§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [1st May],"That the Bill be now read a second time."250
And, which Amendment was to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
this House declines to proceed further with a Bill containing provisions effecting extensive changes in the representative system of the country, in the absence of proposals for the redress of the large inequalities existing in the distribution of electoral power."—(Sir E. Clarke.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
resumed the Adjourned Debate on this Bill. He said that, as the Representative of men who not unnaturally wished to see the attention of Parliament directed to affairs more immediately affecting their daily life, he submitted on Tuesday night that this Reform Bill of the Government was not less singular in the time and occasion of its production than in the character of the provisions it contained. This Reform Bill, unlike most of its predecessors, had been brought before the House of Commons before, and in place of a number of measures of a social character. Owing to the production of this Bill following upon the use which the Government had so far made of their time, hopes which were aroused before the last Election had been deferred from day to day and from year to year—such hopes, for instance, as that a comprehensive attempt would be made to deal with the Poor Law of this country. These hopes were now as far from fulfilment as ever. The Government loudly disclaimed any undue love of Constitutional symmetry. They said they had no care for the theory of representative institutions, and that all their hearts' desire was set merely upon increasing what he might call the output of Parliament, and yet, paradoxically enough, it was because of their unbounded desire for practical legislation that they had been induced to devote the whole time of Parliament to Constitutional reform. Last year the whole of the Session was devoted to a change in the fundamental lines of the Constitution, not because the Government had some higher and better theory of the kind of Government which should rule over the destinies of the two islands, but merely to relieve the congestion of the 251 business of this House, and again this Session the same story was told. Five whole Parliamentary days had been expended upon altering the Rules which governed the selection of Grand Committees of this House, not because the Government wished to introduce any change into the political relations which subsisted between Scotland and England, but only because they wished a second time to relieve the congestion of the business in this House, to pass measures more abundantly and with greater expedition, and now at the present moment they were to be plunged again into the seething controversies which always raged around questions of franchise and redistribution not, to quote the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill, because he was in search of speculative symmetry, but because he wanted to remove a few admitted and practical blots. For all the good which they or their constituents got from this preference of the Government for practical legislation, the Government might be as enamoured of speculative symmetry as was the Member for Bodmin. He passed to the character of the provisions the Bill contained, and in dealing with the four enacting clauses he did not propose to criticise the third clause—namely, that which specified that all the elections should be on one day. That seemed to him rather a matter of public convenience than of political power. But. taking the other great sections of the Bill, the first and second clause, which dealt with registration, and the fourth, which abolished plural voting, he should like to say a few words upon the merits of these provisions, looking at them alone, and not judging them as he should afterwards be bound to do, in the light of the omission of any provision in the Bill for giving to England the power to which she was entitled. He would say first, on the registration clauses, that the so-called consequential repeal of the rating provisions was, in his judgment, a very grave experiment. He would only advance one of the many arguments which could be used against it. It seemed to him it cut away one of the guiding principles of the Reform Act of 1885, of which this was an amending Bill. The late Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill of 1884, said that he took his stand upon the broad principle 252 that all capable electors added strength to the State, and he went on to ask who were capable electors. The right hon. Gentleman made the reply "householders." Why did he make the distinction between householders and adults? He did it because he found in the status of the householders a rough-and-ready measure of capacity, because the householder had duties to discharge, and obligations to fulfil, and the contention was that a man who was capable of discharging the duties of a householder was capable also of discharging the duties of an elector. But suppose he was not a capable but an incapable householder? Then this distinction vanished. Upon the merits of the fourth clause, which abolished plural voting, judging it alone, he would only say that no single argument had yet been adduced either by the Minister who introduced the Bill, or the Home Secretary speaking at Plymouth upon this subject, or by any gentleman on the other side, for the clause as it stood in the Bill. They said their intention was to remove from the Register persons who had no real or effective interest in a constituency. Those were the words of the Home Secretary. If the argument that they should remove from the Register persons who had no real or effective interest in a constituency was a sound one, surely the converse must he true that they ought to keep on the Register those persons who had a real and effective interest in any constituency. The late Prime Minister, in 1884, said the whole of his object was to see that those who did not belong to a representative area should not take part in elections held there. But those who did belong to any representative area were entitled to take part in the election of those who were to represent them in the House of Commons; and so far from only disfranchising those who had no real or effective in interest a constituency, he made bold to say that the fourth clause of the Bill as it stood would very often, under many circumstances, disfranchise in all probability the Mayor, and almost certainly half the Councillors of many boroughs who after their ordinary day's work proceeded by train to their residences, which were situated outside the boroughs. In his opinion, it was incumbent upon any English Mem- 253 ber to judge of the provisions of this Bill in the light of the omission from it of any provision for giving to England the proportion of political power to which she was entitled by her population. The first two clauses of the Bill, though in form registration clauses, were, in effect, franchise clauses, and turned the potential into the actual elector. On the other hand, the fourth clause was one to disfranchise a number of electors. He must put this point shortly, though he was afraid bluntly. Those who returned him to Parliament—and he shared their opinion—regarded the first two clauses of this Bill as expedients for putting Irish votes on the Register, and the fourth clause as an expedient for taking English votes off the Register. In saying that he did not wish to disparage the Irish voter. He drew no invidious distinction between his political capacity and civil worth and that of the English voter, but he merely stated facts. There was a large Irish element in what might be termed the shifting population of their great towns. In saying that, he was animated by no hostility to Ireland. On the contrary, they had had one long duel with hon. Gentlemen from Ireland over the great question of Home Rule, and they should have another. It was because he was ready to recognise in them courageous, adroit, and skilful antagonists that he claimed the right to fight the next bout with weapons of equal strength. That the fourth clause would tend to disfranchise the English voters was clear even from the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, perhaps the greatest authority in the House upon matters relating to the franchise and the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman said he would show—though he failed to do so—that the abolition of plural voting would not intensify but redress the glaring inequalities from which England suffered. The right hon. Gentleman contended that under a Redistribution Bill the constituencies in which most plural voters lived would not lose political representation, but the mere mention of the constituencies, such as Hornsey and Tottenham, showed they were English constituencies. He said that in these constituencies were the great mass of plural voters. That was his (Mr. Wyndham's) contention. These 254 votes which would be struck off wore English votes. The right hon. Gentleman made the distinct admission that there were very few plural voters in Ireland and Scotland in comparison with England. In his humble judgment, in making that admission the right hon. Gentleman gave away the whole case of the Government and abandoned the attempt to meet the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend, which declared that till the inequalities were redressed it was impossible to mitigate other inequalities the removal of which would add to the injustice from which the English voter now suffered. He knew that the Government said that their wish was not to weaken the power of England as against the political power of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, just at the moment when they were trying conclusions as to whether the contract between the two parties should be revised or not. They said that their intention was solely confined to confirming the political rights of the individual. They had their eye fixed on the individual voter, and they said he suffered an injustice from seeing other voters with more votes than he himself possessed. What he submitted to the House was that a Reform Bill which pretended to deal exclusively with the political right of the individual was an absurdity, unless it went the whole length of universal suffrage, equal electoral districts, and minority representation. A Reform Bill on these lines could deal exclusively with the right of the individual voter, for it could make the political power of every voter in the Kingdom equal, but short of that they could not deal with the political right of the voter, unless they dealt also with the facilities for exercising that right and the amount of power which should attach to the exercise of it. That was to say, every Reform Bill must deal with franchise, with registration, and also with redistribution. The whole contention for this Bill rested upon the fact that it was no use to give men the franchise unless they gave them facilities for using it as well, and that was why they brought in a Registration Bill. If the Government said that franchise without registration was a delusion, they (the Opposition) argued that franchise and registration without redistribution were nothing more 255 than a snare. The Chief Secretary did not wish to pursue speculative symmetry, but what symmetry was this? This was the symmetry of a Party catchword of "One Man One Vote," which did not embody the principles which those who heard it were made to believe, which did not give equal political power to the electors of this Kingdom, and which might almost be described as a dishonest attempt to delude the men before whose eyes the Bill had been dangled. The practical blots of the Bill were two—the over-representation of Ireland and Wales, and the misrepresentation of Scotland and Wales. It was, he believed, admitted, that upon a computation of the population, England should have transferred to her 30 Members taken from Ireland and Wales. He turned to what he called the misrepresentation of Scotland. Of the 72 Members returned from Scotland on the ordinary franchise—omitting the Universities—50 were returned in favour of Home Rule and only 22 in favour of the Union. And yet had the representation of Scotland been in conformity to the votes cast at the General Election in Scotland, of these 72 Members 38 only would have been for Home Rule and 34 would have been for the Union. Turning to Wales, the case was even more startling in its intensity. There were 19 county seats, and at the last General Election the Home Rulers polled 63 per cent., and the Unionists 37 per cent. of the votes, and yet the Home Rulers in this House had 100 per cent. of the representation, and more than one-third of the electors who voted at the last General Election had no direct representation at all. It was absurd to settle this question by numbers alone with the complete neglect of Wales. It might be retorted that in England Unionism was over-represented. That was perfectly true, but to nothing like the same extent: as Separatist principles were over-represented in Scotland and Wales. To a certain extent Unionism was over-represented in England, and they made no complaint of that. So long as all questions were decided by this House as a whole, these local inequalities tended to redress each other. But what, during the last two years, had been the doctrine and practice of Ministers? They appealed from this House as a whole to the Members in it 256 who came from one particular local area. They told them they were not to exercise their right of judgment upon the question of the Church in Wales because, forsooth, the Welsh representation was almost unanimous upon it. That was to say, the 19 gentlemen who did not represent at all more than one-third of those who voted at the last Election were to have it entirely their own way against the wishes of that considerable body of their constituents. He thought the proposition must be admitted to be absurd. If they were to refer to the representatives of local areas it followed that they must make their institutions far more accurate than they were in detail. This Bill would not do, and they would have to go in for a far-reaching measure of reform, equal electoral districts, and minority representation. He had shown that England did suffer under the representative institutions of this country as they now stood; that the injustice would be immensely aggravated if these three clauses in the Bill were passed unaccompanied by some scheme of redistribution, and he asked whether this was the moment at which Englishmen could afford to give up any share of political power to which they were entitled? They looked to the future, and they knew that the great contract between England and Ireland was again to be the subject of revision in this House. He noticed that hon. Gentlemen who came from Ireland were always accepted by right hon. Gentlemen opposite as the political successors of one Party to the contract; but he had never noticed, except in an occasional indiscretion of the Prime Minister, that the gentlemen who represented England were also recognised as the political successors to the other Party to the contract. If that contract was to be overhauled they could not give up any power to which they were justly entitled. So much for the future; but looking at the past the lesson was as deeply burnt in upon their minds. For two years they had seen the wholesale neglect of almost all legislation that affected the daily lives of Englishmen. And why? Because they had a Government in Office that depended on the over - represented countries of Ireland and Wales and the misrepresented country of Scotland. As an English Member he felt he should 257 have betrayed his trust had he not risen to protest against a Bill which, under the specious pretext of enfranchising the individual, sold the whole nation into bondage.
* SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
There are many reasons why I much regret that I am compelled to offer the most strenuous opposition within my power to the progress of this Bill. I had hoped that the Government would, following the course they pursued last year, have introduced a Bill that might fairly be entitled a Bill to reform our Registration Laws, and I say, on behalf of those with whom I act, that we should this year, as we did last, not only have supported them, but have welcomed the Bill if it had been framed in like manner to that which the Secretary of State for India introduced. But this Bill is no Registration Bill. The provisions of registration in it are so dwarfed by the proposed great Constitutional changes that upon a Second Reading Debate we need scarcely take notice of them; they are, I agree, matters well fitted for discussion in Committee, but it is not upon those that we base our position that this Bill should not be road a second time. There are other matters creating such important and radical changes that to them, and to them alone, is it worth while, in the course of this Debate, to take objection. There are some personal reasons—I hope I may be excused to that extent in referring to them—why some of us in this House could never support this Bill. For some years there are some of us who have had certain objects in view. We have done our best to secure the free record of political opinion—-the individual opinion of each elector in this country. To effect that object wo have endeavoured to secure that there shall be less expenditure at elections. We have endeavoured to secure that each man's vote shall be given uncorrupted and without undue influence. We have endeavoured, with these objects in view, to supplant the former pernicious paid agency that affected our elections, and to substitute there for voluntary, free, and zealous working. This Bill will undo what we have done. It frustrates every one of such intentions and reverses the results we had achieved. It increases enormously the expense of every candidature, and it gives enormous effect 258 —to an extent, indeed, which I do not think is yet realised in this House—to the pernicious machinery of paid agency. It will make every election no longer the free expression of public opinion, but it will be now a question of the influence that paid and skilled agents can bring to bear in manipulating the constituencies. I undertake to show that the expense of elections will be enormously increased, and highly detrimental to every candidate, especially to those who support democratic principles. Even more clearly can I demonstrate that you are now about to call into existence paid agents on whose services alone you will have in many doubtful cases of elections to rely. By the provisions of this Bill you will, in short, give a power of manipulation that is utterly destructive of freedom of election in this country. Before I proceed to demonstrate the correctness of these assertions I wish to say a few words of a more general character. I am now looking at the provisions of this Bill, and as I read them there arises a somewhat wondering inquiry—Who can be their authors? Last year Her Majesty's Ministers brought in a Bill which was not, as I read it, in the interest of any one Party in the State; but in this Bill that neutral character is abandoned, and all that will help one Party alone is brought into view. Still further comes the conviction as to who are the authors of the Bill when it is seen that there is created a method of voting which must give an immense amount of employment to paid election agents, and, therefore, an increased amount of emolument to paid election agents. Those paid election agents, in the face of Her Majesty's Government, I now charge to be the authors of this Bill. Why is it that the independent registration agent is knocked out of the Bill? It seems as if the Government had received representations from election agents forbidding procedure which should set up an independent election agent and produce a self-acting registration, because then the occupation of the registration agent would be gone. Why is it, I ask again, that the easier method of enfranchising lodgers has disappeared from the present. Bill? It cannot be accounted for by the remarkable explanation given by the Chief Secretary for Ireland the other night—that the pre- 259 posals with respect to lodgers cut so deeply into the franchise that the Government had to drop it. When you are disfranchising the dual voter, and when you are enfranchising short-term and non-ratepaying occupiers, is it not too much to tell us that you cannot register lodgers with greater facility because it cuts too deeply into the franchise? Surely the real truth is that again representations were made from the electioneering agents supporting the Government against greater facilities being given in respect to lodger registration, because they felt it to be a Conservative vote, and therefore they objected to it. I ask, too, with astonishment, why we are to have a double registration? My view is, that it will double the payment of every registration agent in this country, and otherwise necessarily increase the expenditure of every candidate, so giving an enormous advantage to the rich man over the poor one in every election contest. When the Government first considered this question they formed an opinion upon it, and the collective opinion of the Committee of the Cabinet was stated to the House of Commons last year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India as follows:—If you have two revisions in one year you will be revising practically all the year round. Even in America, where they have the widest and broadest franchise, they only make up the electoral rolls once in a year. At all events, our opinion is that two revisions a year—bearing in mind the fact that we have provided only a three months' qualification, and having regard to cases of removal—could not be carried out, and there would be no great injustice and hardship in confining the revisions to one a year.That is the view of the Cabinet, but it is not the view of the election agents. So they give us a revision twice a year, which my right hon. Friend said ought not to exist, I do not say for the sole purpose, but with the consequence that these gentlemen will receive a far greater sum of money than they have ever received before. So much for the authorship of the Bill. The object of the Bill of last year was registration; no one can say that is the object of this Bill. No one can doubt that the object of this Bill is to strengthen the Party in support of the Government.
