§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Mode of taking the Poll.
§ Clause 3 (Regulations as to polling).
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
moved, in page 3, line 15, after "municipal," insert— 1418The poll shall commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the day appointed for taking the poll, and shall be kept open till eight of the clock in the afternoon of that day.The hon. Baronet said, the question involved in this Amendment was no less a one than this—should a considerable number of voters belonging to the working classes be allowed to exercise the power conferred upon them by Parliament without being obliged to ask as a matter of favour from employers the time necessary to enable them to vote? In London a man's work was often situate miles away from his residence, and it was therefore impossible for him to vote during the dinner hour; and though the difficulties of voting might be greater in London than they were elsewhere, they certainly existed in a minor degree in other places, and they affected clerks as well as artizans. What he proposed had already been carried out in the case of the school board elections. It might be said that 12 hours was too long a time for the poll-clerks to perform their duties efficiently; but the reply to that was that the duties were not, on the whole, of a distressing nature, and that the pressure on those employed would generally occur only once in four or five years. As regarded the alleged difficulty of voting after dark, he might observe that under that Bill elections would no doubt almost universally take place in rooms where artificial light might be used. In the case of the school board elections, it was not the hours that caused a break down, but something else. The voting for the London School Board was from the rate books, the most cumbrous of all documents in the world, and there was distinct evidence that from four to five minutes were often consumed in finding out the names of the parties. No doubt the pressure of men coming up to vote between 7 and half-past was very great, and, owing to the cause he had mentioned, many were unable to record their votes before 8 o'clock. No such difficulty would occur in the case of Parliamentary elections, where the voting was from the register, and a man's name was easily found.
In page 3, line 15, after the word "municipal," to insert the words "the poll shall commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the
forenoon of the day appointed for inking the poll, and shall be kept open till eight of the clock in the afternoon of that day."—(Sir Charles Dilke.)
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
remarked, that the hon. Baronet had spoken of what the House would do in its wisdom; but he thought it would be nearer the truth to refer to what the House would do in its uncertainty. He objected to taking votes after dark, as there was already too much darkness in the Bill; and he thought the Amendment would not meet any difficulty which existed. There would always be some excitement at elections, and now that the door was to be completely opened for bribery, without fear of detection, there would be a still greater inducement to crowds to assemble. He had himself given Notice of an Amendment to provide thatThe poll should commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the day appointed for taking the poll, and should be kept open till six of the clock in the afternoon of that day;but on re-consideration he should propose that the hour should not be later in boroughs than 4 o'clock, or 5 o'clock in counties.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
considered 4 o'clock to be quite late enough for the polling in large manufacturing towns, for they all knew what took place in such places after dark, and riots would be still more likely if the polling went on until 8 o'clock, while the danger of personation would be increased. If the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would introduce a clause to enable them to have plenty of voting places, there would be no difficulty in golfing up the voters between 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock.
§ MR. DIXON
said, he hoped that the Amendment of the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) would be accepted by the Government. He (Mr. Dixon) knew as much about large manufacturing towns as the hon. and gallant Colonel (Colonel Barttelot), and he could say that in the town which he had the honour to represent (Birmingham) everything connected with the polling went on quietly enough after dark. His belief was that the same quiet and order would attend the elections by Ballot in this country which had characterized those which had lately been concluded in Paris, when a stranger passing through might remain in ignorance of what was going on. He had 1420 consulted the working men among his constituents as to their wishes on this point, because an inconvenient arrangement might result in a loss to them of the franchise, or of half a-day's wages; and they were unanimous in their desire that the time of polling should be extended even to 9 o'clock. He accordingly placed an Amendment to that effect upon the Paper, although he did not now intend to propose it. Still, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council might place confidence in the working classes, for he was sure that elections would be conducted in the best possible order after dark.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
observed, that the hon. Member for Birmingham did not seem to have a distinct recollection of events that took place in Birmingham after dark. One of the worst disturbances that had ever occurred in Birmingham had taken place after dark. [Mr. DIXON: There was no voting going on.] He was aware of that; but the circumstances were such as were likely to cause just as much excitement as an election. He was amused to find that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens) had an Amendment on the Paper directing thatEvery voter shall, before receiving a voting paper as hereinafter provided, stand at the entrance to the polling station uncovered and facing outwards whilst his name and description and the qualification in respect of which he claims to vote are called by the public crier or other person for that purpose appointed by the returning officer;and as whatever lights were used would be within the room, the scheme seemed admirably adapted for assisting personation. In the course of the London School Board elections, whatever was objectionable took place after dark; and, considering that Parliamentary elections would be more exciting, the probability of collisions would be increased. He did not think a case had been made out for the adoption of the Amendment, because while he admitted that facilities should be given to all voters to come to the poll, he thought they must consider whether, in the interests of public order, it would be safe, especially in the winter, to allow the polling to go on for so long a period as the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) proposed.