HC Deb 18 July 1871 vol 207 cc1936-51

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Mode of taking the Poll.

Clause 3 (Regulations as to polling).

MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK moved, in page 4, line 2, after "unlocked," insert— The construction of such ballot box to be approved by the candidates or their authorized agents. The hon. and learned Gentleman remarked that as on the previous evening, of five Amendments which he proposed, two were accepted by the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would be aware that his only desire was to improve the Bill now that its principle had been accepted. By this sub-section, the returning officer was ordered to provide ballot-boxes at each polling station, constructed in such a manner that the ballot-papers being introduced therein could not be withdrawn without the boxes being unlocked. His addition to that direction was intended to guard against fraud in the construction of ballot-boxes, and he trusted that it would be accepted, as such precautions were most necessary, and could produce no ill effect.

Amendment proposed, In page 4, line 2, after the word "unlocked," to insert the words "the construction of such ballot box to be approved by the candidates or their authorised agents."—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck.)


said, Re could not accept the Amendment. The construction of ballot-boxes would be a very simple matter, and the Amendment was open to the objection that it would make the conduct of the election dependent upon the approval of any candidate. Upon public grounds he did not think that should be allowed, and he feared the Amendment would put constituencies in the power of fictitious candidates, who might refuse to assent to any reasonable construction of a ballot-box.


replied that this objection might be easily met by a proviso. Indeed, it might be met under the Bill as it stood, because the Secretary of State would have the power to make such regulations for the conduct of elections as were not at variance with the Bill.


suggested that there should be a model ballot-box for adoption in all the constituencies. This difficulty was another instance of the inconvenience arising from, the habit adopted in order to save time, of introducing Bills which merely sketched out legislation and contained no well-considered details. Every precaution should be taken to avoid the least suspicion of irregularities. If any such suspicion prevailed, the whole plan would be brought into disrepute. In the absence of a model ballot-box it would be desirable to adopt the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck).


considered that everything should be done to remove the suspicion of unfairness. He should be glad to see some provision for a model ballot-box inserted in the Bill.


considered the proposed Amendment very objectionable, and suggested that words might be introduced into the clause providing that the ballot-box to be used at an election should be approved by the Secretary of State.


said, he thought it desirable that some regular and uniform model of a ballot-box should be adopted. Very recently he had seen the effect of the working of the Ballot in a club, not in the election of members, but with reference to the alteration of rules. It was announced that a certain proposition had not been carried; but it was afterwards found that, owing to faulty construction, 20 ballot-balls had slipped behind a drawer.


remarked that in this case papers would be adopted. There was nothing complicated. All that was wanted was a slit in the box.


said, that if the system of the Ballot was to be adopted in this country, it was important that no question should arise as to the uncertainty of the operation of the ballot-box. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would undertake to introduce words into the Bill for the purpose of obtaining greater security.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 91: Majority 51.


, thinking it right that there should be a model ballot-box for all England, asked the Committee to accept the Amendment he now moved—after the same word "unlocked" to insert the words "according to the form in the Schedule hereunto annexed."

Amendment proposed, after the same word "unlocked," to insert the words "according to the form in the Schedule hereunto annexed."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


said, he hoped the hon. Member would not press the Amendment. It was not advisable to make the clause too stringent. The subject would be more conveniently discussed upon Clause 17.


said, he wished to secure that it should be the ballot of the Parliament of England and not of the Home Office. On the construction of the ballot-box would depend the degree of popularity which, the system would secure.


supported the Amendment.


suggested the introduction of some words to connect them with Clause 17.


said, that the ballot-box was intended for the safe keeping of the ballot. Many mischievous malpractices had taken place in foreign countries for the purpose of tampering with the Ballot, and he thought some provision ought to be introduced as to the locks and as to the general construction of the ballot-boxes; and, further, that it should be the duty of some recognized officer to prevent their being tampered with.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 46; Noes 106: Majority 60.

SIR THOMAS BAZLEY moved, in page 4, sub-section 7, lines 6 and 7, to leave out "and shall certify such copy under his hand to be a true copy."


said, that the mayor was the proper party to make the certificate; there was no doubt about that. What was wanted was, that the returning officer should have a document in his hands, signed by competent authority, to which both parties might refer.


said, he would leave the Amendment in the hands of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster).


said, he would see that care was taken to look into the point who should certify the list, and if his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Goldney) was correct, the necessary alteration would be made. The law would, however, stand as it was in Parliamentary elections, as the words objected to were not required to regulate Parliamentary elections.

