§ Bill considered, in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Mode of taking the Poll.
§ Clause 3 (Regulations as to Polling).
said, that on Friday it was proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) to omit the words from "and" in line 32 down to the word "voter" in line 35. The effect of that Amendment was to strike out the proviso that any ballot paper having anything written or marked thereon, except the stamp or mark made by the instrument provided by the Bill, or the cross or mark made by the voter to show for which candidate he voted, should be void and should not be counted.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, that when the Committee last separated he wished to amend the Amendment by proposing to stop at the word "thereon," in line 33, in order to insert the words "by the voter," so as to prevent the possibility of a vote being vitiated by a mark being made on the paper by any person other than the voter himself.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
thereupon moved the omission of all the words from the word "and" in line 32 down to "thereon" in line 33. The clause, he contended, would have the effect of disfranchising a large number of electors, unless such an Amendment as he then proposed were agreed to.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the sub-section as it stood declared that if a man did that which up to this time it had been his absolute duty to do, and signed his name to the voting paper, his vote would be disallowed. This surely was not the way to reconcile the voters to the new system, which most of them disliked. The persons most likely to act contrary to this provision of the Bill were, first, the old, the nervous, and the partially ignorant; and, secondly, those who had always been proud of letting it be known which way they voted. They 170 would, in fact, be punished for doing what up to the time of the passing of this Bill they had been compelled to do. Not only that, but it appeared to him that it would be most unjust to deprive any man of his vote, simply because he inadvertently made a scratch or erasure on the ballot paper. In South Australia there were no such disqualifying and disfranchising enactments, but only such provisions as were necessary to maintain the secrecy of the Ballot, which was there free from the blemishes that that Bill contained. In the recent school board election thousands of votes had been vitiated owing to the directions which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council gave with regard to that election. He asked the Committee to relieve the Bill from that mischievous and narrow-minded subsection.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that the difference to which the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) had alluded, between two systems of voting, existed at present. In the opinion of the Government the Amendment would make the Ballot wholly useless, for in the Bill it was necessarily provided that the returning officer should count up the votes in the presence of agents of the candidates; therefore, if the agents knew how votes had been given everybody might know. The object of the Ballot, which was to prevent undue influence, would not be attained if it were possible for influence to be used to induce a voter to make a mark on a paper so that an agent might know how the elector voted. He could not assent to that Amendment.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
thought the words which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council proposed to retain were open to great objection, while all that had been said by him went to prove that this was a disfranchising Bill. In the North of England the mistakes which would nullify a vote might not be made, but in the rural districts a large number of electors might accidentally be disqualified, for if a voter did not mark his paper according to the rules laid down by the presiding officer he would lose his vote. He would suggest the retention of the word "written," but the omission of the word "mark," because a voter might mark his paper ignorantly, 171 and without any intention of indicating how he was voting.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he would point out that the returning officer might disfranchise voters by giving them blotted papers. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had clearly confessed that that was a new Reform Bill, in the sense of limiting the franchise that was so much enlarged by the last Reform Act.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the Committee must consider they were legislating on that subject, as on any other—namely, that they were legislating for people with average sense, with an average desire to do what was necessary to be done. Moreover, voters would, no doubt, be warned by persons who were interested in the result that they had a right to refuse a paper which had any mark upon it. The provision was introduced in order to protect the voter from undue influence by its being known how he had voted.
LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, the sub-section appeared to contain pitfalls for the honest and well-intended voter from his not understanding the highly complicated provisions which his friends had introduced for his protection. If a man wrongly marked out the name of a candidate for whom he did not intend to vote, and afterwards scratched out the mark, would that mark vitiate his vote?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that if a man was so foolish, either from nervousness or any other cause, as not to vote for the candidate he intended, he must, as now, lose his vote. Having once suffered, a man would be more careful in future.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that he gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Forster's) remark "average sense," that he intended to disfranchise all those who did not in his opinion come up to that standard. It was evident the right hon. Gentleman had now thrown off the mask which sat so uneasily on his face, when he repudiated any intention on the part of the Government to disfranchise any voter. He would, however, now disfranchise all those who were not up to what was to be called "average sense." He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that persons of high educational attainments were likely to make mistakes in voting, and there was an instance of an hon. Member of that House, second 172 to none in intelligence, having made a mistake in voting for a school board. He himself had often signed documents in a wrong place, and believed that to be nothing unusual. If the clause passed in its then form, the apathy of the public would soon be turned into activity, and thousands of Petitions would be presented to the House praying for an alteration in the law.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the Bill, if passed into law, would really put the voter in a better position than he was in at present. If a voter made a mistake under the present law there was no remedying it; but he would be able to do so under the provision in Clause 5 by asking for another paper. He should decline to reply to the interpretation that had been put upon his observation of "average sense." Average common sense was different from average education.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, it was quite plain that there would be no remedy against a mistake under that Bill, as it was impossible for an elector to use a second ballot paper.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, he thought that no advocate of the Ballot could accept the Amendment, which would entirely frustrate the object of the Bill. This sub-section, however, was too stringent and exclusive, and he would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council should consider it with a view to amending it on the Report, because at present a returning officer of strong political feeling would have it in his power to disfranchise many honest voters. Words might be inserted to save the vote, if there was nothing more than a blot or scratch on the paper; for he knew from his experience in the election of Poor Law Guardians, that there were many honest corrections of votes.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) had made a very valuable suggestion, and he congratulated the Committee on the hon. Gentleman having broken through the silence that had been imposed on him. In nine cases out of ten, unfortunate men might not be conscious they had made a mistake, so as to entitle them to ask for another paper. That was not merely an imaginary grievance, but one founded on practical experience.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would point out that the sole object of that sub- 173 section was to prevent the object of the Bill being defeated by a voter showing for whom he had voted; it was not therefore necessary at that point, to deal with any other means by which the votes could be invalidated. At the same time the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) was an important one, and he would endeavour to deal with it on the Report.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he would suggest, as a means of preventing the possibility of returning officers lying under the imputation of acting unfairly, that, instead of their being appointed as at present, they should be nominated by the Government, or, which would be better still, appointed, as was the case with revising barristers, by the Judges on circuit.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he had received a letter from a gentleman describing himself as a Liberal in politics, showing how the result of the system proposed in the Bill would be to disfranchise a vast number of voters. In proof of that, his correspondent mentioned the case of a recent election of candidates for admission to an orphan asylum, in the course of which mistakes in the marking of voting papers were made by men of high education, and the votes were invalidated thereby. This being so, hon. Members would easily imagine the difficulty that would arise in the case of voters belonging to the lower classes.
§ MR. HERMON
hoped Her Majesty's Government would accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish). It was as important to guard against votes being invalidated by accident as by fraud.
said, it would be possible for returning officers being strong political partisans to make marks upon the papers in order to ascertain how the votes had been given. A distinguished American politician recently told him that he could ascertain, with few exceptions, how the 25,000 electors composing his constituency voted at the last election, although the votes were taken by ballot. The returning officer was able to mark with a piece of concealed chalk each paper as he delivered it to the voter, and by that means the vote was subsequently identified. The sub-section now under discussion would give a similar power to returning officers 174 appointed under the Bill if it became law.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he would suggest that the difficulty would be met by the insertion of words in the sub-section, rendering void any ballot paper which had been so marked that it could be afterwards identified.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he agreed with those hon. Members who believed the effect of that particular branch of the Bill would be to disfranchise many voters. He had received from Nottingham a suggestion that the ballot-boxes should be painted with the distinctive colours of the candidates, whose portraits they should also bear. He mentioned this as an instance of the difficulty felt to be likely to occur, particularly in the less highly educated districts of the country, in so arranging the ballot that all electors should be able to vote with ease. He thought the suggestion of the hon. and learned. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Goldney) would not meet the case, for the difficulty was to show the intention of the person making the mark.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was willing to accept the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), if the words inserted were such as to render void any papers bearing marks which would, in the opinion of the returning officer, enable the voter to be afterwards identified. He thought that the insertion of the words—"by means of which such vote may be afterwards identified" would meet the case.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, it would be difficult to ascertain by what particular blot on a ballot paper a voter was to be identified or not.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he apprehended no danger from a dishonest presiding officer making marks on ballot papers, because they were likely to be discovered by the returning officer, through whose hands the papers would have to pass.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
asked how the voter was to be identified, if the Amendment accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council were adopted by the Committee? There ought to be a distinct description as to how the identification was to take place.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that Clause 13 made the provision. The re- 175 turning officer would be the judge whether the paper identified the voter or not.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he would accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, he also thought the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would meet the case.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
then proposed to insert the words—By means of which the voter may, in the judgment of the returning officer, be identified.After omitting the words proposed to be struck out by the preceding Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. LEATHAM
moved, in page 5, line 41, after "shall," to insert—Count and record the number of cards contained in such ballot-box, and having mixed together the whole of the cards contained in the ballot-boxes, shall afterwards.The hon. Member said, his object was to prevent any agent in any particular district ascertaining whether the electors had voted, on the whole, as he expected.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he was sorry to hear that declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, for he heartily disapproved of it. It would cause great delay in the declaration of the poll, and would also lead to the loss or abstraction of voting papers, and the manufacture of fraudulent ones.