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, scarcely any question raised in the Bill had caused him much more thought than 1421 this, and therefore the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) must not complain if he had been doubtful as to what course he would pursue, although the hon. Member had left him in some uncertainty as to whether it would be proposed that the poll should be closed at 6 o'clock, or whether the voting should be guided by the sun. If, however, the hon. Member wished to leave the system as it was no Amendment was necessary. No doubt there was a very strong reason for continuing the polling hours until after the working day. If they asked workmen to vote, it would be more convenient that they should vote at a time when they were not expected to work. The only question was, whether there were difficulties in the way of doing that at the present moment. Last year he tried the experiment of voting until 8 o'clock in the evening in connection with the London School Board election; but he very much doubted whether that was any advantage to the working men, for, thinking that they could vote late, a very large number put off voting until the last hour, and the result was that in several places they found it difficult to record their votes. That would show that they must make all their arrangements on the supposition that a very large number of electors would vote during the last hour or two, which would greatly increase the expense. Moreover, it was not advisable to make their arrangements of such a character as would hold out an inducement to the electors to vote late. On the contrary, it was important, not only as a matter of electioneering tactics, but for the sake of order, that they should "vote early." The experience of the last year did not lead him to approve of the Amendment. There was something in the argument that personation would be easy, but not perhaps so much as some hon. Members thought; and there was some force in the objection that no public proceeding likely to cause excitement should go on after dark. As the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) suggested, he did rely upon the voters, and it was not from them that he should expect disorder, but from others who might assemble during the darkness. He should prefer to meet excitement during the daytime. But he was so sanguine as to the good working of the Ballot that 1422 he believed there would be perfect quietness during an election, and that all fears as to increase of personation would be dissipated by experience. But he did not think it would be too much to ask that they should be allowed to have the first election under the Ballot held without alteration in the hours of polling, and then if they found they could safely extend the hours of voting, he should consider that a strong case had been made out for a change. He found that in Victoria the voting took place from 9 to 4, and in South Australia from 9 to 5. He was not quite sure what were the hours in France. [Sir CHARLES W. DILKE: The voting is on Sundays.] Then he would omit all reference to France. In America the polling was continued until 4 o'clock, and 6 o'clock, and sometimes 7 o'clock, but in no case until 8 o'clock. But unless the prolongation of time extended to 8 o'clock it would be no use; and, in fact, it would not be easy to stop short of 9, and even 10 o'clock. He should look with interest to the next election to see whether inconvenience resulted from the present arrangement of the hours of polling.
remarked that if merchants would not give their employés liberty to go to the poll, and if working men feared so much a small loss of their wages, there was not much to be said for the value they attached to the franchise. He believed that people could vote during their dinner hour; but, at any rate, it would be extremely objectionable to carry on the voting until 8 o'clock, especially as no complaints had been made of the present system. Parliament had only recently passed a Bank Holidays Bill; and, if necessary, there would be no difficulty in giving all reasonable facilities of voting.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he had no desire to see secret voting carried on into the night. The great matter was to have a sufficient number of polling-places. He had generally found that employers of labour were ready to give those whom they employed reasonable time for voting, and if convenient polling-places were supplied he believed no difficulty would arise.
§ MR. MELLY
said, he would vote for the Amendment in order to afford to every elector time to vote, and with a 1423 view to put an end to a species of bribery which existed in the North of England in the shape of the payment of half a-day's wages to workmen in order to allow them to record their votes. Hon. Members allowed themselves to be influenced in considering this Amendment by their old fears, which were founded on a half-hourly declaration of the state of the poll and great crowds of excited non-electors hanging about the committee-rooms. This Bill would establish an entirely new system, under which elections would take place as quietly as the elections in Paris last Sunday, where upwards of 250,000 persons voted without the smallest disturbance. As to personation, he thought a strong gaslight in a room would be as good a detective us a November sun at a quarter to 4 on a November day. Believing that all the fears which had been expressed were chimerical, he urged that it was most important to give the working and poorer classes of electors every opportunity of recording their votes.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he thought the reference to the recent election in Paris altogether inapplicable. After all that had occurred that election might be said to have realized the saying of Abraham Lincoln—it was voting by bullet as well as by Ballot. A seat in Parliament was an introduction to Court; it was an introduction to society, and it required something more than a mere capacity to do some local business, as a seat in the Legislature implied merely in Australia. The Ballot would not prevent adventurers from getting into Parliament, and bribery would follow—["Question!]—and if bribery would follow — ["Question!] — he maintained he was speaking directly to the Question — if bribery would take place, would not the dark corners of the streets of the boroughs between nightfall and 8 o'clock be scenes of disorder? Would there not be little squads of men down in courtyards, in publichouses, in the parlours of sub-agents, during the evening of that November day, and would not the commercial transactions of the election be carried on with an immunity and impunity which did not exist at present? He trusted, therefore, that the Committee would not assent to the Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he did not think the adoption of the Amendment 1424 would give any increased facility of voting to the working classes. It was admitted that all the great employers of labour afforded facilities to their workmen to record their votes within the prescribed hours; but if the change contemplated by the Amendment were introduced, the consequence would be that great numbers of working men would be tempted to crowd the voting into the hours of darkness, and many, from the mere numbers then wanting to vote, would be unable to record their votes.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, it was not often that he differed from his Friends sitting on the same side of the House; but on this occasion he felt bound to support the Amendment. He represented a constituency of which the vast majority consisted of working men, and most of these working men were connected with mines. Now no miner could go to the poll during the dinner hour, because, inasmuch as the work was divided into shifts of six, eight, or ten hours, there could be no dinner hour. He had the good fortune to possess the confidence of the vast majority of the working classes in the constituency he represented. [A laugh.] Hon. Members opposite might laugh; but they were much mistaken if they imagined the working classes were entirely with them on this matter. In consequence of the peculiar mode in which mines were worked, whereby a man to earn his wages must be underground for a certain number of hours altogether, it was impossible that he could vote unless there was an extension of time such as was proposed by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Charles Dilke). He therefore hoped the Government would re-consider this matter, and if necessary bring up a clause.
§ MR. A. EGERTON
said, he knew something about the habits of the miners in the North, and he thought that by adopting this Amendment they would be doing more harm than good. He quite agreed that facilities were given by employers to enable their men to vote, and the extension of the time for polling might lead to abuses which were not contemplated.
