Front Page Titles (by Subject) 89.: Election Petitions and Corrupt Practices at Elections  26 MARCH, 1868 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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89.: Election Petitions and Corrupt Practices at Elections  26 MARCH, 1868 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Election Petitions and Corrupt Practices at Elections 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 191, cols. 308–11. Reported in The Times, 27 March, p. 7, from which variants and responses are taken. In preparation for the debate on “A Bill for Amending the Laws Relating to Election Petitions, and Providing More Effectually for the Prevention of Corrupt Practices at Elections,” 31 Victoria (13 Feb., 1868), PP, 1867–68, II, 267–86, Mill wrote on 27 January to Edwin Chadwick asking him for a summary of his recommendations for a bill against electoral corruption. The debate in which he spoke was on the Bill as amended in Committee (ibid., pp. 291–307). After the debate, he wrote to William Dougal Christie to say that he had “broke[n] ground on the subject of the two or three most important of your [Christie’s] suggestions respecting a bribery bill”
(CW, Vol. XVII, pp. 1355, 1380).
sir, if the question were solely between the Bill of Her Majesty’s Government and the Amendment,1 I should have no hesitation in at once deciding for the Bill. Not that it corresponds or comes up in all respects to my notion of what such a Bill should be. Nor do I believe that by any one expedient—and there is only one expedient in this Bill—we can hope to put down corrupt practices. If the House are in earnest in their desire to put down corrupt practices at elections—and I am bound to believe that they are, however little credit they receive for such earnestness out of doors—I apprehend they will be obliged to have recourse, not to one, but to several expedients. Nevertheless, I think favourably of the Bill, because though it does in reality only one thing, that thing is a vigorous one, and shows an adequate sense of the emergency. It shows a sense that, in order to put down this great evil, it is necessary to go out of the common path. The truth is that, however possible it may be for Committees of this House to be impartial on the question to whom the seat shall be given—and I do not deny that they are often impartial in that respect, nor is it hopeless that they might be always so—nobody out of this House, and I think I may almost add in it, believes that so long as the jurisdiction remains in this House the penalties against the giver of the bribe will ever be seriously enforced. There are several reasons for this, some of which, perhaps, had better be understood than expressed. (A laugh.) To confine myself to what may be said with safety; any tribunal that acts only occasionally as a tribunal, still more any person called for the first time so to act, as is often the case with Members of Parliament, has naturally a very strong indisposition to convict: and still more is this the case when those who have to decide are men of the same class, and the same general cast of feelings, and subject to the same temptations as the accused, and men of whom it must be said that hitherto they have been disposed to consider a scrape of this sort as much more a misfortune than a crime. (Hear.) I think that there is, after all, something in the objection to the proposal for giving the ultimate decision to a Judge not appointed by the House. There is some reason against their handing over their jurisdiction at once and for ever to a functionary appointed solely by the Crown (hear); but there is an easy mode of getting rid of that objection—namely, by making the Act temporary. (Hear.) I am not sure that it should not be annual—that it ought not, like the Mutiny Act, to be renewed every year, so that there should never be any long time during which evil consequences need be suffered. And although I do not myself think that any evil consequences are likely to follow, still, as where there is a bare possibility there is always apprehension, I hope that, if the House adopts the Bill, the Government will see the propriety of introducing some limitation such as I have suggested. There is another point on which I wish to say something. Great objections appear to be felt to turning over these inquiries to the Judges of the land. Would it not be a suitable way of meeting these objections if this tribunal were to be only a tribunal of appeal? Indeed, even if the House should not choose to adopt this tribunal—if they should keep these matters in the hands of a Committee of their own Members presided over by a legal assessor—and few, I think, will now deny that there must at least be a legal assessor—whether the House adopt this way, or whether they adopt the proposal of the Government—there are very strong reasons for making the tribunal only a tribunal of appeal. It is only by inquiry diligently made on the spot, that the truth in such matters can be discovered. I will make one suggestion, which will be found in a pamphlet which has attracted a good deal