HC Deb 15 February 1872 vol 209 cc470-515

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)


, in rising to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said—Sir, I feel that in rising on this occasion to move the second reading of this Bill this day six months I owe an apology to the House for venturing to present myself in so prominent a position. But I must explain to the House in two or three words the reason why I have undertaken that task. At a late period of our proceedings yesterday afternoon, and on referring to the Notice Paper, I found to my great surprise that no Notice of Amendment of this kind had been given by any Member of the House; and it occurred to me that a departure from the ordinary constitutional mode of giving the House an opportunity of expressing its feelings on a question of this importance—and especially that section of the House which feels deeply and strongly on the question—was a proceeding so unusual and preposterous that I ventured, as a very humble Member of the House, to undertake an act of public duty, and afford it the opportunity of expressing an opinion for or against "secret voting." So far I feel it due to the House to give it this personal explanation. In the discharge of this public duty, I should not consider myself justified in detaining the House at any great length, as I feel that this question has, in the course of 30 years' discussion, and particularly after the exhaustive debates of last year, been threshed and winnowed to an extent almost unequalled in any public question that I know of. But notwithstanding this process the sample of corn presented to us is a very bad sample, and I am compelled to look at this measure as an article which I am not prepared to purchase at any price, not even the price of tranquillity at elections, although I am not prepared to say, when you get a number of voters crowded together in a polling-booth with papers that they do not understand, and pencils they cannot use, in their hands—voters huddled into a corner and a hole—that they will preserve a very good temper. That is a matter for experience in the future. But now I make an admission, and make it freely. I admit that the Bill, whose second reading has been moved, is an improvement on the measure of last year. I think its general framework is considerably simplified. I think that its size in that respect is amended. I find it contains in place of the 54 clauses of the old Bill, 28 clauses; but the remarkable feature about this Bill is, it is a Bill of schedules. All the most important matters of detail contained in it are contained in the schedules, and schedules of a very large description. There are no fewer than 61 clauses in the first schedule. This is a novelty. I only allude to it in passing—I do not complain of it—but it is rather a new form of presenting Bills to this House. I may also observe that this Bill is called by its right name—at least partly by its right name. It is to be cited as "The Ballot Act." I should be content if that were a true description; but I contend that it is not a true description, because this is a secret Ballot Act, and that is the worm at the core of this measure. That is its worst feature; and it is on that ground I mean to resist it. I have said that the Bill is presented to us in an improved form; and it would be strange indeed if, after the exhaustive debates of last year, and after the collective wisdom of this House had spent so many weeks upon the improvement of the measure, it had not assumed a new shape. But in saying this I must be permitted for a moment to cast one longing, lingering look behind, and I cannot but remember that the collective wisdom of this House was not concentrated upon this Bill. It was not half the collective wisdom of this House which brought about the great amendments of which I have spoken. I cannot forget that for the first time in history a strike took place within the walls of Parliament, and that, as is usually the case, at a time when employment was at its height. It is an extraordinary thing that the old workmen turned out in a body, and left the completion of the work on which they had been engaged for years to a parcel of new hands, foreign workmen, and men not naturally handy at the job. I cannot but think if the whole collective wisdom of the House had been employed on the Bill, it would have been a better Bill; but its defects are not the fault of this (the Conservative) side of the House. Now, Sir, I am in no sense reconciled to the Bill in consequence of the amended form in which it presents itself, and I object to it because it is a great fundamental change in the most important duty we have to perform in this country, and because that great and fundamental change is to my mind unnecessary, and I believe uncalled for. I have had some experience of public life, and I am sorry to say that I have observed that fundamental changes do not always involve a settlement of great questions. On the contrary, my observation leads me to say that they are apt to unsettle men's minds; that they are apt to induce men to make larger demands, increasing in proportion to the magnitude of the change; and this is one of the main reasons why I so strongly object to this Bill. I do not believe that the most prescient statesman in this country knows or can tell what the effect of secret voting in the transactions of public life will be. We will probably have large demands for reduction of the suffrage, for re-distribution of political power, and the re-arrangement of seats. This may be the inevitable and necessary consequence of the passing of this Bill. I am the