§ MR. JAMES
, in opposing the Amendment, thought the only argument in its favour was that it would meet the convenience of a very limited class — 1425 namely, those in large towns belonging to the building trades. It was not called for by the circumstances of the general body of working men; and the House therefore had to consider on which side the balance of advantages and disadvantages lay. Now, if they accepted the Amendment they would have for the first time elections under circumstances of which they knew nothing. They would have elections after dark, under very peculiar circumstances. People at 8 o'clock at night would be left in a state of doubt as to the result of the election, and the election would be virtually contested during the night; and, in fact, the result of the election could not be known till next day. There would be not only a day contention, but a night contention also. Was that a desirable state of things? He thought not; besides, the Amendment would double the expense of the election, as it would be impossible to have a staff of paid agents sitting in a room for 12 or 14 hours. The staff would therefore require to be doubled.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he knew something of the working classes, and he thought the proposal to continue the polling after dark exceedingly rash. At the same time, he thought there ought to be a provision in the Bill that if any employer prevented any workman from attending the poll to vote, he ought to be subject to a penalty for obstruction. That was a deficiency in the Bill which ought to be supplied. But there was another point which demanded attention, and if elections were important, as he believed they were, the House ought to set apart a second day for the voting, which would obviate the difficulty which the Mover of the Amendment felt. ["No, no!] He knew that individuals with the economical ideas of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were very zealous for the purity and freedom of elections, but who were still more careful about saving their own pockets, would dissent from such a proposal. But he held that if they increased the number of electors they must also increase the facilities of voting, and therefore the two suggestions which he had to make for that purpose were, that there ought to be a penalty imposed on employers who prevented their workmen from attending the polling-place to vote, and that the election should extend over 1426 two days instead of one, so that in large constituencies the voting would be conducted in safety and by daylight.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he thought the working classes were the best judges of their own wants, and if they were polled there was no doubt that they would be in favour of the Amendment. In many places their place of work was far from their place of residence, and it was absolutely impossible for them to attend at the polling-place during their dinner hour. The inconvenience would be greatly felt in Edinburgh, which he represented.
§ MR. HERMON
said, he thought the Amendment if carried would be simply a temptation to working men to postpone their vote till the last hour or two of the election, and if anyone reflected how difficult it was to get a railway ticket when there was a crowd of passengers at a booking-office, they would see the impossibility of receiving the votes if they were so delayed. He thought it would be necessary to extend the time for taking the poll. Perhaps the best course would be to fix Saturday, when most working men had a half-holiday, for taking the poll at elections.
§ MR. CRUM-EWING
said, he would certainly support the Amendment. He knew what the opinion in Scotland was on this subject, having, during the Recess, received a deputation of working men, who represented to him the great advantage that would result from an extension of the hours of polling.
§ MR. C. B. DENISON
said, he hoped that no argument would induce Government to accede to the Amendment, at least as regarded the first election, so that they might have an opportunity of seeing the working of the present measure. He had a knowledge of the miner class of the West Riding, and he had never heard of voters belonging to that class having any difficulty in recording their votes. But of all proposals which had been made that of double days was the worst.
§ COLONEL STUART KNOX
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council was rather inconsistent in not accepting this Amendment on behalf of Government. The Bill, if it had any object at all, was to enable voters to promise to vote one way and to vote another without being found out, and the Amendment, rightly considering 1427 the whole transaction a work of darkness, proposed that it had better be done in the night than during the day.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he thought there would be some inconvenience to the working classes in boroughs from the terms in which the Bill was drawn; but the Amendment applied to counties as well as boroughs, and he held that the extension of night hours to counties was not only mischievous but inopportune.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he hoped some hon. Member would give the House an idea of the working of the election of members of the school board. The hon. Gentleman might have given the House his experience of what happened in Westminster and other places.
§ MR. WILBRAHAM EGERTON
said, that at a meeting held on the preceding evening in St. James's Hall, on the subject of the extension of the hours of election, Mr. Odger stated that the Ballot was the only remedy for bribery at elections, and for bribery between the Minister and Members, and between the Bishops and the Lords. If that were the view of the working men on the subject of corruption generally, he was not at all surprised they were agitating in favour of the Ballot; but he hoped the House would throw out both the Amendment and the Bill itself.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
represented a borough (Portsmouth) twice the size of that which the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) represented, and where the building trade was largely carried on. Though the borough he represented was much more inconveniently situated for the members of that trade recording their votes than Edinburgh, he had never found any difficulty in polling his men, provided there were a sufficient number of polling-places. He could not but think that carrying on an election during the hours of darkness would be a thing most impolitic to do.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
observed, that it had been complained that men working in mines would have no facility for voting unless the hours were extended so that they could vote after coming up; but he could see no difficulty in having a polling-place in a mine. It would be a locality admirably adapted for carrying out the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire 1428 (Mr. Newdegate) had brought a charge against hon. Members opposite which was not well founded. He said that they wished to save their own pockets in electioneering matters; but if they could credit the statements of the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord Claud Hamilton) and others, the liberality of those hon. Members in electioneering matters was boundless. Workmen would be more than compensated for the loss of wages by what they received for their votes. ["Oh, oh!] Was there an hon. Member opposite who did not believe that something would be paid for every vote in a borough?
