§ Order for Committee read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
rose to Older. The hon. Member had on a previous occasion addressed the House on the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, when the Secretary to the Treasury moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had not the slightest wish to curtail the hon. Member's observations on the Bill; but he had a most distinct recollection that the hon. Gentleman did address some observations to the House on the Question of the Speaker leaving the Chair. Until an Amendment was moved, the hon. Gentleman could not again speak.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member had on a previous occasion made the Motion that he do now leave the Chair, on which, subsequently, the adjournment of the House and the debate had been moved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would now be in order in moving his Amendment.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he only wished to be in Order, having no desire whatever to curtail the privileges of the hon. Member. The Bill had been read a second time without any observations on the part of the Government or by any hon. Member; and, as the House might recollect, it was by a mere accident that he had not been present when the Motion for the second reading was made. Looking to the really important character of this measure, he regretted there was not a more full attendance of Members when it came on for discussion. The natural tendency of every mind must be to accede at once to the principle of this Bill; it was only in discussion that doubts arose as to whether it would be desirable to do so. It would have been far more agreeable to his own feelings to support the Bill, which was intended to confer the franchise on a very meritorious and efficient body of men, to whom the country and the House were very greatly indebted, than to move, as he felt bound to do, that it be committed this day three months. It was of no slight importance that the action of the officers concerned in the collection of the Revenue should be above all imputation as to their motives; that political intrigue and political feeling should be kept entirely out of the question so far as their conduct was concerned that they should be able to, carry on the discipline necessary for the conduct of business, to make changes and removals from one part of the country to another, and direct their officers to take proceedings with reference to the Revenue without regard to political considerations. The original ground for withholding the franchise from officers thus employed was that it would be giving too great power to the Crown; the feeling of those who were in favour of the measure was, that the franchise having been so widely extended, their numbers were now so small in comparison with those of the electors generally that they would have very little weight in an election. He was not disposed to attach much weight to the argument relative to the power of the Crown; but he thought that in the event of the Bill becoming law, if not the Crown, some of the permanent officers of the establishment might have very great power and influence in particular cases. There were certain places where the number of officers who would be affected by the measure was very considerable. In the port of London between 1,700 and 1,800 Custom House officials alone would 391 be enfranchised by this Bill. The number in some constituencies would be very considerable, besides those employed in the Excise and Post Office. In the port of Liverpool there were no fewer than 840 Custom House officers; and at the last election the lowest of two successful candidates only outstripped his competitor by 300 votes, so that in that particular case the Custom House officers would be three times as many as the majority of the successful candidate. Supposing that in the port of Liverpool the collector should be a strong partizan, and that these 840 officers considered that their position and prospects in the service depended upon him, a knowledge of human nature would enable them to judge pretty well of how the greater part of those officials would vote. If that were understood and known he should not feel called upon to oppose the Bill on that ground, because it was an evil which other considerations might induce them not to rate too highly.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said that he had referred to the records of the proceedings upon the last occasion this Bill was before the House, and he found that the original Motion for going into Committee upon the Bill had been negatived, and required to be renewed, and therefore the hon. Member (Mr. Monk) was in Order in commencing the debate. He, however, was given to understand that the hon. Member did not wish to press his right to address the House, but merely desired that it should be understood that he was not out of Order in the attempt he made to recommence the debate.