Amendment negatived.

MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK moved the omission of sub-section 8.

Amendment proposed, in page 4, to leave out from the word "The," in line 8, to the word "years," in line 16, both inclusive.—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck.)


said, he could not agree in the hon. and learned Gentleman's view of the clause. The object of the sub-section was to guard against fraudulent papers by requiring the use of a stamp.


trusted that his hon. and learned Friend would persevere with his Amendment.


directed the attention of the Committee to the fact that heavy penalties were attached to the publication of the secret device or mark to be made by the instrument employed for the purpose of stamping the ballot papers, it was impossible, he believed; effectually to provide against the device becoming known.


said, it stood to reason that if the returning officer was to be the person responsible for the manufacture of the die, he must delegate the power to some person. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that there would be no means of preventing the device adopted by the returning officer from being used fraudulently. It might be manufactured in duplicate; at any rate, its peculiarity being known, a similar article could be made in any workshop. They all knew how notorious it was that University examination papers became known to parties interested in the examinations, and there was the same likelihood of discovery in the present instance. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to establish some central manufactory for these devices? Unless Government did so, it must be apparent to the Committee that the door was open to fraud.


said, that this was a case which might fairly be left without any special arrangement. The Secretary of State for the Home Department might make provisions for stamping the ballot-papers, and taking precautions against fraud. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: What are those?] It was not necessary to put them into the Bill, or to enter into such details in its provisions.


suggested that the duty of providing the stamps should be placed upon the Home Secretary, instead of upon the returning officer. This latter person would probably order the dies of a tradesman in his town, and the secret of what that die was would probably leak out.


pointed out several practical objections to the Government proposal. The returning officer would probably order a stamp of the leading ironmonger in the borough, who, in turn, would give instructions to his correspondent at Birmingham, where in all likelihood most of the stamps required in all the constituencies would be manufactured. There they would have to be sorted, and then forwarded to the various returning officers, and under such circumstances how could the secret be kept? Very likely the local papers would publish the device on the stamp, with a chuckle at the wisdom of the men at Westminster who passed such a law. If stamps were to be employed at all, they ought to be supplied by the Home Office to the returning officer of each borough.


described the precautions taken with regard to the examination papers at Cambridge, at the time he was a student in that University. They were printed at the Pitt Press during the night preceding the examination in the Senate House, and the printers were locked up until the examination had closed. By this means perfect secrecy was secured; but it would be impossible to adopt such a system in the manufacture of stamps under this Bill, as they could not lock up all the ironmongers in the country. If they trusted the returning officer with this "dodge" to secure secrecy, they should also trust him to provide proper means to secure the public from being imposed upon by forged papers. In his opinion, the whole system of stamps and devices was a rotten one.


wished to know how the returning officer could keep secret the mark made by the stamp, as the Bill required him to affix it to each ballot-paper before it was delivered to the elector.


explained that the returning officer must not let anyone know what mark was on the die, and that the voting paper, after being stamped, would be immediately placed in the ballot-box.


remarked that the first thing the returning officer must do would be to communicate the secret to the person whom he employed to make the die, and it was obvious that the manufacturer could not be bound to secrecy. Was it seriously intended that the returning officer should at the beginning of each year provide himself with a sufficient number of these instruments for all the elections which might possibly be held in the course of that year? If so, what time would be allowed him to obtain a supply of all the materials mentioned in the Bill? It would be difficult, for instance, to get the book of votes printed in a short space of time in many country districts. He suggested that the returning officer should, instead of using a stamp, be allowed to put his initials on each ballot-paper.


said, initials might be much more easily imitated than a device, and the object of the subsection was to prevent forgery. Proper instructions would, no doubt, be given to the returning officers; but it was not desirable to insert all the details in the Bill, which contained a clause—Clause 17—empowering the Home Secretary to draw up the necessary regulations.


said, that an elector, before voting, might, whilst left alone, take a copy of the stamp.


said, he had no objection, in order to meet the hon. and learned Gentleman's views, to omit the words "or mark to be made by."


