§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Nomination and Election.
§ Clause 2 (Regulations as to election and nomination of Members.)1352
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
rose to move in page 2, lines 13 to 18, to leave out sub-section 7, and insert—7. The candidate nominated in any nomination paper, and his proposer and seconder, and such persons not exceeding ten as the returning officer may allow, and no other persons shall be entitled to attend the proceedings to which this section applies.At the last sitting the Committee passed sub-section 5, which arranged for the personal delivery of the nomination paper signed by ten subscribers. At present, a candidate required only a proposer and a seconder, and the reason why it was proposed to have ten nominators was that it was thought that number would afford security against fictitious or sham candidatures. On the former occasion it was said that it would be necessary to explain the phrase "duly qualified" electors, and he would bring up words to explain their meaning. He now came to sub-section 7. By that the ten subscribing electors were to make a personal delivery of the nomination papers to the returning officer at a fixed time and place to be appointed. No doubt, in municipal elections the system of sending nominations by post had worked well, but in Parliamentary elections it was thought that the electors would require greater security. It was also thought that there would be an advantage in all knowing who were the candidates, because the result might be that some would not stand who otherwise might have stood, and they would be less likely to have fictitious or useless nominations if the candidates and their principal supporters were brought face to face by the nominations being personally delivered at a fixed time and place to the returning officer, instead of being sent by post. It seemed to him, after the searching discussion of last Friday, that, while there was good reason for having ten subscribers, there was no reason why the ten should attend the meeting; all that was wanted was to insure that there should be a bonâ fide personal delivery of the nomination papers, and it was not designed that there should be anything like a public meeting. He, therefore, now proposed to repeal sub-section 7, by saying that instead of the ten subscribing electors being entitled to attend, the candidates and their proposers and seconders only should be entitled to attend. Another point had been referred to, and 1353 that was as to the returning officer having power to admit as many persons as he should think fit. They thought that this would give too much power to the returning officer, and they would propose to alter the sub-section so as to give him power to admit certain persons, not exceeding ten, in addition to the candidates, the proposers, and seconders. It was also stated with some force that there might be a multiplication of nomination papers with ten signatures to them in order to obtain a meeting; but it was not likely that that multiplication would be resorted to if only two persons could attend to make such nomination. In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman moved the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
In page 2, line 13, to leave out the words "The ten subscribing electors to each nomination paper, and the candidate therein nominated, accompanied by any person whom he may select," in order to insert the words "The candidate nominated in any nomination paper, his proposer, his seconder."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he must admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had overcome the difficulty in point of form; but he (Mr. Cross) did not quite understand whether the right hon. Gentleman intended that ten persons besides the proposer, seconder, and candidate were to be present on behalf of each candidate. [Mr. FORSTER: Ten in all; not ten for each.] In that case he (Mr. Cross) must take exception to the responsibility which the power of admitting ten persons would throw upon the returning officer, who, with the best intentions, would be sure to give dissatisfaction; and to the opportunity which would be afforded by this meeting for private arrangements to withdraw candidates, and thereby sacrifice the rights of independent and absent electors, any one of whom might now propose a candidate up to the last moment preceding the show of hands. The men composing the meeting would naturally talk, and they need not do anything for two hours. In that time a bargain might be made to withdraw a candidate on each side and to return "one and one," and when it was too late to make a nomination the astonished electors might be informed that the constituency had been saved the trouble of a contest. Without resorting 1354 to bribery, it might be represented that a candidate had no chance of election; his expenses up to that time might be paid if he would withdraw; and it might even be arranged that he should contest some other place. All these views deserved consideration before they interfered with the existing system, which was at least conducive to peace after an election.
said, that while admitting that the Amendment was a considerable improvement on the original sub-section, he thought it would be better to omit it altogether. He should be glad to see nominations done away with. In the preceding sub-section it was provided that the nomination paper should be delivered by the candidate, his proposer, or seconder; and he could not see what more was wanted than that. Nothing more could be required beyond a certificate from the returning officer that the nomination had been properly made.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he thought that it would still be possible to assemble 200 or 300 persons in the nomination room, under pretence that those persons were going to propose or second candidates. He thought that the nomination might be rendered more simple. He thought that some precaution should be taken—such, for instance, as the payment of money—to prevent sham candidates being proposed.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would take this opportunity of saying that, after full consideration, the Government had decided to propose an Amendment in Clause 18, which provided that the expenses of elections should be a burden upon the rates. The Amendment would be, that each candidate should deposit a certain sum of money, which would be returned upon his polling a certain number of votes; whilst, if he failed to poll the requisite number, he should forfeit his deposit. He would put the Amendment on the Paper that night, so that there could be no doubt about it. In answer to the hon. Member for Southwest Lancashire (Mr. A. Cross) he did not think that they were bound to guard against all the evils that existed under the present system. There was nothing in the present system to prevent improper arrangements being come to; but he maintained that such arrangements would be more likely to be come to at private interviews between the candi- 1355 dates, than at a meeting where all the candidates and their representatives were present. The great object of the subsection was to limit the number of persons who should attend at the time and place appointed; but if the Committee should not think that it was necessary to keep in this sub-section, he would not insist upon it. It could, however, be struck out now, and brought up hereafter on the Report, if thought necessary.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he thought that the words "duly qualified" should be struck out, and simply leave in the word "electors," for all electors were qualified.
said, he must remind the hon. Baronet the Member for East Devon, that an Amendment of the clause had already been assented to by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
resumed, and said, he felt bound to protest against the whole scheme. All that was necessary was to have the nomination paper duly presented, and anything more than that would lead to hole-and-corner meetings, which above all things, ought to be avoided. As he understood, under the provision of that clause, no more than ten persons were to be allowed to be present at the nominations. He, however, wanted to know why the word "persons" should be used instead of electors?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he thought it was unnecessary to discuss the terms of the sub-section to which the observations of the hon. Baronet applied, inasmuch as he (Mr. Forster) had proposed that it should be withdrawn.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, he thought that some difficulty might arise from the fact that the elector who signed the nomination paper would become the agent of the candidate.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, when introducing the Bill, went to show that the nomination ought to take place in open court and in a public manner. There ought, in his opinion, to be a provision requiring the returning officer, immediately after the nominations had taken place, to placard the same, with the names of the proposers and seconders, in a public place outside the building.
said, he would suggest the insertion of the words—That the returning officer shall deliver to the proposer and seconder a certificate stating that the candidate has been duly proposed," &c.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that it was only a waste of time to discuss the terms of a sub-section of a clause that was to be withdrawn. It was, in his opinion, desirable that the electors generally outside, should know the names of the candidates, with their proposers and seconders, before the expiration of the two hours allowed for the nominations.
said, that the apparent object of the sub-section was to put a limit to the number of persons to be present in the room, and speechifying on the occasion of the nomination. It seemed to him that the object of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President would be frustrated unless the clause stated the number of persons that might be admitted who accompanied the proposer and seconder.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he would call attention to the fact that just before the Committee separated on Friday, an inquiry was made as to what the persons named in the 7th section were to do when they were admitted into the room. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had never given any answer to that inquiry. If they were to strike out the sub-section 7, they would be obliged to fall back entirely on the terms of sub-section 5, which was already passed. There was, then, nothing to prevent candidates addressing those who assembled before the returning officers, and thereby causing the occurrence of noise and disturbances, by persons disposed to create such scenes at other periods of the election than that of nomination. He wished to impress on the Government the danger of running headlong into crude and unwise legislation on this subject. If the Government had decided upon withdrawing this subsection, they ought to state what they intended to propose upon the important point to which he had alluded.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he entertained a grave objection to the withdrawal of this sub-section, and had endeavoured to support the Government in their proposal to do away with nomina- 1357 tions—a practice which he thought was degrading to every person concerned. By withdrawing this sub-section the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would seem to abdicate the position which he had occupied, and to land them again in the field of open nomination, for he presumed that a town hall would be considered a room. How could the candidates taking part in the nomination be controlled without sub-section 7? He, for one, should object to giving such a discretion to the returning officer as that proposed in reference to the admission of persons into the room on the day of nomination. He should, if necessary, divide against the withdrawal of the sub-section.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, although he objected to the omission of the subsection, yet he was in favour of the principle of public nominations. What they wanted was to secure quietude as well as publicity at those nominations. He concurred in the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), that the names of the candidates, their proposers, and seconders, should be published as soon as possible out-of-doors. In his opinion it was most unwise to have the business of nominations carried on in private.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he wished to call the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council's attention to the point raised by the hon. Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. A. Cross), as it was one which, in his opinion, demanded the most serious consideration. The Bill, as it was framed, did not provide against the collusive retirement of a political opponent. It appeared to him that the analogy which the right hon. Gentleman sought to lay down between the present system and that under the Bill was an utter failure.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he considered that the effect of this clause would be to take the election out of the hands of the electors, and to place it in the hands of the returning officer. Sir George Lewis, in speaking against the Motion of Mr. Berkeley in 1858, said it would be impossible for the House to insist upon the secret Ballot, and showed that it really did not exist in the United States. He (Mr. Newdegate) concurred in that opinion, believing that a secret system of voting was wholly inconsistent with the habits and feelings of the Eng- 1358 lish people, would give rise to corrupt practices, and would sow distrust amongst the great body of electors, who were to be excluded from the returning officer's room.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he thought that the withdrawal of the sub-section, without the introduction of any other proposition, would lead to a singular difference of practice between counties and boroughs. In one case a returning officer would hold a public meeting; in another, he might refuse to admit any one to the room during the two hours he sat to receive nomination papers.
