HL Deb 23 June 1864 vol 176 cc140-2

in presenting a Bill for the Prevention of Bribery in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament, said, he found in the other House great expectations, he might rather say apprehensions, were entertained, of a general election this Session, and be they well or ill grounded, at all events this was certain to happen next Session. He was, therefore, led to the consideration of those corrupt practices he had so often brought to the attention of the House, and in which he bad proposed Resolutions some years ago as well as introduced measures. His noble Friend, then President of the Council (Lord Lansdowne) admitting all that the Resolutions asserted, complained that no measure was propounded, and he (Lord Brougham) pledged himself to bring one forward. That pledge he now rose to redeem, in presenting a Bill to the House for the future prevention of bribery and corrupt practices. Nothing could be more futile than the objection sometimes taken to such a measure originating in that House—their Lordships had the same right as the other House to take up the subject, and they had exercised that right again and again. The very Bribery Bill of George II.'s time was a remarkable instance. There were two important provisions of the Act inserted in this House (as their Journals of May, 1729, showed). One was a money clause, raising the penalty from fifty to five hundred pounds. Unhappily having never been enforced, as, indeed, none of the Act had been, except the other section, added by this House, which had been constantly in active operation, he meant that provision that the last determination of Election Committees should be binding on all persons and in all times. The Commons were minded to object to these Amendments of the Lords, but Sir W. Pulteney (afterwards Lord Bath) reprobated this objection as soon as it was urged; he said— The Lords were the proper guardians as well as the Commons of the purity as well as freedom of the election; and the Lords were the guardians, not only as a branch of the Legislature co-ordinate to themselves (to wit, the House of Commons), but as the supreme court of judicature of the realm; and no man having a value for liberty could grudge the Lords the honour of rendering the Bribery Bill more complete and more efficacious. This sound and rational opinion prevailed, and the Commons (though by a very narrow majority) accepted the Lords' Amendments. It was lamentable to reflect how this and all former measures had failed to suppress these pernicious and demoralizing practices. They had, on the contrary, gone on increasing at each dissolution. Nothing could be worse than the facts stated on the best authority. His esteemed Friend, Sir John Pakington, showed, in bringing in his Bill some years ago, that the purchase of votes either directly, or under various pretences of head money, employment of messengers, or charity, was in many boroughs universal. In one, having 3,000 voters, 18 in every 27 were thus bought or sold at £10 a head, so that the candidate must know that he paid £18,000 for his seat. In another place 13 in 14 of the voters took bribes; £5 at the beginning was the price, but it rose as the polling went on, and it became £40 or £50, till at the close as much as £100 had been paid in one or two instances; and the candidate's expenses were as much as £8,000, almost all spent in corrupting the electors. He knew from a learned Friend of his (Lord Brougham's), Member for a county, that he had actually seen a gentleman walking round the streets of a town during a contested election, and provided with a large sum, all of which he paid in what was called head-money, that is in buying the voters. Now it was very lamentable to think how so many measures devised for checking this offence had failed. One of the latest had been proposed by his esteemed Friend Sir John Pakington, but, though well calculated for its purpose, had been defeated by the Select Committee of the Commons, expunging the provisions which contained the proviso which he (Lord Brougham) had the honour of proposing, that every Member and every candidate, on the request of a voter, should make a solemn declaration, not only that he by himself or his agents had given no money in bribes, but that he was wholly ignorant of any money having been so applied. The present Chief Justice of England, then a Member of the House of Commons, a strong supporter of this proviso, which he said he should himself have proposed if Sir John Pakington had not, observed that no person having the least regard for his character, could possibly make the declaration, if thousands of his money had been spent in bribery by his agents. The House of Commons' Select Committee, however, struck the declaration out of the Bill; and when it came up to this House, as without it the Bill was not merely useless, but mischievous, their Lordships refused to pass it. All attempts to check bribery having proved fruitless, and it being generally supposed to have increased under all the laws made against it, he (Lord Brougham) ventured to hope that the course be now took might prove more successful. When his Act of 1811 effectually put an end to the slave trade, which all the penalties and the loss of ships had not materially affected, the effect was produced by treating it as a crime, because though the gains of the traffic were such as to make men run the risk of capture, they would not expose themselves to the risk of being tried and condemned; so he trusted that those who encountered the expense of contested elections, and exposed themselves to the pecuniary penalties of the Acts of George II. and George III., from the anxiety to have a seat in Parliament, and their agents hired to bribe for them, would not expose themselves to the risk of being sent to the treadmill. The Bill which he presented was drawn according to the provisions of the existing Acts, that of George II. in 1729, and that of Lord Eldon in 1809, with this difference, that it made those offences punishable as a misdemeanour with a year's imprisonment, with or without hard labour, and he prayed their Lordships to give it a first reading. A Bill for the more effectual Prevention of Bribery and Corruption in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament—presented by the Lord BROUGHAM and VAUX; read 1a, and to be printed. (No. 155.)