to it they must have all heard frequently. There was one point, however, to which he would advert. One of the most important elements in the constitutional government of this country was responsibility; and if the Ballot—the secret Ballot—were adopted it would deprive the electors of their proper responsibility. He considered that the vote of every man must be looked upon in the light of a trust. He did not mean a trust in the strict legal sense of the word, for undoubtedly it was not a trust in that sense; but he thought that the vote of every person was given to him for the public good, and that if the voters stood alone, of all connected with the system of government, in not being subject to public opinion the whole value of the system would be lost. Their Lordships were themselves responsible to public opinion, and he was quite sure that the public would see with regret, and possibly with displeasure, any attempt to introduce the Ballot into their proceedings. He thought it would be as displeasing to the public as to their Lordships themselves. Responsibility was one of the great features of constitutional government, and he believed that publicity was an essential element of responsibility; and if they were to do away with publicity they would strike a great blow at freedom itself, and do that which would lead to the demoralization of the land. He believed that the advocates of the Ballot were seeking that which they could not obtain by the means proposed. Let them bring the force of public opinion on the evils of intimidation and bribery. A great deal had been done in that direction already, and more would be done by persevering in the same system. He believed that in this way they might—though perhaps not in our lifetime—bring about a state of society in which a man might be able to vote without the smallest fear of any tyrannical influence, and this would do far more to remedy existing evils than by throwing the cloak of darkness over the proceedings of the voter and leaving him to rely on secrecy for his safety. He was confident that their Lordships would reject the proposal which had been made.

On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents 5; Not-Contents 39.

And a Question arising whether certain Lords had come into the House after the Question was put, not having heard the Question put,

The Tellers were heard thereon:

And THE EARL DE GREY declaring, That he had so come in, the Numbers were reduced accordingly — Contents 4; Not-Contents 39.

And the Question was Resolved in the negative.

Belper, L. Strafford, L. (V. Enfield.) [Teller.]
Llanover, L.
Teynham, L. [Teller.]
Canterbury, Archp. Cathcart, E.
Campbell, L.(L. Chancellor.) De La Warr, E.
Derby, E.
Hardwicke, E.
Newcastle, D. Malmesbury, E.
Somerset, D. Saint Germans, E.
Winton, E. [E. Eglintoun.]
Bath, M. [Teller.]
Salisbury, M.
Eversley, V.
Amherst, E.
Carnarvon, E. Carlisle, Bp.
Chichester, Bp. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Aveland, L. Overstone, L,
Chelmsford, L. Saltoun, L.
Churchill, L. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Clifton, L. (E. Darnley,)
Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Colehester, L.
Denman, L. Talbot de Malahide, L.
Digby, L. Templemore, L.
Ebury, L. Truro, L.
Egerton, L. Wensleydale, L.
Foley, L. [Teller.] Wynford, L.
Lyveden, L.

Resolved in the negative.