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS
asked whether, in the event of the poll closing at 4 o'clock, the Government anticipated that the result of the poll would be made known on the same day? The answer to this question would very much influence his vote in reference to extending the time.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was afraid that he could not give a precise answer, because the answer must much depend upon the size of the borough. In a small borough, no doubt the votes might be added up and the result published on the same day, if the poll closed at 4 o'clock; but in a large borough, or a county, this would be impossible.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 60; Noes 239: Majority 179.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, who had given Notice to move a series of Amendments as follows, in line 15, after "municipal," insert—
- "1. All votes shall be given in the manner in which they have hitherto been given, but the state of the poll shall not be made known during the hours of polling;
- "2. The returning officer shall provide for every polling station a compartment constructed in such a manner that a voter while giving his vote therein cannot be seen or heard by any person who may be in or near the polling station other than the poisons by this Act allowed to be in such compartment;
- "3. No person, except the presiding officer, the clerks to the presiding officer, one agent for each candidate, the constables on duty, and the electors, shall be entitled to enter such compartment, and only one elector shall be entitled to enter at a time, and no elector shall be entitled to remain in any such compartment beyond the time required for voting; and no elector who shall enter such
1429 compartment for the purpose of voting shall be allowed to learn the state of the poll there during the hours of polling;
- "4. Any person so entitled to enter such compartment who shall give any information before the close of the poll as to the state of the poll shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment, either with or without hard labour, for any term not exceeding two years.Leave out all the sub-sections except 4, 7, and 9.Whilst deprecating any renewed discussion upon the principle of the Bill, he felt bound to show what means should, in his opinion, be taken to stop the evils at present complained of. The remedy which he should have suggested would have been embodied practically in two clauses—first, that there should be no show of hands; and, secondly, that although the voting should continue to be open and public, no one should be allowed to know the state of the poll until the polling was entirely over. Anyone who read the evidence taken by the Committee would see that much of the bribery, intimidation, corruption, rioting, and disturbance at elections arose from the fact that the state of the poll was made known from hour to hour. There was a prevalent idea that if a candidate once reached the top of the poll that alone would operate in his favour. A poll was often turned at the dinner hour, when a tremendous effort was made, in the belief that whoever headed the poll after dinner had a great chance of being successful. Subsequently to this a number of voters generally held back to see if "anything was going about." All this arose from the state of the poll being known from hour to hour. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) was a candid witness before the Committee, and he said in his evidence that afternoon bribery, so far as it depended upon a knowledge of the state of the poll, could be checked without the Ballot. That was a strong admission; and it showed that it would have been wiser, before forcing on the country a measure which was distasteful to many, to have tried first the experiment of private as distinguished from secret voting. That was attainable by admitting only one voter at a time to the polling-booth, and enforcing heavy penalties against all officials who made known the state of the poll before its close. With these conditions, he moved 1430 the Amendments of which he had given Notice.
In page 3, line 15, after the word "municipal,' to insert the words—
1. All votes shall be given in the manner in which they have hitherto been given, but the state of the poll shall not be made known during the hours of polling."—(Mr. Cross.)
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the effect of the Amendments would be to change the Bill from a Ballot Bill into one providing that the state of the poll should not be made known. He did not think that even the very strong penal clause proposed by the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire would prevent the state of the poll becoming known both in counties and boroughs, especially as the agent of each candidate would be able to ascertain for his own information how many electors had voted. Indeed, the fact was so important that it would be almost impossible to keep it secret. The real objection of the Government, however, to the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal was, that in their minds it was insufficient to remedy the evils complained of. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to consider that almost all those evils arose from the temptation to bribe or coerce during the last two hours of the poll. As for bribery, that was, no doubt, the time when the evil chiefly exhibited itself; but both as regarded bribery, and still more as regarded intimidation, the evil was much more deeply seated. The Committee would, perhaps, excuse him from stating the arguments on which that conclusion rested; and he would therefore content himself with stating that the Government were unable to accept the Amendment.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, the Ballot was un-English in the sense in which he understood the term, as its principle was concealment, and, he might almost add, fraud, because it would enable a voter to profess one sentiment and vote for another. Although the franchise might not be a trust in the legal acceptation of the word, yet a man ought to exercise it in the face and subject to the control of society. Indeed, Lord Justice Holt and Lord Justice Hale, two of their greatest constitutional lawyers, laid it down that the right of voting was a high and transcendent thing. It had been alleged that the Ballot would stop 1431 bribery and intimidation, but it was now pretty generally admitted that bribery could not be prevented; while three of the most calm and deliberate Judges on the English bench had stated that every case of intimidation brought before them broke down, and could not be sustained. No doubt there had been serious cases in Ireland where riots had prevented electors from voting; but the Ballot was obviously not calculated to remove an evil of that kind. It should be remembered, too, that this sort of intimidation was directed not against the voters solely, but also against the candidates and their agents, whom the Ballot could not protect. He was sorry to say he believed that this Bill would be carried. Nevertheless, he wished to enter his protest against it. It would be carried, too, by a considerable majority, including many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had hitherto proclaimed themselves the strongest opponents of the system—who, in spite of their old convictions, their long-expressed opinions, and their well-considered conclusions, now made themselves parties to a measure which they had over and over again denounced. He wished to address a word of remonstrance to those Gentlemen, some of whom were connected with the oldest families in the country. Persons who, like himself, were connected rather with the middle than the higher classes felt something like despair and dismay when they found Gentlemen of high position advocating opinions which he believed would lead to extreme and violent changes. Why should they sacrifice more of their time, their domestic comforts, and their daily occupations in order to engage in a struggle which they could no longer continue successfully if they were abandoned by the Gentlemen he had referred to? They felt inclined to stand by and let the stream take its course, and engulf those Gentlemen in the rapids into which they had so wilfully and culpably cast themselves.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he was much surprised at the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council in reply to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross), because if they were to make this Bill as good for its objects as possible, the right hon. Gentleman, he thought, was bound to consider more attentively the 1432 proposition of his hon. and learned Friend, especially that part of it which referred to the proclamation of the poll. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to content himself by declaring that it involved a difficulty which he did not think they could overcome.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
denied that he had said that. What he said was that the difficulty against which the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire was contending could not be overcome by his proposed clause, but that that difficulty was entirely overcome by a clause in another part of the Bill.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he should like to see in what part of the Bill the difficulty alluded to was met. The right hon. Gentleman would not deny that most of the bribery and corruption occurred during the last two hours of the polling, and this might be prevented by prohibiting declarations as to the state of the poll. He believed that if the state of the poll were not declared, secret voting would be unnecessary. They ought to pause before they threw over the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend. All he could say further was, that if his hon. and learned Friend divided the Committee upon his Amendment he would most heartily support him.