§ MR. C. B. DENISON
said, he thought that the certain result of the two hours' limitation for nomination papers would be the holding back of many of those nominations until about five minutes before the expiration of the time.
said, that the more the subject was discussed the more it seemed certain—however right and good it might be on paper—that the proposed arrangement would be full of difficulties to work out. In short, he could not conceive it possible to devise anything more certain to produce riot and disturbance than the proposed arrangement. In places of large population, those of the electors or people who were opposed to the particular party likely to get elected would most probably display their hostility by blocking up the streets adjoining the place of nomination during the two hours which were allowed for it, so that the opponent would not be able to go to the room, without either making a riot or inducing other persons to do so. Then, again, if the returning officer were an angel, he would be subject to imputations of partiality, and it would be utterly impossible for him to prevent those scenes of excitement which would be sure to take place in consequence. Then, again, there could be no limit to the number of candidates, and any number of persons would have to be admitted into the room that the returning officer was to have, and which was styled in the Bill a "convenient" room; but this reminded him of what the veterinary surgeon wanted—"a convenient tub, big enough to bathe a horse." Where the temptation was strong, there would always be people who would do anything to secure their ends, and under the proposed arrangement it was almost certain there would be plenty of rioting.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that human nature was not perfect, and certainly election human nature was less perfect than human nature generally. He protested against any kind of ingenuity and scheming being supposed to be likely to take place under the proposed system. The persons who wished to keep the present system were right in pointing out every possible difficulty; but he wished to ask those who wished to get rid of open nominations, to consider whether the difficulties that had been pointed out were reasonable or likely to occur. With regard to the possibility of an understanding being come to between candidates, that one of them should withdraw, he replied that ample facilities for making such an arrangement was afforded by the existing system, as under it a candidate need not retire until the last moment. This question, however, might be more fitly discussed on the next sub-section, relating to the power of withdrawal. The clause, as it originally stood, was not, in his opinion, open to much practical objection; but, on the other hand, he did not think it at all probable that there would be a noisy and uproarious meeting if sub-section 7 were omitted, and subsections 5 and 6 left to take care of themselves. By enacting that a nomination paper should be delivered at a certain time, all the evils of public nominations would be remedied, as he supposed that all that would be done would be that the candidate and his two supporters would hand in their nomination papers, shake hands with their opponents, and spend a pleasant two hours together. At municipal elections an hour was fixed after which nominations could not be sent in, and although in many places it was the custom not to deliver them until almost the last moment, he had never heard of disorder occurring on such occasions. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), he did not think, on the first glance, it was necessary to adopt it; but if his hon. and learned Friend would draw up a form of words to carry out his views, he would give it the fullest consideration.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that as a supporter of the Government proposals on the subject of nominations against the opinions of a considerable number of his Friends on that side of 1360 the House, he had just heard with profound disappointment and great surprise the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council. Public nominations of the kind proposed would be more disorderly and turbulent than under the old system. The old system had a sort of business proceeding about it, by the reading of the Bribery Act, and the proposing and seconding the candidates in order, and which, to a certain extent, the returning officer could control. By the proposed plan, however, while the candidates were shaking hands with their opponents in the nomination room, there would probably be half-a-dozen speeches delivered at the same time in different parts of the room by their respective supporters, and the returning officer would have no power to keep order, but would merely have to sit still, like the toll-keepers on Waterloo Bridge, to receive the papers as they were handed in. The drift of the argument hitherto was that they had not gone far enough in the abolition of the old system of nomination. Its collective as well as its public character ought to be got rid of. He suggested that each candidate, with his friends, should appear before a justice of the peace for the county or borough, and, after giving proof of his identity, should execute a paper of nomination, which the justice might send, either by post or messenger, to the returning officer, who, at a certain time, would advertise or placard up a list of all the nominations. In that way, all the difficulties that had been suggested might be removed.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President would not withdraw this part of the clause; for if he did, they would find they had drifted back again to open nominations, when they would have noise and row similar to that which now prevailed at nominations.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, he had failed to detect a single point in which the new plan was more advantageous than the old one. Hon. Gentleman talked about the old method of nomination being degrading; but he confessed his inability to perceive how it could be degrading for a candidate to present himself on the hustings before his constituency. As for the candidates being interrupted in their speeches, he would remind the Committee that they need not make 1361 speeches at all. Indeed, if no speeches were delivered, and the several candidates were simply proposed and seconded, the whole business might be got through in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. People would then know all about it, and everything would be done in a straightforward manner; whereas, the scheme now proposed must give rise to all kinds of suspicion. Under that scheme there would be disturbances, and if a riot did occur, he, for one, would rather be on the hustings than in a room.
§ MR. JAMES
said, the Committee had decided that the old system of open nomination should be abolished, and all they had now to determine was what was the best system to adopt for the one they had condemned. Every system would find many objectors to it, and it was competed for them to raise up phantoms, and say such and such things might exist. It would be impossible to prevent the possibility of these things occurring, and they know that it was impossible to repress evil-doing; but the occurrence of many of these possible things that had been enumerated would void the election. The clause in its present state, if carefully read, would be found to only enable a candidate, his proposer, and seconder, to attend before the returning officer, and deliver a piece of paper, and the returning officer would have as much right to turn a crowd out of the room as he would if they had gone into any private room of his house. If, however, they thought persons would commit that kind of outrage on the nomination day, the proper way to prevent it would be by passing a penal Act. It was idle to listen to objections that were not probable, but simply possible. It would be most unsatisfactory to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. B. Hope). They must have a public or a private nomination. No middle course would be satisfactory. It would be better to strike out the 7th sub-section, and let the 5th and 6th remain.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, it appeared to him that by striking out the 7th subsection the Government would leave the question as to publicity entirely to the chance of the returning officer, and according to his views on the Ballot, he would have a large or a small room for the nomination. By dropping this part 1362 of the clause they would shirk the difficulty that presented itself. It was not desirable to leave a matter of this kind in the discretion of the returning officer.
said, he was not particularly in favour of public nominations, his experience having led him to believe they were a nuisance. He and his hon. Colleague had been exposed on one or two occasions to not very pleasant proceedings, and he should rather have been in the front than on the hustings. They had passed an Act for the express and avowed purpose of preventing the buying of votes; but this Bill would provide a machinery whereby there would be the briskest possible traffic in candidates.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he would submit a proposal which he hoped would remove the objections to the original sub-section and to its omission altogether. He would suggest the addition to sub-section 6 of the words "or shall be sent by post in the manner hereinafter provided"—namely, as objections to voters were now sent in registered letters.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he thought it was very important that some words should appear on the face of the Bill, showing whether nominations were to be private or public. It was easy to define the character both of an open and a private nomination; but as the clause now stood it was doubtful whether these proceedings were to be open or private. The place appointed for them might be either the town hall or the town clerk's office; and how the private character of the nomination was to be maintained, and speechifying prevented in the former place, did not in the least appear.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he thought the observation of his hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) very pertinent, and asked what was the construction put upon the language of the sub-sections by the Government themselves? If all that was necessary was to deliver a paper to the person, the sooner words to that effect were inserted the better.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, he thought the case would be met by the omission of the sub-section, through which it would be easy to drive a coach and four.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the further the debate went the more difficult it was to settle the details of the new system. The Government should make up their minds which course they themselves thought would be for the best under all the circumstances, and should ask the Committee to decide upon that course.
said, he thought the advice of the noble Lord who had just spoken (Lord John Manners) very good, for they had got to a point where they might fairly divide on his right hon. Friend's (Mr. Forster's) Amendment, and then on the sub-section itself. The Government meant to have substantially a private nomination. As the Bill stood, the privacy would not be secured by any absolute definition; but the object of the Act and the nature of the duty to be performed by the returning officer would afford an adequate security for its being in substance a private nomination. It was idle to say that the returning officer would act according as he approved or disapproved public nominations. It must be assumed that he would act like a man of sense, and would ask what the Act required him to do. Now, the Act required him to receive certain persons who would come before him with nomination papers, to examine those papers, and see that the proposer, seconder, and the eight persons who subscribed the papers were registered electors. Such business as that was essentially in the nature of office business requiring privacy. The notion of speeches made, and indefinite numbers present, would plainly be in violation of the spirit of the Act. The nature of the duties to be performed would point out to the returning officer that privacy, though not absolute secrecy, was to be observed; and, of course, he would be armed with the authority of the police so as to secure this privacy. He contended that the sub-section was unnecessary, and if it were adopted the House would be landed in another set of difficulties, because, if certain persons were invested with a statutory right to be present, who could answer for the conduct of those persons?