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was afraid that some mistake had been made in the record of the proceedings. In resuming the thread of his argument, he had to state that his main objection to this Bill was that these officers were scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land, and upon their reports and representations to their superiors rested the question whether persons should be prosecuted for offences against the laws of the Revenue, so that there was in their hands virtually the control of the prosecutions. That being the case, it must be evident to every one that 392 it would give to officers so situated very great influence in elections. At present they were not allowed by the rules of the service to take part in any political proceedings, so that their political opinions, if they had any, were suppressed; but if they were allowed to take part in political proceedings connected with elections, they would be allowed to adopt a political colour, and it might be said that they were not in the habit of shutting their eyes to the frauds and defalcations of those of their own political party. He was afraid that such imputations would be cast widely about, and the efficiency of the service would be greatly impaired. Very great discretion was required in those engaged in carrying out the administration of the laws, and it was not to be wished that the difficulties of their duty should be enhanced by allowing political convictions on the part of those officers. It was said that it was a grievance for those gentleman not to be admitted to the full rights of citizenship, He had made careful inquiries amongst the superior officers of the Department, and they made no complaint of being debarred from the exercise of the franchise; on the contrary, they thought it rather a privilege sometimes to be free from the political turmoil which surrounded them. If the superiors made no complaint, he did not see why the subordinates should do so. It was optional with any subject of Her Majesty to enter any of these services, and if he did so, he did so with a full knowledge of the disabilities attaching to the office. The police throughout the country were also affected with the same disability. If they had been introduced into the Bill, it might have been urged that they would follow the lead of the county and borough magistrates: but he thought that when it was desired to enfranchise the Revenue officers, it was hardly fair to the police that they should not have been included in the Bill. There was an anomaly in outlaws on this subject; the dockyard labourers were not disfranchised; but if the matter were inquired into calmly and dispassionately, he was not at all sure that a good case might not be made out for affixing to them the same disability that now attached to Revenue officers. The fact did not at all tend to the purity or the impartiality of electors in places where many of these men were employed, and strenuous efforts were made by Members representing them to increase the privileges of the dockyard men and the 393 number of persons employed, which did not tend to economy, or the proper husbanding of the national resources. The heads of the Revenue Departments held their offices permanently, so that, supposing a strong partizan to be at the head of one, he might for a whole generation influence the votes of those under his authority. At present all these places were filled up on the representations and applications of the supporters of the Government of the day, and if a person was appointed to an office of this kind, it was perfectly well known that the Government would get no political good by him; hut if the present law were changed, it would be understood throughout the country that the Member who procured an appointment for a man would be entitled for ever afterwards to his vote. Continual applications were made by these gentlemen respecting their position and salaries, and those applications had of late years taken a very peculiar form, being not merely made through Heads of Departments, or by simple memorials to the Treasury, but in the form of resolutions at public meetings held by them, and communications to Members of Parliament by delegates appointed to represent their interests. He put it to the House whether, in the circumstances supposed, the influence possessed by them would not be very considerably increased, and whether the Government of the day would not have far greater difficulty in administering these Departments with respect to the position and salaries of the officers concerned, if the measure were carried. The Report of the Inquiry Commissioners referred to the great mischief that would ensue if the Bill should become law, and stated that the efficient administration of the Inland Department and the due collection of the Revenue would, under the circumstances supposed, be next to impossible. Considering that that Department was concerned with the collection of a Revenue of upwards of £40,000,000, he thought the House would not be surprised if the person principally responsible for it should ask them to pause before assenting to a measure of this kind.
§ Amendment proposed,
§ To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman to be consistent 394 ought to bring in a Bill to disfranchise all the servants of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that these officers could not be trusted to exercise the rights of citizenship, though the Government themselves had assented to largely enfranchise the people of this country, and though these officers, whom the Government declined to admit to the privileges which it had lately so widely extended, were superior, in point of education and trustworthiness, to any similar class in the world. If the right hon. Gentleman's argument, that these officers ought not to vote because their appointments were the result of political influence, were good for anything, it was an argument against the House of Lords, which was continually strengthened by the creation of Peers, who were usually very loyal adherents of the party from whom they were selected, though they were frequently by no means its most eminent or distinguished Members. This was no party question; it was one which involved a Department in which there were as many Conservatives as Liberals. He hoped that the House would consent to pass the Bill of his hon. Friend, because, by so doing, they would remove from a worthy class a sense of degradation and insult.