reminded the Committee that the system was to be applied to municipal as well as Parliamentary elections. It would be derogatory to the dignity of the Home Secretary if he had to determine what instruments were to be used, and how many of them were to be supplied. In large towns there must be a great many of these instruments, and then there would be an Amendment that they should never be used again. It appeared to him that the provision was absurd and unnecessary.


said, that at Leeds there were 13 wards, and that there was generally a contested election in every one of them. It would surely be unfair to impose upon anybody the duty of finding a stamp for every election.


said, he did not like either the system of stamping or that of initialling. There would be great labour in placing initials upon many thousands of papers.


said, the object in view was that some mark unknown before the day of election should be affixed to every ballot-paper in order to prevent voters bringing with them papers filled up beforehand. The method of putting initials or marks on tickets of admission to election meetings answered the purpose perfectly well.


said, there was a great difference between a meeting and an election, where there was every inducement to commit a fraud.


said, he thought it was not sufficient to keep the secret only up to the day of election, because the polling would last several hours. At the same time, he was willing to accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council to omit the words "or mark to be made by."


called attention to the fact that the question before the Committee was the omission of the whole of the sub-section.


said, the sub-section had completely broken down, as the right hon. Gentleman was unable to give an intelligible explanation of it. In order to take the sense of the Committee upon the subject he should urge the adoption of his Motion.

Question put, "That the word 'The' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 166: Noes 86: Majority 80.

LORD CLAUD HAMILTON moved, in page 4, line 8 of the sub-section, to leave out the words "returning officer," in order to insert the words "Home Secretary." The noble Lord said, he thought that the effect of this sub-section would be to throw upon the returning officer a duty and a responsibility altogether novel, and involving much anxiety, inasmuch as the returning officer would, of course, be obliged to get these devices executed by some firm or artizan, on whose secrecy he could not, of course, depend. These difficulties would be obviated by the substitution of the Home Secretary, who could solve all perplexities by sending down the papers with the writ, and making them returnable with that instrument, taking care, of course, not to send the same device more than once to one place. It might be said, why delegate such a duty to the Home Secretary, who must necessarily be a politician, and more or less a partizan; but if that objection were to be held as good, it would equally apply to the returning officer.

Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 8, to leave out the words "returning officer," in order to insert the words "Home Secretary."—(Lord Claud Hamilton.)


said, he hoped the Committee would agree to the words of the section as they stood, as the Amendment, if adopted, would involve much inconvenience. The returning officer would, of course, be acting under the advice of the Home Secretary.


trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would not throw this burden on the returning officers—a duty which would be particularly unwelcome in the November of every year. In the event of a new Mint being established, a compartment of the establishment might be set apart for the manufacture of those election stamps.


trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would accede to the noble Lord's proposal, particularly as the question was one of detail merely, and involved no principle.


said, he thought the proposal a reasonable one, well deserving the right hon. Gentlemen's attention.


raised the point of the efflux of time necessary in giving the order for those stamps. Elections sometimes took place by surprise, when it would be difficult for the returning officer to have the machinery ready for a contest by the day of nomination.


said, he thought the difficulties were greatly exaggerated—as, indeed, were all difficulties in connection with this Bill—by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It seemed to him that the returning officer could easily provide these stamps as well as the other things necessary for a contested election. It might, however, be necessary for the Home Secretary to send him special instructions in relation to this matter. He had had several plans suggested for carrying out the objects intended by this clause, although he would not further allude to the plans at the moment, for fear of inviting a discussion which might last for several hours.

Question put, "That the words 'returning officer' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 183; Noes 112: Majority 71.


said, the Committee had decided that the returning officer should provide the stamps, and he proposed that there should be one general device, provided by the returning officer at every Parliamentary election, and by the mayor at every municipal election, instead of a different stamp in every ward or polling district. Such a provision would save expense, while secrecy would be at the same time equally well insured.


said, he thought that the clause as it stood was to the effect stated, but he would accept the words proposed by the hon. and learned Member.

