§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Mode of taking the Poll.
§ Clause 3 (Regulations as to polling).
MR. J. LOWTHER moved in page 3, line 15, to leave out all after "municipal," and insert—
Any voter may, in compliance with the provisions hereinafter contained, give his vote by a voting paper instead of personally.
§ MR. LIDDELL
regretted to observe an apparent disposition in a large number of Members to decline the discussion of the many very important matters contained in the Amendments proposed to be made in this Bill, because it appeared to him that if there was one measure more than another demanding calm discussion and deliberation, it was that one now under consideration. He rose to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend from the conviction that if adopted it would remove most of the evils which they so much dreaded from the operation of the Bill in its present form. He thought that those Members who opposed the Ballot would be very uncandid if they did not admit it to have some advantages, one of which was that it tended to secure tranquillity and order at elections. But that result would be much better secured by the adoption of voting papers than by the personal attendance of the voter at the poll. The voting papers would also go far to prevent the demoralizing influences to which constituencies were exposed in attending in crowds at the poll. The ex-Prime Minister of New South Wales, in his last letter to the Government, speaking of the Ballot, said that under it promises were made which had no binding effect, and that personation was an evil of so serious a character that it was an indispensable duty on the part of the Legislature to take immediate measures to check it. Were not those demoralizing influences resulting from the system of secret voting? He must take exception to an observation made 1647 by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—namely, that this was an "old and antiquated" question. It was true that in a certain sense it had been from time to time discussed in this country during the last 30 years; but the people had never until now been brought face to face with it. He had always looked on it heretofore as a sort of playground for a certain class of politicians to disport themselves when it suited their own purposes to do so. But it had never until now presented itself to the eyes of the people in a really practical form. It was, therefore, their duty to discuss its merits or demerits with the most serious consideration. He thought that the mode of taking the votes suggested by the Amendment of his hon. Friend was calculated to give them all the advantages of the Ballot, without its great disadvantages. It was no doubt true that the voting papers might be tampered with; but was there no danger of the ballot-box being tampered with? Was it not a matter of notoriety that in a neighbouring country the ballot-boxes had been tampered with by the officials employed about them? They had even heard of the ballot-boxes having been stuffed and broken into pieces by excited and disorderly crowds. Now those evils could be guarded against by the adoption of his hon. Friend's Amendment; and the system of voting papers would be found to be the most complete, efficient, and economical arrangement that could be devised for collecting the votes. In the event, too, of the franchise being extended to women, it was obvious that voting papers would be necessary to enable them to exorcise their rights in a satisfactory manner. That system would also remove the danger of hasty and excited expressions of opinion, inasmuch as it would enable the voter in the quietude of his own room to arrive at a cool and dispassionate judgment of the merits of the respective candidates. He attached the greatest importance to the fact that the voter would not be removed from the wholesome influence and action of public opinion in thus recording his vote. It was a great advantage to keep the voter under the public eye in voting, because a man under such circumstances was more careful of his actions than he otherwise would be. So long as personal attendance was required at the poll the voter must be liable to a great deal of 1648 disturbance and solicitation; but if he had to deliberate in his room, and record in writing the name of the person for whom he voted, he would be relieved from it.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) must excuse his following him through his arguments against the Ballot, because by doing so he would have to repeat in almost the same words what he had already frequently stated in the course of this debate. He could assure the Committee his motive for not repeating himself was to save time. The Amendment of the hon. Member was intended, however, as an alternative scheme to the most important provision of the Bill, and, therefore, he would make a few remarks upon it. The system of voting papers was not unknown in this country; but of all the systems employed it produced the greatest evils, and was the most exposed to abuse. Indeed, it was hardly possible to conceive a system under which more influence could be brought to bear on the voter than under that adopted for the election of Poor Law Guardians. The system next proposed was that brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) in his Reform Bill, and finally rejected by Parliament. It was then intended that the system already applied to the University constituencies should be extended to Parliamentary elections generally, and it would appear that the Earl of Carnarvon was the real parent of the scheme now submitted to the Committee, for during the discussion in the other House the noble Earl proposed that the voting paper, after being signed before a magistrate, should not be returned to the elector, as was done in the case of University elections, but that the magistrate should himself forward it to the returning officer. Such a system might be applied with comparative case to a small number of select constituencies; but if it were made general, the magistrates would hardly be sufficiently numerous to get through the work. Besides, it would be difficult to prevent a person who had voted once from voting again. His great objection to the plan, however, was based on principle. Not only was it no substitute for the Ballot, but it would actually intensify the evils caused by the existing method of voting. It would have all the disadvantages of 1649 secret voting, without the advantage of its protection. The Ballot would diminish the motive to bribe and destroy the power to coerce; but the proposed scheme would fail to accomplish that object. When the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire was under consideration in that House, the Marquess of Salisbury (then Lord Cranborne) truly described it when he said that "all the clause did was to carry the poll into every magistrate's drawing-room." The hon. Member for York would go further and carry the votes into the magistrate's pockets. The county and borough magistrates would in this, as in other cases, perform their duty honestly and fairly; but it would be unfair to impose upon them a duty which would expose them to every kind of accusation. It appeared to him that the mere description of the hon. Member's plan was almost sufficient to condemn it.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
advocated the extension to the whole country of a system of voting papers similar to that which had been so successfully applied in the University constituencies. It might be urged that the University voters were men of a certain social position, and that a system might be well adapted for them, and yet quite unsuitable for more miscellaneous constituencies; but the hon. Member for York's scheme met that objection by providing—first, that when a voting paper was once executed it should not be returned to the voter but forwarded by the magistrate to the returning officer; and, secondly, that every paper should be issued by the returning officer and have a counterfoil so that it might be easily traceable; whereas in University elections they were provided by the candidates according to the form enacted in the statute. The voting paper was not intercepted by anyone, but collected by the candidate or his friends, and sent to the University. Judging from the University elections they might reasonably come to the conclusion that voting papers, under the plan suggested by the hon. Member for York would work well. The Ballot would increase rather than prevent bribery, corruption, and intimidation, and if the Ballot was to make elections more orderly, quiet, and sober, what could be more orderly, quiet, and sober than taking the votes as suggested? It would be almost philosophically stupid 1650 to those who liked a little fun and excitement at election time to have to go into the office of a magistrate, stand hat in hand at the end of a table before him, write his name, and see the magistrate pigeon-hole the paper, and the voter never again sees that recorded testimony of his opinion. It was unfair to adduce the example of Australia to show that tranquillity at elections was produced by the Ballot, because there the voters were comparatively few in number and scattered over a vast extent of country. In Victoria, for example, there were only about as many voters as in a metropolitan borough, although the colony was nearly five times as large as England. He believed that by the means of voting papers they would secure a much more quiet and orderly election than they did under the present system, or than they would under the new-fangled scheme of voting by ballot.