§ MR. R. TORRENS
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Goldney) seemed to him wholly to misunderstand the object of the Amendment, which was only intended, and was no more than sufficient to meet the danger pointed out by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham). As to the objection that had been raised on the score of the time that would be involved, he might be allowed to say that in South Australia it was within his own experience that the result of an election conducted on the principle of this Amendment was made 176 known the following morning. The number of votes given on that occasion was about 5,000, but the returning officer sat up some portion of the night. In the case of very large constituencies, it would not be necessary that all the papers should be collected into one heap; but the object of the Amendment would be answered by having two or three sub-divisions.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that it was ridiculous to suppose that the ballot papers of a constituency, such as Birmingham, Marylebone, or a division of Yorkshire, could, be mixed up together in the manner proposed by that Amendment. Let hon. Members conceive the spectacle of the high sheriff, with his shirt sleeves tucked up to his shoulders, stooping, and scraping, and turning over the papers in order to make a pell-mell of the votes of 10,000 or 20,000 electors. He had never entertained a very favourable opinion of that Bill; but for the sake of the dignity of that House and its reputation for common sense, he hoped they would reject an Amendment that would simply make the Bill absolutely burlesque. He must further object to the Amendment, because he thought it would give great scope for the exhibition of wholesale fraud, during the period of time necessary to perform the operation of mixing, and which he could find no better title to designate it by than that of the "churning process."
§ MR. LEATHAM
said, that it would not be necessary, neither was it contemplated that all the papers should be elaborately shuffled together, but only sufficiently to prevent particular votes being identified. It seemed to him very desirable that the number of voting papers in the ballot-boxes should be also counted.
In page 5, line 41, after the word "shall," to insert the words "count and record the number of ballot papers contained in such ballot-box, and, having mixed together the whole of the ballot papers contained in the ballot-boxes, shall afterwards."—(Mr. Leatham.)
§ MR. GOURLEY
said, the principle objection to the proposed Amendment was, the process of counting would not fail to take up much time.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would admit that if the Amendment became law, some little extra trouble would be required before the result of the election 177 could be ascertained; but it did not appear to him that the counting the voting papers would cause any serious delay.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he should oppose the Amendment, for if it occupied the whole night to ascertain the result of the election which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens) had quoted, where the constituency was only 3,500 strong, how much longer would, it take in the case of those English constituencies that were twice or three times as numerous? Moreover, as the returning officer could not sit up night after night, it would be necessary in such cases to allow of an interval, and during that interval the voting papers might be tampered with.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that any practical man with ordinary common sense would be able to overcome such objections as had just been suggested. Could there be any difficulty, if it should be necessary, in putting the voting papers under lock and key, or in a sealed safe?
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, he wished to be assured that the ballot papers would be kept in safe custody. He had considerable experience in connection with Parliamentary and municipal elections, and he knew that it was not easy to deal with 42,000 votes.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that, if necessary, assistance must be obtained to cast up the number of votes; but that might be dealt with when a sub-section of Clause 9 was brought under discussion.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he thought that the Government, by accepting that Amendment, had made the Bill absolutely ridiculous, and he should certainly record his vote against it.
§ COLONEL CORBETT
said, he could not see how the Government could overcome the objection that had been raised—namely, that if there were 40,000 or 60,000 votes to cast up much time would be consumed.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he trusted that the necessary links which were required would be supplied by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, he could state from his own experience that great pressure was requisite to secure the return of the votes by the following morning. If that occurred with respect to school board elections, how much stronger would the feeling be with regard to Parliamentary elections?
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, that reference had been made to school board elections, and to Australian and French elections, but he must submit that those cases were not in point, because the anxiety to sit in that House was much greater than to be a member of any other assembly in the world.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 28: Majority 53.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said doubts might occur as to the number of votes given for each candidate, and he thought it was essential that the ascertainment of the number of votes given for each candidate should be made in the presence of the agents of the candidates. He therefore proposed that after the word "afterwards" there should be inserted, "in the presence of such agents, if any."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he did not object to the Amendment, and would consent to the introduction of words to that effect.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
moved, at end of subsection 20, the insertion of the words "and make out a list of the same," the object of which was that a list of the votes should be made out in presence of the agents of the candidates, that the numbers polled for each candidate might be known.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that it was not necessary to insert those words, as Clause 22 provided that the returning officer was to give the total number of the votes for each candidate.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
moved in page 5, sub-section 20, line 42, to insert "keeping a separate record of the votes given by those voters who have voted for one candidate only." The hon. Member said he had moved that Amendment with the view of moving afterwards a clause for the representation of minorities. He 179 was willing to postpone the Amendment until they came to a clause where it might be more conveniently introduced, if Her Majesty's Government wished that.
said, that the present Amendment was introductory to a clause regarding a minority vote; but the Committee had no instruction from the House on the subject of the representation of minorities.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he had not intended to introduce any new subject. His object was to make the returning officer adopt a different method of calculation from that prescribed in the Bill.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he understood that if the present Amendment was carried, and if it was followed up, as was intended, by a new clause on the subject of the representation of minorities; that new clause would be proceeding beyond the power of the Committee. He did not think the alteration, however, would be an improvement.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, there were other clauses which touched to a certain extent on that subject; one to be moved by the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison), and another by the hon. Baronet the senior Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and he thought his Amendment by no means interfered with the apportionment of the representation, or with the form of existing constituencies. It merely touched the adding up of the votes.
said, he thought he had correctly understood the hon. Gentleman the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) in the first instance, and if so his object could not be effected by that Bill. It was his (the Chairman's) intention to tell the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) when the time came for proposing his clause, that he could not do so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. CORRANCE
moved in page 6, sub-section 22, line 13, after "Chancery," to insert—He shall also, at some period not less than six calendar months after any such Election, institute a scrutiny of the votes recorded, and it shall also be provided that a poll book, containing the said information, shall be published at or after the said date, upon the motion or demand of the candidate or other co-signatories to the nomination papers.
said, that so far as the part of the Amendment relating to a scrutiny was concerned, the Committee had already pronounced upon that point; and so far as related to the publication of the poll-books, the 15th was the clause under which that part of the hon. Member's (Mr. Corrance's) Amendment would arise. It was not applicable to that clause.
said, that the Committee had decided against scrutiny, and the Amendment could not be moved in Committee, though the hon. Member might move it in the House on the Report.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he would postpone the part of his Motion relating to the poll-books until Clause 15 came up for consideration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
moved, in page 6, after line 16, the insertion of the following words—Provided always, That any elector may tender his vote openly to the presiding officer, and that such vote shall be recorded in favour of the candidate to whom it is given, anything to the contrary in this Act notwithstanding.The hon. and learned Member said, he could not allow that clause to pass without giving hon. Members an opportunity of recording their votes in favour of a system of voting which in times past had been attended with excellent results to this country.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 23; Noes 73: Majority 50.