took exception to the heavy penalties proposed by the Amendment, under winch a person would, by infringing the rules and regulations thereby laid down, incur the liability of imprisonment for two years with or without hard labour.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that after the vote the Committee had given a few minutes previously, the only persons out of doors who by outward manifestations had shown that they took an interest in the success of this measure—namely, the Liberal working men of London—would henceforth be quite indifferent about its success, because at a meeting held last evening they stated that, unless the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) were carried, they should cease to take any further interest in the progress of the Bill. There was therefore no reason why the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross) should not now be considered on its merits, against which, by the way, the right hon. Gentleman 1433 the Vice President of the Council had not advanced a single argument. He (Lord John Manners) submitted that his hon. and learned Friend had rather under than over-stated his case. His hon. and learned Friend might have gone further with his statement that his proposal would have the effect of checking bribery, especially at those particular hours when it was notorious that that evil practice was committed. The Amendment, if adopted, would undoubtedly have the effect of securing a thorough investigation into the acts of bribery perpetrated, and of bringing the guilt home to the offending parties. It would therefore, he thought, have a great advantage over the proposal of absolutely secret voting. It was admitted that in our Australian colonies the secret voting system had proved inoperative to cope with bribery on a large scale and intimidation; and, according to the recent papers received from that part of the world, the authorities in Victoria were contemplating a change in the system of voting, with the object of detecting bribery and personation. He believed that the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-west Lancashire would, if agreed to, prove an effectual check to bribery, intimidation, and personation, inasmuch as it would cause speedy punishment to follow the commission of the offence, and would have the effect of diminishing the principal objections that were felt to the present measure.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
protested against the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had replied to the arguments of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross). The right hon. Gentleman simply said that the proposal would change the character of the Bill. But he would ask whether that change, were it to take place, would be the first one which the Government had made during the present Session? Had not the Government over and over again changed both their Bills and their policy? They had never produced one measure during the Session which left the House in the condition in which it was when it was introduced into it. He need only, by way of illustration, refer to the Army Regulation Bill, the Licensing Bill, and their other branches of policy. Why, then, should they not change the character 1434 of this Bill? The Ballot was no part of the title of this Bill, and it might be left out of it altogether with advantage to the community in general. The fact of the Government being satisfied of the necessity of the Ballot was no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to give to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend, who had devoted much time and care to the drawing up of a sub-section which would obviate the objections raised to the present section. The right hon. Gentleman who had now the conduct of this measure succeeded the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) who had the conduct of the Bill of last year, but was subsequently deposed. This was no time, at the fag end of the Session, to consider a measure of such importance. It was his intention to follow his hon. and learned Friend into the lobby, not only in order to support the views embodied in the Amendment, but to protest against the mode in which the Government and the majority on the other side had endeavoured to conduct the business of the Committee.
§ MR. HERMON
wished to know if it was competent for him to move the Amendment that had been put on the Paper by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck), extending the time for taking the poll until 6 o'clock?
said, the hon. Member might undoubtedly have moved it at the proper time. He was not then prepared to say the hon. Member might not do so at a future period.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he understood the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon) intended to move an Amendment, and he expected his (Mr. Bentinck's) name would have been called at the proper time. He had to protest against the proceedings of the Government on two grounds with respect to this Bill. The Bill had been put forward as a measure for the prevention of bribery. He told the Committee on the second reading of the Bill that many years ago, when there was a probability of the Ballot question being carried, arrangements were made in every small borough in England for the sale of each vote at a fixed price. In all these protestations against bribery by Her Majesty's Government and their supporters he had not heard a word of 1435 disapproval or refutation of the statement, and therefore he repeated it, and called the attention of the Committee to the fact that they were forwarding a measure to prevent the detection of bribery. The conduct of the Government supporters below the gangway was disparaging to the dignity of the House of Commons. ["Oh, oh! and cheers.] He was glad to hear hon. Members below the gangway cheering the sentiment, because he wished to remind the Committee that with reference to this Bill the head of the Government had been able successfully to silence a large number of his supporters who professed to be independent and strong advocates of the measure. They covered the Paper with Amendments which they were not even allowed to express their opinions on. If the proceedings in that House were to be carried on under the dictation of one man, who had the power of silencing his side of the House, it could hardly be called a deliberative Assembly.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he could not go so far as the hon. Member who had just spoken in what he had said of those below the gangway who supported the Government, because they had heard an Amendment moved by one and supported by several others of those hon. Members. But the manner in which the Amendment of the hon. Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross) had been received was not creditable to the Committee. It was a bonâ fide attempt to deal with evils which nil acknowledged and deplored by taking his stand on the ancient lines of the Constitution, and providing such remedies as they prescribed, and not rushing too hastily into ill-advised legislation. It was better to improve what we had than hastily destroy it for an unknown system to us, but which, where it had been tried in other countries, had signally failed. They were called on to adopt this Bill at the bidding of the Prime Minister, supported by men who had hitherto been pledged against the Ballot, and it had been deputed to the most popular Member of the Government to carry it through the House, because no other Member of the Cabinet would have the least chance of doing so. Surely, before even the Vice President of the Council attempted to carry the Ballot against a half-convinced Cabinet and a not half-convinced House of Commons, he would do better to improve the Constitution under which 1436 we had so long flourished instead of adopting a new and untried system?
