Considerations on Representative Government

John Stuart Mill

Chapter X
Footnote #03

Several of the witnesses before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1860, on the operation of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act, some of them of great practical experience in election matters, were favourable (either absolutely or as a last resort) to the principle of requiring a declaration from members of Parliament; and were of opinion that, if supported by penalties, it would be, to a great degree, effectual. (Evidence, pp. 46, 54–57, 67, 123, 198–202, 208.) The Chief Commissioner of the Wakefield Inquiry said (in reference certainly to a different proposal), ``If they see that the Legislature is earnest upon the subject, the machinery will work … I am quite sure that if some personal stigma were applied upon conviction of bribery, it would change the current of public opinion'' (pp. 26 and 32). A distinguished member of the Committee (and of the present Cabinet) seemed to think it very objectionable to attach the penalties of perjury to a merely promissory as distinguished from an assertory oath; but he was reminded, that the oath taken by a witness in a court of justice is a promissory oath: and the rejoinder (that the witness's promise relates to an act to be done at once, while the member's would be a promise for all future time) would only be to the purpose, if it could be supposed that the swearer might forget the obligation he had entered into, or could possibly violate it unawares: contingencies which, in a case like the present, are out of the question.

A more substantial difficulty is that one of the forms most frequently assumed by election expenditure is that of subscriptions to local charities, or other local objects; and it would be a strong measure to enact that money should not be given in charity, within a place, by the member for it. When such subscriptions are bona fide, the popularity which may be derived from them is an advantage which it seems hardly possible to deny to superior riches. But the greatest part of the mischief consists in the fact that money so contributed is employed in bribery, under the euphemistic name of keeping up the member's interest. To guard against this, it should be part of the member's promissory declaration, that all sums expended by him in the place, or for any purpose connected with it or with any of its inhabitants (with the exception perhaps of his own hotel expenses), should pass through the hands of the election auditor, and be by him (and not by the member himself or his friends) applied to its declared purpose.

The principle of making all lawful expenses of a charge not upon the candidate, but upon the locality, was upheld by two of the best witnesses (pp. 20, 65–70, 277).

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REPGOV Chapter 10 Section 2: Of the Mode of Voting