HL Deb 08 June 1885 vol 298 cc1383-94

Clause 27 (Repeal of Acts in Eighth Schedule respecting corrupt practices) agreed to.

Clause 28 (Disqualification of certain voters for corrupt practices).


in moving the omission of the clause, said, that it? was contrary to justice and to sound maxim that penal law should be made retrospective. He thought, therefore, that the electors who had been scheduled for corrupt practices at the Election of 1880 ought not to be disfranchised, as this clause proposed. Many of them gave their evidence, and made full disclosures, upon the faith of the indemnity given them by the Commissioners. If, therefore, they were now to be punished, the indemnity would be deprived of its value. He did not wish to stand up for bribery and corruption; but he thought that there was no occasion to keep up the recollection of these unfortunate occurrences now that the whole electorate was being remodelled. Byegones might be allowed to be byegones, and a fresh start given to these men, particularly as the electors of Reigate, Beverley, and other places, would be enfranchised by the Bill.

Moved, "To omit Clause 28."—(The Earl of Jersey.)


in supporting the Amendment, said, he did so on the ground that the clause imposed a penalty to which the persons affected were not subject before. Besides that, these men to whom it referred had never been tried. It was true that their names had been scheduled upon such evidence as the Commissioners had had before them; but they had not been tried. It was also true that many of them had themselves gone before the Commissioners and told them what they had done; but that was not a trial. No penalty attached to the mere fact of being scheduled. Besides, they had been promised absolution for that confession. Notwithstanding that, however, they were now to be punished by this Act of Parliament. That would be a very hard case indeed. There was another point to which he would call their Lordships' attention. By the clause, the penalty was not to apply to persons tried and acquitted. There was no exemption, however, of those against whom the Attorney General had entered a nolle prosequi. In his opinion, the very fact that the Attorney General had not gone on with the trial against a person showed that he had a weak case against that person, weaker than that which he had against those whom he had prosecuted, and who had been acquitted.


said, he hoped that their Lordships would not be persuaded by the arguments which they had heard from his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) to remit all the penalties upon bribery, and now, for the first time, to determine that persons guilty of corrupt practices were to be regarded as entirely irresponsible. In all these cases, special laws had been passed to punish the offenders with respect to their Parliamentary privileges. The immunity from punishment extended only to the Criminal Law. This was not a Criminal Law; they could not ask a man to come forward in that case and punish himself, but there was no reason why he should be exempt from Parliamentary punishment. As a matter of fact, the law as laid down in this clause was of unusual leniency; under the Act of 1883 those persons who were dealt with under the clause would have been disqualified for a longer time. In this clause the course was pursued which had been taken before, and it was quite in accordance with Parliamentary practice. With regard to the question of those against whom the Attorney General had entered a nolle prosequi, he hardly ventured to argue with one who had had the legal experience of the noble and learned Lord; but he thought that a nolle prosequi was by no means equivalent to an acquittal, since it was but the opinion of one individual man.


said, that a man was acquitted after evidence against him had been heard; a nolle prosequi meant that there was no evidence to be heard.


said, the noble Earl who had charge of the Bill should remember that whole constituencies consisting of boroughs were restored under the Bill, although previously disfranchised for corrupt practices.


said, that, in many instances, this clause, which he thought unnecessarily severe, would carry disfranchisement beyond the existing law.


said, he would call their Lordships' attention to the fact that by the existing law—the Act of 1883—persons guilty of this offence wore disqualified for seven years from voting at any election, either Parliamentary or municipal; whereas, under the present clause, they were only disfranchised in the division in which the offence was committed. The existing law was, therefore, more severe than this clause.


said, that what was spoken of as the existing law was not the law which had existed at the time of the commission of these offences. He could not say that the matter was of great importance; but when they looted at the 27th clause, where wholesale amnesty was given, it seemed rather unnecessary, and, if he might say so, unworthy, to pounce down on those unfortunate people in Chester and Oxford and make them the subject of a special penalty, for that was what it came to.


said, that Clause 27 referred to the perpetual disfranchisement of voters in certain boroughs.


said, that the question whether the indemnity given to those who gave evidence before Commissioners appointed to inquire into corrupt practices at elections extended to a protection against statutory disfranchisement had been often considered and discussed in Parliament, and always decided in the negative. The present Bill, on that point, was in strict accordance with the former precedents.


said, that what he objected to was to those persons being convicted, not by the law of the land but by Act of Parliament, without being heard. What the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack said amounted to this—that it was only a very little injustice that they were going to do.

On question? Resolved in the negative.

Clause agreed to.