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, the Committee had already expressed an opinion upon this subject, and it required some assurance on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to blame the Liberal Members for not helping them to renew an unnecessary discussion.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he wished to know before they went to a division what it was they were called on to decide. One part of the Amendment was perfectly intelligible—namely, that all votes should be taken in the manner in which they had heretofore been taken. He wished it had stopped there; but when he read the subsequent part of it he was led to believe that the returning officer must provide a polling-booth constructed in such a manner that the voter should not be seen or heard by anyone.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, the system of voting now proposed by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cross) was an intermediate system between the Ballot and the present mode of conducting elections. It was therefore very intolerant to call this "an unnecessary discussion" and try to shut up such a discussion, whether by clamour or by silence. The hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Goldsmid) could not prevent debate by simply getting up, ejaculating an adjective, and then sitting down in a feigned fit of indignation. Members in opposition at least had opinions and knew how to defend them. On the Ministerial side only three arguments were used. One was "Oh! the second "Question! the third "Divide! and when these arguments were exhausted they began with the cry of "Divide! back again to "Question! and "Oh!
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
denied that in submitting this Amendment he was actuated by the slightest desire to offer factious opposition to the Bill. His only desire was to suggest a remedy which, in his opinion, would be more in accordance with the feelings and wishes of the country than that contained in the Bill.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 158; Noes 234: Majority 76.
§ MR. HERMON (for Mr. G. BENTINCK)
moved in page 3, line 15, after "municipal," insert 1437(1.) The poll shall commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the day appointed for taking the poll, and shall be kept open till six of the clock in the afternoon of the same day.He believed that more time would be occupied in the poll under the Ballot than under the present system, and the extension of time he proposed would therefore be absolutely necessary. The opinion of some of the working men of London was that without such extension the Bill would be useless.
In page 3, line 15, after the word "municipal," to insert the words—
1. The poll shall commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the day appointed for taking the poll, and shall be kept open till six of the clock in the afternoon of that day."—(Mr. Hermon.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the Amendment was open to much of the objection raised to the Amendment of the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke), while it would not secure the same advantages. He did not believe the recording of votes by Ballot would occupy more time than the present system of polling. On the contrary, he believed that voting would be very quickly performed. It would be better, on the whole, to leave the hours of polling as they stood, and take the experience of the next General Election, when the hour of closing the poll could be altered, if necessary, to what then seemed the convenience of the voter.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
moved that the poll commence at 6 o'clock in the morning, as he believed the extension of the earlier hours would better suit the convenience of electors than that of the later hours.
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, by leaving out the word "eight," in order to insert the word "six."—(Sir James Elphinstone.)
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it would be inconvenient to make the arrangements and have everybody present before 8 o'clock in the morning, and no working men had asked that the poll should begin earlier than 8.
§ MR. A. EGERTON
said, he thought that personation would be facilitated if the poll began before 8 o'clock in the morning.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) would divide the Committee on his Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the word 'eight' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 324; Noes 57: Majority 267.
Question put, "That the words
'1. The poll shall commence at each polling station at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the day appointed for taking the poll, and shall be kept open till six of the clock in the afternoon of that day,'
be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 66; Noes 309: Majority 243.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
moved, in page 3, line 15, to leave out all after "municipal" and insert a series of provisions for taking the votes by voting papers instead of personally. The hon. Gentleman said, his proposal was not ancillary to the Government plan, but was an alternative scheme, though it was entirely in unison with other portions of the Bill. Lord Russell and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had on former occasions objected to voting papers, because their use might lead to a resort to the Ballot. The question now was, whether voting papers would not be preferable to the Ballot? Voting by means of papers was not a novelty. It had been resorted to in the case of elections at the Universities, in the elections of Boards of Guardians, and in the election to schools and other charities. It used to be urged as an objection to voting papers that they were open to great abuses; but in his Amendment every possible care had been taken to guard against any kind of fraud, and he thought he should be able to prove that precautions were provided against the abuse, which was alleged sometimes to be committed in elections for Boards of Guardians, of an agent or canvasser obtaining from an elector his signed voting paper, and afterwards filling in the name of a candidate at the time of election. Though holding Conservative opinions, and being, consequently, opposed to organic changes, he was not prepared to defend the existing system of conducting Parliamentary elections in 1439 all its integrity; for he thought the riot, tumult, personation, the various frauds and irregularities which occurred during a Parliamentary contest were a scandal on representative institutions; but, while trying to remedy the abuses of the present system, he would still desire to retain its advantages. By means of voting papers, the personal responsibility of the voter, which it was desirable should not be got rid of, would be retained. This would not be establishing a novel and un-English method of recording votes, which would be distasteful to the great majority of voters, and would probably not work satisfactorily; but this system would remove many glaring abuses, such as tumults around polling-booths, and also do away with many of the difficulties that now attach to voting by working men during the necessarily limited hours allotted to polling under the system now existing, and about to be perpetuated under this Bill. A large number of persons who were not blessed with health and bodily strength were, by the present system, practically disfranchised; and all hon. Members who had gone through a contested election must have