said, he hoped his hon. Friend who had just spoken would not think it betokened any want of respect to him if he said that, after listening to the remarks he had made, they left on his mind the impression that he had not so far entered into the question as to become aware of the difficulties with which it was surrounded. He thought his hon. Friend, with the benevolence which characterized him, had taken the philanthropic view of the matter; he had been shocked by an apparent anomaly in the existing law, and he had rushed to a practical conclusion with a rapidity too great to allow of his guidance being considered a safe one for the decision of the House upon the question. If it was not being too bold, he thought his hon. Friend would see that he had not used the words lightly, and that he had something to say in support of them. He did not intend to approach the subject in the spirit of partizanship—political partizanship was unknown in connection with it, but in the spirit of official or any other partizanship. It was not a matter to be decided by any considerations of this kind, but they must consider broadly and fairly the right course to pursue. On that occa- 395 sion, he could not join with anyone in Attempting to force the hands of the Government. It seemed to him a very serious matter indeed to have a Government responsible, amongst oilier things, for the collection of £70,000,000 of Revenue, most of it raised by processes of a very peculiar and delicate kind, practicable in this country, but many of them hardly attempted in any other country in the world, for he did not believe that Schedule D of the income tax had a parallel in any other country on the face of the globe. It was a most serious evil to take up these questions on general grounds of philanthropy and liberality, and force upon a Government responsible for their duties, measures which the persons so responsible declared to be incompatible with their due discharge. He was not prepared to assume that responsibility, and so long as the Government of the day resisted the passing of a measure of that kind, his vote must be with the Government of the day. Others might not take that view, and he did not intend to limit the field of the discussion. He wished not to force the Government, and he thought that those who supported the measure should endeavour so to dispute as to induce the Government to deal with it in u fair and liberal spirit. He presumed that the arguments to be urged in favour of the Bill would arise from the anomalous circumstance that while a portion of those engaged in the public service were permitted to vote, these officers were not allowed to exercise that privilege; that other citizens had been admitted to the franchise, rind that these ought to share in the general extension of electoral rights; and thirdly, that these officers themselves were exceedingly anxious to possess the privilege from which they alone were excluded. The first consideration of anomaly weighed very little in his mind, more especially as the Bill did not remove it, but rather brought it out more sharply. The case of the police would serve to show that there was a great deal more in the matter than the mere franchise of the officers and servants of the Revenue Department. If they were going to remove an anomaly, and if that be a reason for legislation, they should have something like consistency, and consistency was not to be obtained bypassing on a Motion like this such a Bill as was now before them. With regard to the rights of citizenship, it was said that these persons ought not to be deprived of the franchise, when Parliament had ad- 396 mitted the majority of the male adult population to the suffrage. But Parliament had done nothing of the kind. The number of the adult male population was about 5,500,000, while the number of voters who would in future enjoy the franchise would not amount to more than one in three. Then there was in the third place, the desire of the parties themselves. He was sorry that a series of accidents had prevented his hon. Friend (Mr. Monk) from giving a full exposition of his views, and he confessed he was not aware of the existence of this general and wide-spread desire for the franchise among the 35,000 persons concerned. [Mr. MONK: There is a very considerable desire.] How many petitions had there been? [Mr. MONK: Eighty petitions, signed by about 8,000 persons.] That was about one-fourth or one-fifth of the whole, and it by no means showed a universal desire among a thoroughly organized body. There was a great deal more to be considered, and the House ought not to proceed to legislate in haste on such a subject. The case of the police was an important one, and the Bill should not pass until that claim was considered, and they should decide whether the police should be included in it or not. The claim was also brought into view of those to whom the franchise was theoretically given, but from whom it was practically withheld by the regulations of the public service—he meant the military service. It might be said the soldier was not excluded. Certainly not so far as the letter of the law was concerned; but he was excluded by the regulations to which, under the conditions of the standing army, they chose to subject him. ["No, no!"] How was a soldier living in barracks to be a ratepayer? [Mr. MONK: He might be a freeholder.] He might be a freeholder—one in a thousand of the voters; but how was he to ascertain that the conditions of the service would allow him to attend and vote where his freehold lay? They were barred as to the possession of an occupation franchise, because the public found their residence. The same was the case with the Marines; and in the case of sailors generally, the nature of the service offered the greatest impediment to the possession of the franchise. In dealing with this question as affecting public servants, the House ought to be prepared