§ MR. WHARTON
said, he must ask what on earth all these ten gentlemen wanted in the room? If any number of series of ten persons were admitted into the room, instead of shaking hands, they might very likely create a disturbance.
§ MR. WHARTON
said, he was of opinion that the number of persons present should be limited by specific words to the candidate, his proposer and seconder, allowing none others to be admitted.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 182: Majority 122.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
then proposed the omission of remaining words of the sub-section, providing that no other person should be entitled to attend the proceedings.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, it appeared to him that the position into which they had now got was this—they had returned to open nomination, substituting a room for the hustings.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
objected to the withdrawal of these words from the section, and expressed his determination to take the sense of the House upon the question if necessary. He would further suggest to his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council that he should not withdraw the words in question, as they made, when taken with the previous sub-section, perfect sense and grammar.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
would support the retention of the words proposed to be left out, with the exception of "except with the express sanction of the returning officer."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he thought that he might accept the proposal, but he should wish to take legal advice upon the matter, and if the Amendment did not carry out the view of the hon. and learned Member, he would submit some alteration.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, he considered that the words were better as they stood, and would point out that no provision was made for the admission of representatives of the Press.
§ Words "except with the express sanction of the returning officer" struck out: words "except for the express purpose of assisting the returning officer" inserted, and agreed to.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER moved, as an Amendment, that nomination papers might be sent by post.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he disapproved of the proposal, as even now registered letters in all cases were not delivered; and it was important to have no uncertainty in proceedings so important as those relating to a Parliamentary election.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he believed that all difficulties of this kind might be obviated by executing the nomination papers before a magistrate, as in the University elections.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman's objection cast a slur upon the Post Office; but after the alterations already made, he would not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
proposed to insert, in page 2, after line 18—The returning officer shall, on the nomination paper being delivered to him, forthwith publish the name of the person nominated as a candidate, and the names of his proposer and seconder, by placarding the names of the candidate, and of his proposer and seconder, in a conspicuous position outside the room or place appointed for the election.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was quite willing to accept the Amendment, and thought the result of the discussion would be, that this sub-section would really secure nominations privately, instead of publicly, conducted in accordance with the wish of the majority of the House. He suggested that the Amendment should provide that the notice should be placarded outside the 1366 building in which was the room appointed for the election.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. CHARLEY moved the omission of sub-section 9, on the ground that its tendency was to increase fictitious nominations.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sub-section struck out.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would withdraw sub-section 13 of Clause 2, with the view of bringing it up with some alterations in detail, as an Amendment on Clause 6, to which it more appropriately belonged. He must further appeal to the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who was about to move, in the absence of the right hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), an Amendment on Clause 2, to the effect that there should be a polling-place within two miles of the residence of every voter, excepting where the number of voters in a district would not amount to 30. He thought the present clause was not the place for such an Amendment, being a clause for nomination, and not for the fixing of polling-places.
said, he hoped that in the new sub-section it would be definitely fixed what interval should elapse between the nomination and the poll. No discretion should be left in this matter to the returning officer. It would only give an opportunity for jobbing.
appealed to the Committee not to multiply polling-places unnecessarily, and he hoped the Amendment would be postponed until they came to the clause to which it properly belonged.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he thought that it was desirable that the preliminary question as to polling-places should be settled.
§ COLONEL WILSON-PATTEN
said, he thought that the Amendment was in its proper place, and, besides, many votes would be determined by the number of polling-places that there were to be. If the Government would state that they would grant additional polling-places, they on that side of the House could regulate their conduct accordingly; and, besides, the mover of the next important Amendment had left the House under the impression that this one would occupy considerable time.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
said, he had taken charge of his right hon. Friend's (Mr. Hunt's) Amendment, but he was afraid he could not accept the proposal to postpone its discussion. The Resolution was, he believed, not only thoroughly germane to the subject of the clause, but ample notice had been given of it, inasmuch as it had been on the Paper for several days. The principle embodied in the Amendment, which he regretted his right hon. Friend the Member for North Northamptonshire was unavoidably prevented from moving himself, had been long ago conceded; and he should have thought that the Government would have been of opinion that the increase of polling-places in counties was a most important matter—and certainly the accident of the voter residing in a county or in a borough should make no difference in reference to the facility of recording votes. Moreover, it had been especially recognized in the Reform Act of 1867 and the Registration Act of 1868; for the Reform Act of 1867 provided that the magistrates in Quarter Sessions might, if they thought convenience required it, divide their counties into polling-places in such manner that there should be polling-places within convenient distances from the residences of the voters, and the Registration Act of 1868 provided that they might divide their counties into districts as often as they should think fit. But, however good had been the intentions of Parliament, the result had been by no means sufficient or satisfactory. Perhaps the magistrates in the counties, seeing that the practice had hitherto prevailed of establishing the polling-places in the centres of population, such as towns and large villages, had not liked to depart too far from the general custom, and possibly, too, they had feared that the multiplication of polling-places would make too sensible an impression upon the county rates. Still, there was no doubt that considerable advantage had accrued, although the multiplication of polling-places had been by no means as great as it ought. In Ireland, however, to which his Amendment also referrred, the present system inflicted much greater hardship and unfairness than it did in England. 1368 The Lord Lieutenant and the Privy Council in that country were empowered, upon the application of the magistrates, to sanction the increase of the polling-places; but owing, he believed, to some legal difficulties, no such sanction had for many years been given. The consequence was that in Ireland they had a system of polling-places worse probably than existed in any civilized community. That this was so was amply borne out by the testimony of the witnesses examined by the Committee appointed to consider this question. Mr. Norwood, for instance, said—Great evils exist in Ireland from the want of a sufficient number of polling-places. It is one of the causes which leads to the formation of mobs. It causes great expense to the voters. For instance, the county of Monaghan is some 27 miles by 32, and there are but three polling-places in that county. It amounts almost to a prohibition to require a poor farmer to go from 12 to 16, or perhaps 20 miles to record his vote. In addition to the expense of his carriage he loses his day. … . At Belfast the multiplication of polling-places by the mayor tends to divide the mob and prevent violence.Again, Major Percy's evidence on this point was as follows—There are only three polling-places in the county of Sligo—Easkey, Ballymote, and Sligo. Some voters have to go 15 or 20 miles to the poll. Supposing the polling-places were only two or three miles apart, it would be possible to do without the military.Lord Straithnairn, too, was of a similar opinion—He thought the increase of polling-places would be an excellent measure. If there had been a polling-place at the railway station at Drogheda, the whole of this disaster—that was, the riot at the election—would have been avoided. It would be a great step towards freedom from intimidation.He would now show what had been proposed by Members of the present Government. Upon the first Report of the Committee upon Flections in 1869, the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland (the Marquess of Hartington) stated that the multiplication of polling-places would tend to greater tranquillity at elections, and to a decrease of expense in bringing voters to the poll; and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) was in favour of a considerable increase of the number of polling-places. The Committee also made a general Report to the same effect. The present Bill, which he understood was introduced to carry out the recommendations of that 1369 Committee, seemed entirely to ignore them in that respect at least. What he proposed by this Amendment, therefore, was that the provisions of the Acts of 1867 and 1868 should be made compulsory for England, and that Ireland and Scotland should be placed upon the same footing as England in that respect. The result of the Amendment would be that, every resident elector in a comity or borough would have a polling-place within two miles of his residence, a proviso being-added at the end to prevent the undue multiplication of polling-places, prohibiting the erection of any polling-place where the number of residents was less than 30. Though he was by no means bound by the figures he had adopted, he might perhaps mention that the distance of two miles, and the proviso relating to the 30 residents, had been decided upon in consequence of a very general feeling existing among the county Members that they were very fair figures to adopt. One of the advantages of the change he proposed was that it would do away with mob intimidation—an evil which no secret Ballot could reach, for no secret Ballot could prevent a mob from meeting persons whose sympathies were well-known, and stopping them from proceeding to the poll. Another evil, a minor one it was true, would also be prevented. At present it was the custom in many counties for persons interested in elections to collect together a number of persons who were going to vote, and after giving them a breakfast to take them to the poll. That was now done because the electors lived so far from the poll; but with the multiplication of polling-places the practice would disappear and the temptation which countrymen now encountered in going to town to take more to drink than was good for them would be much diminished. Again, it was especially to the poorer voters a great hardship that they should be compelled upon the day of election to travel for half-a-day in many cases in order to be able to record their votes, and if, as had been suggested, candidates would no longer care under the Ballot to defray the expenses of electors, this difficulty would practically prevent many from voting at all. It might be objected, as had indeed been objected by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forster) that that was not the right place for the insertion of such 1370 a provision as he was now proposing; but he contended that, inasmuch as the clause dealt with the time and the manner of recording the vote, it was perfectly right that it should also deal with the place where the vote was to be given. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) had given notice of an Amendment proposing the adoption of a polling-place to each parish; but, owing to the varying extent of parishes generally, such a proposal, while causing an unnecessary multiplication in some parts of the country, would in others afford but a slight remedy for the existing evil. For these reasons he contended that the proposal he was about to make was the only one which would effectually cure the defects in the present system. The multiplication of polling-places had been deprecated by some on the ground that it would offer facilities for personation. The objectors thought a man could go from booth to booth and vote at each, but with a perfect register the multiplication of polling-booths would be a guard against personation. Presuming the register was made out in districts, and to each district a polling-place was assigned the scrutineers—and if a Motion which had been placed on the Paper by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hunt) was agreed to, the parochial overseers would be present and could certify to the identity of every resident entitled to vote. The advantage of such an arrangement would be greater in boroughs even than counties, but he left the question as it affected boroughs to be discussed by those personally acquainted with the procedure at borough elections. The chief objection to his proposition, and the only one that could be seriously urged, was that of expense; but the expense need not be large. The Legislature had already provided that the poll might be taken in a room instead of a booth, and that provision might be extended. At present it was necessary for the returning officer to obtain the assent of the parochial authority before he could use any room maintained out of the rates for taking the poll; if this were dispensed with, the returning officer would be able to command the shire hall or any other public building, including under the Education Act of last year the school-house of every parish. In that way the expense on 1371 account of providing polling-places would be nothing; and if it were deemed inexpedient in all cases to take the school-house, the cost of hiring a room would be comparatively trilling. The payment of officials at polling-places vas often large, and if the polling-places were multiplied that expense would unquestionably be great; but if his suggestions were adopted by the House, he would ask leave to supplement them by a clause limiting the payment to persons representing the State at elections; and the expenditure on that amount might be still further reduced by the adoption of his right hon. Friend's suggestion to employ parish officers in all cases when it was possible. Possibly, however, the expense would still amount to about £10 for every polling-place, but that would be compensated by a reduction in the cost of conveying voters to the poll. By a Return made in 1857 it appeared that in West Cumberland, where there were three candidates, the expense of conveying 3,482 voters was £1,890, or 11s. 6d. per head. In South Wilts, where there were three candidates, the expense of conveying 2,714 voters was £2,038, or nearly 15s. per head. In North Devon, where there were three candidates, the expense of conveyance was £2,832. In South Northamptonshire, where there were three candidates, the expense of conveying 3,225 voters was £3,843, or 21s. 9d. per head. There was, therefore, a sufficient margin for saving the expense of additional polling-places, and if the Amendment was agreed to he would not object to make, the conveyance of voters as illegal in counties as it was in boroughs. The Government proposed to place the expenses on the rates, and the case then would be stronger than ever. What was the object of the proposition? It was simply this—to prevent poor candidates from being shut out from contesting constituencies by any illegal expenditure. But what use would it be to the poor man to have the expenditure put on the rates if the expense of conveying voters was to be borne by the candidates. As he had shown, a large amount was spent in such conveyance. It might be said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, make it illegal at once. But by doing so they would disfranchise a large number of voters. When the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), in 1372 1867, tried to make the expense of conveyance of voters illegal, that House consented to do so in the case of boroughs, but not in the case of counties, on the ground he had just mentioned. What he wished particularly to impress on the Committee was the present state of things in relation to counties. The present system of polling-places had been condemned as inefficient by everyone who had considered the subject, and it would be a disgrace to the House if some provision was not made for the removal of that injustice. That was no party matter, and because he considered the proposal which he had made fairly adapted to solve the question, he would submit it to the favourable consideration of the Committee. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the insertion of provisions to the effect stated.
§ MR. WELBY
said, he supported the Amendment as a measure of justice to one of the most deserving portions of the county constituency, the small freeholder, who lived as poorly and worked as hard even as the labourer, and to whom time was actually money. That class had a stake in the country, and they should have a voice in the discussion of public affairs. Under the existing state of affairs it was extremely difficult to bring voters of the poorer class up to the poll; and if it were made illegal to pay the expenses of their conveyance the difficulty would be greatly increased, as in many cases they would stay at home, and thus the provision would, in a measure, have a tendency to virtually disfranchise them. Whether the franchise was to be considered a trust, a privilege, or a right, the voter was entitled to the fullest possible facilities for its exercise. He therefore hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would be prepared to accede to the principle of these clauses, and give some assurance that polling-places would be brought fairly within the reach of every voter, so that he might have the opportunity of recording his vote without being called on for an unfair sacrifice of his time.
SIR FREDERICK W. HEYCATE,
speaking as an Irish Member, said, there was no part of that Bill which so entirely met his views as that which provided for a great multiplication of polling-places; yet there was no provision in the Bill which supplied that great 1373 want in Ireland. A large extension of polling-places would cure many of the evils now complained of. He well remembered when this subject was brought forward by Lord Mayo; and upon that occasion he did all he could to assist his noble Friend to obtain a clause multiplying the polling-places in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. C. Fortescue), the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, admitted that the evils alleged existed, and that although it was open to the magistrates to make application for increasing the number of polling-places the process was so difficult that it was practically inoperative. No provision was made on that occasion, and although so many years had since elapsed the grievance remained as it was. The county of Londonderry which he represented, with 6,500 electors, had only four polling-places; Sligo, with a very large constituency, had only three polling-places, and Donegal—where loughs, and mountains, and arms of the sea interposed—only four. He hoped the Government would not allow that opportunity to pass without making adequate provision for that state of things. A great boon would be conferred on the constituencies by bringing polls close to the voters. Moreover, that part of the community which was now practically disfranchised by the want of convenient polling-places was the part that was most entitled to consideration, as being frequently the oldest. An Amendment placed on the Paper by the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary (Mr. Heron), with reference to Ireland, proposed that every Petty Sessional division or subdivision should be a polling-place, so that in no case should an elector be more than four miles from the poll. He entirely agreed with that Amendment, except that he thought four miles to be too great a distance, especially seeing that the conveyance of voters was to be put an end to. By bringing the poll home to the voter personation under the Ballot would be rendered very much more difficult, and it would also tend to check that political indifference which had been predicted as one of the probable consequences of the Ballot. In conclusion, he hoped that the Government would seriously consider that Amendment, which had been proposed in no party spirit.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, that he had always hitherto opposed an increase in the number of polling-places in Ireland, but now that they were to have the Ballot he should oppose it no longer. In his own county he knew of one voter who had to go 25 miles to the poll. He could not support the Amendment in its present form, because he thought that far too much expense would be occasioned by compelling the authorities to erect a polling-place within two miles of every elector; but the reform it indicated was one that the Government ought to consider. He believed that all the Irish Members were in favour of an increase in the polling-places.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, he should support the Amendment, in consequence of his own experience. He testified to the successful operation of a measure, which he had carried in 1862, after defeating a Bill of the present Attorney General, prohibiting the conveyance of voters to the poll in boroughs. His measure provided for an increase in the number of polling-places in certain large agricultural boroughs. He referred to the results in the borough he represented (Shoreham), where, by an increase in the number of polling-booths from two to seven, the poll was brought within two miles of nearly every voter, the conveyance of voters to the poll almost ceased, although the prohibition in the Reform Act did not apply to it, and there was a saving to each candidate of £300 or £400, notwithstanding the cost of the additional polling-booths. It was impossible even now to prevent voters being taken up by gentlemen in their carriages and farmers in their carts, and therefore to prohibit the conveyance of voters, and at the same time restrict the number of polling-places was to place the poor man and the stranger at a disadvantage. Polling-places ought to be within reach of all voters, and he should have thought that such a provision would have been one of the first objects of the Government.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he hoped the Government would accede to some such proposition as that submitted, because it was a great mistake to suppose that every person was really and seriously interested in a Parliamentary election, and the great thing was to create that interest; and in order to do that, and at the same time promote 1375 uncontrolled freedom of election the country voter ought to be able to roach the poll with as little trouble as the town voter, and because the workman or labourer ought to be able to vote in his dinner-hour, without asking any privilege from his employer. The multiplication of polling-places would do more than anything else to check personation, and it would also diminish intimidation by dividing the people.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he agreed very much with what had just been said about the desirability of bringing the poll to the voter; indeed, the Government admitted the evils of the present system of polling. But they had not dealt with the polling in this Bill because it was large enough without it, and time was short; and although both sides were agreed in principle, the subject was not without difficulties of detail. He fully acknowledged it ought to be dealt with, but the Government considered it might be properly dealt with in an amendment of the Registration Act, which must come very soon. If the hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) would assent to the withdrawal of the clause he would undertake to consider the principle suggested, and if he found he could produce a clause which was likely to meet with general concurrence, he should be glad make the attempt. If, on the other hand, he found that to be impossible, the Government must look forward to dealing with the matter on a future occasion.