experienced the unpleasantness of being obliged, in the interests of their party, to urge upon aged and infirm electors the duty of recording their votes at the poll. Others whose avocations carried them away from the immediate locality where their qualification existed should also be considered, and those hon. Members who represented mercantile constituencies or seaport towns, where the people were engaged in the coasting trade, would know how many were prevented from exercising the franchise by business calling them away at the time of an election. There were many others who habitually abstained from voting in consequence of the annoyances to which voters were exposed, and the House should endeavour to induce such persons to engage in political affairs, for to refrain from participation in them was a great evil. The object of the Government was said to be to enable electors to record their votes without interruption; but would their Bill effect that? By their plan a voter would still be subjected to all the disagreeable circumstances which had hitherto attended Parliamentary elections. The object of any electoral system ought to be to 1440 secure the maximum number of votes at the minimum expense and trouble to the voters or others on their behalf, though he was not an advocate for the undue diminution of the cost of elections, since it would tend to fill the House of Commons with adventurers and persons who were not qualified to represent constituencies; while at the same time much might be done with advantage in the way of reasonable reduction. The Government had not taken into consideration the expenses of the conveyance of voters. Some hon. Members might say—"Don't pay them at all;" but that was the doctrine propounded by the Paris Commune—namely, the government of the country by the towns; for if those who lived in remote districts were left to travel long distances to the poll at their own cost, that would be absolute disfranchisement to many—a result which he was sure would not be sanctioned by the Committee. The non-resident voter, too, must be conveyed to the poll at some expense either to himself or to the candidate; and, as his right to vote had been recognized by the House, all reasonable facilities for voting ought to be accorded to him. With respect to the objections that might be entertained to his proposal, he was sure that those who had studied it would admit that it did not afford greater scope for the exercise of undue influence than was given by the present system. Some thought that a bribe would be given as readily for a voting paper as for a vote; but he thought that could not be the case, considering the machinery which he proposed; while the precautions contained in his scheme would effectually provide against an agent filling his pockets with voting papers, and recording the votes of those whom he had canvassed. The first provision in his Amendment was that—The returning officer shall, on the occasion of every Election, provide a book or books containing a sufficient number of voting papers for the use of the voters at such Elections;which was similar to the clause in the Bill respecting the provision of machinery for the Ballot. His second proposal, that—Each voting paper shall be attached to a counterfoil bound up in the book in which it is contained, and shall be in the form numbered (1) in the Schedule to this Act annexed,was intended to secure the inviolability 1441 of the vote, and to meet objections that had been urged against his scheme, and would, he contended, prevent the possibility of forgery and the manufacture of voting papers. The third proposal was that—On the application of any voter in writing, under his own hand, in the form numbered (2) in the said Schedule, transmitted by post or otherwise, and received by the returning officer after the issue of the writ for the Election and before the day of polling, the returning officer shall, in manner hereinafter mentioned, transmit to such voter a voting paper.It should be in the discretion of the voter whether he would personally deliver his application to the returning officer or send it by post; but the returning officer must send the voting paper by post to the elector, and not to any other person. He next provided that—Previously to transmitting a voting paper to a voter the returning officer shall enter the name and address of the voter, and his number in the register of voters, on the voting paper, and also on the counterfoil; on the receipt of the voting paper the voter shall enter therein the name or names of the candidate or candidates for whom he is entitled and intends to vote, and shall subscribe the voting paper with his own name; the entry of the name or names of the candidate or candidates as aforesaid, and the subscription by the voter of his own name, shall be made in the presence of a justice of the peace, who shall retain the voting paper, and cause it to be, in manner hereinafter mentioned, transmitted without delay to the returning officer.Without his entering into a defence of the magistracy of the country, he thought the Committee would be of opinion that he could not select a more trustworthy agency to whom this important matter should be confided. If the magistrate and the voter were personally acquainted with each other, there need be no test of identity; but if, as he hoped, the majority of the electors who desired to use voting papers were unknown to either the magistrates or the police, he proposed that such a voter should be accompanied by a householder who was personally known to the justice, and could attest on oath to the identity of the voter. He next provided that—The transmission of a voting paper to a voter by the returning officer, or to the returning officer by the justice of the peace, may be by post, and if by post shall be post-free; but any other mode of transmission may be adopted, in the case of the returning officer, upon the application or with the consent in writing of the voter, and in case of the justice of the peace at his discretion, if he think such other mode more speedy than and 1442 equally secure as the transmission by post; the returning officer shall take proper means for securing the prompt delivery to him of voting papers, whether sent by post or otherwise, and shall give notice of the poll-booth at which he will enter all votes that are given by voting papers; the returning officer or his deputy shall, during the hours of polling on the day of polling, publicly open at the booth aforesaid all voting papers transmitted to him, and read out from each voting paper the vote given for the candidates therein named, and duly record such vote in the poll book, and votes so recorded shall be of the same validity as if they had been given personally.This would obviate the difficulties which many felt as to the establishment of a system of secret and irresponsible voting, and it would also enable a comparison of the voting paper with the counterfoil—a check which was not possible under the Government system, anything which prevented the checking of votes being, in his opinion, open to grave objection. He did not go so far as his right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. S. Cave), who desired to have an open scrutiny of the Ballot papers, because he hoped that the adoption of his scheme would result in diminishing the number of Petitions praying for a scrutiny. Seeing the necessity for affording every facility to object to voting papers which had not been fairly given, he proposed that—The returning officer or his deputy shall reject any voting paper that