§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a: (Earl Russell.)
§ LORD REDESDALE
doubted the expediency of giving the House of Commons so much power as this Bill conferred, of interfering with the constitutional right of elections by suspending the issue of writs. By Clause 10 there was a provision enabling the House of Commons, by its own Act, to suspend the issue of a writ for five years from the date of the Report. This he thought was unconstitutional.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
objected to the clause (Clause 11) which threw on any county or borough where bribery occurred the cost of the Commission of Inquiry, and which seemed to proceed on the absurd principle that the respectable part of the community could control, and were responsible for, the doings of the rascally part. It was a pity that the clause disqualifying attorneys and agents from voting, which was originally in the Bill, should have been struck out. Those men were the only licensed class of bribees, and it was a com- 982 mon tiling to engage a great many of them at an election for the sake of their votes. The fact was, this Bill was intended as a salve to the conscience of the Legislature, and to make it appear to be doing something which it was leaving undone. At present there was no strong public feeling against bribery, and until such a feeling was called forth it would not be extinguished by any number of Acts of Parliament. There was no one to prosecute for bribery except the defeated candidate, and it was not likely that he would take proceedings, when, if he succeeded, he would only unseat his opponent, without seating himself. A Member of Parliament suffered no loss of social position from bribing. If there were any sincere desire to put down bribery, it could easily be done; but there was no such sincerity. In his own case, he sat for a constituency for twenty-five years, and paid £4,000 on his first return, and £400 in his last. That reduction was entirely due to the zeal and exertions of his committee and constituents.
§ THE EARL OF VERULAM
observed, that such a measure as this could only be effectual when supported by public opinion.
§ EARL GREY
said, this was one of the most absurd pieces of legislation ever presented to Parliament. He did not know how any man could believe that a Bill of this sort could have the least effect in stopping bribery. He quite agreed in the observation, that if there had been a sincere desire to abolish corruption, on clause would have been more effectual than that disqualifying attorneys and agents. It was perfectly notorious that it was a common mode of bribery to retain a large number of agents and messengers nominally for their services, but really for their votes. It had often been shown, before Election Committees, that that was a most effectual mode of bribery. Yet the clause, which would have prevented that, was struck out and another inserted, throwing the cost of the Commission of Inquiry on the place where bribery was committed. The latter provision was manifestly unjust. He hoped that the expenses of the Commission would be made to fall only on those who had votes, and who might possibly be guilty, and not on their Lordships and others who had no votes to dispose of. He did not believe that bribery was to be put down by any legislative measure. If one set of men were anxious to give and another set to 983 take bribes, no amount of ingenuity on the part of Parliament could track out or defeat all the various devices by which that object might be accomplished. In order to carry out the principle, it should be made penal for a landlord to let a farm somewhat under the usual rent, and so on. If they once entered on such a course of legislation, there was no saying where they were to stop. The only way to put down bribery, was to enlist public opinion against it, and to make such arrangements as should diminish, as much as possible, the opportunities for practising it. The present Bill would be useless and nugatory, and was only a piece of solemn hypocrisy, because it attempted to put down an evil by means which were well known to be ineffectual.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, that as the Bill consisted of detached clauses, he thought it would be better to defer the discussion until the Committee. It was, of course, difficult, if not impossible, to put a stop entirely to bribery, but legislation might, at least, impose some check on it; and the proceedings of some of the Committees of the House of Commons, had succeeded in putting a stop to bribery in some places. When a man spent several thousand pounds in getting returned to Parliament, and then was unseated, he was made to see that bribery was unprofitable. As to the clause alluded to, as having been struck out, which provided that agents should be disqualified, nothing could be easier than to evade it.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.