HC Deb 08 February 1872 vol 209 cc172-6

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Procedure at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, said, that it would be unnecessary to detain the House at any length in describing the provisions of the Bill, and he was glad to be relieved from the duty, after the calls that he had made on its attention last Session with regard to this subject. The principles and details of the measure had been thoroughly discussed by, and were perfectly familiar to, the House; there had been 27 Sittings on the Bill, and 73 divisions, at least 25 of them being on points of importance. That being the case, the Government had taken a course which he was sure the House would expect in dealing with a subject which had been thus discussed. The Government felt it was only respectful to the House to pay respect to its decisions, and to abide by them in the measure they were now presenting before it. He owned that he personally deeply regretted the decision of the House on one question. It did not relate to the Ballot or to nomination; but it was a matter on which he held last Session, and still held a strong opinion—namely, the relieving of candidates from the payment of expenses and throwing them on the rates. A large majority of the House decided that the clause which would have thrown those expenses on the rates should be omitted, and as the Government had no reason to suppose that the House had changed its mind, this Bill would not include that clause. Therefore, he might say that the Government presented this measure substantially as it left the House, and was brought into the House of Lords. But the Government had made some alterations with regard to arrangements, and the first alteration was that they had put the measure of last Session in two Bills instead of one. The reason for doing so was that the experience of last Session convinced them of the desirability of keeping the procedure of election apart from the other portion of the Bill of last year. In bringing forward the Bill of last year they embodied in it suggestions of a Parliamentary Committee for amending the Corrupt Practices Act. There were suggestions as to the returns made by the candidates of their expenses, and as to holding committees at public-houses. He found it was quite as much as he could do to undertake the charge of the Ballot Bill, and it seemed to him that that was quite as much as the House could attend to in one measure. He was happy to say that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would bring forward a Bill to deal with the subject of corrupt practices. That Bill would contain the clause as to holding committees in public-houses, and the clause for the punishment of personating voters, which were included in the Ballot Bill of last year. The Bill which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) now brought forward was confined strictly to the mode of nomination and the mode of voting. It would abolish public nomination and establish voting by Ballot. It would also give facilities for voting by increasing the number of polling-places. In the Bill of last year, however, municipal elections were included as well as Parliamentary ones in regard to the mode of nomination; but he thought that the debate proved it would be better to leave the nominations at municipal elections alone, and that, as there are no public nominations at present in the case of these elections, it was unnecessary to apply the machinery of the Bill to them. That would probably have been the case in the Bill of last year, if it had not been for an oversight; and in the present measure, accordingly, the municipal elections were untouched. The Government had also upon consideration come to the conclusion that the circumstances of Scotland were so different from those of England, that it would not be desirable to extend to that country the provisions of the Bill in regard to polling-places, and that conclusion was confirmed by the unanimous representations of the Sheriffs of Scotland. Hon. Members would observe a considerable alteration in the wording of the Bill; and he ventured to hope that they would think it to be improved. He had done his best, with the assistance of the able draftsmen who had helped him, to make the wording as clear and concise as possible; but, in truth, it was not an easy matter to express the enactments as to the change in the mode of voting with perfect clearness, and without some repetition, but they had done their best to accomplish that object. He had also, he was glad to say, been able to see his way to doing without the assistance of the Secretary of State. He knew that objections were taken to that proposal last year, and he was glad to think that the Ballot might be tried, with every chance of success, without leaving discretionary powers to the Secretary of State. The Bill now came before the House reinforced by the fact that its provisions had been carried by great majorities through the House, and that the country at large, as both sides would admit, endorsed the decision of that House. That could hardly be disputed, seeing, by the perfectly legitimate action of the House of Lords, that the country had had the opportunity during the last six months to show any feeling against this measure, but it was clear that it considered it a fait accompli. As a proof of that fact he might mention the recent election in the West Riding—an event that it must be grateful to the feelings of hon. Gentlemen to refer to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had comforted his followers with the statement that that election was a proof that the constituencies created by the Reform Bill were of a real Conservative tendency. However that might be, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) felt convinced that this new Conservative Member would not have been returned, notwithstanding his other views, unless he had been known to be a sincere and honest advocate of the Ballot. This agreement between the two parties in this important constituency was a good omen for the success of the present measure, and he hoped that, however much some hon. Members might entertain a traditionary prejudice against and dislike of the Ballot, they would, after entering their protest on the occasion of the second reading, assist the Government in rendering the measure as perfect as possible; for it was an undoubted fact that a large majority of the Members of that House and an immense majority of the constituencies were in favour of the proposed alteration in the mode of election. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


remarked that the Bill of last year gave the greatest facilities for personation, and, as far as he could gather, the present measure contained no improvement in that respect. If not anticipated by some other Member, he would frame an Amendment for the purpose of checking personation.


said, that he always admired the appearance of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) in that House, except when he assumed the character of Destiny, as he had that evening. Last Session the right hon. Gentleman assumed the character of Destiny; but all his prognostications had proved false. He assumed that there was an universal consent in favour of secret voting in this country. His (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion was the reverse. The House of Lords had last Session rejected the Ballot Bill, and an attempt was got up to assail them by agitation, which most signally failed. The House had been repeatedly assured that the House of Lords would imperil their existence, if they strove to evade their destiny in the shape of the will of the Government on this subject. The House rejected the Bill, and the attempt to assail them failed, which was evidence directly in opposition of the repeated assertions of the right hon. Gentleman. He wished to impress on those Members of the House who were likely to vote in favour of the Ballot, that by adopting secret voting they were favouring the reduction of the franchise to manhood suffrage. Such was the conviction of the late Lord Palmerston, and such was his own. It would be idle to expect that the adult male population of the counties would be contented to be represented by Members elected by the £12 householders, of whose conduct and whose vote in the election they would know nothing whatever. Instead of settling the question of the electoral system of the country by passing this Bill, the House would simply re-open it.


said, he was not in favour of manhood suffrage; but he firmly believed it must come if they passed this measure. He believed the Reform Bill of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) gave an impetus to that movement which it would be impossible now to stop.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Law relating to Procedure at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, ordered to be brought in by Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, Mr. Secretary BRUCE, and The Marquess of HARTINGTON.

Bill presented, and read she first time. [Bill 21.]