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, there were three points on which voting papers deserved the consideration of the House. In the first place, they would protect the voter against mob violence; secondly, they would shelter him from such practices as "bottling" or kidnapping; and, thirdly, they would enable a larger portion of a constituency to vote than under any other circumstances, thus securing a fuller representation. Thus voting papers possessed advantages over the Ballot, which would not preserve a man whose political opinions were known from violence or inducements not to exercise the franchise. But he should also be glad to see voting papers introduced so as to enable the Government to consider the possibility of establishing in connection with them a system of fining electors who declined to vote. ["Oh, oh!] Some hon. Members appeared to object to such a principle; but he, for one, at all events, did not see, if a man was intrusted by the State with the right of voting, why he should shirk the duty, and he should be glad to have some system under which they would be able to exert a mild pressure on those who declined to record their votes.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
objected to both the Ballot and the voting papers as one-sided measures, but was glad the Government intended to consider the possibility of multiplying polling-places. He thought, however, that voting papers might be introduced for 1651 voters residing at a great distance from the polling-place, or in cases where electors were disabled by illness or infirmity from going to the poll. An hon. Member had placed an Amendment on the Paper in relation to one of these suggestions, and he hoped it would be persevered in.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he thought the hon. Member (Sir Edward Colebrooke) had made out a case for supporting the Amendment, which would be necessary in order to carry out his views for the use of voting papers, even to a limited extent. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forster) assumed in the remarks he had made on this subject everything favourable to the ballot, and everything unfavourable to voting papers. He assumed, for instance, that the Ballot was certain to cure intimidation, and that voting papers would be equally certain to favour bribery; but he had overlooked the possibility of persons wishing for voting papers to enable them to vote in a quiet manner without fear of the consequence. He should be glad to see the system of voting papers carried much further. He did not believe that since 1867, when an Amendment was made with respect to voting for Poor Law Guardians, there had been the same corruption in connection, with them as there was before. He believed that a system of voting papers would, if properly carried out, not only tend to reduce the expenses connected with polling-booths and so on, but greatly lesson attempts at bribery and intimidation. The voter would be protected from those influences, because the corrupting agents usually employed would, in the absence of any knowledge as to the state of the poll, not know how to work, because the voter would be no longer under the necessity of making his way to the poll through the midst of crowds and mobs, and because under a system of voting papers they would get the opinion of the whole constituency, a thing which he believed to be impossible either under the present system or with a system of voting by ballot. As to riots, he did not see how they would be prevented by the Ballot, because all such occurrences had reference to persons whose opinions were known, and many had taken place before the election. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman would not propose the 1652 Ballot as a cure for bribery unless he believed in its efficacy; but they said it would not be a protection, and, in fact, the argument as to prevention of bribery had been given up by many supporters of the Ballot. At any rate, if voting papers were properly managed no more bribery would take place than with the ballot. Then, again, with regard to coercion, supposing the Ballot to be adopted, employers would in some instances be able to prevent persons from going to the poll unless they agreed in their views. Under a properly administered system, voting papers would be used freely by the great mass of the voters without intimidation or bribery or anything but a desire to vote conscientiously, while by bringing in numbers of respectable and orderly voters, who did not now take part in elections, they would remove much of the inducement for bribery or intimidation. He ventured to assert that there had never yet been an election in the Metropolis where the great mass of the voters had exercised the franchise; but if voting papers were introduced, the opinions of the constituency would be more fully represented. Having already advocated these papers in a Bill in Parliament, he now supported them against the Ballot as a more satisfactory means of arriving at a solution of this question, and he hoped the Committee would adopt the proposal.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, that voting papers would relieve the pressure upon the election machinery in large constituencies, and this was the more necessary as the hours of polling had not been extended. The papers would also be most useful to the important seafaring classes connected with the coasting trade, and to pilots and to fishermen, who could not at present exercise the franchise without difficulty and loss. These classes of electors took a deep interest in maritime affairs, and even if the proposal went no further he would be glad if they, at all events, were enabled to vote by means of papers. He hoped the Government would seriously consider that point.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
considered that voting papers were necessary for sick persons and such electors as found it impossible from weakness or other causes to make their way through crowds to the poll. If there was any reason for allowing voting reapers, the same reason 1653 which was applicable to the Universities was applicable to large constituencies. He thought magistrates would make the best recording officers. One of the great evils of the present system of election was that no man could go to vote if it happened that he could not face a crowd, or if for some reason he could not attend a polling-place. At present a great many voters did not, and a great many could not, attend to record their votes; but all this would be put an end to if the system of voting papers was introduced. An end, he believed, would never be put to the irregular practices complained of as occurring at elections until something like a System of voting papers was adopted. In fact, he felt convinced that a system of voting papers would allow every voter an opportunity of voting; it would enable sick and infirm voters to record their votes; it would cure a vast number of irregularities in connection with the present system, and do away with much of that coercion which it was stated had been exercised in some quarters. As to the Ballot, he, for one, did not like it, being of opinion that publicity, as was said by an hon. Gentleman opposite, was fairness, and that secrecy meant fraud.