§ On Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,"
§ MR. CHARLEY
, in rising to move the rejection of the clause, said, that he objected to the details, but still more to the principle of the clause—the principle of secret voting at Parliamentary and municipal elections. The difficulties which had arisen in the course of the discussion on the clause showed clearly how frail a plant this secret voting must be, how it suffered from the voyage across the ocean which divided us from our colonies, and how little likely it was to take root in our free institutions. The 181 clause said that the elector should "forthwith proceed into a compartment." Why should he "forthwith proceed into a compartment?" The voter at a club did not shut himself up in a cupboard. When there, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, he was to keep running his finger up and down the alphabetical list of candidates till he arrived at the names for which he intended to vote. That would be like seeking for a needle in a bottle of hay. And then he was to put his cross in a square opposite to the names of his favourite candidates; if he did not do that, he would be practically disfranchised. Then he must fold up the paper in a particular manner, subject to a fine for showing his cross to the presiding officer, and drop it into the ballot-box. His (Mr. Charley's) objections, however, were to the principle rather than the details of the clause. First, the honest and independent voter did not need its protection; secondly, the honest and dependent voter would not be protected by it; thirdly, it would have a demoralizing tendency by protecting bad men, including liars; and lastly, it would have the effect of promoting the growing vice of modern civilization—selfishness. Besides, there were other clauses well deserving the consideration of the Committee; and the utmost that could be hoped at that period of the Session was to pass those clauses into law. He would like to see working-men sitting on those benches. They were not Communists or Iconoclasts—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. CHARLEY
, in continuation, said he was glad to see the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster) in his place, as he was anxious to convert the right hon. Gentleman to his views, or to have an explanation on the points he had raised in opposition to the clause. To one American institution, "the caucus," there had been added another American institution, the "skedaddle," and amongst those who "skedaddled" was the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would now take notice of his objections. He (Mr. Charley) thought that the proper motto for the clause would be splendide mendax—"lying 182 made easy." It would encourage unprincipled voters to fawn upon candidates and then vote against them. It would also encourage selfishness, by teaching the elector that he might use the suffrage for the advancement of personal or class interests, wholly irrespective of the public good. He believed that the Ballot would intensify rather than lessen the evils of trades unionism, and also enable the advocates of the Permissive Liquor Bill to carry out their threats against the opponents of that measure. The Ballot would remove from the mind of the voter that sense of accountability which exercised so healthy an influence upon him. The power of the few over the many was on the wane; the real danger to be apprehended in the future was the operation of selfish motives upon the mind of the voter himself, and the effect of the Ballot, as pointed out by Mr. John Stuart Mill, would be to degrade the electors into a selfish oligarchy. He should therefore move the rejection of the clause.
§ MR. GREENE
said, he desired to have an explanation of that part of the clause under which the voter who could not read and write was expected to go into one of the compartments, and there make his cross against the name of the candidate he intended to support. How, he asked, were they to prevent mistakes being made by such ignorant voters, or to guard against voting papers being tampered with? The object of that Bill was secrecy; but they were obliged to trust somebody, and all the discussion which that question had undergone only showed more clearly than ever how utterly impossible it seemed to be to devise any method of secret voting which would work as fairly and as satisfactorily as the existing system. The Ballot would not suppress bribery, because under it they could have payment by results; neither would it put an end to intimidation, because it would still be known how any man in a workshop or on an estate voted, and he might be punished for giving an adverse vote; while, as regarded personation, it would be absolutely facilitated and increased by that Bill. There was more independence and intelligence growing up among the constituencies of this country; and men had found it to be even to their interests to say—and say honestly—to their tenants or their servants, that they wished them 183 to vote according to their own conscientious opinions; because any attempt to coerce a few voters was pretty sure to be made known, and would have the effect of inducing ten times as many of their fellow-electors to vote the other way, in order to show their detestation of such coercion. The prominent supporters of that Bill were men who, two years ago, entertained very much the same sentiments as he was now expressing. For that reason he wished to know how the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had changed his opinion upon this question, because none of the hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to have an opinion apart from him. That question had never been seriously debated until that year, and, although it would make no difference to him whether the Ballot was passed that Session or the next, he maintained that it ought not to be forced through in such a hurry, nor should all other legislation be postponed or sacrificed in order to carry it.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, that although he had a feeling in favour of the old-fashioned principle of open voting, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that a certain amount of intimidation existed in this country which they must all deplore. Within the last few days he had received a letter from a Conservative elector of the constituency he had the honour to represent, who stated that he had lost his situation because he had given a vote which was displeasing to his employer—a Liberal. Now, the humble class of electors were often inclined to believe that certain things happened to them on account of their votes, which were really due to other causes; and he was disposed to think that the writer of the letter to which he had referred had lost his employment for a reason entirely different from his vote. Still, there was no doubt that the humbler classes of voters—forming the majority of the constituencies of this country—had an idea, though frequently a mistaken one, that through having voted in a particular way, they had fallen into trouble which would not otherwise have come upon them. Therefore, he could not but feel that there was a certain amount of argument in favour of the Ballot. As regarded the 3rd clause of that Bill, he must, however, express his deep regret that the Committee had rejected the Amendment of his right hon. 184 Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. S. Cave), which would have met all the legitimate arguments in support of the Ballot, while at the same time it would have enabled them to follow the vote. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might fancy that the present Bill would increase their strength in the representation of counties; but he very much doubted whether that would be the case, for he believed that the tenant-farmers had a natural feeling to support those with whom they were connected. He, therefore, did not fear the result as regards the counties; but even if the Conservatives should lose a certain number of county seats, he believed that the Members of the Liberal party who might be returned for counties would never be extreme men, and, therefore, not being apprehensive, so far as England was concerned, as to the results of the Ballot, he should not have liked under other circumstances to vote against the present clause, because he could not say that under all circumstances they should give an uncompromising opposition to the Ballot. With these views it had been his intention a week ago to have supported the Government in the approaching division. However, the whole position of the question had been altered by what occurred last Thursday night or Friday morning, when the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill declared that the Government were determined to push the measure forward during the present Session, and leave to "another place" the responsibility of accepting or rejecting it. Coupling that declaration with what happened at an earlier period of the same evening, it seemed to him that there was a disposition on the part of the Government to offer defiance to "another place." He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was anxious for a settlement of the question. If that Bill were sent up at the end of the Session with the menacing language held by Her Majesty's Government, he conceived that in that "other place" they had no course to pursue, consistent with their dignity and honour, but to reject the Bill. The question then arose what individual Members of that House were to do? It seemed to him that those who held Conservative opinions had a very important duty to discharge. They had been told by the Treasury bench that that Bill was pushed forward in defiance 185 of "another place." That being the case, and taking the language of the right hon. Gentleman in that sense, it seemed to him (Mr. R. N. Fowler) that those on his side of the House, whether they liked the Ballot or not, had only one clear duty, and that was, by every means in their power, to oppose the Bill. They did not wish to see the Constitution abolished by underhand measures. They desired that when the question was presented for adoption it should receive calm and dispassionate consideration. For these reasons, though not personally opposed to the Ballot, he felt bound to vote with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Charley).