more strengthened in my dislike to the Bill because I do not think the country at this moment is in favour of great and fundamental changes. If we have learned anything from one of the most eventful Recesses which have ever passed, we have learned that this country is averse to such changes. We have heard a great deal during the Recess about Monarchy, and we have heard something about the House of Lords, and we have heard something from obscure places about Republics. But I believe that Monarchy was never so secure and never so much beloved as at this moment. I believe that the House of Lords will exercise for many years to come its constitutional privilege of revising or rejecting hasty and ill-considered measures. And as to Republics, this country watched anxiously, and has not forgotten, what occurred a year ago in a neighbouring country with which we are on terms of friendship; and looking to America, we cannot but have seen that a high standard of political morality is not an invariable accompaniment of Republican institutions. So that I think at the present time England is not favourable to great and fundamental changes. Well, I object to this Bill being forced down our throats, because a certain number of people—and they are very few indeed—have come from Australia and told us that in one part of that Continent secret voting has worked well. They do not deny that there are a great number of defects, either inherent to or encouraged by it, and I suppose they will by-and-bye devise some remedies. The suspicious circumstance attending the production of this Bill is that it is presented along with its antidote. I do not like a measure that requires an antidote as soon as it is passed. I object to it because Australia, and one community in Australia, is the only place from which a recommendation of the system of secret voting comes; I object to it because the example of America is wholly ignored; and I object to it because many of our leading statesmen show an anxiety, a haste, a rapidity, in changing their opinions on this great subject, which does wonderfully little credit to the long cherished and often reiterated opinions, and to all the convictions uttered from year to year of their political life. I venture to say also that this Bill is unnecessary and uncalled for. Murmurs of disapprobation were not long ago expressed at the conduct of another branch of the Legislature refusing to pass a measure when they had not time to enter upon its consideration. But there was no violent expression of opinion, as far as we can judge from the tone of the Press. There is another source of information, what are called extra-Parliamentary utterances, and we have not heard this measure urged in many of these utterances. That, I think, justifies me in saying that the Bill is regarded with apathy by the country. We have seen elections in East Surrey and in North Yorkshire; but will any one pretend that if the Ballot had been in operation those elections would have been attended with different results? I have never heard anybody say anything of the kind; but if anyone is prepared to say so, I hope they are prepared to prove that the will of the electors was not expressed, and truly expressed, in those great communities. So much for England. And what are we to say of Ireland? Ireland has been the place where we have been always told that the Ballot is necessary. It has been recommended to us on the strength of the Irish argument; but we have seen three elections in Ireland; and three candidates presented themselves on the mysterious platform—which, I confess, I do not understand—of "Home Rule," and each of these candidates by a crushing and overwhelming majority, and in the last of these elections in spite of the expressed wishes of Bishop Moriarty, who enjoyed a large share of public respect, was returned. Can it be said, then, that the expression of the national will has been impeded or falsified by open voting? The result of these Irish elections is a warning to the Government, showing them that they are not able by their policy to conciliate the people of Ireland. I am very glad that this measure has been presented in two parts; but I would suggest that as these two Bills belong to each other they stand in the relation almost of horse and cart. To be useful they must be connected. I do not want to see the horse—that is, the Ballot Bill—cut loose, while the cart is left to take care of itself—the cart being the Corrupt Practices Bill. I hope the House will not listen to the third reading of the present measure until the other has been brought to the same stage. I know that in America secret voting is allowed, and in practice that the Americans use the Ballot as a convenience but reject it as a restraint, and although I have not had time to acquaint myself with the working of the system in Canada, I am inclined to believe that the Canadians follow the example of their neighbours, using an open Ballot and not a secret Ballot. I ventured last year to say, and I repeat it now, that a law which is framed in opposition to the habits and in disregard to the feelings of the people is certain to fall into disrepute and then to become obsolete. The Government had only the other day abandoned their own convictions on another subject in deference to a public opinion based on sentiment rather than on reason, and had felt themselves compelled to take a course which I believe they did not in their hearts approve; and if good and salutary laws thus succumb to popular sentimentality, how much more will bad laws be compelled to yield to popular dislike? Recent experience shows us that men in high places find the means of shaking off the trammels of statutes in order to carry out their purpose, and I believe that if the principle of the secret Ballot is forced upon the country the people will trample upon a law that is foreign to their habits and repugnant to their instincts. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, that his hon. Friend on the front Bench below him deserved the thanks of that side of the House for the ability with which he had brought under their notice this great question. The real question upon this subject had never been fairly put before the constituencies—that was, whether they, as Englishmen, preferred the present system of open voting to the vote by Ballot, a secret system, now proposed. No doubt there were many hon. Members who, influenced by political prejudice, were prepared to say that the Ballot would be a great boon to many classes of the community; but not a man would come forward to say that he personally was afraid to record his vote unless he was protected by the Ballot. Under these circumstances, he was justified in asking upon what grounds this measure had been introduced last year? Was it because by extending the franchise they had gone backwards politically, that the Ballot had been rendered necessary? Were the classes who had obtained the franchise under the recent Reform Bill less independent than the class immediately above them? This Bill indirectly cast a great slur upon the working classes of the community by insinuating that they were unable to protect themselves in giving their votes; but he was prepared to contend that the working classes were as independent and able to protect themselves as any class of people in the country. The small shopkeepers were not nearly so able to protect themselves; but the Government during the time that this class had power never introduced any Ballot Bill. Had anything arisen in modern times to call for the Ballot? Had the elections that had taken place in England produced any necessity for the Ballot? It was perfectly true that the candidates that the Government wished to be returned had not been returned; but was that in consequence of open voting, or because of the unpopularity of the Ministry? East Surrey had returned a candidate opposed to the Government, not because the electors of that county had been afraid to express their political opinion, but because they repudiated and disliked the measures introduced into Parliament by the Government during the last Session. The 2d. income tax, that hasty Budget, the amendment to the match tax, were particularly disliked. It had been said that the electors of East Surrey had been influenced in their choice of a Member by the Licensing Bill; but, although that measure was undoubtedly a bad one, he did not believe that it was the introduction of that Bill that had led them to return a Conservative as their representative. There were other measures which had been introduced by the Government that had conduced to that result, and in addition to these were the two scandals arising from the acts of the Government, one of which was at that moment being discussed in "another place." But if the Ballot would not have much effect in this country, would it not have some political effect in Ireland? He saw the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Dowse) in his place, and doubtless he would make a lively speech, in which he would cut him into ribbons; but he did not fear him, because he did everything in good part, and if he could find a weak point in his harness he was ready to stand up and to receive his charge. But he asked whether the result of the Irish elections would have been in any way altered had the Ballot been in operation? He regretted to be obliged to say that the elections in Ireland were a disgrace to our representative system, because men were not able, under the state of things that existed in that country, to go to the poll and to record their votes freely according to their consciences. He said, with pain and sorrow, that the inflammatory addresses which had been pronounced by gentlemen wearing sacred garbs, and who therefore ought to know right from wrong, had stimulated the passions which the Government had tried, but had signally failed, to smooth by their recent legislation. He trusted that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland got up, the House would hear from him that he, like the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), repudiated all idea of Home Rule for Ireland, for nine-tenths of the House would hold firmly that the Imperial Parliament should legislate for the whole United Kingdom, and that nothing that could be said by any Home Ruler or demagogue on the other side of the water would turn them from their course. It was supposed that the Ballot would do two things—first, that it would prevent bribery and corruption; and, secondly, that it would protect the voter in voting according to his conscience. But had hon. Members never heard of such a thing as payment by results? Could not a candidate say to an elector—"If I am returned I will do such and such things for you and your family?" And would bribery of that description be as easy of detection as the more open bribery now practised? Then as to the question of intimidation. Could anyone say that intimidation had increased of late years, or that the landlords could compel their tenants to vote as they chose? He thought that the recent elections in Ireland would prove the opposite. He could not see, therefore, that the Ballot was required on these grounds. On the other hand, the Ballot would afford great opportunity