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) was fully justified in submitting to the consideration of the Committee the proposal which he had made. He had proposed it as an alternative to secret ballot, and looking upon it in that point of view he was prepared to give it his support. Voting papers would, he believed, be found to possess all the advantages which were attributed to secret voting, and would be the means of securing quiet and order during the conduct of elections, as well as of enabling persons who now from various causes did not vote to do so with facility. It was said, however, that under a system of voting papers it was easy to commit fraud; but it should be borne in mind that that fraud, when committed, had been invariably detected, while under the Ballot detection would be impossible. Under no plan, he might add, could the object be attained of securing that the whole of a constituency should record their votes as under the system of voting papers. He was aware, however, that it was idle to endeavour to change the opinions of hon. Gentlemen 1654 opposite with respect to the expediency of adopting the Ballot, and he should therefore consider the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for York, not as an alternative for secret voting, but as a means of affording additional facilities to voters in counties to exercise the franchise. To multiply polling-places would, after all, have but a very slight effect in the case of non-resident voters, while, if the Committee were to sanction the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), making it illegal for a candidate to pay the expense of conveying voters to the poll, it could hardly be maintained that great numbers of those who now voted would in future be practically precluded from doing so. That being so, why should not voting papers be resorted to? Why should not non-resident voters have equal facilities given them for recording their votes as those who happened to be resident? Even if the present Bill became law, there would still be half-a-dozen constituencies in the United Kingdom which would return Members to that House under a system of open voting. Persons suffering from illness, or who had the misfortune to be blind, would also have to vote openly. What objection was there, under these circumstances, to adopt a plan which had worked so well at the Universities? A large proportion of the non-resident voters in counties were men occupying a somewhat similar position to University electors, and he might also observe that if a man did not like to record his vote through the medium of a voting paper, he would always have the option of doing so by ballot. It might, however, be said that the number of faggot votes would be increased under the operation of such a scheme as that of the hon. Member for York. He, at all events, was not of that opinion. The real safeguard against faggot votes was, he believed, to be found in a proper inquiry into the ownership of the property at the time of the registration.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, that this question should be considered in reference to bringing up the out-voters; especially as no one would be at the expense of bringing them up under the system of the Ballot, because they could not know how they would vote. Such persons could only be got to vote by means of some such clause as this; and 1655 personation would be prevented more effectuality than under the Ballot, because the voter would be identified with his vote. It was said that the voting papers might almost as well be put into the landlord's pocket. This, however, was a reflection upon the magistrates, who belonged to both sides in politics, and who, acting to a certain extent judicially in this matter, would be liable not only to severe animadversion, but to dismissal, if they attempted unduly to influence the voter.
agreed that electors who from various causes were unable to attend personally at the poll should be allowed to record their votes under some system of voting papers; and, in order that the system might not be resorted to lightly and without adequate reason, he should be willing to subject such voting papers to a stamp duty. In his opinion, it would not be improper to inflict a heavy penalty upon any person who signed another's name to a voting paper; but he was opposed to having heavy punishments for minor offences, such as giving information as to votes. As to the secrecy expected from the Ballot, it was personal appearance at the poll that was watched, and people would still draw their own inferences as to the way a man voted; the only difference being that if the Ballot were adopted, the crowd, as Sydney Smith said, would sometimes break the wrong head. If you wanted complete secrecy, you should conceal the names of the candidates, allowing voters to vote for principles only. Then you would come to a fine state of transcendental mystery, and the whole thing would be complete.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present—
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
quoted the case of the preliminary ballot which was tried at Reigate to show that secret voting would not prevent bribery, while it would certainly cultivate lying; hereafter a certain sum would be offered provided the candidate were elected, and corruption would be as rife as over. He believed that it would be perfectly safe to adopt the principle of having voting papers; but he must add that, in his opinion, the Ballot was really not wanted by the people.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, the use of voting papers at the elections of Boards of Guardians had been pronounced objectionable; but he instanced, as a proof to the contrary, an election for a Board of Health at Tottenham—an election which had called forth a good deal of feeling—after which one of the defeated candidates, Mr. Edwin Hill—whose services at the Post Office would be known to the Postmaster General—a strong Liberal, wrote a letter to The Times strongly advocating the use of voting papers. With regard to voters who happened to be unwell, he thought there could be no doubt that they would be placed in a worse condition than they now were under the present state of the law. As things now stood, the poll was declared from hour to hour, and as the election was often practically decided by 12 o'clock, the voters who were ill were never brought up in such a case. Under the present Bill the state of the poll would not be known while the voting was going on, and the consequence would be that every man who could by any possibility crawl to the poll would be brought up at the risk of his life. He wished, as representing a seafaring constituency, to call attention to another point.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present—
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
continued. Among his constituents there was a large number of pilots, and if they were engaged to pilot a vessel on the day of election they would have no opportunity, under the Bill, of recording their votes, unless, indeed, they sacrificed the emolument offered for their services, and declined to be engaged to pilot the vessel at that particular time. Another point to which he wished to call the attention of the Committee was that of the conveyance of voters to the poll. The plan proposed by his hon. Friend (Mr. J. Lowther) would get rid of the difficulty that now existed in the way of voters who had a long way to go to the poll, and in the way of candidates who might be tempted, at the risk of incurring the heavy penalties proscribed in the Act, to evade the law by paying for the conveyance of such electors from their residence to the polling-place. People could not understand that 1657 it could be morally wrong to pay the travelling expenses of a man who voted for a borough candidate, when it was legal and right to pay the expenses of a county voter. Hence men's minds got confused as to what was corrupt and what was not; and this was one reason why men who were convicted of bribery were not considered to have been guilty of any grave offence. Such a man was received at Brookes's, or the Reform Club, or the Carlton, as one who had served his party "not wisely but too well," and he enlisted the sympathies of the club. The same feeling was exhibited towards him when he came back to that House. Public feeling reprobated bribery; but whilst such foolish distinctions were permitted to exist as those to which he had alluded, it would not be reprobated as it ought to be. He had a vote for West Yorkshire, and, while it was sometimes pleasant to travel at the expense of another, it would be more satisfactory both to himself and to a candidate if he could send a voting paper to the returning officer instead of travelling to Leeds. There were five boroughs in England in which, on account of their extent, payment of travelling expenses was allowed—namely, Aylesbury, Cricklade, Wenlock, Shoreham, and East Retford; and it would be a great advantage to abolish the distinction between these and other boroughs, for as long as it existed people would persist in regarding the law as inconsistent with itself. This ought not to be regarded as a party question.
LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
regretted the practice that had of late grown up in that House of Ministers absenting themselves when great constitutional questions were under discussion. It was not so in the late Sir Robert Peel's time. Things had greatly changed when Ministers could so absent themselves, and Government supporters were not allowed to speak for fear of expressing their true opinions, that of hostility to the Bill. The silent system was now in force, and he praised the Government for their judgment in putting the "gag" on their independent supporters. He supposed they who had been drilled to oppose this Amendment were of opinion that whatever system of voting was adopted it should be one that would most correctly represent the opinions of the voters at large, and be the most 1658 truthful reflex of public opinion upon public questions; and that being so, he could not conceive how they could oppose the scheme that had been proposed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther). The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council was not condemned to silence, and from his speeches they could gather the grounds upon which this Amendment was to be resisted. He opposed it on the ground that it would produce every kind of evil, and he based that opinion upon the present mode of electing Guardians, which in no way resembled the scheme then under discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had failed to show that voting by voting papers would not obtain the free and candid opinion of by far the greater portion of the electoral body. The present limited number of hours of taking votes prevented many from recording their votes, and yet this system—which the right hon. Gentleman had condemned — would allow the aged, the infirm and sick, to record their votes in ease and comfort. And why should so many of our Mercantile Marine be deprived from exercising the franchise? There were thousands of intelligent and educated men engaged upon railways who, being unable to quit their duties, would be deprived of the franchise in the absence of voting papers. But lawyers, medical men, and other professional men could not well leave their avocations to go to the poll, and as they were men of high culture, by preventing them from taking part in elections, injury would be done not only to individuals but to the State. He contended that they were as much entitled to the privilege of using voting papers as wealthy masters of arts, and that to insist on personal voting was to give a bonus to the idle and unemployed, and to confer a special advantage on those who lived near a polling-place. He thought he had shown that the proposition of his hon. Friend could not be disposed of by a general and sweeping statement that it would do no good. They should endeavour to apply electoral facilities equally to all classes. At present the University constituencies, composed principally of wealthy classes, were allowed to use voting papers, so that they had an advantage over the poorer classes of electors. The question of municipal voting could not have any 1659 bearing upon Parliamentary elections, because as the latter took place only once in four or five years, the injury inflicted upon a man, who was unable to vote at them, was much more serious than that suffered by a municipal voter, who might be deprived of his annual opportunity of recording his vote. On all these grounds they should be cautious not to deprive numbers of respectable and educated electors of the power of exercising their franchise. In Ireland the polling-places were fewer than in this country in proportion to the electors, who consequently had to go greater distances to the poll, and there was a system of organized mobs for the purpose of waylaying and maltreating voters. Indeed, this system was so thoroughly established that the law of Ireland was necessarily the reverse of the law of England as regards the presence of the military at elections. Every Member of that House must deprecate the system of organized mobs, and also the massing of troops in the vicinity of the polling-places. Voting papers would remove both these evils, which would certainly never be remedied by the ballot, as it would be impossible to prevent an Irishman from announcing which way he was going to vote. It was pretty generally admitted that the Ballot would not put a stop to bribery; but it was urged by hon. Members on the other side that it would check intimidation. It usually happened, however, that charges of intimidation had failed to be substantiated before Election Committees, and more recently before the Election Judges; and he thought the House ought not, in dealing with a great measure, to lake into consideration vague and shadowy statements with respect to intimidation. He therefore invited independent Liberal Members to set aside party considerations, and assist in the application of this system to Ireland, so as to remove the two scandals he had mentioned.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that the Committee ought seriously to consider the question of how they were to deal with a very large class of outlying voters in country constituencies. By adopting the Ballot, they would be practically disfranchising a large portion of many constituencies, by depriving them of an opportunity of voting. He himself was once a candidate for a 1660 borough containing a considerable number of seafaring men who were practically deprived of the franchise if they happened to be at sea at the time the election was held, and he certainly was of opinion that they, and all electors similarly situated, ought to be enabled to record their votes without personally attending at the poll. The permissive character of the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) should recommend it to the Committee. The system might be adapted to portions of the constituencies who were prevented from recording their votes in the mode prescribed by law, and he did not believe they would get the constituencies fully polled unless by some system of voting papers.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
drew attention to the deserted benches on the Government side of the House, and expressed his belief that the hon. Members who usually occupied them did not really care a farthing about the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite contended upon every other matter that publicity was right and secrecy wrong. He thought the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) deserved to be well considered, and he preferred the system of voting papers infinitely to the Ballot. He would rather, however, supplement by a system of voting papers their present system of voting, and give men who were not able to leave their business, and others who could not attend the poll, an opportunity of recording their votes. He should vote in favour of the Amendment proposed by his hon. Friend.