SIR H. JAMES
That is the natural result, the only result. It is admitted by their own supporters. Why, Sir, on the occasion of the First Reading I quoted a statement, made by the late Attorney General, who in a tone of exultation stated that on the morrow of the day of his speech a Bill would be introduced in this House which would convert the representation of a strongly Conservative constituency into a Radical representation. If that is to be the result, have you not drawn the Bill producing such a result with that object in view? The Attorney General was in the House shortly after I spoke, and he communicated with his colleagues, but he did not endeavour to alter or to explain away what he had said, and if that result can be produced in a constituency so strongly Conservative as that to which Sir Charles Russell referred, it will produce a like result in many other constituencies where the difference in the strength of political Parties is not so great. So, as the late Attorney General did not reply, I ask some Member of the Government to tell us to what provisions did their late colleague refer when he promised his Radical supporters in Mary-lebone that the Government would bring in a Bill that would enable those Radicals to be in a majority? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Dodd) told a meeting of his constituents in substance that under this Bill the Conservative and Unionist Party will have no chance in Romford, and what will be the result in Romford will happen elsewhere. It stands confessed, therefore, that the Government have introduced this Bill either with the object or with the inevitable result of weakening their political opponents and strengthening their own supporters. If there were no other reason for opposing this Bill, I would oppose it on that ground, and I would oppose it on that ground if a Unionist Government introduced it. Such action is contrary to the rule of public conduct, which in later times has controlled the statesmen of this country. I believe it has controlled the statesmen of this country even up to the month of March last. Last year no such Bill as this could have been introduced. The then Prime Minister, with his views of how this matter ought to be dealt with, would never have permitted this Bill to be introduced by the Government and 261 supported by that Government, and it was not introduced. We have had several Reform Bills during the present generation. In 1867 Mr. Disraeli introduced a large measure for extending the franchise. He gave to every householder in the boroughs a vote. Who could say that that was a Conservative measure? It was not introduced as a Conservative measure. Mr. Disraeli was in a minority at that time, and could not have carried a Bill injurious to his opponents, if he would. That Bill passed its Second Beading without a Division; it passed through Committee; the Government, in a minority, carrying Division after Division by means of Liberal and Radical votes. Mr. Lewis Dillwyn, Mr. Michael Bass, and others of the same Radical opinions constantly voted with them, because that Bill was Liberal, and was just to both Parties. And the General Election of 1868 proved, by the immense majority of Liberals returned, that that Bill had not been fashioned in order to support the Conservative Party. A few years passed, and in 1883, 1884, and 1885 there were Bills that went directly to the reform of our electoral system. With regard to the Bill of 1883, I desire to say nothing, except that I know full well that not one single clause of that Bill was ever drawn with the object and purpose of supporting the Party that introduced it. Who could not have carried it step by step without the support of the Conservative Party. And, when we were asked by our Liberal supporters to introduce even one single clause supposed to help the Party introducing it, the Prime Minister of that day refused to accept any such clause. I speak of the clause preventing the use of carriages at elections. When we sought to regulate the schedules of expenses, we consulted our opponents and ascertained their views, and that Bill passed to the satisfaction of both Parties in the State. I trust it has been of equal benefit to both Parties. But that was a minor measure. The Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) took personal charge of the great measure, the Representation of the People Act of 1884. I would remind the House of provisions inserted in that Bill which no one will say were beneficial to the Liberal Party. Of course, an extension of the franchise, you may say, is democratic in its operation, and 262 might generally be more welcome to the Liberal Party, the Party of Progress, than to those who are not supposed to progress with equal rapidity; but there was in that extension of the franchise a genuine application of political principles to this extent—that the great constituencies called into existence in the manner defined by that Act would be equally appealed to by men of every Party. But when it was suggested that justice required that a new franchise should be created—namely, the service franchise—representation was made that that service franchise would be a Conservative franchise, that it would be a dependent vote, that men employed more often by the wealthy than by the poor, would probably add to the strength of the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister cared not one jot for that fact, but accepted the service vote because he thought it right and just that those men should receive that franchise. I digress for a moment to say that I treat this Bill as a disfranchising Bill of the most acute kind. ["No!"] I do not care to play with words. Whether you wholly affect a voter's power, or whether you take away one vote from him, disfranchisement is the result. If a man is a dual voter—if he has two votes, one in one constituency and one in another, he is a voter in both. If you prevent him from voting in one constituency you disfranchise him in that constituency, and the justice, right, and policy of such disfranchisement should be established before a procedure of that kind is adopted. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) dissents very much from that view. Let mo suggest to him that if he happened to be walking through the streets of London with two watches, and a gentleman of acquiring habits—[Cries of "No!"]—took one watch out of my hon. Friend's pocket, and left the other, would he not be dispossessed of his watch? It is not the less dispossession because one watch is left, and I put it to the hon. Member who thought it right to interrupt me whether that is not a fair example of what has been done in this case? I treat this Bill as a disfranchising measure. I said so on the First Reading, and I repeat it to-day, and I contend that the justice of disfranchisement and the policy of disfranchisement 263 have to be established to the very full. May I recall to the memory of the older Members of the House—arid I suggest to the younger Members the advisability of reading it—the speech of the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone) when he introduced the Bill of 1884? It was a wonderful exposition of the condition of our system, a wonderful treatment of our franchises and their different effects. It was at the end of that speech that he made the proud boast that "This Bill disfranchises not one single man." Let me remind those who know that Bill of the strange extent to which my right hon. Friend carried that view. In those days there was a disreputable class of voting in existence, the worst kind of faggot voting—the creation of rent-charges out of a house or land by which persons totally unconnected with the house or land were enabled to vote in counties. It represented an incorporeal hereditament; it had no substance, paid no taxation, bore no rate, and it was, of course, the creation of the Party wire-pullers. My right hon. Friend, on the day he spoke, had in his possession a photograph of a tenement not of a very pretentious character, the rent being some £100, and 45 votes had been created by rent-charge by the occupier of the house, and 45 had voted at the county election by virtue of the rent-charge so created. Of course, that was a faggot system that ought to be put an end to. What course did my right hon. Friend take so as to justify his boast that he disfranchised no man? In the first place, when dealing with these reut-charges, he preserved and protected all rent-charges that had come to the voter by either settlement, descent, or bequest, but in respect either of those very faggot votes the right hon. Gentleman, in effect, said—"There shall be no disfranchisement. I will preserve every one of these men upon the Register until he dies. "That was with the full acquiescence of his colleagues. In 1885 there was another great measure introduced—the Redistribution Bill. That Bill was a monument of industry and of organisation of detail, and it was the Bill essentially of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke). But there is a greater monument contained in that 264 Bill, and it is the impartiality with which that Bill was drawn, so that no one could complain with reason that there was any attempt to obtain any advantage from the distribution of local areas, to one Party or the other. Such till now has been the method on which we have carried out these electoral reforms. According to the rule of perfect political honour which has been acted upon, the Party in power, with a majority at its back, has no right to use its majority to strengthen itself and weaken almost to destruction its opponent. If once you commence this mode of warfare, reprisal will set in which will be a disgrace to our public life. I have made my protest, as far as I am entitled to do so, on the ground of that boast of the late Prime Minister that no man should be disfranchised, and now I will, as briefly as I can, refer to those matters which I have already touched upon, when I said this Bill will destroy the effect of voluntary effort, and will allow a new system of electioneering of a dangerous and injurious character to come into operation which will act against the voice of those who wish to record their votes freely. I hope the House will forgive me if I enter into detail. No doubt Members will say I am putting certain puzzles before them. But what is a puzzle to them will be no puzzle to the election agents. They will understand me well enough; and if I am not more explicit and explain myself with a greater amount of detail, it is because I do not wish to give them more information than probably many of them have at the present time. The point I wish to make is that for the future our elections will become not a question, in the electoral race, of the best horse winning, but a question of joekeyship, and jockeyship alone. The man who wins a race other than by a head will always be a had jockey, for in so doing he will be expending strength that ought to be used elsewhere. As I shall demonstrate, the result will depend not upon the majority, but upon what some will call cleverness and others will call cunning in the election agent. Let me explain the change that is to be made by the new system. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary cannot, I think, when he spoke, have had in his mind the full effect of this Bill. When he spoke of getting rid of the ownership vote he 265 spoke or persons who journey only on the day of the election into the constituencies. He was talking of a general principle in respect to absent voters, with which many persons may agree, and which they would like to see carried into effect, but which is not carried into effect in the Bill. But we have also to deal with a different class of voters, and I am bound to say that I do not think my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary fully understood what an occupation voter meant. However, in addition to the ownership voter, who does not exist in boroughs at all, there is a class of voter who was called into existence by the wisdom of Parliament, whose position has not hitherto been considered an anomaly, but whose position has been from time to time secured by Parliament when the question of the franchise came before it. The Reform Act of 1832 allowed a new franchise to be created, the principal franchise. To the holder of every tenement, or tenement and land, of the value of £10 a year in a borough a vote was given; and although he did not dwell in the tenement if he resided within seven miles of the borough he had a vote. Will the House consider what that meant? It meant the enfranchisement of every man carrying on business in a borough. At the time that vote was created such voters were not very numerous. But times have changed. The habits of men have changed, and the conditions of industry have changed, and men who are able to do so have been induced to leave the great and crowded centres of industry in order to live in the country. So that there is now an enormous body of men who reside elsewhere than at their places of business who go into the great towns by day for trade or business and return to their family residences in the suburbs in the evening. Few professional men in large towns—lawyers, accountants, surveyors, or merchants or large tradesmen—live now in the places where they carry on their business. These men, who have enjoyed a separate vote in the county for their residences, represent the industry and the middle classes of the country. They represent the class of men who were given the vote in 1832, and I suggest that it is for reasons which emanate from the minds of election agents that the Government are now seeking to disfranchise them. The occupation vote 266 which originally belonged to the borough only was extended in 1867 to the counties with a £ 12 occupation value instead of £ 10. In J 884 the Prime Minister reduced the £12 value to £10 in his Bill, and he did more, for whereas for the borough occupation franchise you require to have a residence within seven miles, in the county the right hon. Member for Midlothian got rid of that condition, and the occupation county voter may live where he likes, no matter how far distant. Parliament has allowed that vote to remain, and there has been no whisper against this class of voter until this new order of electoral things arose which clusters around the name of Newcastle. You are about now to disfranchise, or partially disfranchise, this class of men who live in the country and carry on their business in the towns. The Government might be right or wrong in effecting this disfranchisement; but I say that before doing it, they ought to have ascertained and known the extent to which they were going in this work of disfranchisement. It seems to me that the course they have taken is a most perfunctory way of dealing with a great alteration and displacement of political power. In the circumstances, I contend that it is almost an insult to the House for the Government to say, as the Chief Secretary did say, that in this matter of disfranchisement they have no information to give. They say, when questioned, that they do not know the extent of the disfranchisement—that it may be small; but that is a kind of answer that ought not to be given by a responsible Government. I have endeavoured to obtain some estimate of the number of this class of votes. I do not of course pretend that the estimate I shall give is absolutely correct, or that it will apply to the country as a whole. The figures I shall give relate to a very important constituency in the North of England, and I have the return from the Member of that constituency, who vouches for its accuracy. I may say at once that I do not give the name of the place, because I do not want to tell the election agents where they would be able to do the most work of manipulation. I do not want to tell the sportsman where the hot corners are and where the game is. In this constituency there are 11,095 persons capable of voting. Of this num- 267 ber 5,673 are non-resident voters; that is to say, more than 50 per cent. of the constituency. I do not say that all these non-residents are necessarily dual voters, but the great majority of them are, and they are composed of commercial and professional men who carry on business in the town and live in the country. These men this Bill will disfranchise.
SIR H. JAMES
The Bill will disfranchise them in the sense which I have explained. One vote at least will be taken from them. I do not wish to overstate the case. I know that the figures for the town I have referred to are very high, and of course certainly much higher than the average for the whole country, for there are many towns which are not commercial centres but country towns where the class of men I refer to would not be found in large numbers. But, why, and for what reason, should the House have to proceed in the dark in this matter? Full information ought to be before us. In his speech in 1884 the right hon. Member for Midlothian gave every detail of every alteration he then proposed to make in the franchise. He never ventured to ask the House to effect an alteration by legislation until he could put before it the full effect of that alteration. But here the Government are reduced really to a position of absurdity when they say, practically, "We have no information to give you." Moreover, we are here dealing with the most important portion of our electorate, and, I think, the most meritorious portion. Still, though I do not wish to enter into a discussion as to the merits of the different classes of voters, I do say that, as you are going to disfranchise one portion of a constituency and to enfranchise another portion, you ought at least to be careful that you do not disfranchise and destroy all that is stable in the electorate and enfranchise all that is shifting. That will be the result of the Bill, and the reason is this. The voters to be disfranchised represent the middle class, and so long as that middle class supported the Liberal Party there was no attempt made to wound it. But since 1886—and every supporter of the Government knows it—? by degrees that middle class has been drifting slowly but surely away from the 268 Gladstonian Party; and when that time has come then that Party, with the aid of the democracy, attempt to use the power of that democracy which the middle class enfranchised in order to destroy the voting power of the industrial middle class of this country. Lastly, I wish to show that by means of this disfranchisement there is an opportunity for manipulation of a singular kind, which the Government, I am certain, has never yet dealt with in their counsels, and have not thought of in order to see what effect would be produced by the Bill. I cannot do better than give two instances out of many of this system of "jockeying." I take a borough surrounded by a county, the usual case where the borough vote is strong in occupation and is surrounded by the rural districts—the case of an occupying householder who spends his day in the town and his afternoons and nights in the rural portion of the county where he has his residence. I take this example of a borough surrounded by a county with a Unionist vote of 5,500 and a Gladstonian vote of 5,250. The surrounding county shall be taken to have the same numbers and same proportion of Party voters. In those constituencies there are 2,000 occupation voters—not an undue proportion—and 1,000 shall belong to each Party. By your system an elector at the General Election will only be able to vote in one constituency. I will suppose, following natural gravitation, that out of l,000occu-patiou votes belonging to each Party 500 would vote in the borough and 500 in the county, and the result will be that you will get both in the borough and the county a poll of 5,000 Unionists and a poll of 4,750 Gladstonians, or Radicals. Now, that is the natural result in both constituencies, and it thus happens that in both the Uuionist candidate obtains a majority of 250, and you get two Unionists returned. But let me assume that you have a very clever Gladstonian agent, and that this gentleman, after making his calculation, knows that he cannot succeed in either of the constituencies. He will say, "This will never do; I am going to lose both elections; but in order to prevent this I have only to obtain good organisation among my dual voters; I will get them in hand." Without letting his opponent know, this gentleman sends for the electors and says to the 500 269 borough Gladstonian occupation voters, "Do not vote in the borough at all." What is the result? The 4,7.50 Gladstonians in the borough are reduced to 4,250; the election would be lost on the natural vote, and all that he has done is to make the minority smaller by 500 votes. But while the agent says to the electors, "Do not vote in the borough," he at the same time adds, "Be good enough, all of you, to vote in the county;" and 4,750 Grladstonian voters become 5,250 in the county, while the Unionists poll their normal strength of 5,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland says that all this has been done before. That is a fallacy. You have never told an elector not to vote in one election and to vote in another. Hitherto, no possible benefit could accrue from a man not voting claim that this is a demonstration of mere manipulation of a, majority in each constituency, and that you are going to allow with the greatest facility a mere manipulator to work his voters in a manner that no one can anticipate, that no Opposition can fight with, and so as to make it, not a matter of numerical majority, but of detailed ingenuity which is not in accordance with our Constitutional system. I will give one other -example. Let me assume that the time is coming when a General Election is about to take place, as it sometimes does after the financial year, in May or Juno. In the month of February or March a vacancy occurs through death, resignation, or, say, the appointment of a new Solicitor General. Nowadays we welcome new officials, and sometimes Members are so popular on both sides of the House that their re-election on promotion is not opposed; but if this system prevails you may now be having an election in the Dumfries Burghs. I will again assume the case of two constituencies with 5,500 Gladstonians and 5,250 Unionists in each, each party having 1,000 dual votes, and that the Unionists have a clever agent. A bye-election for the borough is announced. In ordinary circumstances that election would not be contested; but in the case I am supposing the Unionist agent says, "I will light it," and the contest takes place. The Unionist agent is confident, in his public expressions, that he is going to win; the Gladstonians are, to use a sporting phrase, "all out"; they go and vote 270 enthusiastically, and poll 5,500 votes. The Unionist agent says, "I have got 1,000 dual votes in these constituencies; let the Gladstonians win in the borough; I will not poll any." While the Unionist through this abstention polls 4,250 votes, the Gladstonian polls 5,500, and wins by 1,250. Then the day of reckoning comes. A General Election comes, and those unfortunate Gladstonians who had polled at the bye-election in the borough are disqualified and disfranchised. The Unionist agent says, "I will now win the county election." The Gladstonians who had polled 5,500 have lost their 1,000 dual votes, and they now number 4,500, while the Unionists are 5,250. But in this instance the Unionists poll all the 1,000 votes, for they had not voted in the borough bye-election, and the Unionist agent wins the county election by a majority of 750 votes, and all by this manipulation under the Government Bill. I hope that this instance will represent the true nature of the Bill, and I hope the Chief Secretary will explain those figures away. I ask him to obtain some other figures if he can, or to say whether he approves this destruction of the right of a majority, not by argument, not by appeals to the intelligence or to political thought, but by the action of a new class of men who, coming into existence, establish a school of jockoyship and overrule the free expression of political opinion. It has been asked in the course of the Debate, "What is the difference between two votes in one constituency and one vote in two constituencies?" To my mind, the difference is everything. Say that a voter in one constituency has great commercial interests, that he is interested in factory legislation, the marking of goods, or the prevention of nuisances connected with factories. This man looks for a representative in that constituency in order that this interest might be properly represented and in order that the member may be a spokesman of that interest in the House. The same man goes into another county, and he is an agriculturist; he has other interests, and he wishes to choose a Representative who will be a good agricultural Member. But I do not see why in one constituency you should give a man two votes. Every borough is one constituency, however 271 divided. You have the same interests all through. What is the difference between a manufacturer in one part of Birmingham and a manufacturer in another part? They are in one and the same community, with one rating power; and in the Act of 1885 we declared, for good or for evil, that every borough should be one constituency, and that for many purposes the election should be one election. Therefore, we do not give two votes in one constituency. But that is no reason why we should not allow a man to have a vote in a borough and in a county constituency too—to possess only one of them and to be disfranchised with the other. Sir, my part in the discussion on this Bill has occupied so much time already that I will only add very few words with regard to the second part of this Bill—I refer to the question of expense. I deprecate as strongly as I can this increased expenditure. I know what the effect will be. There will be more money spent, probably not at the acute time of an election—for the Act of 1883 prevents that—but in the work of the registration agent. This Bill is going to increase that expenditure enormously. Of coarse, the Government has given us no estimates, and I think we ought to have had some more information on this point. But I have a Return of the official expenditure on registration within the area of the County of London, and from which it appears that £28,800 is spent on each registration. You are going by this Bill substantially to double that figure; and that is the public expense only. It is small compared with the expense of paying that class of men who will, in the words of the Secretary of State for India, "be registering all the year round." They will claim that, instead of appearing at one registration, they shall be made permanent agents, to be paid all the year round. The rich man may be able to bear that expense, but the poor man will have no chance, for he will never be able to bear it. There are some other topics on which I should like to touch; but I have placed before the House my main reasons for opposing this Bill. There will be in the minds of many people the paramount feeling of the unfairness of this Bill—the feeling that it is an attempt to use a temporary power to gain a permanent political Party ad- 272 vantage. Entertaining that view, as I do strongly, once again comes to my mind the speech made by the late Prime Minister in 1884. I wish I could infuse the spirit of that speech alike into the Government and their supporters. It was a lofty treatment of a great question. The late Prime Minister made two appeals. The first to his opponents. He said, in effect—I have dealt fairly with you. I have endeavoured to obtain no advantage over you. I have disfranchised no one, and vested interests have been respected.Then he turned to his supporters behind him and appealed to them to like effect—I ask you to accept a moderate and just Bill—just to our opponents; and if you will be satisfied with a measure framed in that spirit, you will have added one more claim to gratitude for your acts—you will have added one other measure to those which the Liberal Party have placed on the Statate Book of this country; and you will be able to read your history in a nation's eyes.Will the promoters of this Bill ever be able to read their history in a nation's eyes? The nation's eyes will be opened, but whether they be closed or open the nation will be able to read the history of this Bill, its motives and its objects. It will be in vain for its promoters to attempt to deceive any one. It will be in vain in such circumstances for even the chiefest amongst them to travel through the country and endeavour to seduce the rank and file of our Party away from their party allegiance. The most humble among us, the veriest drummer-boy in the ranks, will know that the muniments that the Government boast of are false; that their copyright is spurious, and their title-deeds are defaced. For it has never been given to them to substitute for the efforts of statesmanship the methods of petty Party chicanery.
* THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
The schism in the Liberal Party on the Home Rule Question has produced some political surprises and has recalled some startling contrasts. But I think that the history of that unhappy controversy has furnished nothing more amazing than the speech to-which we have just listened. My right hon. and learned Friend has alluded, and I shall have to allude again, to the Debates of 1884. He has alluded to the fact that 273 a great many of those who took part in those Debates are not now Members of the House, and that those who were then present are a diminishing quantity; but those of us who do remember that great controversy have not yet forgotten that the ablest lieutenant of the late Prime Minister in that memorable campaign, the colleague who combined the consummate knowledge of the lawyer, the political principles of the genuine Liberal, with the brilliant advocacy of the leader of the English Bar, was the then Attorney General, the present Member for Bury. I have not forgotten the powerful speech with which he closed that six days' campaign. I have not forgotten how he tore to tatters the arguments of the Opposition of that day, how he denounced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's for making a speech that was precisely on the lines and in the style which we have heard just now, and how he declared that speech to be a speech that no man claiming to be a Liberal ought to have made. Well, Sir, to-night the same Opposition, led by the same Leaders, fighting the same issue, using the same arguments, advocating an Amendment in almost identically the same words, has now the unequalled advantage of my right hon. Friend's advocacy. He was their ruthless antagonist; he is now their devoted ally. I will only remind him once more of that oft-referred-to Indian tribe who, in the vicissitudes of their faith, "adore the gods that they have burnt, and burn the gods that they have adored." But my right hon. Friend has rebuked the Government—he will pardon me for saying so—in phrases which I think he was hardly entitled to use. He is perfectly at liberty to attack our policy; he is perfectly at liberty to denounce us as a discredited and incapable Ministry; he is perfectly at liberty to endeavour to turn us out of Office; but he is not at liberty to misrepresent our actions; he is not at liberty to impute to us dishonourable motives. We have a right to the same consideration from him and from hon. Members in all parts of the House as I trust we give to those from whom we differ, but whom we credit with as much conscientiousness as ourselves. But my right hon. and learned Friend has to-night been very indignant on the question of the dual vote and on pro- 274 posals of Her Majesty's Government. The House might think that my right hon. and learned Friend always entertained these opinions; that this was the creed of his youth and of his manhood: that he as a statesman had always been an advocate of the great non-disfranchising policy which he exaggerated so brilliantly to-night. But in the Debate to which I have alluded, one of the antagonists who dealt with my right hon. Friend was a leading Member of the then Opposition—Sir Richard, now Lord Cross. Sir Richard Cross proceeded to deal very freely with the hon. and learned Attorney General; and he quoted from a speech of his which I candidly confess I have not been able to find; but as Sir R. Cross quoted from it in the presence of my right hon. Friend, who did not contradict it, and as he also made references to it in speeches addressed to his constituents, we are bound to assume that he was quoting my right hon. Friend correctly. The words of the then Attorney General quoted by Sir R. Cross were—The hon. and learned Attorney General said in his speech that he could not defend the dual vote anywhere; although men might have property in several counties, he (the hon. and learned Attorney General") would not defend their having more than one vote in one place.
SIR H. JAMES
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware of the latest application of the faggot system?
MR. H. H. FOWLER
No; that was not so. I shall be able before I sit down to show that many Members of the House expressed a strong opinion on dual voting in that Debate, and were dissatisfied with the policy which the Government was pursuing; but my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian indicated that that was not a final settlement, and Lord Cross, alluding to what was coming in the future, said—That, I take the opportunity of saying, is the disfranchisement of property.Then the hon. and learned Attorney General went further, and said he must apply this proposal to the Universities; and if the question were raised about the Universities, he did not see how he could defend the present system.He did not see how he could defend it any more than he could defend the right of the freeholder;275 and, said Lord Cross—I take the opportunity of saying' that is the disfranchisement of learning as well as the disfranchisement of property.That formed no inconsiderable part of Lord Cross's answer to my right hon. Friend. Now, I am not going to deal with those extraordinary conundrums which my right hon. Friend has given us. I confess that they were beyond my power of comprehension. I did not understand them and I do not now understand them; but I have no doubt that, as my right hon. Friend has submitted them with the weight of his great authority, that they were genuine. He asked a question as to manipulating the votes in counties. I suppose it would be possible in the future, as it has been in the past, so to manipulate the voting in both boroughs and counties as to produce an unfair result. But my right hon. Friend forgot one point. He gave us illustrations of the manufacturer and the merchant living outside the locality where their works were carried on or their places of business situated, and he alluded to the case of Birmingham, where he said a man could have only one vote. But had he not forgotten that Edgbaston was within the borough of Birmingham, and therefore that the distinguished mill class of which he spoke in Birmingham had not the advantage of the dual vote? The point of his argument was that there was something in the industrial middle class of this country which entitled them to the possession of a double vote. But I was at a loss to understand the exact bearing of my hon. Friend's speech upon the Amendment before the House which he has so strongly supported, and for which I presume he is going to vote. I should just for a moment like to recall the attention of the House to the Amendment. It is this—That this House declines to proceed further with a Bill containing provisions effecting extensive changes in the representation of the country, in the absence of proposals for the redress of the large inequalities existing in the distribution of electoral power.The hon. Member for Dover, who preceded my right hon. Friend, made his great complaint against the proposals of the Government—not this mysterious manipulation of votes by an unprincipled and incompetent Government—but that the Government have proceeded with a measure for enfran- 276 chisement without, at the same time, submitting to the House a measure for the redistribution of the electoral power. Now, I should like to point out, in the first instance, that there is no novelty in the proposal of the Government, and that this question of redistribution is a time-honoured weapon of the Conservative Party, and has been used by them whenever the question of electoral reform has been introduced in this House. It is the first line of defence against the Democracy. It was used in 1831, in 1832, in 1866, and in 1884, and the Amendment of Lord John Manners in 1884, against which my right hon. Friend delivered so powerful a speech, was—That this House declines to proceed further with a measure having for its object the addition of 2,000,000 voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom until it has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government for the amendment of the representation of the people.The noble Lord and his colleagues spoke and voted in favour of that Amendment.
MR. II. H. FOWLER
One of the most powerful speeches on that occasion was made by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, who used in 1884 the same argument as he has put forward now. The right hon. Member for Bury asked the House to read the speech of the Prime Minister of that day, and he quoted with approval from that speech. Many Members of the Opposition, I am glad to see, have suddenly discovered the infallible wisdom of the right hon. Member for Midlothian. I think if he could come back at present to this House and hear how those who, when he was here, did not by any means speak of him in these terms have changed their opinion, and if he could see to what a pedestal they have raised him, it would be some consolation to him in his present retirement. I quite agree that that was a very marvellous speech of the Prime Minister's. He knew that the whole strength of the Opposition would be devoted to endeavouring to resist that measure by raising this question of the redistribution of electoral power. He said—Our endeavour has been to inquire what was practicable, what were the conditions under which we have to move and act in the present state of public opinion and of Parliamentary 277 business. We have heard in former years, and may possibly hear again this year, something of what are the consequences of 'deck-loading'—we have determined not to deck-load our Bill; we have a sufficient cargo.Then he went on to say that—Experience has been gained since 1866, and we find that confident, sanguine, and perhaps a little ferocious, as our opponents were before we introduced the Redistribution Bill, when we introduced it their opposition became keener than ever…It is impossible not to observe this fact, that of the many political crises produced in connection with reform every one has resulted from proposals for redistribution and not for enfranchisement.As I have said, in 1884 the late Prime Minister was confronted by the whole strength of the Opposition in their endeavour to arrest the progress of his measure, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury knows perfectly well that the Prime Minister of that day declined to walk into the trap that was set for him. Mr. Bright described the Amendment of Lord John Manners as an insidious one, and Mr. Forster expressed his strong disapproval of it, and urged the Government to stand firm to their plan for improving the electoral franchise without touching the question of electoral distribution. But, besides all these, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham made a speed) which I should like to quote. I am not at all quoting it as a tu quoque, or in the sense that he has changed his opinions, but as exactly representing the present; situation. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain), speaking in this House on March 27, 1884, said—If I were to suppose that the Opposition were really hostile to the extension of the franchise, were distrustful of their fellow-countrymen, and were not willing to extend the limits of political freedom, while at the same time they were unwilling to commit themselves to any irreconcilable antagonism to the people to whom at no distant day they may have to appeal for support—if I were to imagine that on this question they were 'willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,' what would be the policy I should attribute to such an Opposition? What is the natural course they would take,' I suppose it would be their business—it would be their interest—to minimise the importance of the reform proposed for the acceptance of the House, to deny altogether the interest the country would take in it, and at the same time to magnify and exaggerate the gravity of all the complications which might arise while it was under discussion. I assume that they would take every opportunity to delay the discussion of the Hill by interposing debates upon every 278 conceivable subject and at all possible times; and, above all, I conceive they would strive to stifle the consideration and deliberation of a Bill which is a very simple measure, raising but few questions of principle which could be easily decided, by endeavouring to import into it the consideration of an elaborate scheme, full of details, which might easily arouse and perhaps offend local susceptibilities and local interests. That seems to me to be the course an Opposition would take in the circumstances I have described, and that is the course the Opposition has taken in reference to the present Bill.Well, the House refused on that occasion to accept the policy then put forward by the Opposition. Let me ask why should we accept it now? As I said before, I do not admit that this is a Reform Bill at all. I do not admit that it is either an enfranchising or a disfranchising Bill. It will add to every existing constituency additional voters, but nobody knows the extent of that addition, and, until it is known, how can you legislate as to redistribution? Let, mo now come to the Bill itself. It makes three proposals. In the first part it deals with registration exclusively; in the second part it requires a voter possessing more than one qualification to select from time to time the qualification or place in respect of which he will vote during the current Register; and, in the third place, it provides that all General Elections shall be held on one day. The right hon. and learned Member asks us to arrest the progress of this Bill and to refuse the Second Reading unless a fourth subject, which is not included in it, is added, but he has not established the case that you must adopt every portion of a Bill if you adopt it as a whole. I will put a ease which occurred in this House. Last Session I had the honour of introducing the Local Government Bill, the first part of which dealt with the constitution of the new local governing authority, and the second part was a reform in the administration of the Poor Law. The Opposition of the day maintained that those two questions were absolutely distinct, and ought not to be included in the same Bill; but they did not propose on that ground to throw out the Bill on the Second Reading. They consented to the Second Reading of the Bill, and reserved to themselves the right to set out their objections to the Poor Law portion of the Bill when the Committee stage was reached. Similarly, a 279 man may approve of the registration part of this Bill and may be against the abolition of the multiple vote, but that is no reason why he should not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill and deal with the part to which he objects when it is reached in Committee. I cannot, therefore, admit the force of the Amendment, which asks the House to reject the Bill because objections are urged against certain portions of it. I will not trouble the House with reasons in favour of the registration part of the Bill. I think it was the Leader of the Opposition who said last year that it would be an outrage to maintain the present system by which a man may be the occupier of a house for two and a-half years before he can get a vote. I gather that we are agreed on the point that the registration ought to be improved. Then we come to the next point of the Bill, which has to do with the payment of rates. The right hon. and learned Member objected to the abolition of the rating qualification. My answer to that is that that qualification was abolished in 1869, was again practically swept away in 1884, and at the present moment it is a cumbrous, antiquated provision, which secures nothing and complicates everything. The compound householder's vote is secured to him beyond all dispute, and if you apply the principle of rate collecting it will affect only houses of a higher class. It is the duty of the rate collector to collect the rate, and you ought not to make the machinery of a man's political franchise depend upon his having paid one particular species of debt. To be consistent you ought to attach the same condition to the payment of his rent; but there is no provision for disfranchising him for nonpayment of rent. The real qualification is occupation of the house, which means ownership or occupation. I assume my right hon. and learned Friend does not attach much importance to that. One word about the acceleration of registration. My right hon. and learned Friend has made very merry over the extra cost which he says the second registration will involve. I do not agree with the figures which he has presented to the House. I do think that the cost will increase to some extent. Additional fees will have to be paid to the Revising Barristers, but they will not have to do double the 280 amount of work. The work will be divided into two halves of the year, and a very small additional remuneration will be sufficient for the Revising Barristers. The main cost is in the cost of printing; but if, under one of the clauses of this Bill, the printing be placed under the control of the Central Authority in the district, so as to do away with the double printing, the saving will far more than outweigh the extra cost. My right hon. and learned Friend was extremely severe upon our want of statistics. He asked us how many additional voters would be placed on the Register by means of this alteration in the qualification. We have no accurate figures for Scotland or Ire-land, but we have accurate figures for England and Wales. Taking the Register of this year, there is a discrepancy between the number of voters on the Register as occupiers and the number of occupied houses of 1,250,000. Of these, nearly 700,000 are women occupiers. The number of occupying women on the County Council Register is 685,000, and the remaining 565,000 will represent the non-registered houses. Deducting the houses which are unlet, a very considerable percentage, and the houses where the residents are of such a shifting character that it is almost impossible to attach to them any residential electoral qualification, I do not think the increase in the number of voters is much above 300,000 in the whole Kingdom. The next point is one to which the right hon. and learned Member devoted the great part of his speech. It is that of plural voting. He says that a voter possessing more than one qualification is to select from time to time the qualification in respect of which he is to vote. As he told us, this change was not made in 1884. But I may remind the House that Mr. Forster then expressed his great regret that the system of plural voting was to be maintained although supporting the Bill of the Government, because he was anxious that nothing should interfere with the progress of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian was himself cautious in his reference to it, and the general feeling of the House at that time was that the dual vote would have to go, and that it ought to go. Whom does this dual vote affect? Here I must express my surprise at the figures which my right 281 hon. Friend has given us. He said the Government had no Return.