for personation by rendering the detection of the offence more difficult. If A, in the morning, personated B, what would be the result? When B came, they would mark his vote so that it should be known; but there would be the greatest difficulty in following the other man A, who had committed the offence. In his opinion, each man ought to honestly record his political conviction and to give his vote openly. Doubtless the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, and perhaps one or two more of the Ministry, had been in favour of the Ballot ever since their first entrance into Parliament; but what had become of the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and of several others who sat near him? Why, after maintaining the efficacy of the old system for upwards of 30 years, the Prime Minister and several of his Friends had suddenly changed their front and had come round to the opinion that political safety was to be found in secret voting alone. Was it improbable that certain hon. Members opposite, sitting below the gangway, had said to the Government—"We must have the Ballot, or else you cannot have our support?" He recollected well enough when one of the Ministry, in meek and mild terms enough, stated, to his would be constituents, that his opinions had undergone something of a change with respect to the Ballot, and that afterwards he had become bolder and bolder until now he said he had adopted the Ballot entirely. But let the Government beware; let them look below the gangway and ask themselves whether by the sacrifice of all their political convictions one by one they had gained over the party below the gangway. He warned them that before they carried the hon. Members below the gangway with them they must take even greater jumps than they had done already—that they must adopt the Church Bill of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Miall), the education scheme of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon), and the views of the Roman Catholics with regard to Irish Education. There was a little programme for the Government to swallow. He, however, trusted that they would remain firm, and that even if they temporarily supported the Ballot Bill, they, under the pressure of the women of England, who were essentially Conservatives at heart, and who hated the Ballot, would, following the precedent set them the other night by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, come to that House in the course of a Session or two and bring in a Bill to repeal the Ballot Act on the ground that it had not had the effect they anticipated it would have had, and that they were prepared to revert to the old Constitutional custom of open voting.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Liddell)


said, that he should have wished to have made himself better acquainted with the forms of the House before he addressed them, especially upon a subject like this, which had been not only thoroughly winnowed and thrashed, but which was, indeed, as well ventilated as the Chamber in which they sat. However, the unmistakeable allusions to the recent Irish elections that had been made by the hon. Member who had just sat down left him absolutely without choice. He would not address the House in the character of a legislator or of a debater, because if he did he should probably be told that he cared no more for the Ballot than that! But he would speak to them as one of those Irish farmers who had so lately sent him here. He agreed in the remarks of the hon. Member to the extent that if the Ballot had been in force the Western farmers and peasants who had sent him as their representative to that House would not have made a different choice; but he could scarcely describe the trouble, anxiety, and terror that had been endured by those electors who had voted in his favour. The landlords in his county firmly believed that the votes of their tenants were as much their property as was their land, and the reason of his being in the House at that moment was that the electors who had returned him as their representative had preferred rather to discharge their duty than to follow the dictates of individual self-interest. He would not deny that the Catholic priests would not by the Ballot be deprived of their influence; but their power did not spring from their religious functions. Catholic priests often acted as notaries, reconcilers of differences, and bankers, and these things gave rise to nine-tenths of their political influence. Intelligence would have its influence under the Ballot, and under any other system whatever, and he did not think that hon. Members would wish him to eliminate the due weight of intelligence. People were well aware that the Roman Catholic clergymen of Ireland never attempted to influence jurymen in the verdicts they gave, because they knew that the jurymen gave their verdicts fairly and honestly; but they had found it necessary to use their influence, not to induce the electors to vote for any particular candidate, but to give their votes fairly and honestly, according to their consciences and judgments. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Liddell) had asked for an explanation of Home Rule; but, new Member though he was, he knew that in attempting at the present moment to give such an explanation he should be out of order. He would, however, say that he believed the great majority in that House would prefer to receive 100 Home Rulers there, provided they were the true representatives of their constituencies, than that the same number of persons holding different views should be sent there through chicanery.