§ COLONEL WILSON-PATTEN
said, he would venture to recommend his hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment, if the Government undertook to consider the matter with a view to carry out its principle. Was the right hon. Gentleman willing to adopt schools as polling-places, and so prevent voters having to go more than three miles to the poll?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was willing to make a real attempt to bring the polling-place home to the voter, though he could not make a pledge as to whether it should be two or three miles distant. Both in the interest of free voting and of education he should be glad to use the schools as polling-places, because voting would give the children not only a holiday, but also a lesson as to public duty. He could not, however, 1376 undertake to assent to the proposal, which would require careful consideration by the Educational Department.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, there was not the slightest wish to trammel the Government with details. What was wanted was a distinct understanding with the Government that they accepted the principle of the proposition. That was all the Opposition asked, and nothing less could satisfy the House. They were willing that the Government should consider all the details before they submitted them for the approval of the House. In accepting the principle the House would expect them to carry into effect, in the legislation that was now under their notice, the Amendment on which the House had so strongly expressed an opinion.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council to consider the case of large boroughs that were not agricultural. In one district of Westminster 5,000 voters had to go to one polling-booth, and it was impossible to prevent personation under such circumstances. At the election of the London School Board much delay and consequent confusion had been caused by the adoption of the Ballot, and a careful rearrangement of the polling-places was necessary. If there were provided a polling-place for every 500 electors, personation would be rendered practically impossible.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, he thought that the Government should at the same time consider whether they could not provide a better and a less expensive mode for taking the votes of the outvoters for counties.
§ HR. LIDDELL
said, he thought that the point respecting the proposed use of the schools in connection with that Bill was a very serious matter. He urged the Committee to consider the amount of expense and inconvenience that would be incurred by applying those schools to the purposes of elections. Each of the polling-places must be constructed to accommodate 1,500 voters. ["No, no!] Yes; so, at all events, it was stated in the Bill. Well, ten retiring-places would be required in each school-room, involving a vast amount of wood-work, &c. He did not like the proposition by which those schools would have to sacrifice three or four days' instruction.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he hoped the Committee would not debate clauses that were not as yet before them respecting those school-rooms. The proposal before the House was that the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) should be withdrawn, on the understanding that the Government would consider it with the view of seeing how far its principles could be carried out. All he could say was, if those schools were likely to be exposed to the inconvenience described by the hon. Member (Mr. Liddell), he (Mr. Forster), in the interest of education, should be most unwilling to apply them to the use suggested.
LORD CLAUD HAMILTON,
as an Irish representative, said, he must warn the Government against using the schoolrooms in Ireland for the purposes of election. Owing to the unfortunate nature of the religious differences in the sister country, and to the fact that a large proportion of those schools in the youth and West of Ireland were in the chapelyard, it would be impossible to make them polling-places without the greatest danger to the peace and security of the surrounding districts. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would seek the advice of Irish Members on this matter before agreeing to it.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he merely rose to prevent any misapprehension between them. His hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire was quite ready to withdraw his Amendment upon the clear understanding to which he referred—namely, that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to deal with the subject, of course in the present Bill.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
said, as had been reported by his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Diraeli), he was willing to withdraw his proposal, on condition that the Government should accept the principle it involved, and undertake to embody it in new clauses.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Mode of taking the Poll.
§ Clause 3 (Regulations as to polling).
§ MR. BOURKE
rose to move the Amendment of which he had given 1378 Notice. His reasons for that proposal were chiefly two. In the first place, the arguments in favour of secret voting were, in his opinion, extremely insufficient and unsatisfactory. And in the second place, there was a great deal in the Bill which was commendable, and which it was therefore desirable to pass as soon as possible. All the arguments that had been used in favour of secret voting were founded on the alleged success of the practice in America and our Australian colonies. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) drew a comparison—
A Motion for the postponement of a clause is one in which the discussion is strictly limited to the consideration whether it should or should not be postponed. It is not competent for the hon. Member at that moment to discuss the Bill as a whole.
§ MR. BOURKE
said, he would submit that it was competent for him to go into the reasons why he thought it desirable that the clause should be postponed. Nothing could be more germane to the question than to consider the reasons hitherto adduced in favour of going on with those clauses. No one could have witnessed the system of secret voting in the United States without being convinced that such a system was pregnant with many evils. ["Question, Question!] The question was, whether the principle of secret voting was to be discussed in that House or not.
The question before the Committee is, whether Clause 3 is to be postponed until the other clauses of the Bill have been considered. I must ask the hon. Member for King's Lynn to bear that in mind, and to shape his arguments accordingly.
§ MR. BOURKE
resumed: Then as he understood the decision of the Chairman, it was not competent for him to enter into the question of secret voting, or of voting at all. There were many clauses of the Bill which it was desirable to pass into law with as little delay as possible. Those clauses were the provisions against the holding of committees in publichouses; provisions relating to nominations, in support of which he had voted with the Government; and the provision requiring condidates to make accurate returns of their expenses. It was also most desirable that the clauses pro- 1379 viding for additional polling-places should be passed. When the question of secret voting came on to be discussed it was evident that it would occupy much of their time and attention. He believed that in the long run it would have the effect of stopping the passing of that Bill. It was, therefore, in his opinion undesirable that the clauses to which he had alluded should be linked with that relating to secret voting. But the friends of the Government were anxious that that Bill should pass, in order to save the Government from the disaster of failure in their efforts to carry any of their measures during a prolonged Session but a Dogs Bill and a Coercion Bill for Ireland. Now, he was anxious that this measure should pass, so far as the provisions to which he had referred were concerned, believing that it would accomplish something good for the country. But as to the principle of secret voting, no one had as yet said a good word for it. By adopting that course the Committee might purge the system of open voting of its present evils, and, to quote the words of the Prime Minister, enable the electors to "discharge a noble duty in the noblest manner." He would, therefore, move—That Clause 3 be postponed, and that the subsequent clauses relating to the Ballot be postponed till the remainder of the Bill is considered by the House.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
characterized the proposal as a most extraordinary one, and remarked that it left the principal feature of the Bill untouched. The hon Gentleman's real desire was to pass the Ballot Bill without the Ballot; but that was not the desire of Her Majesty's Government, and he felt assured the Committee would not seriously entertain the proposition.
SIR JOHN HAY
confidently expressed his belief that "Repeal of the Ballot Bill" would be the most popular cry in the country at the next election. The majority of hon. Members in the next Parliament would, he felt convinced, concur in the opinion he had just expressed.
§ MR. CHARLEY
supported the Amendment, as he thought it desirable at once to discuss the question of throwing the expenses of elections upon the constituencies. That ought not to be prejudiced by the introduction of the question of the Ballot. The question of 1380 abolishing nominations, too, he thought was one remaining to be fairly considered.