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I trust that the hon. and learned Member who has moved the rejection of the 3rd clause (Mr. Charley) will not complain if I refrain from repeating the arguments which have been urged over and over again on this subject. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. R. N. Fowler) has most candidly declared the grounds on which his vote will be guided in reference to this clause, and I am glad to find that the hon. Gentleman is becoming convinced that the Ballot must soon be the rule of our conduct in electoral matters. The hon. Gentleman, however, stated that he found an excuse for not voting for the present clause in some remarks of mine made on a previous evening; but it is clear that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood those remarks. He said that he understood I was pushing forward this Bill in defiance of the other branch of the Legislature; and I am surprised that he or any other hon. Member should have such a notion. What occurred was this—The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) asked what was the use of the Government going on with this Bill, when they could not hope to pass it this Session; and to that my reply was, that we were passing the Bill through the House because the majority of our constituencies desired it; and therefore we thought that the responsibility of its rejection, if rejected it was to be, should rest with the other House. There was nothing unconstitutional and nothing like defiance in that statement. I then went on to state what I cannot think the hon. Gentleman (Mr. R. N. Fowler) could have heard, that, judging from their past history, I believed that 186 the House of Lords would, at some sacrifice to their own convenience, spend the time necessary in considering this measure, desired by the majority of the constituencies, and relating to the mode of electing the Members of this House by Ballot. How the hon. Gentleman could suppose that in stating my belief that the House of Lords would give time to the consideration of such a measure as this, and in basing that expectation on their past history, I was offering a defiance to the other branch of the Legislature, it puzzles me to imagine.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
said, he must deny altogether that the majority of the country required vote by Ballot, and on a previous occasion he had challenged the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council to prove the statement, but he had never attempted to give the House any proof of it. In that day's paper a case was reported which showed what the leanings of the people were. At Newcastle-on-Tyne a conference of employers and workmen was held to settle a strike. The delegates to the conference were in favour of vote by ballot, and promised to induce the general body of the men to agree to the proposal. But at the mass meeting the engineers were all of opinion that the mode of voting should be decided by the mayor, on the masters withdrawing their proposal that the vote should be by ballot. There was a case in point, the conclusion from which was irresistible.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
said, that to show how subtle was the influence they sought to destroy, he might mention that in 1864, when canvassing his own county (Somerset), he asked a man who paid more than £400 a-year for his farm to give him his support. The reply was, that he would do so but for his landlord; whereupon he (Sir Henry Hoare) said he was sure the gentleman was too honourable a man to be guided in their ordinary relations by such a matter. To this the man assented; but added that having voted with his landlord for more than 20 years, he could not look him in the face if he did not, on that occasion also, vote for the old squire. That was the state of things which obtained throughout England, and it was the state of things which they on that side wanted to get rid of. They were accused of not speaking. But when 350 Gentlemen had made up their minds on a question 187 fully discussed, why should they, to use an Americanism, help hon. Members opposite to improve it off the face of the earth?
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, they were now advancing towards that stage of the clause which stamped a final character upon it, and although unassisted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, much laborious research had been bestowed upon it by hon. Members upon that side of the House. There was one observation, however, he must make—that considering the nature of the clause it must be a matter of regret that it should not have been in the power of the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to accept more of those Amendments in accordance with the spirit he had otherwise evoked. He had said that there were parts of that Bill they might accept, and even of that clause, subject to sufficient guarantees for the just exercise of the franchise. But those were entirely wanting, and they forced upon them the duty of its entire rejection. It stood before them a complete system of secret government by an irresponsible majority. He had said it should be founded on compromise; and surely there never was a question upon which that spirit might be more fairly exercised than one which dealt with the delicate and difficult problem of government by majorities. He knew that in saying that he might give a shock to some feelings which had become so inherent by custom as to obtain in the minds of many he addressed the force of absolute conviction. Those persons thought the power and will of a majority absolute. He did not do so, and he did not do so for this reason—that, as he pointed out, was the case even there, as the fruit of long-standing institutions, it was scarcely possible, under any conceivable circumstances, to ratify the claims of that majority to absolute dominion. Clearly, in that House, it was not so, for no one upon any intelligible principles could justify the apportionment of their representative franchise between town and country, therefore their course must be one of compromise. But what was he to say to a Bill thus put forward and thus conducted—proposed and possibly passed under the silence of the Liberal party? They were told that the Liberal party had come to a decision upon it. Where and 188 how did that take place? Not through public discussion, and not by opinions openly recorded. Where was that concord of 150 hon. Gentlemen effected? [An hon. MEMBER: 350.] Well, 350; that increased the marvel. That 350 hon. Gentleman could agree that a clause they had not heard discussed was perfect at first, and he presumed perfect as amended. Really, it was a little suspicious upon the face of it, if not incredible, and he did not know whether he could congratulate the House upon the results of such complete unison, for it deprived them of their able criticism. But if this was unsatisfactory, so did the argument for it seem weak and inconclusive as a cure for bribery. And there was no agreement in the utterances which reached them few as they had been. The right hon. Gentleman had elsewhere talked of removing the motive for bribery, and he (Mr. Corrance) thought that that had shown some simplicity. The motive would always exist so long as it should be deemed an advantage to obtain a seat in that Assembly, and the means were under no circumstance difficult nor even doubtful of application. Some had said that it would be done by making the election dependent upon the return of the candidate, and several such ingenious but rather limited suggestions. These were the devices of small people, their grander scoundrel laughed at such contrivance; he, at least, had more faith in human nature; he would cast his bread upon the waters with perfect confidence in his calculations. Let him give an illustration. 100 votes would turn an election; he knew that out of that 100 there were probably 10 such double-dyed traitors that they would take his gold and betray him. But there were 90 weaker vessels, men who had received their comforting doctrines with assurance, that the vote was not a trust but a thing held in personal benefit, and to personal benefit they would apply it conscientiously, but they would go no further in that direction. Armed with that knowledge, he would bribe 110, and await the result in confidence. Now, towards that, their system actually held out inducements, for it could be practised with perfect impunity. But it would add to influence. There they were under some disadvantage, and for this reason—the reticence of the opposite benches was remarkable, and never more so than 189 upon this subject. What was influence? Where did it exist? Who had defined it? Who had answered his challenge the other night concerning it? He would take the case as put by their ablest and most eloquent advocate. He told them that in fact that influence was a thing absolutely indefinable; that it depended sometimes on character, sometimes on reason, sometimes on power; but that, although in essence it was present, it was corporeally absent. It even defied the lawyer. Now, he called the attention of the Committee to an axiom, thus expressed in Latin, familiar at least to lawyers? — De rebus non apparentibus et non existentibus, eadem est ratio. He thought, under those circumstances, he was justified in passing that by and coming to another subject. Now, much had been said about riot and disturbance at elections, and an election scene was certainly not a re-assuring sight for an elderly gentleman of retiring habits. He had no doubt it had deterred many such debutants from making a brilliant public appearance. It had made men forget every word of the speech they had written, and reduced them to really lamentable extremities. He was not sure whether he did not himself upon one occasion; but then he learnt something which had since saved him a deal of trouble. He never wrote another. Well, this feature of tranquillity at elections had been made the most of. He remembered last year a picture which went round, representing in bold contrast an English election scene and an Australian. In Australia a gentleman was depicted walking deliberately out of a first-class railway ticket office with a cane and a poodle behind him; and the Englishman was engaged in desperate battle just outside the polling-booth. Well, that was very pretty, but not quite convincing; for they all knew how easy it was to paint a flattering or unflattering likeness. Every day they saw instances of that in those likenesses of distinguished statesmen which appeared in the shop windows—which certainly scarcely did them justice. Lastly, then, came the question of freedom of voting—and he really only knew one class of any importance to whom that could by any possibility be applicable—the tradesman who feared loss of custom; even for him there was something to be said, and he thought that it would not be so 190 difficult to find a remedy short of the extreme measure before them. He would certainly join the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council in any proposal he might make in that direction, but for that, he believed the Ballot was a treacherous remedy. And now, having stated his conclusions as against that Bill as a remedial measure, let him detain the Committee one instant longer to explain to them what—more especially as regarded a great interest he represented—would be the effects of it. He was not so apt as some to recognize those fine drawn party distinctions which subtler minds could distinguish. For his own part they seemed to verge upon the imaginative under the peculiar characteristics of that Assembly. What were those characteristics? Well, it seemed to him that upon great questions of national polity there might be individual opinion, but no party. What they found in that House were local and class interests, and there was more flutter over a Beer Bill than the highest question of Imperial policy. They must, then, take a broader line of demarcation, and he found it was the county and urban representation, distinct in franchise, distinct in representation. These were two great political bodies divided in interest. ["No, no!"] Well, but they were so. He spoke of facts, not sentiments. And by their legislation they made them feel it. Look at the cattle plague, or local taxation, and the way they had been treated. Well, he should assume that, and under their Bill in what position would they find themselves? Whenever interests clashed, what would be the consequence? They would find themselves in the hands of an irresponsible democracy of the large cities. That was the government of the Commune, such as it was in Italy. He did not speak of France, for there it never existed, except in theory. It was created in 1832, and in 1867 its franchises were enlarged, and representation extended. He never loved it; for he would follow Mr. Stuart Mill or Mr. Hare to a wider basis of common representation, rather than be so governed; and beyond a certain point he repudiated its authority and moral right to govern, for it rested upon no assured foundation. And yet under their Bill they were handed over to its authority—to it as a secret, silent tribunal—an irresponsible confederacy 191 He said the position had not been well considered. It was simply frightful. Once more, what did they learn of the position of that power they were creating? In 1868 they had one election; from it they learnt little, and yet they tried another experiment. What were the politics of an urban democracy? One of their own Cabinet had told them. In 1867 the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that they knew nothing concerning them, and the words he used were so remarkable, so unforgetable, that he would quote them. He said—You are handing over to new and untried persons the institutions of this country, and everything which is dear to us as Englishmen, and it is well that we should know something about them. The fact is, that the great mass of those you are going to enfranchise are people who have no politics at all. Their politics are yet to be learnt. …. But they will not be always without politics, and what will they be? …. With every disposition to speak favourably of them, their politics must take one form — Socialism. What other aspect can politics bear in their eyes? What can be their view of a state of society in which all the good things are given to others, and all the evil things are given to them? They know nothing of the laws that regulate the distribution of wealth. They attribute to society the inequalities of society. …. What you now do is absolutely irreversible, and your repentance—bitter as I know it will be—will come too late."