MR. H. H. FOWLER
There was considerable misapprehension between my right hon. Friend and the Chief Secretary as to the exact meaning of the question. Though I have some experience of Parliamentary questions, I did not understand what my right hon. Friend was driving at, unless he was asking for the number of additional voters. He never raised the question of occupying voters.
MR. H. H. FOWLER
At any rate, these figures for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks have been on the Table of the House for some years, and I do not think he is justified in censuring the Chief Secretary for not having a Return at hand with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought himself to have been familiar. I am quite ready to admit that we made a mistake. We misunderstood the point to which he referred. This dual vote affects two classes—owners only in counties, and occupiers both in counties and in boroughs. Last year the number of county voters in England and Wales was 2,784,000, while on the existing Register the entire ownership vote is just under 500,000–497,247. Who do not know how many of these are nonresident at the present time, but who do know that in 1888 the number of non-resident freeholders was 121,287. The right hon. and learned Gentleman put the case of a, man having a place of business in the borough and a house outside the borough, and said that man was entitled to two votes—one in respect of each property. There has been no Return on the subject since 1888, but the figures are not very much changed, and the Return for that year shows that in the counties there were 2,061,000 occupying voters, and of these only 10,770 were non-resident; while in the boroughs there wore 1,807,000 occupying voters, and of these the non-resident occupiers in the whole of the boroughs of England and Wales are stated in that Return to number 56,630. [Cries of "oh!"] Hon. Members ex- 282 press surprise. I am surprised myself, but we must accept that Return, which was prepared by the Home Office, and was signed by the late Under Secretary for the Department. I confess I was astonished at the figures, and I sent to the Home Office to know on what principle the Return was compiled. The explanation given by the Home Office is as follows:—Broadly speaking, the principle on which the distinction between resident and non-resident occupation voters is founded is—'resident' are those who reside in the premises in respect of which they are qualified; 'non-resident' are those who do not reside in the premises in respect of which they are qualified. But much depends on the local knowledge of the Overseer, and if the business premises in respect of which a voter is qualified and his lodgings happen to be in the same parish, he is very frequently returned as resident; or, if the Overseer of the parish in which his qualification is situated happens to know that he is resident within the bounds of the constituency, he may also be returned as resident. If, however, his dwelling-house is situated outside the limits of the borough, he is, of course, returned as nonresident.Well, I candidly say that that is a figure which I should have thought was below the mark. I should have thought there were a good many more persons who reside outside boroughs and vote in them. If you add something like 11,000 nonresident freeholders, I cannot make out anything more than 80,000 or 100,000, if you like, out of nearly 2,000,000 occupying voters, who possess this double qualification. But let us assume there is a larger number, and that my right hon. and learned Friend's figures are correct. What is the effect? I do not think a thing is made any the better or any the worse by taking into account the number of people affected. If the multiple vote is right and only 1,000 men possess it, they ought to be allowed to exercise it; but if it is wrong, even though 1,000,000 have it, it should be taken away. This qualification depends upon property, and upon one description of property only. A man may be a large owner or a large occupier, but why should he in respect of that one particular kind of property have an advantage which he could not have in respect of any other description of property? Lot us assume a case in Manchester. A man has a place of business or manufactory in Manchester, and has his residence at Bowden or Altrincham. My right hon. and learned Friend says that he ought to 283 have two votes. But why should not a man who has £100,000 Stock in the Manchester Ship Canal have another vote? He has quite as large a stake in the country. [An hon. MEMBER: The rates.] The rates! Are we to be told that rates are a qualification for the Imperial franchise? I always thought that that was taxation. Again and again during those long and weary evenings that we spent over the Local Government Bill, when I was attacked for giving votes to people who did not pay rates, every speaker prefaced his remarks by the statement that they did not apply to those who contributed to the Imperial taxation. But the hon. and learned Gentleman did not rest very much upon this argument. He gave us a neat, almost epigrammatic, defence of the plural vote. He said it is an anomaly to give the same voice and influence in an election to the man who had by education and habit a capacity for dealing with public affairs, and had position and responsibility, as to the man who by the accident of birth is untrained in public affairs and uneducated in the history of public life. That is a very neat definition, that is Utopian, that is the counsel of perfection. I should like to see the day when nobody would have a vote who had not educational capacity to deal with public affairs; but that is not to be given by the 40s. freehold. That competitive examination and fancy educational franchise is not to be acquired by the ownership of a piece of land or a cottage, which depends on the wealth of the man who buys it. I do not hold that property and intelligence always go together. I do not hold either that the absence of property and the absence of intelligence go together. You cannot distinguish different classes of voters on the basis of the wealth or property they possess, that wealth or property being of one particular description. The citizen votes as a citizen, and not simply as a ratepayer, and I venture to say that the responsibility of citizenship for the result of administration and legislation of the individual, the burden of taxation, and the consequences of Imperial policy is not measured by wealth. The effect upon trade, on the condition of the people of this country, which arises from good or had administration, is as much, and more, felt by the working man than by any 284 other class in the community; and when you come to the greatest question of all, the question of peace and war, Mr. Bright has told you that there is no class whose existence is so seriously prejudiced by the commercial effect of a policy of war as the working class, or which has to pay so heavy a share of the terrible war-tax in the shape of suffering and death. Any attempt to gauge Imperial citizenship by the amount of a man's property is an attempt which always has failed in the past, and always will fail in the future. Therefore, without disputing the accuracy of the figures of my right hon. and learned Friend, be the number of dual voters great or small, I say that the possession of the dual vote simply upon a property basis is indefensible, and has not proved of service in the past. I presume that property is to be cared for by this House jointly with all other interests; but I say that the greatest security for property at this time is not the possession of the dual vote by 5,000 or 6,000 persons, but the fact that there is in the savings banks of this country £126,000,000 of the savings of the people, put in in small amounts, which gives them a stake in the prosperity of the country, quite sufficient to make them offer a stern resistance to any attempt to interfere with property. I have to apologise to the House for occupying their time so long, but I have to say one word more as to holding the elections on the same day. What is the objection to that? It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London that the expense is an objection. Well, the expense is always the argument used against all progress; but I believe that the opinion of the commercial classes of this country is that an Election which lasts, as the last Election did, something like 20 or 21 days is a great misfortune, and dislocates the trade of the country, and has a very had effect on commercial interests. I am reminded that so intolerable was the loss and inconvenience occasioned by the last General Election that the Associated Chambers of Commerce passed a resolution urging the Government to remedy the evil by fixing all the elections for one day. I say, then, that I do not anticipate any great increase of cost. As to the ballot boxes, there may be a few more required, but I believe a 285 ballot box costs no more than 7s. 6d, With reference to the staff, there would be no increase. You may have to employ 1,000 men on one day, but that is no more than 250 on four days. You will have a larger expense on one day, but that will be the beginning and the end of it. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition alluded to the popular superstition that votes are influenced by the result of the first day. I do not believe in that. Certainly at the last General Election I believe people had made up their minds which way they would vote long before the Election took place. Again, in my opinion, that is not a legitimate influence. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition also gave us the illustration of France, and pointed out that there was an idea that possibly having the elections all on one day might involve their being fixed for a Sunday. Well, Sir, I agree that that would be a very unfortunate day for the country. I am not going to advocate that, and I believe the public sense of the country would indignantly repudiate it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to remind him that besides France there is a great Anglo-Saxon country where all the elections take place on one day, but where they respect the Sunday—I mean the United States. The year before last we had a great conflict in this country to settle the question who was to be Prime Minister, and it took us a month or more to settle it. The United States settled the same question in one day. In fact, I am informed that on that day they not only voted for the President, but for the Representative to Congress and a variety of State officers, and there were polling-booths in which four separate votes wore given on that day by the constituencies. Surely what can be done in America can be done in England. The proposals of the Government in their Bill, as we think, deal with pressing and unjust anomalies. We object to postpone dealing with them until the great anomaly of the present distribution is dealt with. We are quite as anxious as hon. Gentlemen opposite for redistribution; but we do not see why a man who wants to vote, say, for the right hon. Gentleman opposite, should be deprived of that vote until Newcastle has got three Members or the number of Irish Members is rearranged. We want 286 to get rid of some of the small borough representation, and give larger representation to the larger constituencies, and there are other anomalies in our representative system which we are quite ready to deal with, but which cannot be dealt with in this Bill. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know that, and they know that the adoption of this Amendment is another way of moving that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. They know that, in point of fact, it is an Amendment which would destroy the Bill. In Committee we shall ask for a separate judgment on each proposal, and, unless the House is opposed to every attempt to improve our Registration Law and to deal with this unfair preponderance of electoral power and to promote the convenience of the country, it is bound to give this Bill a Second Reading.
MR. GRAHAM MURRAY (Buteshire)
said, he could not doubt that everyone who had had the pleasure—as he had had—of hearing the speech delivered by the Secretary of State for India that evening and the speech delivered by him on the subject of registration last year would be struck by the extraordinary difference between the two. Last year what was the topic upon which the right hon. Gentleman was so eloquent and clear? It was the glaring defects in the registration system of England and Wales. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out how cumbersome and costly that system was. He had pointed out how inefficient it was, and then, at the end of his speech, he had said that one or two other things had been thrown into the Bill in connection with the period of qualification and disfranchisement for non-payment of rates. Now all that was changed. The right hon. Gentleman told them a little time ago that the Bill before the House was not a Reform Bill, was not a Franchise Bill, and was not a Disfranchising Bill. He (Mr. Murray) wondered what it was. It certainly was not a Registration Bill. He would remind them that the only other Member of the Government who had addressed the House in the Debate had particularly stated that it was not a Registration Bill. The only part of it which touched registration at all was the provision which provided for the making of two Registers instead of one. Here was what the right hon. Gentleman 287 (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said about it when he introduced the Bill of last year—We are of opinion that two revisions in the year could not be carried out, and that there would be consequently no hardship in confining the revision to once a year.Now, consequently, if there were no changes—and the right hon. Gentleman had not said that there were any—the Bill, so far as it was a Registration Bill, was reduced to this: that it proposed to make the present system twice, or nearly twice, as costly as it was. It did not propose to grapple with the difficulties of the system, or to make it more simple or efficient. It simply proposed to add to the cost. The figures as to cost in England were given by the other right hon. Gentleman, and he (Mr. Murray) had thought at the time that it would be as well if figures relating to other parts of the United Kingdom were given. The figures the right hon. Gentleman gave were 1s. 4d. per head of the electorate in England. Well, he (Mr. Murray) took two cases at random in Scotland. He took first the case of Perth, one of the largest counties in Scotland, and he found that there the cost was 5½d.; then he took the case of Glasgow, the largest town in Scotland, and he found the figure was ll½d. What was the lesson to be learnt from these figures? It was that, so far as cost was concerned, the experience of Scotland showed that perfectly good registration could be secured very cheaply, and it had never been said that the registration system in Scotland was anything but good. The Secretary for Scotland, when he introduced it, admitted that there was little to improve in it. The plan the right hon. Gentleman had proposed had given an effective registration at a moderate cost. Surely the example of Scotland ought to incite the Government to deal effectually with the English system. If all the Government proposed to do as to registration was to increase the cost, it was clear, whatever right boa. Gentlemen might say about it, the Bill with which the House was asked to deal was not in any true sense a Registration Bill. Then, what was it? He would not use epithets, but, according to the showing of the right hon. Gentleman, it was an effort to deal with certain anomalies in the electoral system. If they were to bring in a Bill to deal with anomalies piece- 288 meal in that way, it was absolutely necessary to show that the anomalies were of such a character that they could be easily dealt with, and that if they were dealt with they were not running the risk of incurring greater anomalies than those which already existed. Let them look in turn at the three points with which the Bill proposed to deal. First, as to the reduction of the period of qualification. The Government had not given them an argument at all bearing on the point that it was not a good thing to have a true local connection between the voter and his place of qualification, and it had not been shown that the present period of 12 months was too long, and that three months was quite enough. It was said that with a 12 months' qualification it took more than a year to get on the roll. If they wished to enable a voter to get quickly on the roll it was not necessary to interfere with the period of qualification, but the best way was to try some improved method of accelerating the making-up of the roll. If possible, they should have it made up not at one period of the year, but automatically all the year round. The right hon. Gentleman had not dealt with that which, in the view of the Opposition, was the great objection to shortening the period of qualification—namely, that when they came down to the minimum period they had to deal with a set of people who were not really connected with the locality at all. If the period of qualification were reduced to three months, a floating, itinerant electoral population would be created without any real local connection with the places where they would vote. The hon. Member for Sunderland had said that this class of person moved about from place to place in search of work. That was true, and while no one would contend that a man was better in a moral sense if he was fixed to a locality than the man who had to move about from place to place in search of work, yet the latter class of person were such as agitators would appeal to, and not in vain. The truth was, that in this part of their proposals the Government seemed to him in principle to run counter to what they proposed in another part of the Bill. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had described plural voters as persons who contaminated and obliterated 289 the true opinions of a constituency, but at any rate where they voted they had an abiding local interest. That could not be said of the floating population who resided in a place for only three months. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the speech to which they had all listened with such interest in introducing the financial proposals of the Government had, in an eloquent passage, dealt with the insecurity of having too much floating debt. He (Mr. Murray) held that a floating electorate was just as had a thing to have in the question of voting as a floating debt was had finance. Could the same be said of a floating population sojourning in a place for only three months? To another provision of the Bill—he referred to the provision respecting the non-payment of rates—the Opposition objected because it would divorce taxation from representation. And here he would tell the House of what, probably, it was not aware of—namely, that the historical argument which hon. Gentlemen opposite had put forward as applicable to this matter was practically untrue, so far as Scotland was concerned. It had been represented that the condition of being on the rate-book was not a condition of the franchise, but was merely evidence of the franchise, and that, consequently, there was no real meaning in Parliament coupling the condition of the payment of rates with the vote. However that might be in England, it was not the case in Scotland. The history of the matter was this. In 1832 the franchise in burghs was a franchise which was associated with occupancy—of course, occupancy of premises of a certain value—and even that was coupled with the necessity of paying assessed taxes. In the counties, of course, at that time there was only an ownership franchise and a tenancy franchise of large amount. In 1867 the franchise in operation was conferred on the inhabitant occupier apart from the question of how much his premises were worth. It was conferred dependent on the payment of poor rates. The electoral roll of Scotland was made up from the valuation roll, and the valuation roll was a great national system of valuation which did not depend on local rate-books. This was the valuation system for the Kingdom. Now, in the Valuation Act of 1853 there had been a provision for 290 allowing the Magistrates in burghs, if they so wished, not to enter each house separately if it was of a small value. That section was officially repealed by the Enfranchising Act of 1867, and it was made imperative on the Magistrates to enter every house separately in order that they might see whether the condition of payment of poor rates with which the franchise was coupled had been performed or not. Nothing at that time was done with the counties, because no inhabitant occupier franchise was given them in 1867. In 1884 there was one uniform franchise made both for the county and for the burgh, and the section of the Valuation Act to which he had referred was abolished in toto, leaving it absolutely necessary that everyone who had the franchise in a burgh should pay poor rates, and making the condition for the county precisely the same. Now, it was said, of course, that it was a hardship in the case of the compound householder that a man should lose his vote because his landlord had not paid his rate. It seemed to him (Mr. Murray) that hon. Gentlemen had got hold of quite the wrong end of the anomaly. The root of the anomaly was the existence of the compound householder, and it seemed to him that the English Courts would have done well to have followed the same direction as the decision of the Scotch Courts in this case. They had always interpreted the clause which said that a man should forfeit his electoral qualification if he had not paid his rates in the most liberal sense of saying "that is only where the duty of paying it is put upon the man himself," and in the few exceptional instances where, when the duty was not cast on the man himself, there had been no payment, they had said, "He is not to blame for that," and they had not struck him off. That same class of decision should have been followed in the case of the compound householder. It seemed to him (Mr. Murray) logically wrong to pounce upon a particular thing, and say, "Here is an anomaly; therefore, we will do something which seems to take it away," when the truth was that that anomaly was the creation of another anomaly which they had not touched. Again, they had heard the argument that, after all, the rates were local. That he entirely controverted, 291 and he did not think there could be a more curious comment on the inextricable way in which these matters of local and Imperial duties and local and Imperial taxation were intertwined could have been found than the involuntary exclamation in the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Store), who spoke on the first night of this Debate. Speaking on this question of disfranchisement for non-payment of rates, the hon. Member said—No, Sir; I will tell you what I would be quite willing to do. I would disqualify the elector who did not send his children to school.The hon. Member would disqualify the elector for an Imperial duty—for the nonpayment of a local rate. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had never quite understood the point of view from which the Conservative Party looked on this question of plural voting and the payment of rates. They thought that for good or had no one could look at the history of the electoral legislation of this country without seeing that the end in view was to get a reflex of the views of the whole nation. The scheme by which Parliament, in the great movement which began in 1832, sought to get it was not by the counting of noses, but by taking the country as divided into the different local divisions, and assuming that the persons who lived in those local divisions would more or less represent the different strata of interest and intellect and everything else that made up the whole composite life of the nation. It was only on that theory that they could defend the great differences between the numbers in the different constituencies, and what hon. Gentlemen opposite had never seen in the arguments of the Conservatives was this—that if they disturbed the present system they would change the basis of local representation, and that if they once did that it would be necessary to obtain a reflex of the nation by some other method. Take the Universities. They had been sneered at, and it was curious to hear the Conservative Party twitted with possessing the University representation, "which represented the education of the country." It was all the more curious when they came to think of Scotland. It might be said, perhaps, that the English Universities more or less represented the classes and plutocracy, 292 but in Scotland every shepherd boy went to the University, and yet where was the Scotch University representation? Why, at the present moment the Party opposite could not win a single rectorial election! These were views which had not received adequate treatment from speeches made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They never seemed to him to grapple with this—that if they once began to alter this condition of having the strata of different opinion represented by localities, then they departed from the principle on which the whole electoral system had hitherto been founded. As to the effect of the law as to non-payment of rates, there was a Return which was got at the instance of an hon. Member behind him last Session which showed that in Scotland it was very far-reaching. It touched 5 per cent. of the total electorate in counties and 25 per cent, in burghs. Yet they were told that this was not a Reform Bill, though adding one-fourth more voters to the burgh electors. What voters? Obviously those who had paid their rent and yet had not contributed those few shillings necessary to show that they had the same idea of electoral duty as they had of electoral rights. That led him on to the other question of plural voting, and he hoped the House would see that much of what he had said applied to that question also. It was quite beside the question to say either seriously or in shouts of sarcasm that there was no necessary connection between property and intelligence. There was no necessary connection almost between anything and intelligence. In the same way, that there was no need to give real property representation which they did not give to personal property. Nobody supposed that they were giving the vote because the voter had got the property. The vote was given because the property was evidence of local connection with the place and of a local stake in the affairs of the nation. That was the true meaning of the property vote. When they came to apply it to a particular instance they would no doubt find a stupid man with many votes and a clever man with none. The line must be drawn somewhere, even in the case of the most advanced views. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean was inclined to approve of universal suffrage. He (Mr. Murray) 293 supposed the right hon. Baronet would draw the line at manhood suffrage, and yet did they not know many young men of 20 who were much more qualified to discuss political questions than others of 60 and 70? Wherever the line was drawn the same anomalies would be found, but to tell the House that the Conservatives were asking to give votes to men of property because they were proprietors was to lose the point of the situation. The Opposition maintained that the plural vote was only a fair recognition of the stake many people had in many parts of the country. A man who held property in a town and other property in other places which had been acquired by his ancestors hundreds of years before had as much right to a vote in regard to the latter property as a man would have to vote in respect of a house at the seaside in which he had been in residence for three months at a particular period of the year. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think that this had nothing to do with the Amendment. He had not seen that the moment they broke through the local connection they dislocated the whole system, and were brought face to face with some other arrangement, and that, he (Mr. Murray) took it, was the only true meaning of the Amendment which he now supported.
* MR. BILLSON (Devon, Barnstaple)
said, he hoped to answer a question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, "What is this Bill? It is not a Franchise Bill, and it is not a Reform Bill—what is it?" The answer was simple. It was a Bill for removing some of the anomalies which must necessarily be removed before they could have a proper system of registration. His (Mr. Billson's) view of registration was that it should be a mere matter of machinery. He did not believe they would have a proper Registration Bill until they had eliminated from the controversy four or five points on which the Parties were divided. If they could remove those matters of difference they would be able to put a Registration Bill into the hands of a Commission or a Committee, who would arrange all the details and go to the root of the whole matter, getting rid of whatever anomalies and difficulties might remain. He would put it to the House that there was no differ- 294 ence between the two sides as to the question of machinery. Both sides of the House wanted to have the largest number of capable electors put on the Register, and they wanted it done at as small an expense as possible. But before they could arrive at a business-like way of dealing with the Register they must remove out of the field of registration the points on which the Parties differed. The House must make up its mind what it wanted. He did not think it was of any use to bring in a Registration Bill again until they had made up their minds what they were going to do about the lodger—whether he was going to rate as an occupier without regard to the amount of rent that he paid. Then, with regard to the question of plural voting, that was not touched by the Registration Bill of last year, but it was included in the Bill now before the House, and it was more convenient to deal with it in a separate measure such as this than to mix it up with the question of registration. He would come to the question, for the moment, of the polling being held on the same day. Having had experience of a considerable number of elections, he quite agreed with what had been said to show that there would be nothing to increase the cost, nor did he believe that there would be the least difficulty in providing the machinery for taking the poll. Up to the present time the office of presiding officer had generally been tilled by a solicitor, but he had found from experience that there were a number of other people who could do the work quite as well or even better—for instance, clerks in the post offices or in the banks might be quite as capable of taking the votes as solicitors, if solicitors could not be found. Another thing which was forgotten was that in every borough of the country there was practically a General Election on the 1st of November, and in Liverpool he had seen the polling take place on a Saturday, upon which day a larger number of electors polled than ever before. That was a matter of experience. In his own constituency the poll was taken on a Saturday at the last Election and also at the Election in 1886, with very satisfactory results, without any entrenchment upon the peace and quietness of Sunday, which the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) seemed so much to fear. The question of redistribution, of course, 295 did not come into a Bill which merely removed a few electoral anomalies, nor could it be efficiently dealt with until hon. Members on both sides of the House were willing to have the constituencies divided up without regard to local sentiment. Redistribution was not a Party question. It must be recollected that in 1884 they were making a new departure; and in regard to this and that constituency constant appeals were being made on behalf of sentimental considerations. Thus it was said that places like Windsor or Canterbury, with their old historical associations and traditions, must not be disfranchised, and as it was a new departure these considerations were permitted to prevail. But 10 years had changed their feelings; they could now approach the subject unhampered by these mere sentimental ideas. He should like to have the whole question of redistribution dealt with, say, every 10 years, and settled in a non-contentious way by officials appointed for the purpose. He rather discountenanced the way in which this question of redistribution was argued from different points of view. He noticed that the Member for South Tyrone last night in a speech somewhere in London commented on what he do-scribed as the awful and shameful fact that 14,500 electors in Ireland returned five Members for small boroughs, while the great division of Romford returned only one Member. That was, of course, unequal; but he had in his mind five boroughs in England, containing not 14,500 electors, but only 12,638 electors, returning five Members. It was rather disingenuous on the part of the Member for South Tyrone to bring before his audience the great anomaly which existed in Ireland without mentioning the equal anomaly in England. They had been told that a man with property should have more votes than the man without property; but that was an argument not heard on public platforms from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Member for West Derby brought forward the old story—that the action of the Conservative Party was really in favour of the working man. This was now the favourite rallying cry of the Party. They used it to destroy the Employers' Liability Bill—all in the interests of the working man. Nay, last week, in another place, Lord Salisbury positively advanced this 296 as an argument for rejecting the Law of Inheritance Bill. They must, he said, protect the small freehold properties which working men might now acquire from being divided at their death amongst all their children, instead of descending to the eldest son. And so now they had the same sort of argument from the Member for West Derby. The hon. Member spoke of the "respectable settled working man" as distinct from the shifting working man; but he was certain that the man in settled work would not desire to keep the vote from his fellow because he was not a settled working man. The suggestion that there would be more personation under the new system than under the old would not hold water, for it was those who had gone away for a year and a half and who had not been heard of who were most likely to be personated. He did not regard this as a complete Redistribution Bill, but it was useful, inasmuch as it removed anomalies which stood in the way of a Redistribution Bill, and would be welcomed in the country on that account.
* SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
said, he had listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. II. Fowler), and had been sorry to hear the rather sneering allusion he had made in it to "genuine Liberals." He (Sir H. Meysey-Thompson) thought it was time that this sort of thing were put an end to, because, after all, it was a question very much of locality. His constituency was not very far from Wolverhampton. In Hands-worth he was a genuine Liberal, and in Wolverhampton the right hon. Gentleman was a genuine Liberal. He thought that under these circumstances they had better not sneer at one another about the quality of their Liberalism. The right hon. Gentleman had accused his right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) of imputing motives. His right hon. Friend had not imputed motives to the Government at all, although he had accused certain Members of the Government of imputing motives to others. If, however, the Government expected to gain no advantage from this Bill, why had they altered it from the form in which it appeared last year? The hon. Member who last spoke (Mr. Billson) said that the reason why the Bill had been 297 changed was that the Government had not made up their minds about the lodger franchise. Surely no Member of the Opposition could say anything more unkind about the Government than this. The Members of the Government were charged with the interests of the whole Empire, and yet it was said they could not make up their minds in 12 months on such a question as that of the lodger franchise. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H.H. Fowler) had accused the Opposition of always asking for redistribution when a Franchise Bill was brought forward. If that was such a grievance, why on earth did the Government not go in for equal electoral districts and "One Man One Vote" and have done with the matter. That would be a very simple way of solving the question. The right hon. Gentleman denied that the Bill would greatly increase the cost of elections. Well, he (Sir H. Meysey-Thompson) had a letter the other day from his own election agent—a man of great experience in these matters—and his opinion was that the measure would very largely increase the expense in his constituency. He would rather take the opinion of a practical man like an election agent on such a point than the opinion of any Member of the Government. He had received very urgent representations from his constituents—and he confessed he did not wonder at it—that he should do his utmost to oppose the Bill. His constituency was a very large one, and was rapidly increasing. He was told that after the revision in the summer there would be something like 18,000 electors in the division, and he did not suppose that anybody would contend that the electors of South Staffordshire were not as intelligent a body of men as any in the Kingdom. It was said that great intelligence was always allied with great modesty, and he believed that his constituents were as well endowed with modesty as those of any other constituency. It had been well remarked that vices were only virtues in excess, and he thought his constituents would be carrying the virtue of modesty to excess if they allowed that one elector in Ireland ought to have as much political power as 10 electors in the English Midlands. But that would be the effect of the Bill if carried out without doing any- 298 thing to redress the inequality of the representation. There were constituencies in Ireland with less than 1,800 electors, and if they were to send Members to Parliament exercising equal voting power with English Members representing constituencies of 18,000, it would be equal to saying that 10 men in Ireland were as good as 100 men in the Midlands. Perhaps the most serious attempt to justify the Bill had been made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. They were always pleased to hear the right hon. Baronet, because his ideas were very clear, and he had the fortunate gift of being able to express them clearly. But there were exceptions to every rule, and he was bound to say that in his speech the other day the logical sequence of the right hon. Baronet's ideas was not quite so perfect as usual. To begin with, the right hon. Baronet told them that the owners of property ought to be disfranchised as owners of property in respect of their property when they possessed also votes as occupiers, because property did not always represent intelligence. On the other hand, the right hon. Baronet told them that the Universities, which were, he supposed, the most intelligent constituencies in the known world, ought to be disfranchised also. The property owners were to be disfranchised because they were not intelligent, and the Universities because they were too intelligent. The right hon. Baronet also went on to tell them of another anomaly. Irish electors might have plenty of intelligence, but in knowledge of political affairs they were certainly behind the electors of Great Britain. [Cries of "No!"] He assured the House it was so. ["No, no!"] Whatever knowledge of political affairs the Irish electors might possess, what with the priests and the leagues, care was taken that they should not exercise it.
* SIR C. W. DILKE
said, the propositions which the hon. Member had connected were not connected in his remarks. What he said in regard to property was in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. What he said in regard to the Universities had reference to a complete scheme, and any such scheme would, of course, reduce the Irish representation.
* SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON
said, of course, he accepted the explanation of 299 the right hon. Gentleman, but he might at all events conclude that the right hon. Gentleman was opposed to the dual vote, that he was, as far as this Bill was concerned, in favour of continuing the over-representation of Ireland, and that he was in favour of disfranchising the Universities. In the Midlands a very strong feeling existed about the over-representation of Ireland, because it was felt to be grossly unfair to this country, and especially to the large industrial centres in England, which in many cases were comparatively under-represented to an unjust extent. The general opinion was that 80 Members for Ireland were too many; that, the various circumstances of taxation, education, commercial importance, and population taken into account, 60 Members would be a fair representation for Ireland in the House of Commons. Moreover, the population of the United Kingdom was increasing at a rapid rate, something like 440,000 a year, whilst, on the other hand, the population of Ireland was practically stationary. Therefore, when the Bill came into operation in 1896, if it was passed, the inequality in representation would be much greater than now, and surely that was another and strong reason why this anomaly should have been dealt with in this Bill. The class of voters whom they were going to disfranchise were the flower and pick of the constituencies. They were men who had invested their savings, not in foreign loans, but in solid property in England, and it would be a great political mistake to curtail or destroy the influence of this class in the State. There was another class whom they proposed to do a great injustice to, and that was the lodgers. There were many men living in large towns who had sons residing in their houses, and these sons would bo treated with great injustice. The coachman and the gardener and others had a vote, but these young men to whom he alluded, how-ever intelligent they might be—and many of them would have had a University education—would practically be disfranchised. He knew it might be said that means might be adopted to give them a vote. They might have a room to themselves at home, and pay a certain sum annually, and they would get the vote, but great difficulties were placed in their way. They would be compelled to go into 300 Court and answer very inquisitorial questions, which was a very unfair thing, because other classes of electors were not subjected to such questions. They had also to consider Low the lodger exercised the vote. A householder might change from one house to another in a constituency and did not lose the vote, but lodgers were differently situated, and nobody could contend that that arrangement ought to be perpetuated. While, however, they were disfranchising one class they were going to add very much to the representation of another, who were already exceedingly well represented. They were going to enfranchise a certain number of men who would be very much better without the vote—a class who, after living in a house for a certain time, paid no rates, got into debt, removed silently, and went through the same proceedings elsewhere. He did not think that the proposal to make them voters would benefit the country much, while it would add immensely to the expense of registration, on account of the difficulty of tracing them. With regard to the extraordinary arrangements made respecting plural voting, there was no man in the House who would be more affected than he was himself, because he had voters in many different places. He had the whole freehold vote in several towns, including West Bromwich, Walsall, and Wednes-bury, which had each a borough Member, and it was almost certain that at a General Election almost all these voters would vote in their own borough. If, however, he (Sir H. Meysey-Thompson) were to die, and there were a bye-election, all these freehold voters would probably vote in the county; therefore, the extra expense of keeping these voters on the Register, and looking them up every six mouths, would be forced upon him, while, probably, in his lifetime, he would never get the slightest advantage from them. There would be the additional disadvantage of all the intrigue and underhand manoeuvring which would be set on foot to decide in which constituency those with the double qualification should vote. Both at general and bye-elections offers would be made to candidates to induce men to vote in the county instead of the borough, or vice versâ, and payment in some shape or other would be expected for such services. He strongly suspected that the 301 Bill had emanated from a, caucus of Liberal agents, and he was afraid they had tried to do what the lawyers had already done for the law—to make it a thing nobody could understand unless they were well paid to understand it; and yet this was supposed to be an improvement on our present system. He confessed that he could not see that. The conclusion that he and his constituents had come to was that this was a had Bill, and he believed it would do the Government more harm than any Bill they had yet introduced. After all, the English people liked fair play; they liked to fight fairly, and there was a great suspicion about this Bill of hitting below the belt. They did not like to see one Party loading the dice or packing the cards against their opponents. Then he could not help thinking that they were losing sight of what the main object of any alteration of their registration system ought to be. The object ought to be to secure a better electorate and a better House of Commons, whereas he held that they were going to disfranchise one of the most capable class of electors, that they were going to do nothing for the sons, lodgers, and assistants In large establishments residing on the premises, and they were going to enfranchise a class which contained some undesirable elements. He might be told that these were Tory opinions, but, he believed them to be the opinions of common sense, and that they were shared in by the majority of his constituents.