to examine the case of each class on its own merits, and then determine how far they would go and at what point they would stop. Of all the public ser- 397 vants with whom he had been in contact—and he did not exclude Members of that House or Ministers of the Crown—he never hail known ft body actuated by a more en-; lightened spirit, and more simply desirous of promoting the public service, than the Board of Inland Revenue. He did not speak with the least disparagement of other Boards; but it was very difficult for Members of Parliament to read the papers that had been sent in and not see that there was much to consider in the case. The suggestion he would make would be that Parliament should give the vote, and, at the same time, leave it in the discretion of the Government to inhibit any of these officers from taking any part in politics beyond giving their simple vote. But in doing that they did not get rid of the anomaly when one class of voter could speak ns well as vote and exhibit himself as he pleased while another class could only vote silently. He believed that a rule prevailed in the dockyards prohibiting persons connected with those establishments from taking an active and prominent part and doing many things which, if they were not public officers, they would be permitted to do. It was a matter for grave consideration whether if the vote were given to these men it should be given subject to that limitation or not, Again, before they proceeded to lay down the principle of general enfranchisement, one thing to be considered was the very peculiar rotations between the Revenue officers and the Members of that House. There it was necessary to speak plainly. He was not afraid of Government influence in that matter, nor of an influence in favour of one political party or another; but he owned that he had some apprehension of what might be called class influence in that House, which in his opinion was the great reproach of the Reformed Parliament, as he believed history would record. Whether they were going to emerge into a new state of things in which class influence would be weaker he knew not; but that class influence had been in many things an evil and a scandal to them, especially for the last fifteen or twenty years; and he was fearful of its increase in consequence of the possession of the franchise, through the power which men who, as members of a regular service, were already organized might bring to bear on Members of Parliament. What, he asked, was the Civil Service of this country? It was a service in which there was a great deal of complaint of in- 398 adequate pay, of slow promotion, and all the rest of it. But, at the same time, it was a service which there was an extraordinary desire to get into. And whose privilege was it to regulate that desire? That of the Members of that House. At one period the Government of this country was carried on by patronage through the medium, to a great extent, of the Civil Service; and gross corruption was supposed to be an essential instrument for working the machinery of the State. Lord Liverpool, as he believed, entirely of his own motion, did an act which entitled him to the highest praise, for he voluntarily surrendered the whole power of promotion in the Civil Service and gave it to the permanent heads of Departments. That was an immense reform; but it was very difficult to keep that reform from being touched by profane hands. There was a tendency to interfere in regard to promotion lodging among Members of that House, and it was difficult for them to resist it, because, although Members of the Civil Service had not a vote, yet representations were made to them to recommend the promotion of A B or C D. The nomination to first appointments was in the hands of Members of that House; but the possession of that supposed privilege was, in point of fact, a nuisance of which he believed many of them would be glad to get rid. But if that patronage was to continue vested in Members of that House, it imported a new element of delicacy and embarrassment into the question of the franchise; and it would certainly make it additionally difficult to keep promotion in the Revenue Departments exclusively, as they ought to be, in the hands of the permanent heads of those Departments, if the persons whose promotion was involved were voters and were also active and perhaps vigorous and zealous partizans of Members of that House. That difficulty became greater in proportion as the service became more intelligent, Excisemen, surveyors in the Inland Revenue Department, and those public servants who had to surcharge tradesmen and get intimations of suspected insolvency, were somewhat like the agents of a mercantile house, who must, in a certain sense, almost act as spies for that House. Those Inland Revenue officers must watch for and make use of all the information they could find for the purposes of the Department; and it was in regard to the exercise of those functions that a difficulty 399 again arose. He had never read a document proceeding from persons of higher authority than the letter of the Board of Inland Revenue, and he thought the men who had signed that Paper were worthy of being heard and examined either in that House or elsewhere on that subject. By those gentlemen exchanging views with the Members of that House it might be seen whether it was possible to arrive at ft solution of that matter. In conclusion, he hoped his hon. Friend would concur with him so far as to admit that the anomalies he desired to remove could not be got rid of by a mere stroke of the pen, that the question involved many branches, and required much more careful and detailed examination than could be given to it in a debate in that House, before they could proceed to legislate in a satisfactory manner, and to dispose not only of the case of the Revenue officers, but of all those other cases which were more or less analogous to it.