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvii. 788–9–90.]That was their present Chancellor of the Exchequer. By that Bill they practically rendered that power—secret, and therefore irresponsible—one over which no opinion of their fellow-men, no duties to society publicly declared were to predominate. And what had they told them? That because to them the franchise had been more universally extended, that it ceased to be a trust held for others. In what position did they find those who were unenfranchised, and unrepresented, and thus governed. He said the principle was intolerable, and ought not to be forced upon them. But if his assumptions were true, there was to themselves, at least, equal danger. Alienating them, could they rely upon the support of that feeble, restless element? Let them go to Bradford, and Greenwich, and Halifax, and seek their answer. They could not even command a vote of confidence. And why could they not at Bradford? Because they had carried one of the greatest Bills which, with all its demerits, was ever passed through Parliament. Would they 192 commit the destinies of statesmen, the destiny of this country, to such fickle elements under the cover of the irresponsible Ballot? Their warnings came from every quarter. What said Joseph Mazzini, who surely should be an unimpeachable Liberal authority of governments upon such a basis. He said of the Commune—It means in political life the annihilation of the nation of its every mission. The sacred love for the millions extinguished by the breath of jealous strife. In economical life unlimited competition between thousands of hostile and grasping communes, different laws regulating production, consumption, and traffic. In moral life progress impeded by an aim common to the whole nation. A life tending by its very nature to identify itself more closely with the material interests of the individuals than any others; and representatives, each of whom would merely represent the local interests of his own commune.Well, was it towards that they were tending, and for what reason? They had been accused of doing so for party purposes, as a bid to outdo some former bid, and of that the Constitution was the scapegoat. Those on their own bench had told them so. Once more their own Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said, in 1867—"Let us give up this miserable auction, the competition between two parties, which can bid the lowest, at which the country is put up for sale, and knocked down to the person who can produce the readiest and swiftest measure for its destruction." Was it so in the present instance? There was much to justify the accusation—the accusation that the principles they had laid down for others they had adopted themselves. That it was not as a great trust they held power for the advantage of the nation, but to use or abuse for the predominance of their party. For those reasons he should vote against the clause.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, that 40 years ago when the Ballot was introduced in Belgium, all the hard things that were now said against that Bill were then said against the Ballot in the Belgium Chambers; but the experience of 40 years had proved that it had put an end to a great extent to the influence of the priests, that it had given to that happy little country peace, order, and freedom, and that it had caused that State to be one of the best governed and most independent in Europe. When France was referred to as an 193 example to the contrary, he replied that elections there were at the mercy of the Prefects of the Emperor; and he fully admitted that the Ballot required every precaution, and that until all such precautions had been adopted, the Bill ought not to leave the House. Let them look at the question fairly. He did not believe that the Ballot would make the slightest difference in the counties, for he must deny that the effect of the Ballot would be to induce tenants to vote against their landlords, and would remark that anybody knowing the good feeling that subsisted between those two classes of persons in England would not believe that the passing of the present measure would cause any important difference in the result of the county elections as exhibited at present. Even in the last election, when feeling ran so high that a respectable party clergyman compared the Leader of the Opposition to Hezekiah, and the present Prime Minister to Sennacherib—even at that time, it often appeared that where perfect freedom of voting was allowed the votes were given for the Conservatives. But they wanted to protect the borough voter from insult and injury, and Irish voters from the influence of priests such as that one at Drogheda, who called out—"Here come the enemies of God and of our religion; I hope that no gentleman will be so kind as to throw them over the bridge." They had heard a variety of stories on the subject, and amongst them an extraordinary story of a returning officer who, by marking each ticket, could tell how every one of 25,000 electors voted. But a ballot of that sort was not wanted in England—what was wanted in this country was a ballot which would enable every man to vote as he liked, without anyone else knowing how he had recorded his vote. At present there was a strong feeling in some popular constituencies that the electors by intimidation, by bribery, or by some other means, were deceived in their choice of a representative, and the Ballot, as experience had proved, would do away with bribery and intimidation, and would leave to the voter a fair chance of giving the opinion which he believed to be just and right.
§ MR. NEVILLE GRENVILLE
said, he thought that the Bill, so far as it had gone, had been well threshed out on the Opposition side; but he regretted that 194 the Committee had not heard more such speeches as that which had been delivered by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), whose counsel would have improved the clauses, and preserved the Bill from being left in its present unworkable condition. He would remind the House that with the subsections, some of which were as long and important as clauses, and which would require quite as much consideration, there were 152 clauses to the Bill. Whether he wished it or not, he felt certain that the 3rd clause would pass, and he wished to suggest to the Government two courses; having passed it, they might either withdraw the Bill at once and introduce it again at an early date next Session, or they might withdraw the remaining clauses, and send those already carried to the House of Lords, so that that portion of the Bill might be passed, by which means the country would obtain some experience of the working of the measure before the next General Election.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he deemed it desirable that the Committee should consider what course the Government had adopted in dealing with that subject, and what, if this Bill became law, would be the immediate result upon the position of that House. With regard to the first point, two years ago the Select Committee made an inquiry with a view to form public opinion on the subject of the Ballot. They recommended its adoption at municipal elections, but as regarded Parliamentary ones they left the question open. In the following Session the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) who was Chairman of that Committee, recommended in a vague and qualified manner the adoption of the Ballot for Parliamentary elections, but now the Government had introduced a Bill to adopt a ballot which was of the most secret character, and would fulfil all that could be demanded by their most extreme supporters. What was the position of that House with respect to the measure? The majority of hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government himself, were returned at the last General Election as opponents of the Ballot. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Did the right hon. Gentleman in any previous Parliament ever give a vote in its favour? When he went to Greenwich 195 did he declare that he was going to bring forward the Ballot as a Government measure? In the face of all that equivocal action on the part of the Government hon. Members were called at that late period of the Session to push that measure through Committee, in order to cast upon the other House the responsibility of rejecting it, although the majority of hon. Members had been elected as opponents of the Ballot. He for one did not believe that the House of Commons, if elected by the Ballot, would enjoy the confidence of the country in the same degree as it did now. Instead of being the outcome of the free, open, and unquestionable opinion of the people, it would sink into what would be little better than an organized conspiracy. The Ballot might do in France, where the first article of the creed taught to the people was belief in the Executive; but it would not suit England, where every act of the Executive was viewed with suspicion.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he had heard the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) say that that Bill deserved the most careful consideration, and he asked whether the Committee had not gone carefully and patiently through each clause. Whatever might be the defects of the existing system of election, it was carried on according to traditionary usage; it was known and it was understood; but an election conducted under the Ballot would not carry with it the confidence of the people, because confidence was the result of experience. Even after experience it would be viewed with distrust, and he should regret its adoption. That Bill proposed to make an extraordinary change in the electoral system of the country, which he deprecated, and ought it to be pushed on in the hot days of July? In his opinion the Ballot ought to be made the subject of discussion in the early part of next Session. He was glad, therefore, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Charley) had challenged a vote of the House on that clause.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) had addressed the Committee so frequently in reference to that Bill, that he thought the Committee might have been spared another speech from him on the present occasion. The hon. Gen- 196 tleman seemed to have been asleep for a great number of years, and not to have perceived that the question of the Ballot had attained to such importance that it was necessary for the House to express an opinion upon it. In point of fact, the House had decided the question in accordance with the views of the great majority of the county and borough electors in the country; for what they demanded was that the country should have an opportunity of giving its vote freely for any candidate it chose. The House having decided on the Motion for going into Committee in favour of the principle of the Ballot, he thought they might now very comfortably and cordially divide on that clause of the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite could not have taken the course they had adopted unless they were to a certain extent enamoured of the measure, and he believed they would be perfectly satisfied after having done such good service in improving it, which he for one was not prepared to deny, if the clause were passed by a very large majority.