Amendment agreed to.


said, it was a fair question to consider whether the device should ever be used again, and he had given Notice of an Amendment to that effect, as opposed to the provision in the Bill that it should not be used again until after the lapse of seven years. He had no wish to press the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 14, to leave out the word "not," in order to insert the words "never again."—(Mr. James.)


said, he thought the Amendment unnecessary, and it was open to the objection that if this and other directions were not complied with, the result of the election might be challenged.


said, he hoped it was not to be understood that the election might be voided if any of these directions were not complied with. Such a proceeding might be very unjust to the candidate who had been elected and whose seat was questioned.


said, that difficulty was met by Clause 35. When he used the word "challenge" he did not mean to assert that it would be done with any real hope of success.


said, the vote, and not the seat, would be open to be challenged.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council adopted a most unhappy expression when he used the word "challenge." This was one of those cases in which the returning officer would be liable to penalties, and not the candidate to have his return set aside. Their object should be to render it impossible for a returning officer, especially a strong partisan, to do anything of the kind. He suggested the adoption of a moveable die, such as that used at railway stations and for admissions to race stands. It should be proscribed in the Bill, and not left to the more imagination of the returning officer.


said, he thought they should not go into the detailed particulars of plans. The lapse of seven years between the using of the stamps would be sufficient for all practical purposes.


said, with reference to the objection taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie), that Clause 35 was simply an instruction to the Election Judge as to what should, and what should not render an election invalid; and as one Judge might decide the point one way, and another might decide it in another way, the clause was really an unsettling instead of a settling one.


said, the result of the voting paper not being stamped would be that the vote would not be counted.


said, he had no wish to divide upon the Amendment. It was a mistake to suppose that the disobedience to any direction given to the returning officer, who was a third party, could vitiate the return of the candidate. The penalty would fall on the returning officer only.


said, as such an act would prevent the vote being counted, it would be committing an act of gross injustice to the candidate for whom the vote was intended, and it might thereby lead to the Petition being presented against the return.


said, subsection 8 provided that there should be an instrument for making marks on the voting papers. Sub-section 11 provided that the returning officer should with the instrument stamp the voting paper; and sub-section 19 provided that no voting paper should be counted except it was stamped. He could see no difficulty in the matter.


said, although the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) was correct in saying an election could not, under the circumstances, be challenged before an Election Judge, yet if a large number of votes were thrown away in consequence, the candidate who ought to have been elected would be at liberty to challenge the return.


said, there was a case in point in the Helston election.

Question put, "That the word 'not' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 239; Noes 83: Majority 156.


observed, that there was nothing in this Bill to prevent stamps once used for a borough or municipal contest being employed again for a county election, or for the election of the adjoining county immediately afterwards. He therefore moved the omission of the words "for the same place," so as not to permit of the same device being again used anywhere for seven years.


opposed the Amendment as an exaggerated precaution, which was totally unnecessary.


said, that, no doubt the proposition of the Government would tend to relieve the returning officers of their duties; but it would, at the same time, open the door to a good deal of fraud.

Amendment negatived.


, in rising to move an Amendment, of which he had given Notice, with a view to the repression of personation, said, that the experience of the Ballot in New South Wales showed that though personation had not increased since the Ballot had been adopted,, it had not been entirely done away with. He believed the endeavour of the Committee was to do away with everything that favoured personation, and that result, he thought, would be attained by the adoption of his Amendment, especially if personation itself were made a felony, as was suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Mr. James). He maintained that there should be publicity in the matter of claiming the vote, but secrecy in the act of recording it. He moved as an Amendment in page 4, line 21, after sub-section 9, insert— (a.) Every 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.


said, he thought that in the case of a large constituency there might be some difficulty in carrying out the election if each voter was to go through the long process described in the Amendment.


conceived that the Amendment was not one of a practical nature. Was the entrance, where it was proposed that the voter should stand, to be the entrance to the room where the election was held? In that case the entrance would be in a passage; and if the entrance to the building was meant, that was not the place where the returning officer would be. Then, as the Amendment directed that the voter should stand "uncovered," a question might arise as to how much of him was to be uncovered. [Laughter.] He supposed it was meant that the voter should stand without his hat on; but, as the Bill applied to municipal elections, at which women voted, would it be required that they should stand without having their bonnets on? The voter, too, at an open meeting was likely in facing round to the crowd to be molested by small boys and the Amendment was hardly a practical method of dealing with the evil of personation.