§ MR. CLAY
said, he thought there was a difference between the case of the Revenue officer and that of the soldier, because the latter was excluded from the franchise by a mere accident of his profession and by the exigencies of the service, whereas the exclusion of the former proceeded on an entirely different principle. Undoubtedly the exclusion of the Revenue officers originated in the assumption that they were not to be trusted—that they would not be proof against the influence of their superiors. In the borough he represented (Hull) there was a considerable number of persons connected with the Custom House, the Post Office, and the Inland Revenue. He had known them for many years, and could say that the vast majority of those who had formed any opinion on the subject had always felt their exclusion very much, and now felt it more keenly since the recent extension of the franchise conferred that privilege on many men who certainly were in no way their superiors. Were those officers still to be told that they were either so cowardly that they could not resist the influence of their superiors, or were so much more selfish than other classes that they would use their influence in urging Members of Parliament to obtain professional advancement for them? The patronage of Members of that House only extended to nominations for first admission to the service, and, moreover, there was an easy cure for any undue pressure such as had been referred to. He believed it was 400 a rule that any application through a Member of Parliament for promotion or increased pay should be visited as an offence upon the officer malting it. Now, he enjoyed the intimacy of the Chairman of the Boards of Inland Revenue and of Customs, and he knew from them that that rule was not a sham, but one which was in reality carried into effect. He could not help, he might add, thinking that the exclusion which was the subject of discussion was the remains of a barbarous age, and that any argument which might be urged in support of it might be applied with still greater force to men in the service of a private employer. He said with greater force, because if there were at the present day employers who, more than any others, were precluded from unduly influencing the votes of those in their service, those employers were the Government, for no Government against which the exercise of such influence could be proved dare face the House of Commons. He could not, he might further observe, see why so ridiculous a rule as that which precluded stipendiary magistrates and police magistrates from voting in the districts in which their profession was carried on should be maintained. By that means picked men were, it seemed to him, excluded from the franchise. He was surprised that the Bill did not go further; but he should certainly support it as far as it went. He hoped that it would become law, and that the disabilities with which it dealt, as well as other similar disabilities, would be removed.
§ MR. P. WYKEHAM-MARTIN
said, that the exclusion of the police had occurred only ten years ago, and was attributable to the circumstance that it was considered to be their duty to keep order during election contests, when it was supposed that if they took part in them the temptation might be too strong to break their neighbours' heads not quite impartially. As to the officers in the Excise and Customs, they enjoyed the franchise upwards of seventy years ago, and they were deprived of it to protect themselves rather than because of any distrust of them which prevailed. There were at the time only 300,000 electors in the whole of England, while there were 60,000 of those persons holding office under the direct patronage of the First Lord of the Treasury. It so happened that in one small borough of 500 electors 120 officers were appointed, and Lord North who was about to retire 401 from Office, and expected shortly to return to it, caused them to be informed that they were to expect no quarter if he returned to Office if they voted, while they were threatened with no quarter from the existing First Lord if they did not immediately vote, Under these circumstances, they memorialised the House to be disfranchised, and thus relieved from the painful position in which they were placed. He felt sure, however, that no First Lord of the Treasury would at the present day dare to issue such circulars as those which had been issued in the days of Lord North, and if promotion were left in the hands of the heads of Departments, and the power of nomination taken from Members of that House, there could, in his opinion, be no objection to the change proposed in the Bill.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, he had been repeatedly asked to co-operate with the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) in seeking to bring about the object which he had in view. As a measure of abstract justice, he felt that the officers in question had a fair claim to the rights of citizenship which the Bill would confer upon them, and if it were pressed to a division that evening he should vote for it. But, as had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, there were many grave considerations connected with the subject which the Bill did not touch, such, for instance, as how far it was consistent with the privileges which it was proposed to give, that the present system of nomination should be allowed to continue in the case of the Inland Revenue and Customs. Now, if the Bill were referred to a Select Committee, as he understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire to suggest, that would be one of the leading points to which their attention must be directed. His own belief was that the nominations must be made non-political. But, be that as it might, he hoped the hon. Member for Gloucester would be satisfied, in the event of the Government assenting to the reference of the whole subject to a Select Committee, with the progress which he had already made in furthering his measure, and would not proceed hastily in the endeavour to legislate on a matter of such importance.