said, it was perfectly charming to notice the way in which hon. Gentlemen below the gangway on the Ministerial side assumed to be the exclusive representatives of public opinion in the country. He should vote against the clause, not because he thought the Ballot would be wholly in favour of hon. Members opposite, but because it would not check personation, which was the principal evil to be remedied in large boroughs. As to the too much vaunted effects of intimidation said to be rife in the community, he thought public opinion was so strong as to make it perfectly impracticable. In 1857, personation was carried on to such an extent at the City of London election that, as was generally stated, one of the candidates was returned by nine dead Jews.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Before the Committee divides on this clause I must say that, admitting for the moment the principle of the Ballot, it appears to me that the clause does not supply a sufficient provision to secure the rights of the voters, and that the tendency of this legislation is to disfranchise a considerable portion of them. It is upon that ground, and in consequence of the unsatisfactory provisions which have been made in reference to securing the true exercise of the franchise, that 197 I shall object to pass the clause without a division. I rise, however, particularly to notice a remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council which he has made before, and which appears to form the basis of all his speeches on this subject, and, indeed, of a great part of his political speculations. He says the constituencies have decided in favour of the Ballot, and that they necessarily decided in favour of the Ballot because it was a corollary of the formation of the constituencies. Now, these are opinions which must be tested by facts. I do not wish to enter into the principle of the Ballot, or into any political principle involved in the clause before us, but I have heard that statement so often repeated by the right hon. Gentleman that I am bound to say I am in possession of as accurate facts respecting the last Election as probably any hon. Member of this House. First, then, I say it is not correct to state that the constituencies at the last Election decided in favour of the Ballot. I have in my possession an analyzed list relating to the last Election, and it shows that the majority was not by any means in favour of the Ballot. Therefore, that is the first inaccuracy which is so often repeated by the right hon. Gentleman. I come to the next, and I touch upon it particularly because it is not only the right hon. Gentleman who announces that the Ballot is a corollary of the last Reform Bill, but because some of my hon. Friends on this side, especially my hon. Friend the Member for East Suffolk (Mr. Corrance), have drawn vague but terrific pictures of the democracy under which we are now suffering. We ought to have correct notions upon this question, and it is not expedient that hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House, with a view of arriving at very different conclusions, on one side of exultation, and on the other of alarm, should express opinions which have no foundation whatever in fact. The constituency of England at this moment consists of exactly one-third of the adult males. Hon. Gentlemen will, therefore, see at once that that is not quite the form which an overpowering democracy assumes. Moreover, speaking on information furnished me by men likely to have an accurate knowledge of the facts, at the last General Election—the first election after the law which has so alarmed my hon. Friend, 198 and which causes so much exultation to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster)—at least a moiety of the new constituency voted for Conservative candidates. If that is the case, I do not think we ought to be so frightened by the awful democracy which has been created. But that is not all. I am not questioning the authentic character of the Parliamentary majority obtained by Her Majesty's Government at the last General Election, because I entirely recognize that it is our duty to bow to a majority in this House. That is the very essence of our Parliamentary constitution. I do not speak with the view of depreciating the large majority that placed the right hon. Gentleman in power. I did not grudge his triumph at the time, and I have acquiesced in the authentic character of that majority; but it is a fact that if his opponents had had at the last General Election the arbitrary disposition of from 25,000 to 30,000 votes—certainly less than 30,000—that majority would not have existed. I state these facts to encourage hon. Members in this House, and to dispel the notion that we are now, and are for ever to be, the slaves of an over whelming democracy. A very little effort—the effort of any political party which is earnest and determined in the support of its opinions—may entirely change the character of that majority in a legitimate and constitutional manner, by means which are comparatively slight. I repeat that I do not make these observations in any way to disparage the Parliamentary majority we face. But it is expedient that the truth should be known upon this subject—that we should not be the slaves of bugbears which we do not attempt to analyze, and that the people of this country should not, through the reiterated assertions of both sides of the House, totally misconceive the character of the Constitution under which we now live. That Constitution has in no way changed in character. It has been enlarged and expanded, but upon principles which have been always practised and recognized in this House. Our Members are still elected by a qualified constituency, a constituency which, to my mind, seems qualified in such a manner as will generally secure a respectable and conscientious electoral body. These are observations which I thought it my duty to make, and I be- 199 lieve they will hear analysis and reflection. Even to-night the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), whose truly British sentiments I have before recognized, and who keeps up the spirits of the still loyal and constitutional body of this House by his harangues, admitted—as I thought somewhat rashly, for he seemed afterwards to retire from the position he took up—that the county constituencies were subjected to a certain degree of intimidation, and we had the old story of the tenant-farmer, unduly influenced by his landlord. Now, the tenant-farmers of this country are an influential body. I owe my seat in a great degree to them. I believe them to be, on the whole, as independent a body of men as any in the country. No doubt there are exceptions in which a proprietor may unduly exercise his influence over them, though to me these instances are unknown, and, I believe, they will soon be as obsolete as the Dodo. But, after all, what is the influence of the tenant-farmer in the English counties? There are 800,000 electors in the counties, and only 100,000 tenant-farmers. How absurd, then, to contend that these returns of county Members are owing to tenant-farmers unduly influenced by landlords. These statements will, I hope, be accepted and thought over by hon. Gentlemen, and if it be the fact—and from the evidence placed before me I have no doubt it is the fact—that the artificial disposition of less than 30,000 votes at the last General Election would have entirely changed the character of the majority, the House of Commons and the country will see that they need not despair of the Commonwealth.
§ Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 214; Noes 127: Majority 87.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, before the Chairman left the Chair, he had a few words to address to the Committee. He thought the termination of the debate on the 3rd clause offered the House a fair opportunity of considering its position with reference to the Bill. He had no doubt that if the Government were 200 to persist in their expressed intention to push forward that Bill, without regard to the period of the year to which they had arrived, they would be supported by a sufficient majority. No doubt they would have as good majorities as had carried them forward hitherto; yet he thought that course was one that was open to some objections, and he thought there were other courses open to them. If the Bill were pressed on at that period of the Session, one or two grievous consequences would be likely to occur. The Bill would be very likely to arrive at its last stage in that House as a very incomplete measure, for in the course of a month or six weeks hon. Members might become impatient of discussing it. He, however, was anxious to see the Bill pass as a complete measure, and as one that would work; and there was one alternative course open to them which they might adopt without wasting the time they had hitherto spent on the Bill. If they were to attempt to dispose of the multitudinous Amendments of which Notice had been given, it must be clear that the Bill could not be sent to the other House of Parliament until a very late period of the summer or the autumn; and he, for one, did not think it would be fair or reasonable of them to expect that the other House would pass a grave and serious Bill like that with undue haste and rapidity. They were bound to anticipate that the other House would require a reasonable time to debate the clauses of the Bill; and, while he advocated the change it proposed, he should be sorry to see it pass the other House without careful deliberation. One course which they might adopt was to drop a great portion of the latter part of the Bill and to proceed only with the Ballot clauses; but he thought that would be an unfortunate alternative, for he should regret to see the Bill launched as a measure, without many of the provisions with regard to corrupt practices and personation which were in it, or which he hoped would be introduced into it. After considering whether it was not possible to adopt a course which would prevent the loss of the time already spent upon that Bill, and which would afford a fair prospect of its passing that year, he humbly ventured to suggest to the House and the Government that it might be possible, without calling, upon the House to sit all 201 through the summer months, for them to take a reasonable holiday, and then return and proceed with the Bill. One further advantage of that course would be that it would give hon. Members time calmly to consider its provisions; and, as it had been stated by hon. Members opposite that the country had never had an opportunity of pronouncing its opinion upon this Bill, an adjournment to the autumn would afford that opportunity, and he sincerely hoped that advantage would be taken of it, and that hon. Members would return prepared to substitute for persistent hostility a disposition to put the Bill into the most complete and practicable form. He was aware that the course he suggested would involve very serious sacrifices of personal convenience to many hon. Members; but still the question at stake was very important, and there were so many questions which were really ripe for legislation, and which could not be taken up until that was settled, that the wisest course they could pursue was for all to sacrifice for once some part of their holiday.