said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken had given the House his views with great vigour and with great eloquence, and he had advanced some strong reasons in favour of the recent Irish elections. He had, however, to deal more particularly with the two preceding speeches, which put forward very succinctly the arguments against the Ballot. He was glad that the question had been discussed without any reference to first principles and without any allusion to "the social contract," or "the rights of man." They were content to take things as they found them. He should start with the proposition that the House of Commons governed this great Empire. He did not wish to detract from the position of the House of Lords, or from that of any other power in the realm; but it was an undoubted fact that all great questions were discussed and determined in that House, and Members who were elected to serve in that House should be elected by the freely recorded votes of a free electoral body. The question was, how to enable the electors to record their votes freely, and it was the opinion of the Government, as also his own, that the Ballot was the only machinery adequate for the purpose. Cicero called the Ballot—and it was not a bad definition—vindex tacita libertatis. The hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) who was not usually pedantic, had said that the Ballot did not mean secret voting, which, of course, strictly speaking, it did not; but it was idle to quarrel about words when the meaning was unmistakeable. A Bill for establishing the Ballot, in the popular sense of the term, was before the House, and he hoped that when it was sent up to the other House, with the approval of a large majority of the representatives of the people, it would be received with a little more courtesy than it had met with on a previous occasion. The Ballot was, in fact, the only adequate remedy for the evils of which they were complaining. They had been told that it was antagonistic to the habits and repugnant to the character of the people. That was only another way of expressing that which they had been in the habit of hearing in former times—namely, that the Ballot was un-English. It was not English because it was not the law in England; but if the present Bill passed, it would in ten years be as eminently English as any institution we had, just as many things which at first were stigmatised as un-Constitutional had become Constitutional when passed into law. The House had already affirmed the principle of this Bill by large majorities, and no one would venture to say that that House was not the representative of the people of England. If what was wanted could be brought about by other means, he should be no advocate for the Ballot; but the existing evil must be remedied, and it could not be repugnant to the feelings and character of the people to secure to them the free exercise of the franchise. He was glad that nothing had been said about the trustee argument—a point on which great stress was formerly laid. In his opinion, there was nothing in such an argument. If the voter was a trustee for himself, secrecy was no great matter, and if for his co-voters, they might be supposed to divide the responsibility between them; while if he was a trustee for people not to be trusted with the suffrage, they clearly had no right to control him. In the Court of Chancery, a cestui-que trust could force the trustee to do certain things, provided they were within the scheme of the trust. It was admitted that the non-electors had no right to dictate to the elector for whom he should vote, and for them to know how he voted was no security that he performed his trust, since they could not know what was passing within his mind nor the motives which actuated his conduct. When first brought in contact with electioneering matters, he saw a trustee walking to the poll between a file of soldiers and police, with a large mob of cestui-que trusts ready to break his head; and he (the Attorney General for Ireland) observed to a friend who was with him on the occasion—"There is a man charged with the responsibility of discharging a solemn trust, and he has to be guarded by a band of soldiers from the cestui-que trusts, who are seeking by threats and intimidation to prevent him from voting at all." That illustration convinced him of the fallacy of the trustee argument. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) had twitted certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen with having changed their opinions upon this question. Now, were the mummy-pits of Hansard explored, it might doubtless be found that some Members had changed their opinions since 30 years ago; but a man who had not changed an opinion on any subject during 30 years had no opinion worth changing at all. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, moreover, should remember the cries raised on the difference between a £7 rating and a £7 rental; that the country was in danger, that the Monarchy was imperilled, and that the Pope was about to make a voyage of discovery to these shores. These prophets of evil, their vision clarified by the spectacles of office, plunged the country within nine months into household suffrage, so that they should be the last persons to taunt others with inconsistency. He agreed, too, with the American writer Emerson, that consistency was the bugbear of little minds, and that if a man was satisfied of the truth of an opinion he had formed he was bound to enforce it when a fitting opportunity offered. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were satisfied that they had good reason for changing their opinions, and that the time had come for the change, they should not be twitted with inconsistency. He would unhesitatingly say perish consistency, if consistency were to be an obstacle in the path of such reforms as that now called for. As to bribery, which it was said would not be prevented by the Ballot, he thought the Ballot would have a considerable effect in that direction, though he did not expect any legislation to put down bribery altogether. If the law was in advance of public sentiment and public morals, it would only have a partial operation; but he looked forward to a time, which he believed would be accelerated by this Bill, when it would be deemed as unjust and immoral for an English gentleman to bribe as it is now for him to tell an untruth, or to commit any other mean action. In a mercantile community men would not be so willing to pay for a vote, whether before or after an election, if they had no certainty of receiving that vote. Ingenious systems of bribery, such as that practised at the Dublin election of 1868, would certainly be put an end