said, that personation was a large evil in a large constituency. Some years ago three persons claimed to vote in the City of London under the name of Isaac Isaacs, and the revising barrister had great difficulty in the case. He remembered a case which occurred when Mr. Cubitt was Lord Mayor for the City of London, and a gentleman voted early in the morning as Mr. Wood, who, it was known, must have been at that time off the coast of Spain. He hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. R. Torrens) would press his Motion on the attention of the Committee.


said, that a near relative of his who was proposed for two separate constituencies in South Australia had told him that personation was carried on to an enormous extent in that country, and that it was mainly fostered by the Ballot. He thought it would be advisable to adopt some such Amendment as the present, because the more publicity was given to the act of claiming to vote, the less chance was there of personation.


expressed surprise at some of the statements made by the Vice President of the Council. One of his arguments against the Amendment seemed to be that a voter, male or female, in facing round might be received with rotten eggs by degenerate boys, and yet that was a Bill professing to abolish corruption and intimidation. He was in favour of some such Amendment as the one proposed, because it would tend to check personation.


said, that according to the law, when a vote was once on the poll sheet it was given to all intents and purposes.


suggested that it would be better to leave out the word "uncovered."


suggested that the Committee should report Progress, in order that time might be given to consider the best mode of checking personation. The present Parliament were not fit to conduct the business of the country. He believed that if they were a parish meeting, employed in the fixing of a rate, and behaved as they did over this Bill, the parishioners would kick them out. This Bill was approved of by no one, and he quite concurred with the hon. and learned Member opposite, who had told them that publicity was honesty, and secrecy was fraud. It was admitted that the Ballot did not stop personation in Australia, and he asked the proposer to withdraw the Bill. He should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens).


said, it appeared that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens) had raised one of the most important questions in the discussion. Every discussion on the Bill proved that the measure would increase personation, and he trusted that the Committee would in some way carry out the object of the Amendment.


said, the great question was to prevent personation, and he hoped that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens) would not divide the Committee on the Amendment, which was one of the most ridiculous ever brought before the Committee.


wished to diminish the risk of personation, which he regarded as the most serious danger attending this new mode of voting; but he thought that Amendment would cause delay, and probably subject voters to intimidation and annoyance. The Government ought to take the most efficient mode of preventing personation by providing means for identifying a vote after it had been given.

Amendment negatived.


wished to take the opinion of the Committee upon the principle of the last Amendment without committing hon. Members to the same phrases. He proposed to insert words providing that the voter should stand in a place appointed by the returning officer and near to the polling station.


said, this Amendment could not be submitted to the Committee, for the distinction between it and the one already disposed of was scarcely perceptible.

LORD JOHN MANNERS (for Mr. STAPLETON) moved an Amendment, inserting words to the effect that if the identity of a voter was doubted the returning officer should, on the application of a candidate or his agent, require the voter to sign a paper, and making it forgery to sign such paper, in the name of another person. He thought it desirable to introduce some check on personation, for the Bill was recommended on the example of New South Wales, where it was said that personation had increased to such an alarming extent that it had become necessary to take some step to check it. The Government had refused the most substantial Amendment that had yet been proposed for the punishment of personation; but they ought to accept this one.


said, the Government could not accept the Amendment, which was open to two objections. In the first place, it would enable an agent to delay the election; and, secondly, although personation was a serious offence, the Government did not think it desirable to make it an offence equal to forgery. The noble Lord was wrong as regarded New South Wales, for there was no official statement that personation had increased there.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 114; Noes 175: Majority 61.

MR. JAMES moved the insertion of words at the commencement of sub-section 10, providing that the inspection of the ballot-box by the agents should be made within 15 minutes of the commencement of the poll.

Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 22, before the word "previously," to insert the words "within fifteen minutes."—(Mr. James.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he did not think the Amendment necessary; but he had no other objection to it.

MR. G. BENTINCK moved that the time be five minutes instead of 15.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "fifteen," in order to insert the word "five."—(Mr. Bentinck.)

Question put, "That the word 'fifteen' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 178; Noes 67: Majority 111.

Question proposed, "That the words 'within fifteen minutes' be inserted before the word 'Previously,' in line 22."

And it being now ten minutes to Seven of the clock, Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.

The House suspended its sitting at Seven of the clock.

The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at ten minutes after Nine o'clock.