said, that he was a Welshman, and that under the circumstances he ventured to submit to them the prosperity of the Ballot.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, there was a question of much greater importance than the Ballot which must not be lost sight of, for it must be obvious to Members generally that the course of legislation that Session was not such as to raise the character of that House, and though the causes of that were mainly owing to a few persons, the result was much condemned, he believed, by a majority of hon. Members who sat on both sides of the House. He trusted that they would be all willing to make some sacrifices in order to prevent the Session being a wholly abortive one, and that if the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council were acted upon, not only the Ballot Bill, but the Mines Regulation Bill would be passed.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, he was sorry to hear such a suggestion made, and still more that it should come from such a quarter. He was, however, quite sure that it was an independent suggestion, and that it did not partake of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. 202 Disraeli) called a pre-arranged question. He wanted to know whether the running away of the House of Commons from the Ballot Bill at that moment would convey any favourable impression to the country. If they were to make sacrifices to promote legislation, the best sacrifice they could make would be that of their personal convenience and comfort in order to carry that Bill at once to its legitimate conclusion. He declined to speculate on the conduct of the House of Lords. They had nothing to do with that. They had only to consider their own duty. They had been told over and over again by the occupants of the Treasury bench that this and the Army Bill were the measures they were determined to pass that Session without any regard to time. If they adjourned now, he wanted to know whether it could be said by the Government that they had obtained the judgment of the House of Commons on the Ballot Bill, without regard to time? Then, again, they were not told to what period it was proposed to adjourn. [An hon. MEMBER: The 1st of November.] If it were to the 1st of November, he did not suppose that the members of his profession would object to that particular day as it coincided with the commencement of Term. But what they had to consider was the effect that would be produced upon the country by that adjournment. He was afraid that the opinion which would be entertained by the country of their conduct by such adjournment would be, as the Americans would say, that they wished to let the Bill "slide."
§ MR. A. EGERTON
said, he thought that the convenience of the country Members ought to be consulted as well as that of the Members who lived in London. He proposed, however, a third alternative—namely, that the Bill should be altogether dropped that Session. It might be said that that was the first time that a Ballot Bill had been really presented to the House. It was also a question with those who favoured the principle what kind of ballot ought to be adopted; and it was further a matter of the utmost importance that their constituents should be consulted respecting it. He hoped that the Government would accept his modest suggestion, and postpone any further legislation on the subject until February next.
§ MR. CLAY
said, that without speculating on the proceedings of the other House, he would ask whether it was possible to pass that Bill within the limits of an ordinary Session? Before he was made acquainted with the proposal made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), he had been asked what he thought should be done, and he answered immediately—"An autumn Session." Certainly, unusual antipathy had been exhibited towards the Bill by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He believed the asperity at present observable would be softened by a short adjournment, and hon. Gentlemen opposite would have an opportunity of consulting the feelings of their constituents. He was much mistaken if they did not find that feeling much more favourable than they imagined.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he would yield to no one in his anxiety to pass this measure; nevertheless, it was impossible, looking at the number of Orders upon the Paper at that period of the Session, amounting to 39, to disguise from themselves the fact that it was utterly impossible to persevere continuously with the Business of the House. Some of the Bills before the House were of great importance, and if they could now proceed with the Ballot Bill, and take up some of those important measures in October or November next, it would give great satisfaction to the country. He represented a large constituency, and if there was one question on which they were resolute it was the question of the Ballot. He had been told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they would never sit again if that Bill passed. ["Name, name!"] Their name was legion. If the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) were adopted it would make the Session honourable to Government, satisfactory to the constituencies, and in every respect equal to its two predecessors.
SIR JOHN HAY
said, he would remind the House that by far the larger proportion of the Votes in the Army and Navy Estimates were still to be discussed. Two of the Navy Votes were those relating to the dockyards, and stores, and ships building by contract, all of which would require very great consideration from the House. The Navy Estimates still remaining to be considered involved £6,000,000, and there was a 204 point which would require to be discussed in connection with them—the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain. Then followed the Appropriation Act, taking ten days itself at least. That was the mere ordinary Business of the Session, and entailed one month's work, even when done in the quickest possible way. So far as the Estimates were concerned, he was prepared to make any sacrifice, and he trusted he should always see that there were 40 Members in their places to discuss the Estimates. He hoped they would not be discussed with fewer than 40 Members on any occasion whatever. It would be unfair to the country if that immense amount of money were voted away without consideration. It was for Her Majesty's Government to consider whether they would prosecute a Bill for which a majority of that House had certainly agreed, but for which the country did not care anything whatever.
§ MR. JAMES
said, it was impossible that that Bill could be entirely dropped. If they had the slightest respect for the pledges and promises they had made, they could never face their constituents again without having first passed that Bill. There was another reason, and a still stronger reason, why the suggestion to drop that Bill could not be accepted, and that was that if it were done it would be equivalent to an admission that Parliamentary government had come to an end. It would be equal to saying that after a long time spent in the discussion of that measure, a minority — and a comparatively small minority—could defeat the intentions and wishes of a large majority. If, therefore, they could not agree to the Ballot Bill being dropped, was it not worthy the consideration of the House what course ought to be adopted? This was the ninth sitting which had been occupied in discussing one of the clauses of this Bill. They would think that part of the time had not been rightly consumed; but he had a right to assume that the opposition had been offered from a conscientious sense of public duty. If that were so, the opponents of the measure would have the same right to pursue the same course on the other clauses of the measure. The House had no right to ask the opponents of the Bill to consider it hastily. It was not a question of departing now, but of doing their duty. There would be a loss, and a sad loss of 205 support to Government, if they halted or faltered in the prosecution of this measure. It was for the Government to say what should be done to attain their object, and they might depend that whatever they demanded of their supporters in the way of sacrifices to secure the all-important end, those sacrifices would be made, and made cheerfully.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, hon. Gentlemen opposite were as accountable as their opponents for delaying Public Business, and he must say that there seemed to be an anxiety on their part to prevent the public having the usual period to consider the question of the Ballot. He declared, as the representative of the great body of the freeholders of North Warwickshire, that they did not want the Ballot, and whether there was to be an interval of three months or six months, so far as they were concerned it would make no difference. He could not see any reason why the House should be called upon to meet again before the usual period.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
said, that, though the inconvenience to Scotch and Irish Members of sitting far into the autumn or winter would be much greater than it could possibly be to English Members, yet he did not hesitate to say that the sacrifice which they might be called upon to make ought not to weigh in the balance for a single moment in competition with that Bill. He was convinced that the best course which Her Majesty's Government could adopt would be to meet in November, as recommended by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). In that case the Mines Regulation Bill, the Scotch Education Bill, and other important measures might be taken up and passed.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
, as an Irish Member, entirely concurred in what had been stated by the hon. Baronet who had just spoken (Sir Robert Anstruther).