to by the Ballot. Moreover, the state of the poll would not be known while the election was going on. The political thermometer on the polling-day of a contested election began at zero, and gradually rose to fever heat; and in small constituencies, where 60 or 70 men turned the election on either side, the effect of the announcement at 3 o'clock that one was five ahead, and ten remained to be polled, might easily be imagined. He wondered what the value of those ten men would be. Such men looked forward with the greatest interest to party quarrels and disputes in Parliament, in the hope of a Ministerial crisis and a General Election; and so strong was this feeling, that in a borough in the West of Ireland the chairman whose duty it was to revise the list was appealed to by one voter in the name of all the Saints not to strike his name off, because if he did his bread would be gone. Much good had been effected by changing the venue of Election Petitions, and still further good would be done by the passage of this Bill. It would be very efficacious with regard to intimidation and undue influence—not the intimidation which could be dealt with on Petition, such as the intimidation of large mobs, whose employers could be traced, but that which worked unseen. He referred to the intimidation exercised by landlords on tenants, a form of which existed in England and Scotland, as well as in Ireland, by employers on the employed, by customers on shopkeepers. He had known instances of intimidation by a shopkeeper on a customer, by a lawyer on a client, by a doctor on a patient, and on a patient by a doctor. He had known half a congregation leave their parson and set up another place of worship on account of his vote, thus depriving him of a considerable part of his income. It was important to guard against the intimidation exercised by one class on another, and also on that exercised by men in a particular class against their fellows. The proceedings of the International Society, and of trades unions, ought to be considered, and the suffrage having been conferred on the masses—a privilege alleged to have been unasked for, and, perhaps, not desired—Parliament was bound to protect them in its exercise. The intimidation supposed to be exercised by the Nationalists in Ireland had been referred to, and the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) had cited the Kerry and Galway elections as proofs that the Irish people had no difficulty at present in expressing their opinions. This, however, was assuming that the results of those elections really expressed their opinions. He was not going to say they did not, and he should be very careful on this point, for, having regard to the recent date of the elections and to certain contingencies, it would not be fair for him to offer an opinion. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex had asked whether the Ballot would have altered those elections, evidently assuming that it would not; but if he himself had a lurking opinion to the contrary, who could say which opinion was correct? The only way would be to make trial of the Ballot, and see how the next elections went. He admitted to the full the advantages which had been conferred on Ireland by the Church Act and Land Act, but sufficient time had not passed for the fruition of the advantages they conferred; but he believed the Ballot was required in Ireland by the Irish people in order that they might be free to exercise a free franchise. [Mr. NEWDEGATE asked why Ireland was not in the Bill?] Ireland was in the Bill. He hoped he understood the hon. Member. He was ready to answer any question of the hon. Gentleman; but there was what lawyers called a condition precedent, and that was that he understood him. At the last Meath election an hon. Gentleman (Mr. Martin), who boasted of his return as evidencing the desire of the people for Home Rule, polled only 1,040 votes, his opponent, Mr. Plunket, receiving 684, and 2,503 electors not voting at all; whereas, in 1868, Mr. Corbally polled more votes than Mr. Martin and Mr. Plunket put together. This seemed to show that the electors would not vote when they found an overwhelming power overawe them; but were they secured from landlord coercion on the one hand, and from intimidation on the other, they would exercise the franchise, and even if the result were the return of 60 or 80 Home Rulers this would be better than dissatisfaction, and, perhaps, insurrection. Though he should regret their return, some advantage might flow from it—they would mix with English and Scotch Members; they would see that there was no disinclination to listen to the voice of Ireland; they would see how business was conducted, and how conscientious opinions were formed on both sides of the House; and he believed that were Home Rule brought to the touchstone of discussion, Parliament would be benefited by their presence. He did not think a result of the Bill would be to bring those men into the House. He hoped it would not, for he firmly believed that the welfare and salvation of Ireland depended upon the Imperial connection. He believed this was a good measure for England, Scotland, and Ireland. They were all open to criticisms as well as the Bill. The time had now come for the passing of this measure; this was plain from what had been said that night, for if the allusion that the work last Session was done by foreign workmen applied to hon. Members below the gangway, it implied that the workers on the Front Opposition wished not to impede the passing of the measure. It was said that it was easy to criticize, and there was high authority for saying that critics were men who had failed in literature and art; but this, of course, he was bound to say, did not apply to politicians. Destruction was easy, but construction was difficult, and he agreed with the words quoted by Lord Coke—"Blessed be not the complaining tongue, but the amending hand." That had been the principle of those who had brought forward this Bill—namely, a conscientious desire to reform the Constitution, not by introducing violent changes, but by giving to voters the power of freely exercising the power of voting which had been conferred upon them. He thought the result would be to strengthen the Constitution and to strengthen the Monarchy, to which we owed all the liberty we now enjoyed, and he hoped the time would never come when there would be in this country any institution like the Commune of Paris or the Tammany Ring of New York. If the House secured the well-being and happiness of the people, if they enabled voters to come forward and record freely their opinion on public affairs, they would increase their claims to be considered the representatives of the people of England.


said, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had, whilst attacking the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) for having diverged from the direct question before the House, followed a similar course by referring to the Home Rule question the rights of the Monarchy and other subjects not connected with the Ballot. He had also, while deprecating the discussion of first principles, led them into Cicero and the Encyclopœdia Britannica. He concurred in the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that destruction was easy and construction difficult, and it was on that ground that he preferred improving things that were in existence to making organic changes. He also concurred in the observation that it was desirable to prevent the bribery and corruption that take place on the day of polling; but he very much doubted if this Bill would effect that desirable object, whilst it might be easily attained by passing a short Act, without the Ballot, prohibiting any declaration of the poll until the end of the polling. It was the fashion to say that the arguments on this subject had been by frequent use worn so threadbare that one felt ashamed of repeating what had been so often said, and one despaired of adducing anything which should be at the same time both new and true. But he thought that at this period of these long controversies the opponents of the Ballot might claim at least to have time on their side. The arguments that had been used by them year after year for so many years had gathered strength, and those which were employed on the opposite side—he admitted with great force a quarter of a century ago—had, from change of circumstances since those days, become more and more inapplicable. In those days, no doubt, corruption and intimidation were rife throughout the land; on both sides they were employed almost openly, certainly avowedly. The time came when they were acknowledged to be gross evils and abuses by the best men of the day, who differed only as to the means of suppression. Some were for the rough and ready way now proposed, others, fearing that the remedy might be worse than the disease, preferred trusting to the advancement of the lower classes of voters, to improvement in public opinion, and to greater strictness of law. Well, he thought it could not be denied that great improvement had been effected in these ways without the Ballot. The opinion of the Judges—under the Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), quoted last year by the hon. Member for Southwest Lancashire (Mr. A. Cross), to which he need, therefore, only refer—proved conclusively that, in comparison with what formerly was the case, these offences, against which the Ballot was levelled, could scarcely be said to exist. It was surely the duty of those who advocated so sweeping a change to prove that it was necessary, and this they attempted to do by adducing the few shreds and patches of the old system which we all acknowledged to remain as evidence of widespread evil. It was as if they were to attempt to prove that the best modern agriculture was a failure because here and there in a corner they found a few thistles in a field formerly covered with them. These things—these political weeds—did not die out in a day; their roots struck deep, their seeds were widely scattered. The Act to which he referred had only been in operation since one election. We had hardly yet felt the full results. We were too apt in this country to act like children, who dig up flowers to see why they do not grow, and to hurry on fresh enactments instead of giving time to those already passed. He admitted, however, that this question, so often discussed, if it had not gained in argument, had undoubtedly obtained a great accession of adherents. From being the subject of the annual speech of a kindly genial Member now gone from among them—a speech which he was afraid usually cleared the House—it had now become a vital question—a question by which Cabinets stood or fell—a question the blind and instantaneous acceptance of which was to be made the condition of the continued existence of the upper branch of the Legislature. Could it be that men's opinions had changed in the meantime? He agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that opinions might well change from time to time, but if so, they should have heard fresh arguments, but these were altogether wanting. The best they had heard said by those Members who follow the Vice President of the Council into the lobby opposite to that into which they formerly followed Lord Palmerston, was, "We acknowledge that bribery and intimidation are rapidly dying out, but there is a feeling out-of-doors in favour of the Ballot; it will not do much harm; we swallow it for the sake of the party." He quite admitted that there was a considerable section, though a minority, on the other side, who attached great value to the Ballot, as likely to break down what he believed, and what he was