§ MR. CORRANCE
also supported the Amendment. Many hon. Members on that side were in favour of many parts of the Bill, but could not vote for them if they were coupled with the Ballot, that been to cowardice and corrupt public conduct. He trusted the Government would accept the Amendment, in order that they might ascertain the real opinion of the Committee on the more important parts of the Bill.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he must remark, on the contrary, to the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken (Mr. Corrance), that the Ballot was the chief feature of the Bill, all those portions which related to other subjects being of minor importance. To postpone this clause of the Bill would be like performing the play of Hamlet without the appearance of the principal character.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be postponed."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 134; Noes 210: Majority 76.
§ MR. WALTER,
in rising to move, in page 3, line 14, after the words "taking the poll" the insertion of the words "in boroughs," the effect being to exclude counties from the operation of the clause, said, he entertained not the smallest objection to the introduction of the Ballot in municipal elections, for he believed that there were peculiar reasons why secret voting was much more applicable in the case of municipal than of Parliamentary contests. A municipal contest afforded a far greater scope for the exercise of feelings of a purely personal character than did elections for Parliament, and ought to be decided by considerations with which party spirit and politics had nothing whatever to do. He did not intend to offer any opposition to the application of the Ballot to boroughs. He would assume, for the purpose of his argument, that that secret voting clause was substantially carried; but it was with regret that he came to that conclusion. It was, in his opinion, at no small cost to their political system that a very large body of their electors, numbering, perhaps, 50 per cent of the whole, were to be henceforth not only permitted to change their former mode 1381 of open voting for secret, but were to be compelled to do so; or, in other words, that they were to be restrained from the only mode open to them of publicly giving effect to their political opinions. He thought that a misfortune, though he was not saying that it was not justified by the circumstances under which they lived. He also thought it a misfortune that the great mass of the electoral body—to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government—were no longer to be permitted "to perform a noble duty in the noblest manner." He was willing to admit that with respect to boroughs the Ballot was a necessary evil, and he was content to see it included in that class of necessary evils in which their legislation of late years had been so fruitful. He might add, moreover, that he could have wished, for the purpose of a first experiment, that the Ballot had been tried in that portion of the United Kingdom which had been the theatre of so many necessary evils. His object now in addressing the Committee was partly to explain the vote he purposed to give on this clause, and partly to afford Her Majesty's Government an opportunity of stating the intentions, which he had no doubt they had, with regard to other clauses of that new Reform Bill which were not included in the provisions of this Bill, but which he took to be its inevitable and necessary result. The ground on which he founded the distinction which he drew between counties and boroughs with respect to secret voting was very simple; it was the old constitutional ground, which he was sorry to see rather disparaged by some Liberal speakers—that the franchise was a trust. That was not an old-fashioned Tory doctrine, as some people imagined; it was not merely the doctrine of such statesmen as Sir Robert Peel and Lord Palmerston, but was the expressed opinion of the latest American authorities. Were it not that he was unwilling to trouble the Committee with extracts, he could read the opinions of the latest American constitutional authority, who laid down the doctrine that the franchise was what he called "a trust power," and expressly distinguished it from any right of a personal character. Now, he would put it to the Committee in this way. Supposing the franchise were restricted to electors possessing not less 1382 than £100 a-year, would any hon. Member of the Committee contend for a moment that the Ballot could be demanded by electors of that class, or that, if demanded, the demand would for a moment be listened to? Only 40 years ago voting was pratically secret in that House, and the publication of votes was introduced by a strong advocate for the Ballot. It might be said that from the connection between Members of the House of Commons and their constituents it was necessary that voting in that House should be open. But in the other House the voting was open, though it was not of a representative character. This admission, however, might be fairly made—and he would venture to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to it—that in proportion as the franchise was lowered, so was its trust character as regarded the public at large diminished; and in a state of universal suffrage he did not think the doctrine of trust, considered not with reference to the man himself, but to society, would be of any great value. Now, they had reduced the franchise in boroughs to what he believed to be the lowest practical level—namely, household suffrage, and, therefore, with regard to boroughs he was content to take it, as had been predicted some years ago by Mr. Cobden, that the moment they came down to household suffrage they must have the Ballot. But they had still in the counties a great body of householders—the labouring class—who were still unenfranchised. They held pretty much the same position with respect to the electoral body—the £12 householders and those above them—that those £12 householders held to the £50 tenant-farmers and others before the last Reform Bill. If that Bill was to become law, was that great body of county householders to remain unenfranchised? He should be glad to have an answer from the Government on that point. For his own part he would say that, so long as the great body of the county householders were unenfranchised, he would never consent to give the Ballot to the £12 householders. It was quite sufficient for them to have the franchise as it was. There was, no doubt, a certain sense of responsibility attached to open voting which secret voting destroyed; and he, for one, was not prepared to give to the 1383 £12 householder not only the benefit of the franchise, but the great additional control and power which the Ballot would bestow on him. Therefore, the point for which he had raised this discussion was to ascertain from Her Majesty's Government whether they were prepared, as a just and necessary consequence, to extend the franchise to all county householders? That was a consummation which hon. Gentlemen opposite had no cause whatever to be alarmed at. The immediate consequence of extending the county franchise to the agricultural labourers—that was, to all householders in counties, would be that it would lead inevitably to a sub-division of counties, for with a household suffrage for counties, he did not conceive it possible to maintain the present system of small boroughs with large county divisions. When the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) was in office he did him (Mr. Walter) the honour to appoint him one of the Boundary Commissioners, and the practical conclusion left upon his mind was, that large agricultural boroughs ought to be abolished, and a system much more like electoral districts substituted. Those were the two results which, in his opinion, were invariably bound up in that Bill. He thought the Government to blame in having so far precipitated that measure—which was not in the least called for that year—as not to allow themselves time to frame a measure which would include what he regarded as its necessary accompaniment, and form, in fact, a supplemental measure to the last Reform Bill. If the Government would give an assurance that before the next dissolution they were prepared to carry a Bill winch should remedy the gross injustice he had pointed out, he would support that clause; if not, he declined to vote for it; but he promised, to the best of his ability, to leave no stone unturned to get the additional accompaniments to which he had referred introduced as the corollaries of this Bill at the earliest possible time. In conclusion, he would beg to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 14, after the words "taking the poll," to insert the words "in boroughs."—(Mr. Walter.)1384
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was not disposed to think that his hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) was of opinion that the Government would accept the Amendment, which would restrict what they believed to be the beneficent operation of the Bill to the boroughs; nor would the Committee be surprised if they declined to be drawn at this time into a discussion as to whether there should or should not be a new Reform Bill, with household suffrage in counties. They had considerable work to do in discussing this Bill as to the mode of voting, and they must decline to enter into the further most important question as to who was to vote and for whom. When his hon. Friend gave as a reason why the Ballot should not be extended to counties, that he thought it enough that the £12 householders in the counties should have the franchise as it was, and was not prepared to give them the further power the Ballot would bestow, he must say that was not the feeling of the Government. The Government were prepared to give the £12 householder the power which the Ballot would bestow on him—namely, the power of voting according to his own free will and his own conscience, independently of any influence that might be brought to bear upon him. ["Hear, hear!] Because a man was a £12 householder, that was no reason why he should not have the power of voting freely. On the second reading they had not so much as in former times entered into the question why the Ballot should be extended to the counties. But that was not because they did not think that it was wanted in counties. He could hardly think his hon. Friend wished to do more than put his views before the Committee, or that he meant, to go to a division. In case his hon. Friend did go to a division he would look with some interest to the votes hon. Gentlemen opposite would give, because if they were to support the Amendment that would imply that they accepted the Ballot for boroughs. Many persons would be willing to take half a loaf when they could not get a whole one; but he trusted hon. Gentlemen would not this time take half the loaf when they could get the whole of it.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he very much admired the innocence of his right hon. Friend the Vice President of 1385 the Council. The right hon. Gentleman was a practised politician, and was in training to be a very good Leader of the House; but it was a rather extraordinary statement to make, that hon. Gentlemen were not to ameliorate a Bill as much as possible in Committee. The principle of their whole Parliamentary system was that hon. Gentlemen might vote for Amendments in Committee without any compromise of principle at all, simply to make a Bill as good as they could, or to try and mitigate the evils. For his own part, he (Mr. Hope) should vote for the Amendment, though not from the point of view of the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), as he did not wish to see the county suffrage extended. He did not think that agricultural labourers, whatever might be their merits, were so large minded as to be the very best trustees of the governing power of the country. A hundred £12 householders would probably have among them a larger amount of political intelligence than a thousand of those who did not belong to that class; and as he regarded the suffrage as a means, if not an end—as a machinery for producing the best legislature—it was from no contempt or dislike for, or from any desire to keep under, the uneducated voters, but simply from a desire to get the best legislature, that he was opposed to any farther extension of the county franchise. Though opposed to secret voting, he should vote for the present Amendment; because, if he had to take a nauseous dose, he preferred to take a pint of it to a quart, and for that reason he preferred a pint to a quart of the Ballot.