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, that the Ballot Bill must pass, whether the House sat to the end of September or were to meet again in November. He believed that there was scarcely any hon. Member on that side of the House who would consent to abandon the Bill, and for his own part he would rather lose his seat than do so. If they sat there discussing the Bill at their present rate of progress it would never pass at all; they were leading such a cat-and-dog 206 life. If, however, they were to go to the moors of Scotland or the glaciers of Switzerland for a few weeks, they might come back in a better frame of mind for forwarding the measure.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, that if they took nine nights in discussing one clause, as there were 40 clauses in the Bill, it was evident that meeting in October or November would not enable the House to pass it. Some two months ago the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government announced that he would ask the House to remain at its work until it would have pronounced definitively on the Army Bill and the Ballot Bill, and only a few nights ago the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council said that he would leave the responsibility of rejecting the measure with the House of Lords. The Government, therefore, were not free to recede from the position they had taken up by adopting the course suggested by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). The Government would not get rid of difficulties by agreeing to meet in November. A considerable minority on that (the Ministerial) side of the House was not in favour of that proposal. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council proposed to report Progress at a very early period. It seemed as if it were to give time for that discussion. At any rate, he thought the House ought not to prorogue or adjourn until they had concluded that Bill.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, that at their present rate they would be nearly two years in passing that Bill, according to the calculation of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish). It was through the incapacity of the Prime Minister for carrying on business that they had got into such a mess, as he did not remember on any other occasion within his Parliamentary experience. He brought in an Army Bill, cut off its tail, and sent it to the House of Lords, and then, when they objected to pass it, he resorted to the Royal Prerogative, and thus inflicted a great insult and outrage upon the House of Lords.
said, that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) was not at liberty to state that anything had been done for the purpose of inflicting insult and outrage upon the House of Lords, 207 because that was to attribute motives to a Member of the House, which was not permitted.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, that he would withdraw the words that he had used, and would confine himself to the matter that was before them. Members of the House were sent there to consider the Estimates; but they had had not done anything towards discharging their primary duty. They had seen the Licensing Bill, the Bill in reference to taxation, the Water Bill, and a large number of other measures withdrawn; and yet hon. Members who could only get into the House by the expedient of pledging themselves to some absurdity, insisted on carrying the Ballot Bill. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government must withdraw the Bill, for the simple reason that he had no other alternative.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he thought the somewhat inflated speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) afforded an argument in favour of delaying the discussion until they could take it up in a calmer spirit. The great body of the people had displayed no excitement about this question, because they were sure that the Government and the House would be true to their pledge, and that therefore the Bill was safe; and if the Government boldly announced that they would meet in the autumn and carry the Bill, they would have nearly the unanimous support of the Liberal party. The delay in regard to the Estimates was another reason why they should take that course. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) had talked about being superior to considering what the Lords would do.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
explained that he had not used the word "superior;" but had said it was not well for that House to speak of the action of the House of Lords.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he would not attribute to his hon. and learned Friend any expression which was unpleasant, but agreed in thinking that they ought not to be influenced by considerations of what the Lords would do. They owed the House of Lords some courtesy, and should not send that Bill up to them at the fag-end of the Session. So long as they had a House of Lords let them be civil to them. Hon. 208 Members, while having regard to the convenience of the other House, should not be too careful of their own convenience, but would do well to meet in the autumn to carry that Bill.
Gentlemen on both sides of the House, as might be expected, Sir, have entered into this conversation on a subject of interest to us all, in connection with our own personal convenience, and likewise in connection with public policy. As regards the speeches upon the other side of the House—some of which, I think, we have heard before—of course, they have been listened to by us with very great respect; but I am bound to say I think they do not contribute to a solution of the question. Those hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the other side of the House have not unnaturally repeated their old and approved nostrum—the withdrawal of this Bill; for which they assure us the country does not care. But in offering that advice, they must know that it is opposed to our convictions and pledges, and I hope will not consider it disrespectful if I decline to discuss the reasons urged on its behalf, further than to admit that there is a serious disadvantage in the undue postponement of the consideration of the remaining Votes and Estimates, and that it is desirable they should shortly come under the notice of the House. Referring to the speeches made on this side of the House, I at once allow that the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) is one that at least deserves the consideration of the Government, while I think it would be premature, for reasons I will immediately give, if I were to venture to pronounce upon it anything like a decisive opinion at the present moment. I wish to explain to the ton. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) the view I take of the statement he has made. He says that the Government are engaged to go forward with this Bill, and he refers to declarations of my own, and of my right hon. Friend who has charge of the Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster), from none of which do we in the slightest degree attempt to shrink. On the contrary, we abide by them to their full extent. We retain our conviction that the decided majority of this House is determined to make the settlement within these walls of the Ballot Bill a portion of the Business of the 209 present Session; and that their desire is that Parliament shall not be prorogued until that matter has been conclusively discussed; and the Government are firmly resolved to support the majority in that determination. But, perhaps, my hon. Friend does not clearly apprehend the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford does not propose to vary in principle from that declaration. He does not propose that the Ballot Bill shall be transferred from the Business of the present year and handed over to the Business of the coming Session. The question he raises is simply one of personal convenience and of advantage in the arrangement of Public Business; but he proceeds upon the basis of assuming as the fixed conviction in all our minds that in the present Session Parliament is to dispose of the Bill. That I take to be a resolution upon which the entire Liberal party is firmly and definitely united. The suggestion that there should be an adjournment of some considerable length, with a view of enabling us at once, or almost at once, to proceed to wind up the other Business, and then in the autumn to meet for the settlement of the remaining portion of this Bill—whether it be a good suggestion or not—is perfectly compatible with the fulfilment of all the engagements which the Government have entered into and all the engagements that the majority of this House have virtually undertaken. In the first place, however, I do not feel so entirely certain as some hon. Gentlemen do of the long period which this Bill has still to occupy in Committee. It may, or may not be so; but we have thus far been engaged in an internecine contest almost upon an essential part of the Bill. That has been determined tonight, and I have no means of judging how much time the House is likely to require, or what will be the rate of progress with regard to the other important clauses of the Bill. For that reason I am not anxious at the present moment that the Government should be committed upon this subject. And further, it is desirable that we should take some more ample means than this conversation has afforded of ascertaining as well as we can what is the state of opinion in all quarters of this House with reference to the comparative convenience of the two courses that are before us—the one, continuity 210 of Sittings; and the other, resumption of Sittings after an adjournment. There is a third reason at which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) has glanced, and which appears to deserve the consideration of the House. It is most fair, as the labours of this House are so weighty and protracted under all circumstances, that we should have some regard to the personal engagements elsewhere of its Members; but my hon. Friend has promptly reminded us that there is another Assembly materially interested in this question. The House of Lords will have to deal with this Bill, after it has passed from our hands; and I think that it will be felt in all quarters, that before we endeavour to arrive at any positive con-conclusion on the suggestions of my hon. Friend, we should allow some opportunity—I do not know whether public discussion will be necessary—for ascertaining the view of the House of Lords upon the question. I feel certain that there would be a want of courtesy, if not on the part of the House, at least on the part of the Government, if we were to advance precipitantly to any conclusion upon the matter, without using the best means in our power to learn the opinion of the House of Lords. I hope, then, it will be enough to say that we will endeavour, in the course of a few days, to obtain fuller information upon the point. The Government have no disposition to regard their own convenience in this matter. They are, on the contrary, disposed to consult the general convenience of the House. The hon. Member for Sunder-land, and other hon. Members, may rest assured that whatever may be the arrangement agreed upon as to details, it will in volve on the part of the Government no deviation in the slightest degree from the declaration they have heretofore made, because they believe the public interests of the country as well as the credit of Parliament demands that they should not allow that question to pass from their hands without bringing it to a definite conclusion during the present Session of Parliament. I cannot conclude my observations on this occasion without saying that I am most grateful to the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) for the estimate he has been pleased to form of his capacity.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, he thought that the House had a right to complain of that proposal being brought forward at that hour (1 o'clock in the morning) without the slightest Notice. It had taken them by surprise. A postponement until November would be most inconvenient to the Scotch and Irish Members, and he, for one, did not think that when they met in November, they would be in a better position to pass this measure than they were in at present—unless, indeed, it was understood that the House would sit on from November to February in order to pass that Bill.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the Clock.