of attention, and has been read, I know, by Members of the Government.2 It is written by Mr. W.D. Christie, formerly a Member of this House, and who I hope may be so again. (Hear.) It is that there should be a local inquiry by a person of competent legal qualifications after every Parliamentary election, whether there is a petition or not. (Laughter, and cries of Oh, oh!) Notwithstanding the dissent with which this proposition seems to be met, much may be said in its favour; for the very worst cases are invariably those in which petitions are either not presented (hear, hear), or, having been presented, are afterwards withdrawn aby a compromisea , because it is found that an inquiry would be equally damaging to the case of the petitioner, both parties being tarred with the same brushb, and, however certain it is that the seat has been obtained by bribery, the losing party are afraid to prosecute the petition for fear of the disclosures, which would bring discredit upon themselvesb . These are such flagrant cases that I am sure it must be admitted that, unless they are in some manner provided for, it will be impossible effectually to put down bribery. The officer whom I suppose to be appointed would proceed after every election to the spot, and there sit in public to receive any complaints that may be made. Of course it is a necessary consequence that this officer should have the power, where the complaints are frivolous, of throwing the expense on the complainant. And whatever expenses would not thus be met, should be defrayed by the locality—should be, in fact, a public charge. There is the more reason for appointing such an officer, as it is indispensably necessary that there should be an inquiry, not only into Parliamentary, but into municipal elections, which are the nurseries of Parliamentary bribery. (Hear.) Mr. Philip Rose, a Conservative solicitor, well known to many honourable Members opposite, has expressed an opinion on this subject which is well entitled to attention. Mr. Rose says, in his evidence before a Committee of the House of Lords, that in a vast number of places, illegal practices are carried on at municipal elections by a regular machinery, which is also made use of at Parliamentary elections.3 (Hear.) He adds that great pressure is brought to bear upon Members of Parliament to contribute towards the expenses of municipal contests (hear), because it is held out to them that £10 spent upon one of these is better than £100 spent in a Parliamentary contest (hear, hear); and that it is an axiom among agents—“We were able to return our municipal candidate, and we shall therefore be able to return our Parliamentary candidate.”4 After such testimony, coming from such a quarter, it is plain that, if you really wish to put down bribery and corruption at Parliamentary elections, you must extend your interference to municipal elections also. (Cheers.) In addition to the duties which I have suggested that the Commissioners of Inquiry should perform after each election, there are a number of other duties which might well be performed by those functionaries. They would naturally act as election auditors; and, in places from which no petition proceeds, their principal business will probably consist in scrutinizing the accounts which Members are already obliged to render, and which ought to be required from them with greater accuracy and completeness. Belonging to the same class from which revising barristers are taken, there will be an obvious propriety in their acting also in that capacity; and they might even fulfil the duties of returning officers. (Oh, oh!) Whatever functionaries of this description may be appointed, no fear need be entertained that there will be any want of work for them. If you feel that the control of all these matters ought not to pass out of your own hands, you might leave the nomination of these functionaries in the hands of the Speaker; but any difficulty on that score will best be got rid of by making the legal authority proposed by the Bill of Her Majesty’s Government the tribunal of appeal.5 These are the suggestions which I have felt it my duty to offer in reference to the measure brought forward by the right honourable Gentleman the Head of the Administration.6 The reasons in support of them will be found at length in the very able pamphlet to which I have referred. (Hear, hear.)
[Mitchell’s amendment was defeated (col. 321).]
[1 ]Alexander Mitchell (1831–73), M.P. for Berwick, moved an amendment to reserve the trial of election petitions to the Commons (cols. 296–8).
[2 ]Electoral Corruption and Its Remedies (London: National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, 1864), by William Dougal Christie, who had been M.P. for Weymouth 1842–47, and failed in attempts at election in 1865 and 1868.
[b-b]+TT [in past tense]
[3 ]See the evidence of Philip Rose (1816–83), “Report from the Select Committee of the Lords,” Sessional Papers, 1860, I, 129.
[4 ]Ibid., p. 130.
[5 ]By Clause 10.
[6 ]Disraeli introduced the Bill on 13 February (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 190, cols. 693–702).