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, it was with great pleasure that he found the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Waller), unlike some other hon. Members, had the courage to express his opinion, and that Her Majesty's Government had not been able to include him in the dumb caucus to which they had reduced their party. He thought that the proposal of the hon. Member for Berkshire was eminently reasonable. Either that was, or that was not, a now Reform Bill. Well, if it was not a new Reform Bill, it was evidently the precursor of another Reform Bill; it was perfectly evident from the whole of the argument of the First Minister of the Crown, that that measure or its sequel ought to proceed to reduce the qualifications of voters in 1386 counties to household suffrage, because the argument of the right hon. Gentleman in favour of secret voting rested entirely on the reduction of the qualification in boroughs to householders. That was the sole ground on which the right hon. Gentleman had advocated that measure. He said that it was a necessary evil, meaning that it was the consequence of a preceding evil, which preceding evil was the reduction of the electoral qualification within the boroughs from a £10 occupation to household suffrage. That was the sole argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and that justified the hon. Member for Berkshire in describing that measure, as one of the many evils which the Government regarded as consequent upon previous evils. How they deduced that consequence had never been explained; and if they were to understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council to mean anything, it meant that it was their policy not to explain; it was their policy not to give their reasons for the present measure. That was the ground which the right hon. Gentleman had taken up as he (Mr. Newdegate) understood it; but it entailed upon them, in contesting that Bill, the duty of warning the country that they ought to demand those reasons. He held, too, that hon. Members on that side of the House were perfectly justified in any amount of opposition which they might offer, because nothing could be more factious than the conduct of the Government themselves. Of all the instances of misconduct that he could remember in any Leader of that House, there was no parallel to the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister had convened his party with the object of coercing the House of Commons. ["Oh! and "No!] He said deliberately, that all the taunts of faction addressed to them reacted with double force on Her Majesty's Government. They were endeavouring to defend the independence of the House of Commons against the deliberately factious course which had been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. He had adverted to that previously; and he intended, so far as his humble powers enabled him, that that should reach the country. He knew that hon. Members opposite believed that the country was 1387 dead to politics, because they had been successful in passing measures which were notoriously adverse to the expressed opinion of the people of England. ["No, no!] He said "Yes." And he founded his assertion upon this—that they on that side of the House directly represented the majority of the English people. ["Oh, oh!] All that hon. Members had to do was to refer to the details of the constituencies, and to the returns at the last General Election, in order to see that his statement was correct. Their majority was made up of the representatives of Scotland and of Ireland; the representatives of the majority of the people of England in that House were in a minority. And it was as one of the representatives of England that he thanked another English county Member, the hon. Member for Berkshire, for having proposed that Amendment. It was a proposal which fairly tested the meaning and time character of the Bill, because according to the justification that had been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister for this measure, household suffrage ought to have been conferred upon the inhabitants of the counties before the Ballot could fairly be held requisite. That was held to be the position with respect to the boroughs. The Prime Minister stated that their having invested the borough householder with the franchise had entailed the necessity of giving him the Ballot. But there was no such reason, according to the lamentable view which the right hon. Gentleman took, for inflicting that evil, as he admitted it to be, upon the counties, as existed, according to his own showing, for inflicting it upon the boroughs. It was impossible to escape from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself was an unwilling convert, and that he was so convinced of the evil nature of that measure that he resorted to extraordinary means for forcing it through the House before the House had become fully aware of its nature. There was another distinction which had been taken by the hon. Member for Berkshire, and which was perfectly valid. The hon. Member said, that, whereas the qualification was so extended and reduced in the boroughs that every householder was to vote, therefore there was some justification for the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that the Ballot would make a 1388 less change in the boroughs than in the counties, because there was not so large a proportion of the inhabitants who would cease to be indirectly represented, when the Ballot was inflicted upon the boroughs, as there would be in the counties if the Ballot were to be adopted there. The distinction drawn by the hon. Member for Berkshire between Parliamentary and municipal election was also perfectly valid; and he could give the Committee an illustration of it. Formerly, the argument was advanced that in clubs the voting was all by Ballot, and that therefore the reasoners who used that argument went on to say, voting for political purposes ought also to be by Ballot. He remembered hearing that argument answered by the late Lord Palmerston and the late Sir George Lewis in that House—this was their answer. In the first place, that the object of elections to a club was totally distinct from the object of a Parliamentary election; for whilst the former only involved the choice of social companions the other involved the greatest political issues—issues affecting the entire community. The advocates of the Ballot were unwilling to admit the force of that argument, and persevered; but the Reform Club itself supplied an illustration which they could not resist. Formerly in that club the elections were by Ballot. That was a political club let them bear in mind; but they found the Ballot so inconvenient that they had abandoned it. ["No, no!] He was only citing what Lord Palmerston said in his speech in 1863. Secret voting was found to be so inconvenient in the Reform Club that the members of the club appointed a committee to choose the future members of that club, just as a committee existed for the election of members in the Carlton, in the Conservative Club, and in every principal political club. ["No, no!] Then, he supposed, those who belonged to the Reform Club had reverted to the Ballot. Well, if that was so, all he could say was that, at one period, the Ballot was found to be so inconvenient in the Reform Club that they abandoned the system of Ballot, and appointed a committee to select the future members of that club. And what was the observation of Lord Palmerston? Why, that they had reduced the Reform Club, so far as the election of its members was concerned, to the condition of 1389 a "close borough." And that was the condition of almost all political clubs in the present day. Perhaps the Reform Club, feeling the force of that reflection upon their consistency, might have since reverted to the Ballot; at any rate they had to abandon it, and the question remained, when were they going to abandon it again? He supposed as soon as ever some difficulty arose in the party, and the Ballot failed to afford scope for the exercise of secret influence. Just as was the case in the United States of America. Secret voting was tried there. The secret Ballot was adopted in several States until a covert machinery by which influential persons controlled the elections was found to exist under the Ballot, and thereupon the people of the States practically reverted to open voting. He held this—that the hon. Member for Berkshire was perfectly justified in his proposal, because Her Majesty's Government ought to have explained to him, either that they would, or that they would not, furnish themselves with the same excuse; for it was only an excuse for extending the Ballot to the counties, which they had done in the case of the boroughs. He remembered well what was the argument of the late Mr. Cobden upon that point. In the year 1852, Mr. Cobden stated that it was owing to the extreme dependence of the poorer voters in the manufacturing districts that he claimed the Ballot for them, if they were to be invested with the franchise. That was his argument, and that was the argument upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council rested. It was upon this—that the householders in the manufacturing boroughs were so dependent upon their employers that they could not be safely and properly entrusted with the open exercise of the franchise. Now, he could understand a little hesitation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not like to pledge himself to the enfranchisement of the householders in the counties. And why? He was afraid that an influence might be exercised over them by the large landowners in counties, equivalent to that which he deprecated as existing and in operation in the manufacturing districts on the part of the manufacturers and their operatives. The hon. Member for Berkshire told them that they, the Conservative party, had no reason to fear the estab- 1390 lishment of household suffrage in the counties; and in a party sense, he (Mr. Newdegate) perfectly agreed with him. But then he had another reason for objecting to that measure. The whole of that measure was introduced because the party opposite feared the progress and effects of democracy. ["Oh, oh!] Do not tell him that that was not the case. He had heard the old Whigs for years deprecate the Reform Act of 1867 because of its democratic tendency. The hon. Member for Berkshire said, and he said truly, that if the people would not be contented in the counties, when they were no longer to be informed of the manner in which the electors voted, when they had no longer any knowledge, more than so many serfs, of the political action of their neighbours in a superior condition, then the unenfranchised in the counties would be discontented. The hon. Member was quite right when he said, that if secret voting was enforced, there must arise a demand for household suffrage in the counties. And with that would come the demand for a new distribution of seats; for were the country cut into squares, they would no longer be able to withhold from the counties their just measure of representation. According to a sound calculation, there were at that moment 28 additional seats due to the counties; and if they introduced household suffrage into the counties—and he defied them to withhold it—if they enacted secrecy in voting, they must be prepared to give those 28 scats to the counties. That would become the measure of their demand, and he, for one, would be content with nothing short of full measure. He, however, deprecated the necessity for such a change. He agreed with the Whigs. He agreed with many sensible Liberals that the last Reform Bill was quite sufficiently democratic in its character; and that was one principal reason why he deprecated the passing of that measure. If, however, they passed that Bill, he, for one, would not be so unjust to the householders of his own county, and of every other county, as not to claim for them the right of being placed on a par in respect of household suffrage with the electors of the boroughs. Let them make no mistake. If they passed that Bill, the very ground on which they sought to enforce secret voting upon those who deprecated the democratic character of 1391 the last Reform Bill would give them double reason to fear the democratic character of the next, and another Reform Bill would be inevitable. He, for one, was in favour of Reform so early as the year 1851, long before many Conservatives; but he did not desire to increase the democratic character of the representation. Let them pass the Ballot, however, and he should have no excuse for not demanding household suffrage for the counties. And when they had granted household suffrage in the counties, he should still toll every adult throughout the country—"Little as he might think them fitted for the possession of the franchise, yet Parliament had placed them in such a position that he should consider them degraded unless they demanded it." [Cheers, and cries of "Oh!] Hon. Members might cheer and cry "Oh! but he knew this—that the most thinking men among them had already deprecated the democratic chances that had been effected by the last Reform Bill. Over and over again in private had that opinion been expressed to him; and he thought there was justice in it. He agreed with M. de Tocqueville; he agreed with Lord Brougham—that the danger of that country was the tendency to an ultra-democratic form of Government. That tendency was dangerous everywhere. But he said this—pass that measure, and enable the present county electors to conceal their votes, and they would no longer be able to arrest the further progress in the descent towards democracy; and for that reason he should certainly vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berkshire, which he thought was founded in reason, in the circumstances of the case, and in sound policy.