§ MR. WHARTON
said, that enormous numbers of men were kept away from the poll, and if voting papers were distributed and collected it would have a great effect in securing a voter from that fear which kept voters away or influenced their vote. If the Committee were to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), and couple with it that of the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross), for keeping secret the state of the poll on the day of the election, and if the abolition of canvass was combined with these, the Ballot would not be required. If this suggestion was carried out they would obtain peace and security on the day of the poll, an absence of bribery, and an absence of inti- 1661 midation, coupled with, on the other hand, propriety and purity of elections.
§ MR. CHARLEY
approved of the permissive use of voting papers, which would be of great service in the case of the timid, the aged, the sick, and the infirm. The system was a supplementary, not a substitutional one, and might be worked either with the present system or any other which Parliament might see fit to adopt. Under the present system, from disinclination to go to the poll, a large number of voters were virtually disfranchised, and he observed from a Return laid before the House in 1865 that only about two-thirds of those who were entitled to vote recorded their votes. In Liverpool, for example, out of 20,600 voters, only 14,600 had voted, and in Manchester, out of 21,000 voters, only 14,900 had voted. If this Amendment were adopted the polling-place would practically be brought home to the door of every voter.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he thought that the conditions under which this debate was carried on did not conduce to the satisfactory examination of this important question. The subject was surely one that was worthy of being fairly argued out, especially as a similar proposal had been recommended by such Members of the Liberal party as Mr. Chadwick, Mr. Sidney Smith, and others. The usual course of discussion was that a Member on one side answered one on the other; but from the moment when the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council sat down after replying to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had moved this Amendment (Mr. J. Lowther), not one single word had been said by an hon. Member opposite in answer to the arguments urged in favour of the proposal. He did not ask whether such a course was treating that side of the House with courtesy, because such a consideration was quite apart from the question; but he would ask whether it was treating the question itself, or the public outside who took an interest in the arguments used, with proper respect. He would, moreover, ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government whether such a style of conducting a debate did, in the long run, conduce to a saving of time. In the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council it seemed to him (Sir Stafford 1662 Northcote) that the go-by was given to the main question that was before them. The right hon. Gentleman really confined himself to the general observation—that he supported the Ballot; that that proposition was made by those who were opposed to it, and that he would not vote for it because it reflected upon his favourite nostrum. The grounds upon which the proposition was placed were twofold—that it would be less objectionable than the Ballot, and that it would attain all the objects hoped for from the Ballot. They also said, further, that it was not open to the objections urged against the Ballot. Many hon. Members on the other side of the House, in the days when they were allowed to speak, used to object to the Ballot. On that side of the House, they contended that by voting papers they would get rid of all the evils for which the Ballot was supposed to be a remedy, while other evils would be avoided which the Ballot would create. By means of voting papers the pressure of bribery would be done away with during the day of polling, while they would afford a better remedy than the Ballot for certain forms of intimidation. If, too, as was asserted, frauds occurred under a system of voting papers, they could be much more easily detected than under the Ballot, while the consequences could be remedied—a thing which in the case of the Ballot would be absolutely impossible. Another ground on which voting papers were supported was that by their means a greater number of the constituency would poll than at present, which would in itself, he maintained, be a great advantage. He, for one, regarded the Bill as calculated to extinguish public spirit in this country; but if they were, as its advocates stated, to make a law for those weak brethren, whom it was said they had no right to ask that they should make martyrs of themselves, let the matter go a little further, and afford a similar advantage to timid and quiet persons who shrank from voting at present, and whom the proposal of the hon. Member for York would enable to exercise the franchise. Such men would not be fascinated by the Ballot to go into the midst of a mob, nor would they find that the pleasure of giving their votes in secret was any compensation for the loss of a day's work. The case of men of that description the adoption of poll- 1663 ing papers would meet, and it was in the interest of the country that they should be had recourse to, because it was desirable that we should have the opinions of the great bulk of the constituencies freely declared. The result of getting the whole of a constituency to vote would be to swamp that miserable clement who under the present system were able to exercise a venal and corrupt influence. And what, he would ask, was the answer made to those arguments? He could find none, unless it was contended that the power of secret voting should be made compulsory. The scheme of his hon. Friend the Member for York was not necessarily proposed as a substitute for the Ballot. He should be glad if that were so; but he asked, at all events, that it should be given as a supplement, and that no person should be compelled to vote secretly who did not choose to take that course.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) was justified in complaining of Members on the Ministerial side of the House for not having taken a more active part in the discussion. The question at issue had been raised and thoroughly debated three years ago, when the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member held office, and yet it had been disposed of in a shorter time than on the present occasion. He begged also to observe that though the speech which he himself had made in the earlier part of the evening was not long, the greater portion of it had been either ignored or not listened to by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The party with whom he (Mr. Forster) was associated did not blame Her Majesty's Opposition for stating their adherence to the plan proposed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lowther); but, on the Other hand, hon. Members on the opposite benches had no right to blame the Government for entertaining the conviction that it was a decidedly bad plan. He thought that the voting papers would lead to a great deal worse state of things than that which now existed. It might be that time would assist the present opposition to the Ballot, and that right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the front bench on the other side might hereafter do for the Liberal party that which they sought, but failed to accomplish. But be that as it might, he felt satisfied that the 1664 adoption of voting papers would not meet the demands of those voters who were of opinion that they ought to be allowed to vote as they thought right without sending voting papers to their landlord, who would send them to the returning officer, or without going before a magistrate. Such a system would also give additional opportunities for bribery, for the briber could call privately upon the voter and arrange for the filling up of his paper in return for an adequate consideration. It was said that voting papers would relieve voters from the unpleasant necessity of making their way to the polling-booths through an excited crowd. But one of the great advantages to be expected from the Ballot was quiet, orderly elections, and the experience of the Ballot in France and America, even in times of great excitement, showed that this expectation was well founded. Sick persons and persons in hospitals might find voting papers a convenience; but really it was impossible to make the law subservient to the convenience of this class of persons. He was sure that both the new and the old voters would rather be protected from the possible influence of the magistrate, the landlord, or employer than from possible intimidation by the crowds, and the result of the Amendment would be to make bribery and intimidation worse than they were at present.