MR. WHITELEY (Stockport)
said, he felt called upon to offer a few observations on this very important Bill before it went to a Second Beading. He believed that most hon. Members had expressed themselves in the country as strongly in favour of a vary drastic and thorough reform of the Registration Laws. He himself had done so, but his idea had always been that that reform should tend rather to the simplification of registration, and more especially to the cheapening of the cost, not only to the community at large but also to the candidate. He ventured to argue, however, that not only would that result not be attained in this Bill, but that a diametrically opposite result would follow. If the Bill were to come into law, it would add very largely 302 to the difficulty of working registration affairs, and would increase the expense to the ratepayers and the candidates. While it would involve increased cost, it would also increase the facilities which the wealthy man would have of juggling with the smaller constituencies. His objection to the Bill was that it was not thorough enough, and that it did not deal with the question broadly. He himself believed—although he might be formulating a doctrine which would be contrary to the opinion of most hon. Members of the House—that no revision of the Registration Laws would be satisfactory unless it dealt with some great evils of the public Revision Courts of the country. Those who were generally present in such Courts knew that the proceedings there were sometimes more of a mockery and a delusion than the carrying out of the law for which they were constituted. False swearing wont on to a marvellous degree, and lying and trickery also prevailed. Registration was a public work, which ought to be carried out and performed by the community at large, by the County Councils, and by the Town Councils, and the more one could diminish the interference and the meddling of political parties and agents in registration matters, the better it would be for the community. For himself, he favoured a six months' qualification. Before a vote was granted many hon. Members had pointed out that it might mean that a man would be off the Register for over a year before he obtained a vote to which he had a right. He believed that in 95 per cent. of the cases that would not be so. His plan would be that public registration agents should be appointed, and that when the lists of Overseers were published a month should be given to the political agents of both Parties to state their objections in writing, or the claims they desired to make, and, after that month had elapsed, the registration agent should deal with the case in camerâ, summon the people to whom objection had been taken to meet him at the Registration Court, swear them, and make them sign a declaration as to the length of time that they had been in occupation, and as to whether they were the real tenants. By that a good deal of the difficulty and friction of a public revision would be obviated. He believed that that would be a cheap way of getting 303 over the present difficulty. He himself did not lay much stress upon the question of the payment of the poor rates. He believed it was desirable to retain the present plan, but he did not argue very strongly for it, for he did not believe that a man would pay his poor rates any the sooner, if he had not got the money, from the fear of losing his vote. As to taking the polls on one day, he himself knew the disadvantage of elections being carried over a long period of time. He did not see great objection against the Saturday poll, but it seemed to him that the difficulty might be met by having a poll upon some other day than a Saturday, and by the framing of a regulation that a half-holiday should be granted on the day of polling. To say, however, that the whole of the polls of the United Kingdom, both borough and county, should be held on one day was to create a great difficulty. The question could, he thought, be solved by having the polls for the boroughs on one day—Saturday or any other day—and those for the counties six or seven days afterwards. He regarded the Bill as undoubtedly a great disfranchising measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India had said that he would not answer many of the conundrums put to him by the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir H. James), but he might be excused for suggesting that the answer would not be forthcoming, because there was no possible answer. This seemed to be not a Registration Bill but a Bill drafted as an attempt to dish the Unionist Party. Hard words had been used in the discussion on the Bill, but he did not believe any of them had been too hard. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in introducing the Bill, made a speech the most guileless and artless, his demeanour was childlike and bland, as if this were only simply a Registration Bill, and not one by which the Government were carrying out practically a revolution in the franchise of the country. It seemed to him it was a cardinal principle of the Gladstonian Liberal Party that they, and they alone, were fit and proper occupants of the Treasury Bench, and if the constituencies did not agree with that view, so much the worse for the constituencies, and they had got to be changed. 304 He believed that if the Gladstonian Party had not in their inmost hearts thought this Bill, if carried into law, would be of service to them, very little would have been heard of "One Man One Vote." Speaking to a leading Gladstonian Liberal in a Lancashire constituency and venturing to prophesy that the seat would be carried by a Unionist at the next election, he was met by this retort—"Whether that be so or not, only give us One Man One Vote, and you have seen the last of Unionist representation in this Division of Lancashire." The Unionists held the opinion that a fair distribution or redistribution of seats would be of great advantage to them. They believed that if the superabundant representation enjoyed by Ireland and Wales was shorn off and the Members allotted to that, portion of England at the present time unrepresented, that would act to the advantage of the Unionist Party. Therefore, he ventured to say it was the bounden duty of the Unionist Party with forethought and foresight to recognise this possible state of affairs, and take care that in any Registration Bill similar to this they were not over-reached and, to use the word of the right hon. Member for Bury, not jockeyed out of the present position they rightly occupied.
* MR. WALTON (Leeds, S.)
said, it was obvious to those who had heard the speeches by which the Amendment was supported that the language of the Amendment was a mere feint for a most violent attack on the principle and scope of the measure. The Amendment conceded that there were anomalies in their existing representative system, and proposed to postpone the correction of anomalies the burden of which they felt to some vague and indefinite period. The answer to such a contention, he should submit to the House, was very shortly this: Why should they defer the remedy of evils for the correction of which the country was prepared till they were ready to produce the remedy for other evils for the correction of which the country was not prepared? Did hon. Members opposite seriously contend that the people of this country were prepared for a new electoral map with mechanical districts, mathematically arranged, in defiance of all notions of local centres of population? He gathered from the 305 hon. and learned Member for Plymouth that they were not prepared for any such thing. Were they prepared for any system of redistribution of electoral power? Hon. Members opposite had not sought to prepare the country for any such change, and if one was to judge from the history of the attitude of the Conservative Party towards these proposals in the past they were not disposed to advance schemes for the redistribution of political power which could scarcely be attended by any accession of strength to the Conservative Party in the country. The effort of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury in his speech that night was to show that some redistribution of electoral power was a condition for the passing of this measure. He asked the House to come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman entirely failed to prove that proposition, and for this reason—that they were not dealing with a measure which conferred any new franchise; they were dealing with a measure which sought only to free the existing franchise from the fetters which impeded its exercise by the people who possessed it. The abuses against which the Hill was directed were obvious abuses, and they were twofold in character. In the first place, they had an abuse of a registration system which, by means of an elaborate machinery of officialism, strangled the existing franchise with red tape, and they had an abuse of plural voting under which the exercise of the franchise by a large section of the people of this country was neutralised by the casting of votes by persons who possessed the happy privilege of plurality of voting powers. These two evils were patent, they were pressing, and they were evils which the Government were justified in attempting to remedy without being launched into any vague scheme of redistribution of electoral power, not only in England, but in Ireland, for which the opinion of the country, he submitted, was at present entirely unprepared. How could it be shown that, as a condition for the remedy of these two evils, they must re-organise their elective system of representative government? These defects, he submitted, would be defects in any system of distribution of electoral power. The redistribution of electoral power could not be 306 a condition, therefore, for the removal of defects which would be defects in any electoral system. He listened that night with some degree of regret to the speech which fell from the right hon. Member for Bury. They had looked upon his right hon. and learned Friend as one of the greatest supporters of the cause of electoral purity, and to hear that night the recantation of some of the opinions which led them to regard his right hon. Friend as one of the champions of the cause which this Bill sought to advance caused a feeling of pain to some of those who listened to that speech. What was the ground of the attack which his right hon. and learned Friend made? He said this was a disfranchising Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth gave expression to the same view, and it was the disfranchising character of this measure which led to some of the strongest comments which fell from the right hon. Member for Bury. With great respect he challenged the accuracy of that description. He submitted it could not be fairly said that this Bill was disfranchising in its character. Its operation in the registration section of the Bill was distinctly enfranchising in its character. If they got a measure diminishing the restrictions on the franchise and enlarging the scope of its exercise, he submitted to that extent and to that degree its character was not disfranchising, but enfranchising. His right hon. Friend said that by disfranchising the plural voter they carried a measure of disfranchising reform. It was true it disfranchised, but it enfranchised in a corresponding degree, because every plural vote struck from the list of pluralists set free the vote of a single voter who up to that moment was neutralised by the exorcise of the plural vote. They had some of them hoard of the clergyman who, by the exercise of a little interest and by the expenditure of a little money, managed to amass in his own hands no less than 35 voting qualifications, and the ample leisure of his clerical office allowed him in the course of a General Electionito visit some 30 constituencies and record his vote in each, A measure which struck 34 votes from that list of 35 enfranchised 34 people who up to that moment had their electoral power destroyed by the plural fran- 307 chise. A Bill which destroyed the plural voter enfranchised the single voter in a degree exactly proportionate to the disfranchising effect of its operation on the plural voter. He admitted that the plural vote had the merit of antiquity in its origin. This measure proposed to attack a modern abuse of an ancient right. In its present character the exercise of the plural vote was only possible under conditions affording facilities for locomotion which in the days of its origin were nonexistent. The nomadic elector, or, to use the expression of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, the wandering elector, was an impossible factor in days before the existence of express trains, and, therefore, it was more in its modern aspect than in its ancient character that this Bill sought to remove or reduce the evil. They had an illustration given with considerable force by both the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth and the right hon. and learned Member for Bury. They gave them, perhaps, the strongest example of the injurious operation of the pluralities portion of the Bill. They gave the case of the tradesman who traded in the town and resided in the country, the manufacturer who manufactured in the borough and resided in the country, and they asked were the Government going to commit the enormity of depriving these men of their ancient franchise to be separately exercised in regard to their place of residence and their place of business? He unhesitatingly answered that contention by disputing the accuracy of the statement that any such franchise was ancient in its origin. In the time of antiquity to which their sympathetic attention was drawn, the tradesman lived over his shop, and the manufacturer resided at his mill, and enjoyed under these conditions only one vote, and only the influence of a unit upon the politics of the country; and was it reasonable to say that, because the tradesman chose to reside in the country or the manufacturer chose to leave his residence at the mill, his political influence on the Imperial issues submitted to the judgment of the country, for these very inadequate reasons, was to be multiplied by two? That was the very pressing aspect of this question which made the case of reform an urgent one. Under the existing system they had no 308 check upon the capricious or unscrupulous acquisition of electoral power. When they destroyed the pluralist they would kill the faggot voter. Let them take another illustration of the evils of the present system. They knew the history of the special train which often visited a rural constituency in the course of an election. They knew of the band of gentlemen who, with some difficulty, found their way from the railway station to the polling station, inquiring the direction of their road on the way. They knew that the moment their votes were recorded they returned to the distant urban constituency from which they had come. They knew nothing of the district in which they had recorded their vote, except the road which intervened between the polling and the railway station; they never visited the constituency, the election of which they were influencing, except in the course of a General Election, and yet their contribution to the decision of that contest had an appreciable, and in some cases could be shown to have had a controlling, effect upon the choice of the permanent residents in the locality of the political system under which they might choose to reside. These were illustrations of evils which the House should take into its serious consideration, and if the Bill proposed to remove them he submitted that it was an instalment of reform which ought to be welcomed. The fact that they had evils of this kind called for some intervention of the House. They had had a repetition to-night, from his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury, of the defence of plural voting. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the franchise had local associations, which demanded that every elector should exercise his electoral right in every district with which he might be connected. Lord Salisbury, speaking on a recent occasion, gave utterance to the same idea, and he said that local divisions were based on local knowledge of the wants and objects of the locality. That was a most powerful argument in favour of local voting for local government, but the issues which were submitted to the country were not local, but Imperial; the issues affected not the wants of the locality, but the interests of the Empire as a whole, and although the elections might take place 309 in various districts, the issue presented to all was precisely the same, and the considerations affecting the decision of the whole could not fairly be called local considerations. There was a time, no doubt, when local considerations largely affected the character of the franchise; but the formation of definite political Parties, the submission to the decision of the country of definite political issues, the diffusion of knowledge as to the character of those issues, had entirely destroyed the local character of the franchise. Let them test by practical inquiry the accuracy of the argument which fell from his right hon. and learned Friend. Suppose they had a Birmingham manufacturer residing in the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, and with a moor in Scotland. Suppose that, in the case of a General Election, he exercised his threefold franchise under the separate local influences of these distinct local interests, what would be the result? They would have a contemporaneous support of the three Parties into which this House was divided, and such an illustration, he submitted, entirely destroyed the notion that under existing political conditions the franchise possessed a local character, which must derive local colour from the area in which it might be exercised. What was the aim of statesmanship in dealing with electoral questions under existing conditions? Its object was, if possible, to strip the franchise of all ideas of place or persons, to make the issues clearly Imperial in their character, and if they had local divisions to create these local divisions not with reference to separate local interests or prejudices, but to group them on some fair system which would give to each area some fair proportion between the population seeking representation and the representative who might be chosen by that population to sit in this House. Local ideas and local knowledge, he submitted, could only disturb and distract those Imperial issues upon which public opinion was invited, and upon the decision of which the fate of the Government and the policy of the Empire must depend. What was the only real argument which they had heard in support of the opposition to this Bill? They had had one argument, and it had met a strange fate. It had been repudiated by some 310 speakers and adopted by others. It had been the shuttlecock of the oratory addressed to the House from the Opposition Bench, and the argument was that the plural vote was the vote of property against democracy. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth said it was a bulwark of property against democracy.
SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
I never said myself, nor have I hoard any one on this side of the House say, that plural voting is the bulwark of property.