First, Second, Third, and Fourth Schedules agreed to, with Amendments.

Fifth Schedule.

Amendment moved, in page 24, at end of Schedule, insert—

"Limerick. So much of the present Parliamentary as is contained in the municipal borough of Limerick."
—(The Earl of Limerick.)


said, he was unable to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.


in moving an Amendment, to add to the presently constituted Hawick District of Burghs the municipal burgh of Jedburgh, said, their Lordships might be aware that the burgh of Jedburgh formed at the present moment one of the group called the Haddington District of Burghs, which group would be disfranchised by the Bill under the consideration of their Lordships. Of the Border Burghs, Hawick had a population of 16,000, and an electorate of over 2,500; Galashiels had a population of over 15,000, and an electorate of 1,865; Selkirk a population of 6,090, with an electorate of 900; while Jedburgh had a population of 3,400, and an electorate of 395. Thus, if Jedburgh wore added, the total population of the Border Burghs would be about 41,000, and the electorate 5,634. This would not make the constituency exceed that of some other similar constituencies in Scotland. On the other hand, if Jedburgh were taken out of Roxburghshire, that county would still have a population of over 33,000, which he thought was sufficient to entitle it to return a Member. He admitted that, generally speaking, it was the wish of Jedburgh to be added to the county; but it struck him that the question was not so much what the burgh wished, but what the county, which was much larger, wished. As to the other reason, that Jedburgh was not a manufacturing town, he contended that Jedburgh was essentially a manufacturing burgh, and could not be called an agricultural burgh. Jedburgh had an individuality of its own, and in feeling, tradition, and every other way, it was an urban burgh. The place was increasing, and he submitted that there was every reason why it should be preserved from being merged in the county, and added to the Border Burghs.

Moved, in page 23, after line 12, to insert—

"Hawick District. >The present district as above defined, and the municipal burgh of Jedburgh."
—(The Marquess of Lothian.)


said, he had listened attentively to the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lothian), but he had heard no reason for placing Jedburgh in the Hawick District. Indeed, the reasons given by the noble Marquess appeared to him to be rather conclusive against his proposal. This question was raised in the House of Commons, and was then, he understood, practically settled. Their Lordships might remember that the Government had a scheme for re-grouping the Scottish burgh constituencies; but that was found not to be generally favourable to the Representatives of Scotland, and it was entirely abandoned, and these constituencies were, so far as that scheme was concerned, left practically as they were. The noble Marquess said Jedburgh was a small town. So were some others which formed the Haddington Burghs. That group, indeed, was disfranchised because it did not contain a population of 15,000. Why should Jedburgh be singled out by the noble Marquess for favourable consideration from among the other towns forming the group. The mere fact that Jedburgh was a small town did not seem to him to be an argument calling for special consideration, because it was not a solitary instance, there being very many towns in the position of Jedburgh as dealt with by the Bill. He understood that the Hawick Burghs with Jedburgh added would have a population of something like 41,000; but their Lordships had to remember that the population of Roxburghshire was already very small, and if Jedburgh was taken out of the county the population would be reduced to 34,000. It did seem to him, therefore, an extraordinary proposal that a burgh should be augmented to 41,000, in order to leave the county with a population of 34,000. In his opinion, no sufficient ground had been presented for altering the decision which had been come to.


said, the question was not as to whether this particular Scotch county had or had not a large population. There were many Scotch counties which had very small populations; and, if there was any defect in the Bill, it was the somewhat exaggerated representation given in that respect. The point, however, was that the principle of the Bill was, as far as possible, to separate the urban from the rural constituencies. In this matter of Roxburghshire, that had not been done, and it had not been done in opposition to the process and principle which were followed in other parts of the Bill. As their Lordships knew, where individual constituencies had been disfranchised, single burghs had been thrown into the counties; but this had not been the case with groups. Only two groups of burghs had been abolished—the Haddington Burghs in Scotland, and another group in Wales, that of Haverfordwest, which if it had been dealt with as the Government had dealt with the Haddington Burghs would have been thrown into the counties; but this had not been the case. Haverfordwest was united to the neighbouring borough of Pembroke; but what he contended was that the principle of the Bill was to separate the urban from, the rural constituencies, and that ought to be done by observing a fair and uniform process in dealing with special constituencies. In dealing with those groups, however, the Government were not observing a uniform process. It was difficult to argue this question without having the appearance of insinuating something; he was most anxious to avoid anything of the kind; but the practical effect in both of the cases here under review was that they pleased the local Party which was favourable to the Government and did not please the other Party. If they had proceeded upon a uniform principle, this would be no argument at all; but when the Government went upon one principle in Wales and another principle in Scotland, he thought their Lordships had a right to ask them to make their practice uni- form, and do in Scotland as they had done in Wales.