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, Members around him had for hours past waited patiently to hear some arguments on the other side against the Amendment, and it was "the unkindest cut of all" to taunt them with not having listened to arguments which had really never been adduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council said that three years ago the question of voting papers had been discussed very shortly and settled decisively by the House of Commons. Yes, but at that time neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of his Colleagues proposed a system of secret voting. The conditions of the question had now entirely changed. The question here was—shall we have an odious system of secret voting, and nothing else, forced upon us under pains and penalties, or shall that system be supplemented and relieved by a system of voting papers? It was pure assertion, unsupported by a particle of proof, to say that 1665 voting papers would increase bribery and undue influence; and to suppose that magistrates would lend themselves to the inconceivably dirty practices suggested by the right hon. Gentleman was a libel upon that body. It was a libel, too, upon the new voters to declare that they wanted the protection of the Ballot. They had not petitioned for such protection, and in their name he protested against the statement that they required it. The right hon. Gentleman had entirely avoided the case of the out-voters in counties, some of whom had to travel 200 or 300 miles in order to record their votes. Their travelling expenses were now paid for them; but it was proposed to make the payment of travelling expenses illegal, and if that proposal were adopted these men—many of them the 40s. freeholders, in whose behalf there was an outburst of enthusiasm a few years ago among Liberal Members—would be virtually disfranchised unless the Amendment were accepted. Mr. Sidney Smith—not the immortal Canon, but the Liberal agent for the City of London—had stated that the effect of the Government Bill would be to disfranchise 2,000 voters for the West Riding of Yorkshire now located in London. This gentleman was strongly in favour of a system of voting papers, which would give an opportunity of voting to these men, and to the most steady and thoughtful and the least excitable portion of the constituencies, who now shrunk from the noise and excitement of a contested election. He preferred the arguments of Sidney Smith, the Liberal agent for the City of London, upon that point to those that had been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill. The proposal of the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) would be an enfranchising scheme, and one that ought to be sanctioned and supported by all those who wished the great body of electors to whom had recently been given the franchise to be able to exercise it without cost and without fear.
§ MR. MITCHELL
said, he was not going to answer the speeches of the two Members of the last Cabinet, because he considered them simply speeches against time; but as the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) said there was a doubt about the new voters under the last Reform Bill approving the Ballot, he must observe that the large majority on the 1666 Ministerial side of the House was returned with the distinct understanding that the first question to be considered after the Irish Church Bill was the Ballot question. He considered that the Amendment of the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) would enormously increase coercion and bribery, which he admitted had at present diminished. It would be impossible to have a more deliberate, organized system of bribery and corruption than that proposed by the hon. Member, and it would be far better to leave the whole thing to chance than to introduce such a system.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
said, he would appeal to the last election for Mid-Surrey in refutation of the statement that the new voters had asked for the Ballot. He was chairman of a district, and from that circumstance he was enabled to state positively that he never heard a man of the new constituency ask for the Ballot.
said, he was the unfortunate candidate at the election just referred to. The example the hon. Member for Southwark had given was entirely beside the fact, for the new electors did desire the Ballot. The majority at the last election would have been considerably smaller if they had had the Ballot.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
said, he had stated nothing but the truth. There was not a shilling spent in bribery at the last election for Mid-Surrey.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Though the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mitchell) was short, it was significant, because he spoke of bribery and intimidation having ceased to exist. ["No, no!] One of his arguments was that if we adopted the Amendment of the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) we should see a revival of those evils which he practically confessed had ceased to exist. ["No, no!] I can easily understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite, after their constrained silence, find a natural relief in those murmurs; but I would rather have my observations refuted in the course of discussion than by expressions which I listen to with respect if I do not always understand them. I have not risen to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend simply because it offers an alternative for the scheme proposed by the Government. I admit, to a certain extent, the justness of the position taken up by the Govern- 1667 ment, that any scheme put forward which is absolutely opposed to the principle of the Ballot, after that principle may be said to have been adopted by the House, does not necessitate upon them lengthened debate, although anything so entitled to respect as the well-reasoned proposition of the hon. Member for York, I think might command some attention from hon. Gentlemen. And here I would say that my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) mistook some casual observations I made at the commencement of the evening, when he supposed I looked upon the Ballot in this House as an obsolete question. I said it was obsolete as regarded the world and society, but not as regarded this House. In this House the question has never been really argued. On the present occasion, when brought forward by a Minister as a Government scheme, it has naturally excited the attention of the great body of the House; but it has not been discussed half enough. In the days of Mr. Grote, when the notice of it was classical, and in the days nearer our own experience, when brought forward by a Gentleman whose genial qualifies we all remember, but who was not so classical, it was a before-dinner theme, and was never looked upon as a part of practical politics. I have expressed my opinion that the Ballot is an old-fashioned principle in politics. It might have been adapted to 35 years ago; but it is not adapted to the circumstances in which we live. With a free Press, the great increase of population, the extension of the arts and sciences which have raised man in society, and with our enlarged constituencies, I believe the Ballot is no longer adapted to the political circumstances under which we exist. With this increased constituency corruption, on any great scale, would be impossible, even if had not already prevented it by our special legislation. As regards intimidation, of which no evidence has been brought forward, it is clear that in an enlightened age of public spirit, and with a body so numerous as the present constituency, having a general sympathy pervading it, there is no part of the country where oppression with respect to the franchise could be exercised without calling forth immediately a response of indignation. ["Oh, oh!] What, No? Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say, if 1668 a case were brought of oppressive landlord influence in Cornwall, that the West Riding would not at once respond to the appeal which would be made to it. We know very well that that would be the result. Everybody knows perfectly well that the corruption and intimidation that were—I will not say the bugbears of our youth, because there was no doubt foundation in those days of contracted sympathies and circumstances for their existence—but which we heard of then, do not prevail in the present day. [Cries of "Wales."] There is no one who, in the present state of the law and of public opinion, would dare to combine with others to practise bribery on an extensive scale; and we have no evidence of the existence of intimidation, except the constituent body, combining in particular forms—such as trades unions—assert perhaps, with too much spirit, the rights of the electors. Having said this much upon the question, I repeat that I do not support the Amendment upon the specific ground of its being an alternative to the Government scheme, but I think that it might be adopted as ancillary to the Ballot; and on that ground I shall support it. Nor do I see why we should not facilitate the exercise of the franchise by out-voters. Therefore it is not as an alternative to the Bill, it is as a complement to it, not inconsistent with its principle, that I support the scheme of my hon. Friend. I wish to say one word with respect to the conduct of this debate. It has been peculiar. But I do not rise to complain of it. I make it a rule in life never to complain of anything. I wish to call the attention of the House to its particular features, and to what may be its consequences. I do not think that my Friends on this side of the House have any cause to complain of the conduct of hon. Gentlemen. Some of them have in private expressed to me—I think with superfluous indignation—their view of the matter; but I have said to them, speaking as a friend, that I thought, on the contrary, they have little to complain of, for the House has given them an opportunity for exercising their powers of speech, such as is very rarely accorded—especially to young Members. I should have been very glad when I first entered Parliament to have enjoyed such a monopoly. I think my hon. Friend who introduced this question introduced it in a speech which was worthy 1669 of any debates; and I think, although he has not received an answer to it, he may be perfectly satisfied that he has had an opportunity of placing a great public question, in a masterly manner, before the House and the country. And I beg to say, not to notice others who have all had their advantage, that my hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) has had an opportunity during the last few days of showing to the House what I think it had already more than suspected—his powers of debate, and his capacity for dealing with intricate questions. His speech on the multiplication of polling-places and his speech to-night upon voting papers do him infinite credit; and instead of lamenting that he has not received a formal answer from any Gentleman opposite, I think he should be satisfied with having shown the metal of which he is made. Well, Sir, if that be, in consequence of the conduct of the debate, the position of my friends, allow me to say one word as to the position of those whom I will not call my foes, but my opponents. They have been silent for no inconsiderable time; but has it not occurred to them that that silence may be the enjoyment of a very deleterious state of existence? Parliamentary speaking, like playing on the fiddle, requires practice. While we are taking advantage of this golden opportunity, which, we are told, will last at least for a month, recommending ourselves to the country and perfecting our powers of speech, hon. Gentlemen opposite may find when the hour arrives that they are no longer masters of that oratory which once distinguished them. No one knows how soon that day may arrive, and they may be called upon to appear before their constituents sooner than many of us imagine. We have had the period of Parliaments calculated to-night, and the sanguine estimate was that they lasted four years. Well, we are at the end of the third; and if any of their constituents ask them the reason why they were dumb persons, it will be no excuse to say that at the bidding of the Treasury they lost the art of speaking in the last Session. It is not our fault, and as elections now very fortunately do not last so long as they did in the good old times, when they extended over 14 days, they may have no opportunity 1670 of showing their acquirements and accomplishments, and may lose their elections from their inability to express their feelings. No doubt there are many subjects on which they will be questioned by their constituents, and I may mention this before I go into the question of voting papers. I am speaking strictly to the Question, because the most remarkable thing is, we have expressed our views to-night, and we have not got any answer, and I wish to influence the future conduct of debate in Committee by showing that the system which has been adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be advantageous to themselves. Suppose they may be asked about the Army Bill which is being debated in "another place" to-night ["Question!], it may not be satisfactory to their constituents that they were silent, and they may be told—"We expected we should have an efficient Army founded on an efficient Reserve ["Question!], and instead of that you have only entailed upon us the income tax." ["Question!] The hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been silent now call "Question! They may also be asked about the state of the Navy; their constituents will say—"How was it that the Captain was lost?" ["Question!] A noble Lord who was Secretary of State to the late Government (Lord Henry Lennox) had a Notice on the Paper, calling the attention of the House to the subject; and the right hon. Gentleman who was First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Corry) had a Notice on the Paper in order that he might call attention to the administration of that Admiralty. ["No!] Yes, yes, it is so; and what satisfaction would it be if they remain silent before their constituents under these circumstances? Depend upon it that the system you have so rashly adopted in order to advance the views of the Government has gained you no advantage. Well, Sir, I say that the arguments which have been offered by my hon. Friend who introduced this Amendment, and which has been supported by hon. Friends near me, is a subject which demands the serious consideration of the House. It is no answer to say that it is merely offered as an alternative. It is not supported by me as an alternative. I should be glad to see it, as compared with the Ballot, adopted as an alternative; but it is, 1671 in my mind, perfectly consistent with the Ballot. I think if you have the Ballot you ought to guard the constituencies from the intimidation of the hustings. The intimidation of the hustings would equally exist with the Ballot as without it, and if you have got the Ballot you ought to adopt a house-to-house polling; and if yon have a house-to-house polling, there is no reason why you should not poll by way of voting papers. The claims of the out-voters have also been brought before you to-night, and it has been shown that there are 2,000 voters in the West Riding who are resident in the City of London, who, under the principle which has been advanced and adopted within the last 48 hours, would be practically disfranchised. This is only a sample of what the effect of the Bill would be on the country. We must consider this question seriously which the hon. Member for York has brought before our notice. It is the only scheme by which the incongruity, the inconsistencies, the grievances, and hardships which must accrue through your adopting the Bill of the Government can be prevented. Not one argument has been brought forward—that, of course, is not wonderful considering the silence which has prevailed throughout the House on that side—in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote), who reasoned the subject with all that ability which distinguishes him, and the only response which he had was a not very courteous remark from the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Mitchell). That is not the way to answer the question; it must be fairly argued out. What will the country think to-morrow when it reads this debate and finds that not a single argument has been brought forward, not only by the Treasury Bench, but by the great mass of the Liberal party? They are always telling us that they are so peculiarly liberal, they are always telling us that we are not to be compared with them in character or intelligence. We have certainly not the advantage of the immense majority by which they have accomplished such wonderful things. But I say, what will the country think to-morrow when this question has been placed before it, and it sees no answer whatever from the great body of the Liberal partly; and from the Ministers themselves as meagre and unsatisfactory 1672 a response as I ever recollect to have heard? This is a state of things which I am sure for the credit of the House cannot long endure, and I trust that as we proceed in Committee we shall have good reasons offered to us by the Government, and by the supporters of the Government, for the proposals which they bring forward, and some well-considered answers to the objections which, in fulfilment of our duty as Members of Parliament in Committee upon a great Bill of this character, we have respectfully, and I think with good temper and with good logic, offered to the consideration of the House.