on comparison with the book of counterfoils does not tally therewith, or which contains the names of more candidates than the voter is entitled to vote for, but, except on the grounds aforesaid, he shall not reject for informality any voting paper that contains the surname of any candidate for whom the voter is entitled to vote, and that purports to have been subscribed by the voter with his own name in the presence of a justice of the peace; all voting papers the votes in respect of which are recorded at the Election, or which are rejected for the reasons aforesaid, shall be filed by the returning officer; and any person shall be allowed to examine such voting papers and take copies thereof on payment of a fee not exceeding one shilling;in order to see that there had been no trick, for in the hurry of the moment the returning officer might be prevented from detecting that fraud which a more minute inspection would reveal. He also provided that—A voter at an Election shall not be entitled to more than one voting paper, and when he has signed a voting paper in favour of any candidate at any Election, he shall not be entitled to vote personally at such Election.It would be necessary for a person to go through the formality of deliberate perjury 1443 if he intended to vote in person as well as by a voting paper, and the offence of which he would be guilty was declared to be a misdemeanour. Then came a very important provision—No. 15—thatNo person, except the returning officer, his deputy, or clerks, shall be entitled to inspect the counterfoils of voting papers before the day of polling, or to ask the names of the persons who have applied for voting papers; and it shall be the duty of the returning officer, his deputies and clerks, to give no information until the day of polling, with respect to the names of the persons who have applied for voting papers.That disposed of many of the objections which had been raised on a former occasion, and tended, he thought, to the almost absolute perfection of the system. He thought the Committee would be of opinion that these provisions would guard against any reasonable fear of tampering with voting papers. The schedule provided for the obtaining of the voting paper, and its being deposited in the hands of a justice of the peace for final delivery at the poll. In this way it was intended to get rid of the evils of proxies, and of canvassers going about armed with voting papers. He wished to remind the Committee that these schemes had never been fairly laid before the House, or considered by it. When the Reform Bill of 1867 was introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire it contained a provision for voting by means of papers. The reception accorded to that proposition by the House of Commons was not, on the whole, favourable. But another proposition, made as an Amendment to the Bill, was received with even less favour—he meant the proposal of the late lamented Member for Bristol (Mr. Berkeley), for establishing that system of voting to which the Prime Minister had become so recent a convert. Therefore, if the present House of Commons differed so much from its predecessor in one important point, he was justified in hoping that the comparatively slender majority which voted against the proposition of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) would now have become a majority in its support. Indeed, he was not without hope of obtaining some approval of this Amendment from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who had advanced such strong reasons against the Ballot. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] 1444 The views of the right hon. Gentleman were pretty well known on this subject, and he believed the right hon. Gentleman had made known his objections to the Ballot upon the hustings. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Was he to understand, then, that the right hon. Gentleman, during the whole course of his political career, had never, on any occasion, divulged his sentiments on the Ballot? All he could say was that the right hon. Gentleman was placed in the position of Prime Minister of this country while the country was under the impression that he was an opponent of what he now termed secret voting; and he for many years represented a constituency which in those days was scarcely in favour of the Ballot. Returning from this digression, he wished to call attention to the fact that in 1867 a proposal was made in the House of Lords that voting papers should be used in Parliamentary elections, and although the machinery now provided was not placed before the House of Lords, and Lord Derby, then the head of the Government, declined to commit himself to details of the scheme then under discussion, the proposal was adopted by a large and overwhelming majority. He knew that hon. Gentlemen opposite were not disposed to attach much weight to what took place in "another place," and probably some hon. Gentlemen would say that the fact that this proposal had been endorsed by the House of Lords was a reason why ardent patriots and so-called representatives of advanced sections of the people should be inclined to view it with suspicion, if not alarm. But he would point out that in a House of 150 Members on that occasion the "Contents" in favour of the proposal were 114, while the "Not-contents" against it were only 36. Hon. Members who had studied the composition of the Upper Chamber would know that these numbers did not represent a party division. Without, however, professing to know what might be the balance of parties in "another place"—and the Government were varying the monotony of that balance by a gradual process—it was patent that the majority in that division included the names of strong supporters of the right hon. Gentleman. The vote then taken showed, therefore, what was the unbiassed judgment of those who were capable of giving a more impartial consideration to a subject 1445 of that kind than Members of that House. The scheme as now proposed was a decided improvement on previous proposals of a similar kind. This proposal, however, was substantially that which came down from the House of Lords after approval had been given to the rough sketch in the division to which he had referred; but the details were filled out very much in the form in which they now stood on the Paper. Those who had seats in the House at that time would remember that the Lords' Amendments to the Reform Bill were never really considered by the House. A majority of the House, acting together for the first time in two years, under the leadership of the present Prime Minister, trooped down to the House determined to discuss as little as possible and to agree to nothing. There were some important Amendments to be considered, one relating to the proportionate representation of minorities; but the majority of the House was prepared to regard every suggestion from the other House in the spirit with which they would view a mad dog. A discussion did arise on voting papers, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) could not contain himself; he was perfectly furious against all the Lords' Amendments. With reference to voting papers Member after Member got up and insisted that the system would be attended by imaginary evils, while the good results expected from its adoption were wholly disregarded.
§ And it being now ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to report Progress.
§ House resumed.
§ It being now Seven of the clock, the House suspended its sitting.
§ The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.