said, that Jedburgh was not a thriving burgh, and was not increasing in the same way as the other Border Burghs were. It was one of an old group of burghs, all of which, for Parliamentary purposes, were proposed to be put into the counties in which they were situated. Why should they take this step with regard to Jedburgh? He had an intimate knowledge of the district; and, on the merits of the case, he thought the arrangement made by the Bill was more satisfactory than the one proposed by the Amendment.


said, he thought it was a matter of great regret that more advantage should not be taken of this opportunity to re-arrange the constituencies and the grouping of burghs in Scotland. Anything more anomalous than the present arrangement he thought it would be impossible to conceive; and he was certain that the present system had only been adhered to, because sufficient trouble was not taken to procure agreement upon any other system. Almost anything, he believed, would on the merits have been better than the present system of grouping burghs in Scotland. Any system which grouped two burghs like Ayr and Campbeltown together, and which made some of these groups so small in point of population, as compared with some county constituencies, must, he thought, of itself stand condemned. The present system left one division of Ayrshire with a population of more than 90,000, while the Ayr group of burghs had not more than 40,000. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) told them that the Government had attempted to produce another scheme; but that scheme, he (Lord Balfour) believed, was condemned almost universally, and it contained anomalies fully as great as those which were allowed at present to exist. One of the proposals, for instance, was that the constituency of Mid Lothian should have no less than 93,000 of a population, which would have been the largest county constituency, he believed, in the United Kingdom. He thought, under present circumstances, it was hardly worth while to bring forward such a proposal as that made by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lothian), sim- ply because he (Lord Balfour) was quite satisfied that, in a very few years, the question of grouping of burghs and of the constituencies generally in Scotland must be again raised. It was impossible that the present system could be defended; and he was certain, as nothing could be done now to settle it, that it must be again discussed in a very short time. That, he thought, was very unfortunate; because, in such a case, there were always imputations made of a desire to gain Party advantage, when, by some arrangement, a settlement of the question might have been effected. Therefore, he would again say that he regretted that some attempt had not been made to devise a better scheme by arrangement between the Parties.


said, the noble Lord opposite who had just spoken (Lord Balfour) had expressed an opinion as to the non-permanence, in all human probability, of the present arrangement. But, while he (the Earl of Rosebury) quite agreed with it, from that argument a very powerful reason might be drawn against the Amendment. The Government, or the Lord Advocate, produced a scheme which they thought, on the whole, was a distinct improvement on the scheme of the Bill. That scheme did not die a natural death under the universal condemnation described by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Balfour). It died of a much more portentous and unfortunate complaint. It was sent to the wall against what was called, in the parlance of the day, the "sacred covenant" entered into by the Chiefs of both Parties. So honourably was that "sacred covenant" adhered to by the Government side of the House of Commons, that all those who, like the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lothian) and, to some extent, himself (the Earl of Rosebery) agreed that the present representation of Scotland was full of anomalies, withdrew all their schemes and all their Amendments, and submitted to the operation of the sacred bond. What was the noble Marquess going to do, if a little burgh, which was kept merely in existence because it was a county town, and possessed a large share of county business and county offices, which practically kept it alive, was going to upset all their arrangement—


interposing, said, his noble Friend oppo- site (the Earl of Rosebery) was not a Member of the Government when this arrangement was entered into, and he therefore spoke under great misapprehension when he said that this question was any part of it he (the Marquess of Salisbury) spoke under great difficulty; but he assured the noble Earl he was wrong. The matter referred to in the Motion before the House was not in the "sacred covenant" at all.


said, that, at all events, that was the impression "elsewhere" when the Amendments were withdrawn; and he was quite convinced Liberal Members in the other House would complain very loudly, and very strongly, if there was to be a rearrangement of the borough system of Scotland in the petty degree in which it was contemplated by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury). The noble Marquess said he did not impute motives to the Government. He (the Earl of Rosebery) did not wish to impute motives any more than the noble Marquess himself; but there were rumours in the air that this was a sort of what the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lothian) called "Jeddart justice" towards the sitting Member for Roxburgh County. Whether that were so or not, he thought it was an unfortunate state of things that, at that hour and at that stage of the Bill, the noble Marquess thought it necessary for one single disarrangement of the system to bring forward his Amendment.


said, that nothing could be worse than turning boroughs into counties. Indeed, it was against the 6th clause of the Franchise Bill, which prevented occupation of a house in a borough giving a vote for a county. But boroughs which Sir Francis Pal-grave wrote were indestructible were destroyed, and thus they were transformed into counties. Haddington was formerly grouped with Jedburgh, and it was an historical borough, for General Monk was there when he designed to restore the Monarchy; and though he openly cuffed an officer for stating that such was his intention, yet, by returning to Edinburgh and marching with his army, he brought all England to his opinion. Such a borough ought to have a vote with other boroughs, as was the case all over Scotland except as to Haddington and Wigton.