§ MR. STOPFORD-SACKVILLE
said, that the only test to determine whether the Ballot was required as much in the counties as it was in the boroughs, was that furnished by the result of the county election Petitions as compared with that of those of the boroughs. Whereas many hon. Members had been unseated during the last 30 years in consequence of election Petitions having been presented against their return, such an event was very rare as regarded county Members. In his opinion, the Ballot ought to be adopted only in the case of those constituencies in which bribery and intimida- 1392 tion had been proved to exist. The Ballot would be a stigma upon representative institutions, and he protested against that stigma being placed upon innocent equally with guilty constituencies.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he thought they were greatly indebted to the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), who had, to his mind, raised a question of extraordinary interest. He agreed with him to this extent—that the Ballot in the counties was not wanted. Admitting there was no bribery, and very little of what was popularly known as conniption, what did they want with the Ballot? He wished it had suited some of those silent hon. Gentlemen on that side to explain it. Now, he desired to be quite straightforward, for, at least, it was desirable to maintain the strength of open discussion in that Assembly. When the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, in reply to the hon. Mover of this question, alluded to influence, there arose a general and sympathetic cheer from below the gangway. What did that cheer mean? Well, he would tell them how he interpreted it. It meant that in the counties Members were returned by landlords' interest. Well, he (Mr. Corrance) was not returned by landlords' interest, but by an independent tenantry and an independent townspeople. But was it so? There never was a more utter delusion. Why should a free tenantry wish to support them? Had they fairly asked themselves that question? Now, the hon. Gentleman who introduced that Motion fairly told them that the counties were at present unenfranchised. Yes, and as arising out of that condition let him add unrepresented. In 1832 the borough interests usurped the political power of this country. They carried out the programme of the Commune, and they claimed the right to govern the country, upon what ground or principle? They claimed it in virtue of superior intelligence, greater political aptitude, higher origin. He was not going to contest the point of the old claim of those who governed; but what abstract right could they give them to govern? Nothing that tyrants had not possessed, or that would not, if pushed to its logical consequence, justify Negro slavery. Well, and what were its consequences? The Commune of that 1393 date was a Commune of the middle classes, and it legislated accordingly. It passed laws for the advantage of the middle classes of the Commune. It repealed the corn law, which he would not contest with them. It retained the malt tax, which he denied their right to do, and it relieved itself successively from the burdens of local and Imperial taxation. It did what all class legislation would do. It legislated to its own advantage. In 1867 they extended its peculiar privileges and its powers over the whole community, and that Commune was now one of the working classes. It was by the working classes of the large towns that England was now governed. Would they be less liable to seek their own advantage than the Commune, their predecessor? That, to them, was a vital question. They would seek it no doubt; and they knew that they would also sometimes seek it not altogether wisely. Now, objecting to that vast power conferred upon a part of the community, he would ask in what position would the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) place them? Why, it would simply leave them more completely in the hands of the irresponsible secret voting of that Commune, and he (Mr. Corrance) could not support his Motion. What difference could it make to them if they had not the Ballot, if such a power was conferred on those who practically governed them? In accepting that they sanctioned the principle he objected to. The hon. Gentleman had expressed his sense of the inequality of their electoral advantages, and the injustice done to the counties. His experience as one of the Boundary Commissioners gave weight to his objection. But, he (Mr. Corrance) thought, that entertaining that view he would at once perceive the emphatic objection to the partial application of the principle. His argument was against the whole Ballot, and its corrupt and tyrannical application.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he could not vote with his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Walter) because he could be no party to establishing an inequality between different classes of voters, which could not for any length of time be maintained. If, like hon. Members opposite, he thought the Ballot a privilege, he should be unwilling to confine it to borough constituencies. But looking, as he did, 1394 on the Ballot, as a stigma on all the independent voters of the country, and as a mode by which they would encourage every electoral abuse under the veil of secrecy, he could not consent to impose it on the borough constituencies alone. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster), departing a little from his usual courtesy, said he should be curious to see how the county Members would vote on that occasion. He would not gratify his right hon. Friend's curiosity, because he meant to retire to that place where hon. Gentlemen went who wished to abstain from voting, as he did not wish to be a party to imposing the Ballot upon any part of the country,
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he did not intend to go into any private room, but to go into the lobby and vote openly and most conscientiously with the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) on this very simple ground—that he was perfectly satisfied that, if the Amendment was carried, the Government would not go on with the Bill, because they would not place the counties in a different position from the boroughs in respect to the Ballot. If the Amendment was rejected, as very likely it would be, then he should vote against the entire clause, and show to the whole country that he would not impose the Ballot on the boroughs any more than on the counties, believing that in that matter publicity meant honesty and secrecy meant fraud.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, he felt it necessary as a borough Member, after the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, to say a few words. Nobody who had heard the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) could help regretting that so important an Amendment as that, and one entitled to careful consideration, did not receive a more complete discussion. He knew that many hon. Gentlemen opposite were well qualified to throw light on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council said that those who voted for the Amendment would vote for the Ballot in boroughs, though they were against it in counties. Now, he believed that the Ballot, although it would probably be of considerable benefit to the party to which he belonged, in the Northern parts of the country, would be 1395 extremely demoralizing to the nation generally. Entertaining that belief, he felt bound to confine those demoralizing influences within as narrow a circle as possible; and therefore he would restrict the Ballot to the boroughs, although he might regret that the borough he represented would be one of the victims. With regard to the Ballot being likely to affect the county representation, he thought hon. Gentlemen opposite were too much influenced by obsolete traditions as to the power of the squire and the parson—old "bogies" of the past, who had ceased to be the objects of terror which they were to their fathers before them, because many hon. Gentlemen opposite were themselves squires and the fathers of the parsons who were supposed to do such infinite mischief. If those hon. Members would look more to the future and loss to the musty records of the past, they would see that the influences which threatened to shatter the framework of modern society, and which they had to guard against, were of a very different character from those wielded either by the squire or the parson.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he could not understand why the counties should be excepted from the Bill for the benefit of the Whigs—very respectable men in their way, discharging a great constitutional function in Parliament, but forming a most unpopular class in counties. It was very well known that the effect of the Ballot in counties would be to return more Radicals and more Tories, but no Whigs; and he was not surprised that some anxiety should be felt for the future by those who sympathized with the Whigs. If, however, the borough electors were required to go in a sneaking underhanded way to the poll, there was no reason why electors outside boroughs should not be obliged to do the same; so if the Amendment were carried he should move to add "and counties."
§ MR. WALTER
said, he regretted that the Government had not been more explicit in stating its reasons for object- 1396 ing to his proposal, which he justified on the ground that, although borough electors were no longer a privileged class in consequence of the reduction of the franchise, county electors continued to be so; and the unenfranchised county resident had a right to know how his privileged neighbours exercised the public trust of the franchise. When the county franchise was reduced to the lowest limit the sense of public trusteeship would cease, and he would then willingly assent to the Ballot being applied to county elections.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 240: Majority 98.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.