§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it was of the very simplest character. When the present system of registration was established by the Reform Act of 1832, it was provided that persons possessing certain qualifications might claim to be registered for any qualification; and a person possessing several qualifications in any borough or county might be registered for each. It was also enacted that when the voter went to the poll he might be asked three questions—namely, whether he was the person whose name appeared on the register, whether he had already voted, and whether he still retained his qualification. By the Act 6 Vict. c. 18, the third of these questions was abolished. In consequence of the fact that a voter's name might appear on the register several times it was difficult, and at times impossible, to prevent electors voting over again, and although there could be no statistics on the subject it was believed to be frequently done. This was obviously contrary to the intention of Parliament, and the simplest way of securing the object which Parliament had in view was to say that no man should appear more than once on the same register. It would greatly simplify the work of registration and lessen the expense of elections if every elector were only permitted to appear upon the register in respect of one qualification. The proposal of this Bill was that an elector having various qualifications might be objected to on that ground, and on proof of the objection the revising barrister might strike off every repetition of the name after its first occurrence, unless 916 the voter chose to make his election as to which qualification it would be convenient for him to vote in respect of. In Nottingham—the borough he had the honour to represent—there were last year 976 persons whose names appeared more than once upon the register, the majority of them having their names on twice, a considerable number three times, and a few appearing as many as four times; so that on the whole the surplus number of names on the register was 1,136, in a constituency the apparent number of which was 6,921. In other large boroughs the same inconvenience prevailed. In Manchester, in a constituency of 22,700, there were 1,250 double entries; in Bath, with a constituency of 3,200, there were 276 double entries; in Newcastle-on-Tyne, with a constituency of 7,460, there were 830 double entries; and in the City of London, with a constituency of 17,530, the number of double entries was 2,000. Where a man was only permitted to vote once there was no sufficient reason why a voter should be upon the register more than once, and some such measure as this was the more necessary at the present moment, because they were engaged in passing a Reform Bill which would largely increase the present constituencies. And not only did the Government Bill increase the numbers of the constituencies but it added to the variety of qualifications, and the larger the number of electors, and the greater the number of qualifications in respect of which they were entitled to vote, the larger must be the number of double entries, and the greater the evil of which he complained. Members representing counties had stated to him that the Bill would be objectionable as regarded counties, because it would take away from the voters the privilege they now enjoyed of recording their votes at any polling-place in any part of the county. But only a very limited number of persons would be affected by his proposal, and probably the great majority of the electors knew which polling-place was the most convenient for them, and would be able to select, without the least hesitation, the qualification in respect of which they desired their names to be retained. If it were inconvenient for an elector to attend before the revising barrister in person to select his qualification, words might be inserted allowing him to be represented by his agent; but he was much more anxious to deal with boroughs than counties, and from borough 917 Members he had heard no objection to his measure. He should be happy to receive any suggestion from the representatives of counties with respect to the part of the Bill which affected their constituencies, or at some future stage it would be open to them to move the omission of the clauses relating to counties. He believed the Bill would operate very advantageously in boroughs, and he questioned whether it would do any harm in counties. He did not know whether the principle he wished to lay down prevailed in Scotland, but it had been adopted in Ireland, and he had never heard that any inconvenience had arisen from it. What he was proposing was not any novelty in the law of registration, but merely an improvement of the machinery, and intended merely to give efficiency to the law which already existed. Upon these grounds he asked the House to read the Bill a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Viscount Amberley.)
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
I cannot imagine what can be the use of this Bill. The noble Lord (Viscount Amberley) has said that it need not be applied to counties; but as an illustration of the inconvenience of such a measure, if enacted, let me take the case of my own particular county. I register in two places in Kent; and by doing so, if I happen to be in London I am enabled to vote at Greenwich, if at home I can vote in the neighbourhood of my own house. If this Bill passed into law, I should be obliged if at home to come up to Greenwich to vote. And then with respect to boroughs; suppose a man who is a freeman is also a £10 householder—I speak of the state of things which exists under the present suffrage—if you make him elect upon which qualification he is to be put upon the register you leave it open to an objector to call his qualification in question, and then perhaps he loses his vote to which he might be entitled in respect of the other qualification. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), whom I see opposite, represents a borough in which there are a good many people of the same name; and if there were twenty, thirty, or forty John Smith's, the difficulty they would have in establishing their right to get upon the register would be greatly increased by this Bill. It is obvious that in the case of the John Joneses and the William Williamses objectors 918 might easily take advantage of the Bill to deprive them of their right to vote. The noble Lord appears willing to give up the principle of his Bill as far as counties are concerned; but I do not see what good would be gained by it in respect of boroughs. The noble Lord says that great inconvenience has arisen from the present system of double entries; but I have never heard any complaint upon the subject. The lists are made out in the different parishes by the overseers, who are acquainted with all the electors, the double entries are put in the different lists, and are as well known as any of the other arrangements with respect to the constituency. In the borough which I represented there were the old scot and lot voters and £10 householders, and I never heard of any difficulty arising at elections from these different qualifications. With great respect to the noble Lord, I think when a Reform Bill is pending in this House which involves the question of registration it is hardly worth while to bring in a Bill which merely unsettles the existing law, which, as far as the noble Lord has explained, has not created any degree of dissatisfaction, and has not been productive of personation. It is not as if because persons were enabled to register in different places they were also enabled to vote in different places, nor are the cases of personation to be traced to the fact of the same name being on the register for more than one qualification. Personation is a mere matter of fraud, and would occur without any similarity of name. I trust the noble Lord will not press the Bill to a division, because there is really no grievance at all worth remedying. Indeed, I must say if there be any grievance, it is of that infinitesimal kind which hardly deserves to take up the time of the House.
§ MR. POWELL
thought that as far as the counties were concerned, the Bill might be termed a Bill to facilitate frivolous objections. As far as his position as a voter in the West Riding of Yorkshire was concerned, having many qualifications, he was utterly indifferent to any such objections being raised against him. In reference to the borough with which he was connected there were more cases of double entries than in many other towns, it being divided into many small parishes. Nevertheless, he had never heard of any injustice being done or inconvenience arising from those double qualifications. If the electors of that town were polled as to 919 their views upon this question he had no doubt that the noble Lord would find that the opposition to his measure would come us much from those who were identified with his political opinions as from any other party.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
said, that although he looked upon the Bill as containing provisions which it was desirable to pass into law, he should not, after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, press it further at present.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.