On question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 66; Not-Contents 53: Majority 13.

Resolved in the affirmative.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Sixth Schedule.


proposed an Amendment, in regard to the Dublin divisions, to leave out "Donnybrook Division," and insert "St. Stephen's Green."

Amendment moved, in page 42, line 26, to leave out ("Donnybrook,") and insert ("St. Stephen's Green.")—(The Viscount Powerscourt.)


opposed the Amendment.


said, he decidedly objected to the proposed alteration, and would like to know who the noble Viscount represented? No one wished for the change; and, certainly, he (the Earl of Milltown) did not. Donnybrook was partly his property.

On question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 35; Not-Contents 31: Majority 4.

Resolved in the affirmative.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Seventh Schedule.


proposed to amend the Schedule by altering the name of the South-Eastern Division of Staffordshire by calling it the Hands-worth Division.

Amendment moved, In page 76, line 1, to leave out ("South-Eastern,") and insert ("Handsworth.")—(The Lord Wrottesley.)


in supporting the Amendment, [said, that it had the support of both the local Conservative and Liberal Associations.


said, that although he agreed that the rival claims to give a name to this division were pretty evenly balanced, yet he should not oppose the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


proposed that the Whitby Division of the North Biding should be called the Eastern or Whitby Division.

Amendment moved, in page 83, line 12, after ("The,") insert ("Eastern or.")—(The Earl of Fever sham.)


said, he thought that the adoption of this Amendment would only increase the confusion with regard to names.

Amendment negatived.


in moving, as an Amendment, that the Batley Division of Yorkshire should be called the Morley Division instead, said, that the change would give great satisfaction to the vast majority of the inhabitants of the division. Batley contributed only 1,900 to the population of the division, whereas Morley contributed 15,000. The original decision of the Commissioners had been in favour of Morley, as were 36,000 out of the 50,000 persons in the district.

Amendment moved, in page 84, line 29, to leave out ("Batley,") and insert ("Morley.")—(The Lord Auckland.)


said, he thought that a strong case had been made out in favour of the name of Morley for this division. The final division on the subject in the House of Commons had been quite a surprise, as, in the first instance, a majority of the House had pronounced in favour of Morley.


said, he hoped their Lordships would support the decision to which the House of Commons had ultimately come he was informed that it was an error to suppose that the majority of the inhabitants of the district wished for the change. Beyond that, the name of "Batley" should, for many reasons, including railway and postal, be retained. Batley was very much more central than Morley, and a large proportion of the people residing in the division, when travelling by railway, would have to pass through Batley in order to get to Morley at all, which in itself he regarded as a very strong consideration. With regard to the question of areas, Morley was within the parish of Batley. Batley was also a very progressive place, and the seat of a considerable industry.


said, he was also in favour of the retention of the name of Batley, which was a post town, whereas Morley was not. Batley was also a corporate town, with a town hall and other conveniences for election purposes.


said, he thought that on the question of merit Morley ought to give the name to the division, as Batley was only known in connection with Dewsbury. The fact of the difference in population was strongly in favour of Morley.


said, that the Government were divided on this question. For his own part, he would be influenced by the opinion of the noble Marquess the late Viceroy of India, who belonged to that part of the county, and he would vote for the name of Batley being retained. The question was, however, entirely an open one.

On question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 21; Not-Contents 18: Majority 3.

Resolved in the affirmative.


in moving the omission of the name "Spen Valley Division," and the insertion in its stead of "Birstal Division" (Eastern part of the West Riding of Yorkshire), said, the Spen Valley was not known to anybody, and was only remarkable for being the receptacle of all the sewage from Birstal; whereas Birstal was a very important parish, and the general feeling of the district was in favour of Birstal being the designation of the division.

Amendment moved, In page 86, line 39, to leave out ("Spen Valley,") and insert ("Birstal.")—(The Earl of Feversham.)


in supporting the Amendment, said, that although he was well acquainted with the West Riding of Yorkshire, he had never heard of the Spen Valley until he saw it in that Bill. Birstal, on the contrary, was a well-known place.

Amendment agreed to.

Other Amendments made.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Eighth Schedule agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Thursday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 129.)