§ MR. M. CHAMBERS
confessed that he had not very clearly understood the speech of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire; but his (Mr. M. Chambers') position was this, that he was, and always had 402 been, in favour of enfranchisement. It had been said by grave authorities about a century ago, that the Prerogative of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. Well, it was then thought desirable, in order to effect that object, to disfranchise all the officers employed in the Civil Service, they being looked upon as the great supporters of the Royal Prerogative; and a Bill for that purpose was introduced into Parliament. That Bill gave rise to some remarkable debates, in which the leading statesmen and orators of the day took part. Amongst the most distinguished opponents of the Bill in the House of Lords was the great Lord Mansfield, who, in a speech of wonderful power and eloquence, denounced the measure as an attempt to effect a dangerous depression of the Royal Prerogative, by depriving an honourable class of His Majesty's subjects of the enjoyment of that which ought to be looked upon as the inalienable birthright of all good citizens. The first efforts to take away those rights failed, for the Bill was rejected. Now, he (Mr. M. Chambers) founded his support to the present measure for the restoration of those rights which had been subsequently extinguished upon the noble expressions used by Lord Mansfield on the occasion to which he had referred. No answer whatever to those arguments had been given in the fluctuating speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. It was no answer to this Bill to say that it was only removing one anomaly in the Constitution, and that it should remove them all. They must proceed step by step and by degrees. They said that Parliament ought to remove the disability from the class of public servants comprehended by the Bill—a class who received universal commendation for their integrity and ability, and who did not deserve this slur to be east on them any longer, particularly when Parliament had just passed an Act to extend the franchise widely all over the United Kingdom. No one had ever charged those officials with acting unworthily or dishonourable, or with a betrayal of their duties or their trust to their Sovereign or their country. It was an idle subterfuge for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire to say that because they did not petition the House in greater numbers they did not want the privilege. He (Mr. M. Chambers) was surprised that so many of them had the moral courage to declare their opinions to that House, con- 403 sidering the pressure he believed was generally exercised by the Heads of Departments to prevent them taking action in the matter. What would be said of those officers if they had banded themselves together for the purpose of addressing Parliament on the subject of their grievances? If they did so, would they not be charged with a breach of privilege and a violation of the regulations of their Departments? Would they not be accused of combining and confederating together for the purpose of revolting against their superiors? They had, however, in private conversation, expressed their anxiety for the franchise; and the hon. Member for Hull and other Gentlemen who knew them, and the Heads of their Departments, well said that the Revenue officers, as a body, were men well qualified to exercise the franchise. Their right of choosing their representatives had been unjustly taken from them, because if any wrong had been done in respect of the exercise of patronage, it had not been done by them. Some of the observations which had been made showed, in point of fact, not how corrupt, but how soft and delicate the House of Commons had become. Informer times, Members of Parliament listened to applications which were made to them, and no doubt very great improprieties had occurred as to the introduction of persons into the public service. But from time to time rules were made with the view of checking irregularities in the course of promotion; and he was informed that very strict regulations had been passed, if they were but insisted upon, against the interference of Members of Parliament. He agreed, however, with the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), who was a very practical man, and knew what was going on, that it might be desirable to alter the system of nomination, which still left much more power in the hands of those sitting for the time being on the Ministerial than on the Opposition side of the House. Both the political parties had been to blame for the proposals which from time to time they put forward for disfranchising what were commonly called "the dockyard men," including a very large number of persons not properly dockyard labourers, but engaged in the public service in those places where the Government dockyards were situated. Those proposals, however, had the effect of exciting a very strong counter feeling to the effect that it was highly impolitic and inconsistent to disfranchise persons at the very time when the franchise 404 was being extended as widely as possible. He (Mr. M. Chambers) would not attempt to follow either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire in their objections to this Bill, because both of those right hon. Gentlemen had entered into what he would call petty details, and had overlooked the great principle of enfranchisement, which, though recognized by the leading men on both sides of the House, was wilfully violated in the persons of those who were admitted to be an honourable and trustworthy class of public servants. He therefore felt unable to vote with either of those right hon. Gentlemen on the present occasion.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
supported the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill. After twenty-five years personal experience of their habits and conduct, he was able to bear testimony to their honesty, industry, and integrity. The civil servants in the Customs he could vouch for being enlightened and educated men, and such as ought to be entrusted with the franchise.
§ [Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,]
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
continued: He could not understand why the Government hesitated to enfranchise this class of Revenue servants. They would honestly exercise the franchise, and as it was not known which way these men would vote it could not be said it was a party question. He hoped the Government would withdraw their opposition to the measure.
