HC Deb 03 March 1863 vol 169 cc1040-3

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to permit voting by ballot at municipal elections.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he thought some explanation of the Bill ought to be given. He believed it was intended to allow votes to be taken by ballot in municipal elections, but it appeared that the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill was not present.


moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, the Bill was a mere supplement to an Act which had been passed some time previously for the election of Select Vestries. The vestries so elected had worked remarkably well.


said, that if the House passed the Bill, they would probably soon be told by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), that a Bill authorizing vote by ballot at elections of Members of Parliament was only a comple- ment of an existing Act. Therefore he would cordially support the Amendment.


said, that he regarded the Bill as a step in the right direction, and he should certainly vote for it. He hoped to see an extension of the principle to Parliamentary voting.


said, he thought it would be unusual in the absence of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. A. Smith), who had charge of the Bill to meet it with the Amendment which had been proposed. The absence of the hon. Member was accidental, arising from the sudden postponement of a Motion that had been expected to occupy some considerable time.


said, that in his opinion Parliament might very properly put the system of vote by ballot to the test in the proposed instance. If it failed, the general application of the system would not of course be persisted in; but if it succeeded, as he believed would be the case—though any man must be presumptuous who spoke confidently about the success of new systems — then an unanswerable argument would be supplied for its further extension.


said, he should be sorry if they were to go to a division on the second reading of the Bill without anything more being said upon the subject. There was a great distinction between the Bill before them and the Bill of the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), because at that time in all the large parishes in the metropolis the votes were taken by means of voting papers. There was therefore no novelty in the proposition, and the object was merely to extend to municipal elections in small boroughs in the country, where a great amount of bribery, drunkenness, and intimidation, or at least cajolery, took place, a system which had worked most beneficially in the metropolis. He thought that when the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy) moved the Amendment, it was not because he had well considered the subject of voting by ballot in municipal elections, but on account of the horror he entertained of the ballot in the abstract. He (Mr. Locke) was of opinion that it would be extremely unfair not to read the Bill a second time, seeing that it was distinct from the general Bill for the application of the ballot to the election of Members of Parliament, and that the objections to it, whatever they might be, would be more appropriately dealt with in Committee.


said, he must admit that the Bill was intended in a great measure to be auxiliary and supplementary to the general question of the ballot, but at the same time the adoption of the principle was proposed to be altogether voluntary, and he thought that that would remove many of the objections to it. He had been a complete convert to the ballot, from what he witnessed at an election in which he was himself concerned immediately after the passing of the Reform Bill, though he did not attribute to it all the great advantages that some of its advocates thought it would be likely to produce. He believed that much of the success of the system would depend upon the constituency upon which it might be tried, but that a great deal more would depend upon the machinery by which it might be carried out. He also felt that it was very undesirable that any plan should be adopted as regarded Parliamentary representation which might afterwards prove a failure; but the proposed measure would, he hoped, afford a satisfactory test of the system of ballot voting. Nothing could be worse than the present mode of conducting municipal elections; and if the House had any regard for the character of local government, they ought to pass some measure to correct and counteract the malpractices, which had been growing worse and worse every year. Hon. Members had only to refer to the evidence taken before the Committee of the other House of Parliament in 1859, for a description of all the evils of the present system. It was true that the object of that Committee was to show the country that they ought to be very careful how they lowered the Parliamentary franchise; but the evidence proved the necessity for some alteration in the manner in which municipal elections were conducted. He proposed that the town council should have the power of taking the votes by ballot in whatever way they pleased; but that having adopted the system, they should adhere to it for five years. The Bill was entirely of an experimental character, and he hoped the House would allow it to be read a second time.


Sir, I have always been an opponent of the ballot; and the mover and supporters of this Bill very fairly avow that this is the first step towards proposing the ballot for Parliamentary elections. One hon. Member has told us that it is ancillary and supplementary to a proposal for vote by ballot; and as I should on any occasion when such a proposal came before the House vote against it, I can have no hesitation in supporting the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite to delay the second reading till this day six months. Every argument that I have heard adduced in favour of this Bill could be adduced in favour of vote by ballot at Parliamentary elections; and the objections which I have always felt and often stated to such a mode of voting at Parliamentary elections apply in principle to the present proposal, because the election of a municipal body is a political election. It has not the same political importance as an election of Members of this House, but there is no question that it is a political act. The principle of my objection, which I think a sound one, is that no man should in this free country perform a political act without its being known to his fellow-citizens how he performs it—that he should bear the responsibility for good or evil of the act which he has thought fit to do. I think responsibility ought to go hand in hand with political action. The object of the Bill is to withdraw the conduct of voters at municipal elections from public observation —to make their voting secret, and therefore to divest them of that responsibility which I think under a free constitution ought to follow every political act. I shall therefore vote against the Bill, and support the Amendment.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 93: Majority 35:—Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to:—Bill put off for six months.

House adjourned at a quarter after Seven o'clock.