Question put, "That the words
'The returning officer shall, on the occasion of every contested Election, provide a sufficient number of ballot,'
stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 253; Noes 166: Majority 87.
§ MR. LEATHAM moved in page 3, line 17, leave out "papers," and insert "cards;" and for "paper" and "papers," to substitute "card" and "cards," throughout the Bill. The hon. Gentleman said, a card would only fold once, whereas a paper might be folded in a variety of ways, and if a voter folded his paper so as to conceal the stamp, it was very likely that he would refold it in the presence of the presiding officer and the agents, who would thus ascertain how he voted. He believed the work of the election would be carried on much more easily with the use of cards, and that they would afford less opportunity of fraud.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 17, to leave out the word "papers," and insert the word "cards,"—(Mr. Leatham,)—instead thereof.
§ MR. WYKEHAM-MARTIN
suggested that the cards should be so thick that they could not be crumpled up. He supported with pleasure a proposition which he himself had advocated years ago.
§ MR. R. TORRENS
said, that the question was one merely of mechanical convenience, and if the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of this Bill would only take a ballot-box and make the experiment he would, he believed, at once decide in favour of the proposal of 1673 the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it was, he thought, better to avoid definitions too precise, for upon their correct interpretation the validity of an election might possibly depend, and, as hon. Members might bear in mind, although "paper" would include card, "card" would not include paper. There was no doubt this was a question of practical experience, and after the matter had been once or twice tested, the plan which resulted in the greatest general convenience would be adopted.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
advocated the adoption of colours for the benefit of voters who could not read.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
observed, that, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) appeared to entertain such strong doubts as to the honesty of all who had anything to do with the polling-booths he should, if his proposal to use cards were adopted, have posted up a notice to beware of cardsharpers, similar to that to be found upon railway stations.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, that the nearer they approached the details of this question, the more there was reason to doubt whether they could insure secrecy. He should, however, cordially support the proposal of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham.)
§ MR. KIRKMAN HODGSON
referred to the adoption of the test Ballot at the last election for Bristol, showing that the plan then adopted had resulted in securing perfect tranquillity and secrecy. Cards were used and each card was divided into three portions, coloured red, orange, and green. When a voter retired to the desk at which he was to record his vote he scratched out the names of the two gentlemen for whom he did not vote, folded the card, which was perforated, and handed it to the assessor, who put it in the ballot-box. He might add that in that case there was not a single instance of personation, and that the insignificant amount of bribery was discovered with the greatest ease.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
protested against the assumption that the elections of the country would be so disposed to commit frauds that it was necessary to provide checks against them.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
urged as a practical objection to the scheme proposed that in many country districts it would be found difficult sometimes to get the candidates' names printed in colours.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
asked whether, in the event of the Amendment not being carried, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) intended to proceed with the other Amendments which stood on the Paper in his name?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he did not attach much importance to whether cards or papers were used; but he objected to putting the word "cards" into the Bill, because it would fix them to it, while the word paper would include cards. The Government had very little feeling on the matter, and if the House expressed any desire to use cards he would offer no objection.
§ MR. J. HARDY
asked whether the cards used throughout the whole country were to be of the same description?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he saw no reason why the conditions of the subsection might not be fulfilled, though cards of different sizes were used.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he hoped the suggestion of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) would be agreed to. He had had some experience of voting papers in the case of school boards, and there was great delay in ascertaining the number of votes given. By the use of cards the numbers could, he thought, be ascertained much more readily.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
referred to what men called the mousetrap and the dagger system of secret voting; in accordance with the former of which a man put his finger in a hole, while the latter consisted in sticking a dagger into a particular colour, to show that although the question of the Ballot had long been discussed no method had yet been discovered of ensuring perfect secrecy.
said, that cards might be found more convenient than paper, but it would be difficult to give a legal definition of cards in the Bill. Some cards were hardly to be distinguished from paper, and it might be contended that the cards used in a particular election were not really cards, and the validity of the election might 1675 thereupon be questioned. It would be better to allow the matter to be worked out in practice. At the same time, if the Committee was in favour of cards on a division, the Government, not attaching much importance to the matter, would cheerfully bow to its decision.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
agreed that the words in the Bill should not be made too restrictive, and suggested that the words used should be "paper or cards."
§ Question put, "That the word 'papers' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 175; Noes 166: Majority 9.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER moved that the Chairman report Progress, and promised that if there was any doubt as to whether the word "paper" included cards, he would introduce a definition clause, because he conceived that it might be found very desirable to use voting cards, though he thought secrecy would be sufficiently secured by papers. The Bill would be proceeded with at the Morning Sitting this day.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.