expressed his regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Mr. Karslake), should have endeavoured to count out the House during a discussion on the proposition to confer the franchise on 29,000 of his fellow-countrymen. It seemed an improper proceeding, too, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, after making the Motion for counting the House, should immediately run from his place, and not return to it, to hear the comments which were sure to be made on such conduct. With regard to the question under discussion, he observed that at present there were only three classes of persons deprived of the franchise—paupers, criminals, and Revenue officers; and it was threfore incumbent on the Government to show why this degradation was placed on the last-mentioned body of 405 men. There appeared to be no reasons for the disabilities under which the Revenue officers laboured, except such as were embodied in the Reports containing the opinions of the Commissioners of Customs and of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. It would not be difficult to show that there was no force in those opinions, and if they were assumed to be valid they would go the length of justifying the extension of the existing restrictions so as to deprive the Revenue officers of the power of exercising either parochial or municipal duties. The great fallacy of the argument of the Commissioners was, however, that the possession of the vote would produce all the evils and lead to a political combination to obtain higher wages. But it was absurd to suppose that the mere possession of a vote gave a man political influence. He possessed that influence already through his friends and neighbours. The Government had circulated the Reports of the Commissioners of Customs and of the Inland Revenue; but why had they not made known the opinions of officers of the other Departments upon the question? For the simple reason that they were favourable to the Bill without exception. The bulk of opinion was in favour of the Bill, and he hoped the Government would not decline to crown the edifice of enfranchisement by conferring the vote upon 29,000 or 30,000 men who so well deserved it, and who were most capable of using it.
§ MR. MONK
said, he was glad of the opportunity of replying to the speeches of his right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Member for South Lancashire, in order that he might set them right in respect to the extraordinary error into which they had fallen in common with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, whose Report had been laid upon the table of the House. The Bill before the House was simply and solely a Franchise Bill, and would merely enable the officers in the Revenue Departments to walk up to the polling-booths and there record their votes; whereas his right hon. Friends took it for granted that they might become political partizans, and act upon the committees of candidates at Parliamentary Elections. His Bill would enable them to do nothing of the sort. It did not repeal the Acts of William and Mary, of William III., and Anne, which made it penal in officers of the Revenue Departments to interfere in elections by 406 persuading persons to vote, or by dissuading them from voting at the election, of Members to serve in Parliament. The main objection to the Bill therefore fell to the ground. Its sole object was to relieve the officers in the Customs, Post Office, and Excise from the disability to vote which was imposed upon them by an Act of 1782, passed in consequence of their power to return the Members in seventy boroughs at a time when the House of Commons was numerically smaller than it now was. The principal argument made t use of in favour of that Disability Act was that the officers themselves would be thereby relieved of a disagreeable task, the interpretation of which was, that they would be relieved of the painful necessity of voting for the Whig or for the Tory candidate according to the orders of the Government of the day. It was also stated that they had petitioned to be relieved of the franchise, as they were liable to dismissal if they dared to vote as they pleased. Those arguments no longer held good; but they were superseded by other arguments which, if they meant anything, meant that all the civil servants of the Crown should be disqualified from voting. He was certain that the House would be of opinion that there ought not to be one law for one class and another law for another class in the Civil Service. If these restrictions were to be maintained in the case of the officers in the Revenue Departments they ought to be extended to officers in the Army and Navy, and to every paid servant of the Crown, from the highest to the lowest, commencing with the hon. and right hon. occupants of the Treasury Bench. He was glad to see the First Lord of the Treasury in his place, as he wished to remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the Reform Bill of 1867 was in Committee in "another place," Earl Grey proposed to add a clause prohibiting all persons employed in the Civil Service, or other Departments of Government, from voting. That clause was strongly and successfully opposed by Her Majesty's Government. The Earl of Malmesbury, in stating the views of the Government, said—He opposed the clause on the ground that this Bill was an enfranchising and not a disfranchising measure; and on that ground, if on no other, he should oppose the Amendment. But he also objected to it because it would disfranchise a class of persons as well educated and as competent to exercise the franchise as any body of men in England; and, thirdly, because it would be most invidious at the present moment 407 to make an exception in the case of these persons, against whom no imputation, as far as he was aware, had ever been brought in respect of the way in which they had exercised the franchise. He could not conceive a more insulting act to this very useful body of men than to disfranchise them."—[3 Hansard, clxxxix. 