* MR. WALTON
accepted at once the repudiation, which be quite anticipated, of the language which he attributed to him, but he was sure his hon. and learned Friend would not repudiate the argument. The contention of his hon. and learned Friend was that plural voting was in the hands of the propertied class; that the propertied class and the intelligent and educated class were identical, and that the vote of property was defensible, not only because it was the vote of property, but of intelligence and education. When this Bill was first before the House the Leader of the Opposition repudiated with indignation the suggestion that he had any sympathy with a system which would give electoral power to the possessors of property alone. But it was beyond all question that plural voting did give political power to the possessors of property; it gave them direct political power, and the contention by gentlemen opposite was that, as they ordinarily found property and intelligence going together, they were justified in giving this increased political power to property, because they sometimes found the owners of property were the possessors of intelligence. But the possessors of property, had too much indirect power at present to lead them (the Liberals) to sympathise with any measure which would seek to increase that indirect political influence by any accession to or by an}' maintenance of their existing direct political power. But was this a satisfactory concession to the propertied classes? He thought that a more unsatisfactory bulwark of property could scarcely be devised than the present system, which gave political [lower to real property and ignored the whole funded wealth of the community and those large accumulations of capital by means of which the greatest achieve- 311 ments of property had been accomplished. In addition, they had a concession of political power to property which was not in proportion either to the extent or to the value of the property which received that concession of power. Take the case of an owner of an estate worth £20,000 a year, who had one voting qualification; but if they distributed his estate over 30 counties he might have 30 voting qualifications. So, also, they found the principle of corporate ownership entirely, discarded. A man might have £500,000 of Railway Stock; the railway might go into several counties in England; he might have a large control over extensive works in many constituencies in which that railway moves, and what was the political power that was given to the possessor of all that property? It was absolutely nil; and yet the owner of a mere fraction of that wealth, differently invested over a smaller area, might hold in his hands voting qualifications which would defeat or neutralise the opinions of a whole township. On the Government side of the House they were quite ready to entertain a system dealing with the redistribution of electoral power in this country, but for present purposes the Government had sufficiently loaded the ship, and he therefore asked the House not to judge harshly of this measure because it did not entirely satisfy all the requirements of the largest scheme for electoral reform. There was one other topic on which he would like to say a word. He was sorry to hear the recantation of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury with reference to the disqualification of voters owing to the non-payment of rates. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had at one time laid down the principle that to disqualify a voter for the non-payment of local rates was to disqualify him in the discharge of an Imperial franchise while at the same time he was paying Imperial taxation. How was the opinion of an elector on the affairs of Egypt or Uganda, or on the merits of the Budget, less valuable because he had not paid his last contribution towards the repair of the highways, or, perhaps, some very small local rate? It was difficult to see any relation between the fitness of the penalty they sought to visit on the offence. In the 312 case of misfortune it was an unjust retribution upon a man, who might be a worthy citizen, to deprive him of all political power because he was in arrear with his rates. He felt that the House would recognise that it was their policy to enforce as far as possible on the people of the country a recognition of their obligation to record their votes; and to enforce as far as possible the opinion that it was not only a privilege, but a duty, to discharge the franchise; and if that were true, as most undoubtedly it was, what they did under the present system was to punish a man for a breach of obligation—the obligation to pay rates—by forcing on him the breach of another obligation—the obligation to record his vote. The Bill had been denounced to-night in unmeasured language as a corrupt Bill. When it came before the House first it was received with much more toleration. It was said that it was a gerrymandering measure. He repupudiated the suggestion that the Liberal Party wished by this Bill to gerrymander the constituencies. That charge had been made against every electoral reform which had been brought before the House, and it would prove as false now as it had proved false in the past. The supporters of the Government were conscious of the anomalies to which he had referred, and they would not be deterred from seeking their removal by reflections on their motives, or by opprobrious epithets applied to their measures. They would not be satisfied until evils were remedied which they regarded as affecting the free exercise of a popular franchise and impairing the representative character of Parliament.
§ * MR. CURZON (Lancashire, Southport)
said, he desired to compliment the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down upon the ability of what he understood was the hon. Gentleman's first contribution to the Debates of the House. He confessed that there was scarcely a proposition in the hon. Gentleman's interesting speech with which he was not in disagreement; but if he failed to follow the hon. Gentleman point by point through his remarks, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would understand that it was not because of inability to appreciate their force, but because he desired to confine himself to incidents which 313 occurred earlier in the evening. The House had looked forward with much interest to the speech of the Secretary for India, because of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was the author of the most dissimilar Bill which was introduced last year. If the present measure survived the attack of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, and the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, he doubted whether it would survive the defence of the Secretary for India. That speech was remarkable for what it contained, but it was still more remarkable for what it did not contain. The right hon. Gentleman had offered no explanation of the fact that the same Government in successive Sessions had introduced two Bills, professedly dealing with the same subject, of the most opposite and contradictory character. He had not told the House why plural voting, which he last year stated had nothing to do with registration, had been introduced into a Bill which he now said was not a Franchise Bill, and was therefore a Registration Bill. He had not told the House why the proposal to have all elections on the same day figured in this Bill, and was absent from the Bill of last year. On the other hand, he had not explained why no attempt had this year been made to deal with the lodger franchise, successive occupation, the principle that the burden of registration should be borne by the State, and other points of admitted utility contained in the Bill of last Session. Nor had any defence been offered of the fortuitous selection of particular anomalies and the total neglect of others. Why was there no provision for the relief of candidates for Parliament from returning officers' expenses? But perhaps more remarkable than all these was the fact that no serious attempt had been made by the Government to explain how it was that this Bill, which, if he might differ from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India, was a Franchise Bill and not a Registration Bill, and which indeed the right hon. Gentleman admitted in a part of his speech was a Franchise Bill—since he had said that they were fighting exactly the same battle as in 1884—had been introduced despite the settlement of 1885. This was a Franchise Bill, and was a 314 deliberate re-opening of the settlement of 1885, which the Secretary for Scotland said at the time "settled everything except the question of sex on a permanent and solid basis, so that no man would be troubled with the question of the franchise again;" and therefore he wished to know why in this proposal the Government had entirely ignored the gross anomaly of the over-representation of certain parts of the country? These circumstances had heightened and deepened the suspicion with which the Bill had come to be regarded, and the Government had probably realised the fact that the discussion at every future stage would be prolonged, if not acrimonious, and that the measure would be treated by the Opposition with the importance which it deserved. The further they proceeded with this Bill the less, in his opinion, did the House like it. From the hon. Member for Sunderland and the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean trenchant criticisms of the Bill had been hoard, and other speeches from the Ministerial side of the House contained indications that some of the most important provisions of the measure were doomed. Take the question of having the polls on the same day. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India appeared to be quite unaware of the fact that any argument had been advanced againist that proposal. Why a perfect sheaf or forest of reasons had been advanced against the proposal to have the polls on the same day. It had been pointed out that if the day was a Saturday the Jewish portion of the community would practically be disfranchised, and that the change would largely prevent small shopowners from exercising the franchise. Then there was the police difficulty to confront. Disturbance might be fomented and organised deliberately in one district in order to draw the police away from other localities where it was desired to exercise political intimidation. The question of expense, again, was one that should not be underrated. The right hon. Gentleman said he did not anticipate that the cost of the polls on the one day would be great. The right hon. Gentleman's opinion was not shared by those cognisant of the subject, and certainly not by those election agents whom he had consulted. But even if 315 the right hon. Gentleman was right with regard to expense, snrely he had altogether underrated the difficulties that would arise in providing the requisite machinery. He had taken pains to ascertain the fashion in which this proposal would apply in Derbyshire, the county in which he lived. It was said in the course of the Debate by one hon. Gentleman that there would be no necessity whatever to increase the existing staff. The hon. Member must have spoken in ignorance of what was required. In Derbyshire there were at the General Election 220 presiding officers and a similar number of clerks, and even under the present system, when the elections took place at different times in different parts of the county, there was a difficulty in getting well-qualified persons to fill the posts. But if all the elections took place on the one day, there would be the risk that the returning officer would have to fall back on persons to act as presiding officers who would not be efficient for carrying out the work. The scale of pay that was provided for presiding officers was not sufficient to attract men of business and of good position; and not only did they run the risk of getting persons not qualified to do the work, but they would place the returning officer in a most unfair position. The returning officer was responsible for the proper conduct of the election; and if owing to the failure of duty of any of his subordinates the election should be declared void, the penalty fell on him. Therefore, the question of having the polls on the same day was not so small, nor a matter of such common agreement, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury had spoken of the intolerable expense the double Register would impose on both ratepayers and candidates. He would point out that in Derbyshire last year the cost of the Register was as follows:—Printing, £900; Revising Barristers' fees, £200; the allowance for Overseers was difficult to fix with positive accuracy, but he had put it down at £3,500, which amounted altogether to £4,600. With a double Register the cost would probably be nearly doubled, so that the constituencies of Derbyshire would have to pay £10,000 annually, excluding, altogether, the much larger sum that was most 316 unjustly and unnecessarily under the present system imposed on the candidates themselves. He did not desire to use strong language. He would not say that on this side of the House they regarded this Bill as a shameless attempt to gerrymander the constituencies in the interests of the Party opposite, but he did say that it was a deliberate attempt to combine the maximum of Party advantage with the minimum of public gain. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bury had deliberately challenged the Government on that point. He had accused the Government in the plainest language of having introduced the Bill for Party purposes, and he had challenged the next speaker who rose on the Government side of the House to point out what were the provisions in the Bill which did not tend to that result. The late Attorney General, in a speech he recently delivered, had confessed that the Bill had been introduced chiefly with that object. None of the hon. Members on the Government Bench seemed inclined, however, to accept this oft-repeated challenge, and had carefully avoided making any direct reference to it in their speeches.
§ MR. CURZON
said, that at any rate the fact was significant. It was very interesting to observe these signs of commencing friction of opinion on the Government Bench, and he could only suppose that, having lost their Attorney General, hon. Members on that side of the House now felt themselves free to repudiate any sentiments he had expressed which did not fit in with the present occasion. If the Government had been in earnest nothing would have been easier for them than to have brought in a straightforward Registration Bill, and if they had desired to see such a Bill placed on the Statute Book they could have brought in a measure which would have met with practical acceptance on both sides and could have been passed through the House that Session. There was no doubt a general consensus of opinion existed that registration reform was needed. The present Bill simply bristled with contentious matter, and he could only suppose that the Government 317 when introducing it were looking ahead, and hoped that it would prove a good thing for them in the event of a General Election and would furnish a cry against the House of Lords. Indeed, one hon. Member had "let the cat out of the bag" last night when he said that if the Bill passed it would be a good Bill, and if it were rejected the Government would have a good argument. That was, in his opinion, a very good demonstration of his assertion that the Government did not wish the Bill to pass into law so much as they desired to see it thrown out by the House of Lords. The supporters of the Hill also contended that the Bill was not a disfranchising, but an equalizing measure. How far was this line of argument to be carried? Suppose Parliament took away a man's property. Was it any consolation to him to be (old that his goods were confiscated in order to reduce him to the condition of hundreds of thousands of his fellow-countrymen? Confiscation did not become either more palatable or more just because others were already in the condition of the victim. He next desired to say a few words about the plural vote. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) had expressed his opinion that the defence of the plural vote was nothing less than "rank Toryism." Whatever the right hon. Member meant by that expression, he at any rate had no hesitation in supporting it. Hon. Members on this side of the House did not defend the system on the ground that the right was in any way inherent to either property, education, or wealth. Property rested on a more solid basis in this country than on plural votes. Wealth needed no special safeguards for its adequate representation; whilst it was too late to talk about an educational franchise when the illiterate voter had been admitted to the electoral roll. The real ground that the system was defended upon was that of "local interest." In other words, a man who had to pay rates and taxes for property had a civic interest in the district where that property was situated, and was entitled to a vote in respect of it. Suppose, for example, he possessed an estate in the country and business premises in London, and, let him say, a mine in Cornwall. Surely he was interested, not merely from a business 318 point of view, in these properties, but also in the return of the Representatives, which the different counties whore they were situated sent up to that House. Again, surely it was not fair to treat the ownership voters as if they were in the same category as non-resident ownership voters. Many of them were not rich men, but were poor shopkeepers. How many of the Members of that House knew cases where tradesmen conducted their business in their shops with no living premises attached? Could they be termed non-resident? They lived eight or nine hours in one place, and they spent the next eight or nine hours in another. Why should it be hold that the only place for which they should have a vote was the place where they slept? Why should they not have a vote for the place where they "lived, moved, and had their being?" Why should that be treated as not being a legitimate qualification at all? The Government were, however, not abolishing the plural vote. They had not the time or the courage to do that. They were attempting to cripple it by prohibiting its exercise, but a man might still own as many votes as before. The gentleman who was stated by an hon. Member to have 35 votes would go on just the same. He would be at liberty to use them at bye-elections, but not at a General Election, and hon. Members of that House would have constituents who were their constituents at one period and not at another. He should like to make one observation on the reduction of the qualifying period. They had been asked this question—"What do you mean on your side by saying that the reduction of the qualifying period will mean the introduction of an alien element into the constituencies?" What they meant was this: What was to prevent, if this Bill passed into law, a Corporation of any great town which had strong political prepossessions, as Corporations notoriously had, from starting a great scheme of public works for the benefit of the town and importing 500 or 600 voters? Probably in the case of Lancashire, from which he was a Representative, they would be Irishmen, and they would vote against him; so that he might be turned out by an alien and imported vote. He would take another 319 case which might well arise in a constituency where there was a very slight difference in the voting strength between the two Parties. What was to prevent any large employer of labour from engaging for his factory or workshop a sufficient body of workmen, which, of course, would be under his control, to turn the poll? This was almost certain to arise where Parties were pretty evenly divided and where the political balance could be ever-turned easily by manipulation of that sort. Next, he wished briefly to refer to over-representation. He had listened to the defence of the Government for not dealing with the great abuses of over-reprosentatiou in parts of the United Kingdom. What did that defence amount to? They admitted the over-representation of Ireland and Wales. It was a singular remark to make that public opinion was not now ripe for legislation on these points when it was considered ripe last year, and the necessity for dealing with them was recognised in the Home Rule Bill of the Government. The President of the Local Government Board had admitted that over-representation existed in Ireland and Wales, but he said that this gain to the Nationalist vote was balanced by a gain to the Unionist vote in 16 or 17 counties in England. Was it to be seriously argued that an anomaly became less of an anomaly when it was repeated? It was said that redistribution would involve the loss of the University seats. That question would be discussed at the proper time; but it ought not to be used as a threat or a bribe to obtain acquiescence in the continuance of an injustice. The Chief Secretary said that redistribution would mean the readjustment of seats at regular periods according to changes of population. And why not? What if we had such a revision from time to time, after each Census or after every other Census? That would be a much less evil than the present over-representation of several parts of the United Kingdom, or than manipulation of the franchise at irregular periods. The Secretary for India said this argument was one of the time-honoured weapons of the Tory Party, and its first line of defence against democracy. At any rate, it was a weapon which had so far been successfully used. 320 In 1884 the House of Lords suspended a Franchise Bill unaccompanied by a Redistribution Bill, and passed a Resolution declaring that it was desirable that Parliament should meet in the autumn to consider the Representation of the People Bill in conjunction with a Redistribution Bill, which Her Majesty's Government had undertaken to present to Parliament on the earliest possible occasion. What was the result? It brought the Government to their knees; the interval was spent in compromise between the two Parties; private conferences took place between the Leaders on both sides, and a scheme of redistribution was agreed upon. He remembered that at a contested election he was able to quote The Daily News as saying that the country owed the Bill as much to the Tories as to the Radicals, to Lord Salisbury as to Mr. Gladstone. How could this attitude be a line of defence against democracy when in the last result it must lead to equal electoral districts—the fine fleur of advanced democracy? None of those excuses, he ventured to say, was the real reason why the Government had not dealt with redistribution in the Bill. That reason was known to, though not confessed by, every Member on the opposite side of that House, and it would be known hereafter to every voter throughout the country. The real motive for the Bill was not the redress of a grievance; it was a continuance in Office Bill. It was stated on the back that it was for reducing the period of qualification, ? but the real object was implied in the most subtle and sinister manner in the conclusion of the title. It was—A Bill to reduce the period of qualification for Parliamentary and local government electors; to provide for the half-yearly registration of such electors; to provide that they shall vote on one day;and the last words were "and for purposes consequential thereupon." It was "for purposes consequential thereupon" that the Bill was introduced. A peddling anomaly here and there was to be redressed in the name of electoral equality, within areas occupied by Liberal interests; but outside those areas electoral inequalities were to abound and flourish. The Liberal garden was to be neat and well 321 trimmed, but outside the gates the political weeds and thistles might grow rank. This was a policy which might win the cheers and secure the votes of the partisans of the Government; but it would not commend itself to the fair sense of the community, and even if carried into law it would ultimately recoil on the heads of those who had proposed it.
MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said, that the criticisms of the Opposition had gone far to reconcile him to the moderation of the present Bill. He entirely agreed with a large part of what fell from the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, who was selected by his Party to move the Amendment, and who performed his task in a speech at once frank and reasonable; indeed, the only point on which he disagreed was that dealing with the plural voter; but the right hon. Member for Bury's speech was quite reactionary and utterly antagonistic to all that might have been expected from hint. The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1884 not a single individual was disfranchised; he might have added that certain extraordinary persons were enfranchised, thus showing the stress in which the Liberal Party of the day was, seeing that it made a compact- with the Tory Party to actually put back on the electoral roll a corrupt and rotten body of freemen who had been disqualified from voting by the verdict of the Judges. He agreed that the present Bill was not perfect. There was no means of providing a simple machinery for registration except by a Bill for manhood suffrage. In no other way could they escape the terribly entangling detail and cumbrousness which characterised this and similar Bills. No better illustration of this could be taken than the position of the lodger, who was electorally in an inextricable position. It was impossible to say what was the law with respect to the lodger, and the only way to simplify his position would be to abolish him. That could be done without disfranchisement by simply repealing every section providing for the lodger franchise, since it had been held that a room was "a dwelling." Every cubicle might be held to be a dwelling-house, and all that was required 322 was to drop the £10 valuation. In the City of Derry they had a very close fight every year. So keen were the Party contests in Derry that there were more registration appeals from that one city than there were from the whole of England, Scotland, and Wales. The fight was fought with the most astonishing vigour, any amount of money was lavished on the voter, who, from the day that he was born, had his career closely watched by election agents on both sides; in fact, the voter was so closely watched that if a, man got drunk and was put in the cells for 21 hours he was objected to, and probably lost the franchise. The charges at the police courts were eagerly followed. The composition of the Bench, too, became a question of considerable nicety, because if the man charged with drunkenness were an Orangeman he was only fined, and he if were a Catholic he was sent to gaol. That interesting person the lodger, of course, turned up at the Registration Courts in great force, and he would give the House the details of a very interesting case, details sworn upon oath, and of course absolutely reliable, as the claimant was a divinity student. The finding of the Judges was that this gentleman, Mr. Alexander M'Vicar, occupied separately as a sole tenant, at a yearly rent of £16, lodgings in his father's house at Derry. But being a student in Queen's College, Belfast, he, for the purpose of his divinity studies, lived seven months of the year in the city, and although during his absence he continued to occupy and pay rent for his lodgings in his father's house, his board and lodging in Belfast were paid for by his father. He was held to be entitled to be placed on the list of voters for the City of Derry, and the Court of Appeal held that the decision should be affirmed, though some of them did not like the conclusion arrived at by the Revising Barrister. That was the position of the lodger. Now as to the occupier. There was in the City of Derry a very large and prosperous warehouse occupied by a Mr. Pollock, who employed a very large number of assistants in his draper's shop. Being a sound Conservative he naturally desired that as many of his assistants as possible should have votes, but in 1893 only one had the vote. In Derry every man, woman, and child under- 323 stood the Franchise Acts, and Mr. Pollock had heard of a decision which said that if a man occupied a room it was to him as a dwelling-house. His assistants slept in a large dormitory, and therefore they were not entitled to a vote; but Mr. Pollock divided the room into two, and, putting some of the assistants to sleep elsewhere, he got a vote for each department. Last year he divided the room into four, and got four votes. If a vote could be got by putting up a wooden partition, by-and-by the question would have to be considered what the texture of the partition must be. If wood could have a vote, why not a curtain? And if a room could be divided into four he could not see why people should not have swinging hammocks, as a ship, and divide a room into 24, and give 24 individuals a vote. As he understood the law, it was this—that if a man occupied as a lodger he must have rooms valued at £10 a year unfurnished, provided the landlord lived on the premises. But let the landlord go away, then his tenant would have a vote as an inhabitant occupier, no matter what the valuation. On the other hand, if a man occupied as an inhabitant occupier a house and the landlord took it into his head to occupy a portion of it the tenant was converted into a lodger. There was no principle in the law as it stood, and if he had to advise the Government in the matter he would recommend them to abolish the lodger franchise altogether. The lodger would then have absolutely the same right to vote as now, because he might then vote, not as a lodger, but as an inhabitant occupier. In his judgment, the lodger franchise was no longer a necessity; it was an anomaly and a pitfall, and it would be useless to tinker with it by reducing the qualification from £10 to £5, as some Members seemed to desire. The right hon. Member for Bury had objected to the way in which the singular pluralist was treated under the Bill. That was what the Government had got for their moderation. They had given the pluralist the option of voting wherever he pleased, but if the proper course had been taken it should have been provided that the pluralist should vote only for the place at which he resided. That would have been a sensible thing to do, and it would have occurred 324 to anybody but a draftsman. The Bill in many of its provisions was a Tory rather than a Liberal Bill, and had been framed upon consideration of the treatment it might receive in the House of Lords. That House was the light by which the Liberal mariner had been obliged to steer. As to the shortening of the qualification period, it would matter very little to Ireland, where there was never a large floating population. But he strongly disapproved of the proposal for a double revision. Hon. Gentlemen, of course, would understand that he was speaking only for Ireland. In cases like the London constituencies, and some constituencies in the North of England, there was something to be said for the double revision, but how would it work in Ireland? He would take the County of Cork, a county almost as big as Yorkshire. It returned seven Members. In that county the same men were on the list from year to year, except such as died or went to America. Of course, new men came on occasionally as they attained the age of 21, but why should the County Cork be saddled with the expenses of the double revision and with the cost of the double printing of the lists? There was no acute contest between the Parties in the county. The people were all Nationalists. They were born Nationalists, and they died Nationalists, and they would always be so, just as Tories were born Tories and died Tories, and so they always would be. Accordingly, as far as counties like Cork were concerned, there was very little to be said in favour of the bi-annual revision. He would take, however, the case of one of the divisions of Belfast, one of Dublin, one of the divisions of the County Dublin, and some constituencies in Ulster, like County Tyrone, South Derry, North Fermanagh, possibly South Armagh, North Mona-ghau, and South Down. The County of Tyrone occupied an extraordinary position. It was the most blistered county in Ireland under the benefits of the franchise law. According to the Return supplied to the hon. Member for South Antrim, it was found that in the County of Tyrone in 1886 there were no fewer than 26,000 objections. Every one of these objections bore a 3d. stamp, and the cost for stamps alone amounted to 325 £350. Then both sides sent in bogus claims: it was perhaps unnecessary to state that elementary fact, and there could be no doubt that there was a considerable change in the Register every year. Parties had to be very closely watched there. In many respects when a Catholic died a landlord always put in the widow as the representative in the rent-book, so as to kill the Catholic vote. If a Protestant voter died the eldest son was always put in the tenancy in order to get the vote, and recently in North Tyrone, under the genial regis of the Abercorns, they had gone the length of splitting up the farms, and having tenants in quo, as he thought they were called. He had in his mind a case in which three brothers were put down as owners. In that way, if there was a farm of land, and there was any pretext for a change of tenancy, and there were three brothers put into the agent's books, they would give the three names as owners, the whole thing being a pocket arrangement between them in order that these Protestant Conservative tenants might have the franchise. But when a poor Catholic died it was always the representatives or the widow—Mary Murphy, or something, that was put down in the rent-book. A great deal could be said in favour of the double revision provided in the Bill in the abstract; but there were such things as human life, temper, and money; and the conclusion he had come to was that, life was not long enough for operations as they were conducted in Tyrone and Ulster. If anybody went into the Revision Court in Ulster the one side charged the other with perjury, and, as far as he was concerned, he had no desire to have these charges repeated twice a year, and not merely in the cool of October and November, but in the spring, when young men's fancy lightly turned to thoughts of revolt. He thought, therefore, that so far as Ireland was concerned it would be better, on the whole, to leave things as they were. Then, coming to the question of polling on one day, the Leader of the Opposition said it would lead to increased expenses, and that it would be extremely undesirable also on account of the difficulty of polling all the districts. In that he entirely differed from the right hon. Gentleman. 326 There would be no difficulty whatever in Ireland on the question of police. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: I was referring to England.] He was only speaking of Ireland—he had only one song. The right hon. Gentleman enjoyed the advantage of being able to doctrinise about other things than Ireland, but he did not. In Ireland there would be no difficulty in concentrating the police at the few polling stations allowed under the Ballot Act, and, as a rule, the people were very amenable. There was a great desire on the part of the people of both sides that they should be allowed to exercise the franchise, which they regarded as a great privilege. There might be an occasional contest at a General Election, but there would be no difficulty as to police in Ireland at these times. No extra expense would be imposed upon candidates, but there would be extra expense imposed upon the Sheriff, and serve him right. At present he pocketed their money. If he had a poll in the northern division of the county on Monday he would use the ballot boxes, the clerks, and so forth, and charge the candidates in that division, and on the Wednesday he might have a poll in the southern division, when he would use the boxes and the clerks over again, and charge the candidates in the southern division. It was right that the clerks should be paid for, but the boxes and the books could not eat and drink. The Bill would be a great loss to the Sheriffs and everyone keenly interested in them, but as far as the candidates and the public were concerned, they would not be likely to grieve. The Sheriff's expenses and his allowances were heavy, and so far as he was concerned a little bloodletting would not be out of place. With regard to the reduced qualification of three months, the hon. Member for the Southport Division had said that a Liberal candidate might bring Irish labourers into Southport to qualify. That was hardly a likely state of things, but it must be remembered that if those men were absent from Ireland for four months they were disfranchised, even though they paid their rates and taxes at home, and if they could not vote in Ireland they certainly ought to be allowed to vote in England. If they happened to be enjoying the breezes of Southport they should be allowed to record their votes there. 327 They must have their votes somewhere, whether at home or in England, and he (Mr. Healy) saw nothing wrong in their voting in England. It was assumed that in a constituency where there was a small majority against the Liberal Party an astute Liberal agent familiar with all the tactics of jobbery would take 500 voters in a balloon, and plant them down where their support would be serviceable, concealing everything from the stupid Tory agent, who would not have his eyes about him, who would have no money, and who would have had no Party spirit. But what would such an operation cost? Where would the funds come from, and were there no such thing as reprisals? But these objections were objections which might be levelled against any scheme, however worthy it might be. There was, however, one objection to which attention should be drawn—and he wondered that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury when he was so furiously engaged in slashing windmills had not suggested it. The plural voter was to be deprived of his plural votes, but was to be allowed to be on the Register for several places. There were, no doubt, constituencies—he knew some in Ireland—where when the elector had voted in the place for which he had a right to vote sympathisers would vote for him in the other places. These vices were not confined to one side, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury had stood forward with such an extraordinary affectation of Roman virtue, his (Mr. T. M. Healy's) mind had gone back to the year 1883, when the right hon. Gentleman introduced his very virtuous Corrupt Practices Act, which was vigorously attacked by the late Mr. Raikes. The right hon. Gentleman was at the time Member for Taunton. He made his Act date from the day of its passing. Under that Act they could inquire into all future corruption and speculation in a constituency, but they could never inquire how things had been done in the past in Taunton. He remembered Mr. Raikes taunting the right hon. Gentleman with that, and at that time he (Mr. Healy) was a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman's. At that time he believed in the right hon. Gentleman's virtue.
SIR E. CLARKE
said, he had moved the Amendment to the Corrupt Practices Bill under which matters prior to the passing of the Bill could not be inquired into, and the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had accepted it.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that if that were so, Mr. Raikes must have spoken in vain. His words were on the record, but after 11 years one spoke with some infirmity of recollection. If he had thought his statement would have been challenged he would have refreshed himself from that volume of entertainment—Hansard's Debates. There ought to be some provision in the Bill for ascertaining, especially in close contests, which was the right vote and which was the wrong one given by a man, and he thought it would come to this—that a man would have to be called upon to declare at the time the Register was being made up which place he intended to vote for, and his name should be starred accordingly. Going back to the question of bi-annual registration, no doubt as far as England was concerned something of the kind was necessary, but if it were adopted it ought only to be a supplemental provision. And a man ought not to be called upon to fight a second objection. He should not have to fight an objection a second time except in cases where he had absolutely quitted his tenancy. If it could be shown that a man was dead, or had gone away, his vote might be struck off. And it seemed to him that a great deal of expense might be saved in the matter of printing. As an election would only take place every four or five years, and the chances were five to one against the second Register being called in, he did not see why the second Register could not be made by a type writer. Even if some arrangement of that kind were not come to, he would advise the Liberal Party not to shirk the expense. The printing of the Register was after all less costly than a Tory Government. It was cheaper for the taxpayer to pay for a second Register than to have an odd war in hand or a "spirited, foreign policy." As regarded the position of Ireland in this Debate, they had got reason to congratulate themselves that the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth had been almost entirely forgotten. He had thought that they would have 329 heard some tremendous indictment against the Irish representation in this Debate, but nothing of the kind. It had been shown that the inequalities in England were so great that Ireland in that respect might hide, her diminished head. But in that were not so, he would not be afraid to take his stand on the absolute facts of the case. When was the question of numbers first considered in connection with Irish representation? If there had been a numerical basis at the time of the Union, Ireland would have had 250 instead of 100 Members O'Connell, time after time, showed the under-representation of Ireland, and the answer of the great English statesmen of that day always was, "Oh, the case of Ireland rests upon a sacred Treaty." It was a mean thing on the part of the Party which had decimated Ireland with war, famine, and pestilence to take advantage of their own wrong. In 1847 the population of Ireland was 8,000,000; in 1894, under the blessed régime of an enlightened Administration, it had fallen to 4,500,000. Until 1886 one English Party was as had as another in this matter; and the laws which they had passed had driven the people out of Ireland. Irishmen lived a long way from Westminster; and they did not wish to interfere in British affairs at all. What Ireland desired was that she should be allowed to manage her own squalid parochial affairs at home in her own ignorant and, he supposed, brutish manner. They never, of course, could hope for the enlightenment or civilisation of Englishmen, or to attain to the high and noble examples they got in that House. There were geographical considerations and difficulties to be taken into account. It cost an Irish Member a £5 nolo to go and come from Ireland; it cost many English Members 1s. for a hansom cab. The hon. and learned Member for Ply-mouth was quite frank in admitting that even if his Amendment were passed he would not be better satisfied with the abolition of the dual vote. If the dual voter required protection he had a Whole House in the House of Lords to protect him. Let the common people have a i vote in the House of Commons. They should maintain the position that all men wore free and equal, and he would submit that the Bill proposed by the Govern- 330 ment contained propositions of justice and equality which entitled it to the support of those who had faith in the principles of freedom and equality.
MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had joined in the general condemnation which almost every Member, no matter on what side he sat, had pronounced against the Bill. He (Mr. Heneage) thought that, in view of this general condemnation, he was within his tight in asking the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure, when he came to speak, to reply to the query of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury as to why the Government had changed their mind and had departed from the decision to which they arrived last year, and upon which they had given such forcible expression of opinion. It was clear from what had fallen from every Member of the House who had discussed the Bill that the House generally was of opinion that a second revision would be distinctly costly and useless; therefore, as no defence had been offered of that portion of the Bill, they had a right to know whether this provision was not really still-born? He wished to call attention to some sections of the measure which had rather fallen out of sight, and to discuss them as far as he could in a practical spirit. It must be remembered that in 1891 a Resolution was moved laying down what ought to be provided for in a, Registration Bill. They had a Bill brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax giving expression to the opinion of the Government, and last year the present Secretary for India brought in a Bill dealing with the subject. They had a right to know why the Government had changed their mind, and why the present measure was different to that of last year. Nothing was done in the present Bill to facilitate the lodger getting upon the Register, or to render easy the transfer of the voter in successive occupations in the same constituency, or his transfer from one constituency to another in the same county. Then the revision proposed as to the period of qualification was entirely fictitious. What people in this country desired to know was not so much what their period of qualification 331 was to be, but how soon after they had come into residence they would be permitted to vote. And as to the proposal to have two Registers for the suggested period of qualification, he should have thought that if there was to be a three months' qualification there ought to be four Registers, but he did not suppose that that was a thing which any Government would care to propose. With regard to the agricultural districts, to which the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean referred, the tenancies commenced on Lady Day and on May Day. As the Bill was drawn, any person desiring a vote on the three months' qualification previous to the 24th of June, if he had come into occupation on Lady Day or May Day, would be prevented from claiming for another six mouths. In dealing with this subject the Government ought to have had regard to the period of the year at which people came into residence. The Government seemed to have an idea that the 1st of January should be the day when the residence should come into force, but January was the last mouth upon which any Government would think of having a General Election. If the date had been the 1st or the 15th of February, those who came into occupation on Lady Day or May Day would have been able to claim—
§ It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow at Two of the clock.