748–9.]He commended these words and these sentiments to the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers and of the House, for he had that faith in the sense of justice which animated hon. Members on both sides of the House that he believed there would be a general feeling in favour of applying them to the case of the civil servants generally. If they refused to allow free discussion and freedom of action in respect of the franchise, they would certainly raise a suspicion of unfairness, which would be detrimental to the interests of the State, and bring discredit upon the Executive. In truth, the Government was straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. The Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to grant the franchise to the highly-educated class of civil servants in the Revenue Departments, while he had no hesitation in extending it broadcast to those classes, among whom would be found many a "Horder's lot," who would vote for a pot of beer and 10s. a piece. He would ask what were the objections to this Bill? In reference to the Report of the Commissioners of Customs, he could not but express his astonishment that gentlemen of the high character and position of Mr. Goulburn and Mr. Grenville Berkeley could have signed such a document. He did not think he was using too strong an expression when he characterized their objections as of a frivolous and puerile description. The first objection, that the measure would introduce political agitation into Departments at present free from it, militated against any extension of the franchise whatsoever. Were the Revenue officers to have no political opinions, no political aspirations? In point of fact, they had them now, and they deemed it a stigma and a disgrace to be placed upon a different footing with respect to the franchise from their brethren in the other branches of the Civil Service. Social, religious, and political subjects were freely discussed in the Customs ns in any other large establishment in the United Kingdom. The Commissioners went on to say that it would interfere with the convenience and discipline of the service to grant leave of absence to officers whenever they might 408 request it for the purpose of voting, however inconvenient it might be to the public service. Was the microscopic inconvenience of granting leave of absence for an hour or two once in four or five years to be deemed a sufficient reason against restoring to them the franchise? Did not the same objection apply to clerks in the Treasury, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty? Was this argument allowed to weigh against the dockyard men when they were confirmed in their electoral rights last year? But, in point of fact, in nineteen cases out of twenty the Revenue officers would exercise the franchise in the place where they resided, and as the polling-booths were opened at eight o'clock in the morning they might record their votes before their official duties commenced. He would only observe, in reference to the objection, "that it might lead to political combinations for the purpose of obtaining from Her Majesty's Government an increase of salary," that if those officers had just cause of complaint or were insufficiently paid it was far better that their grievances should be brought before that House by their representatives in Parliament than they should be left to seethe below the surface and be brought to light through irregular channels. To the next objection he would reply, that if the superior officers dared not face the imputation of political motives they must be unfit for their high position. He then came to the crowning objection of all—That it would be inconvenient to the officers themselves, as subjecting them at times to solicitations for their votes from which they are now free, and plight place them in equivocal and difficult positions.He thought it would be enough to remind the Commissioners of the well-known line—Invitum qui servat, idem facit occidenti.The Revenue officers did not fear being asked for their votes. But he would put it to the House whether that was not an extraordinary argument against conferring the franchise on as highly-educated a class as any in the country for a gentleman to use, who was not many years ago well known in that House as the "Whip" of the great Whig party—the namesake and relative of his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol? The force of absurdity could go no further. He came then to the Report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. But he must first ask, where was the Report from the General Post Office? The 409 Bill had been in the hands of the Post Office officials for more than twelve weeks, and yet "the oracles were dumb." Had Mr. Scudamore nothing to say on the subject? He (Mr. Monk) could assure the House that the Post Office officials had not been mute. He had presented a petition signed by nearly 1,000 employés in the London Post Office in favour of the Bill. Not a single petition had been presented against it. The Post Office Department employed upwards of 26,000 men scattered over the United Kingdom—nearly five times as many as the Customs, more than five times as many as the Excise Department. The obvious inference was, that the Post Office was favourable to the measure. He had already observed on the extraordinary error which pervaded the whole Report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. He was astonished that they should not have made themselves better acquainted with the provisions of the Bill. He observed that they abandoned the argument that the power of the Government would be unduly increased by conferring the franchise upon the officers of Excise; but they urged that it would be fatal to discipline in the country if the officers should become political partizans, and serve on election committees, or canvass for the candidates. As, however, they could do no more than simply record their votes under the Bill before the House, and would be liable to penal consequences if they interfered in elections as partizans, cadit quœstio. In conclusion, he would remind the House that the political objections of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue would apply with equal force to the local Commissioners of Taxes, Those gentlemen were allowed to vote. Of his own knowledge, he could state that they were sometimes election agents, frequently strong political partizans. He would allude to one case more—and one only. Some years ago the Coastguard Office was transferred from the control of the Board of Customs to the Admiralty. The men and the duties remained the same, but the disability to vote was removed, and he would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether their duties were less efficiently performed in consequence of their enfranchisement? He trusted that the House would give a decided negative to the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he felt confident that the decision of the House would be in favour of going into Committee upon the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 79; Noes 47: Majority 32.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment; to be read the third time upon Thursday.