glad the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) admitted, to be legitimate influence. Those who wanted school boards everywhere, not to improve education, but to thrust out the squire and parson—those politicians wished to destroy the natural influence which such men had over their poorer neighbours, who consulted them in the every day affairs of their humble life; but were to avoid them as a pestilence when they were about to perform the most important duty to which they were called. Politicians of that class detested, and would annihilate that neighbourly influence of education and station, because there was something feudel in it, and it offended against their notions of that absolute equality which had never been attained. Let them take warning by the fact that this excessive independence was beginning to show its results in want of respect to age as well as rank, and that the example of another country demonstrated that it was apt to weaken family as well as social ties. We were to have no canvassing, no persuasion; the political education of the people was to be carried on by declamation and the Press—very powerful and very useful engines, no doubt, but apt to be somewhat despotic; and at any rate the result would be that no person would have a chance who had not either the gift of oratory or the assistance of the Press. And if this was so, he was afraid that many useful, sensible, unassuming men, whose value was appreciated highly in the House, would have little chance of getting there. Her Majesty's Government were, he thought, unduly pliant to every blast of popular agitation. He found in the country a general opinion that they could not be trusted to stand by their colours. The speech and Bill of the Home Secretary on Tuesday were a concession against his own convictions to a well-organized agitation. This pressing on of the Ballot Bill was another instance. Yet if ever a Government could afford to be firm the present Government could. They had a large majority; an Opposition which he was sure had not unduly pressed them, and he believed there was such a feeling in the country that we had had enough of organic changes at present, and a general desire to avoid them while the aspect of foreign affairs were so threatening, that if the Government could make up their mind to devote the Session to the many pressing social measures, about the principles of which there was general concurrence, they would meet with abundant support both in the House and in the country, and might let these limited, and, to a great extent, local agitations pass by, as he believed they would pass by, unheeded. Last year, in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Southwest Lancashire (Mr. A. Cross), he went so fully into the whole question that he would not presume to weary the House with a repetition of his arguments. More than once since then a parallel had been attempted to be drawn between the deliberations of a Cabinet or of a jury and the act of giving a vote for a member of the Legislature. It appeared to him that a greater mistake could hardly be committed. A Cabinet or a jury was, pro hâc vice, an individual. The deliberations of such a body were like the thoughts of an individual. People sometimes thought aloud, no doubt, and discussed questions with themselves, and very remarkable dialogues he had known them hold with themselves; but it would be as absurd to found legislation on such a habit as to say that because Cabinets or juries discuss questions in secret, therefore voting should be secret too. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), he remembered drew a distinction between the jury and the Judge; the latter, he said, could never come to harm by an upright decision. Since then we had had a painful instance of an English Judge in India losing his life in consequence of a fearless and upright sentence. That sad catastrophe, he was sure, would not prevent English Judges from acting with the fearlessness that had always characterized them. And what was the value of that courage which dared only to do the duty to which no risk or inconvenience was attached? Since the debate last year the unparalleled frauds in New York had been brought prominently into notice, and had shocked and startled the world. In commenting on these occurrences, an American paper said— It has been a struggle between fraud and corruption on one side and good government on the other, in the whole of which the Ballot has been an instrument in the hands of the worst instigators of political immorality. The opinion among educated politicians in America, in which he entirely concurred, and with which he would conclude his remarks, seemed to be this—that the Ballot was a convenience for saving time, not a guarantee for secrecy. No such thing as a secret vote was possible, save to a man who could resent and repel pressure and defy hostilities. To such a man he need hardly say the Ballot was entirely useless, and its protection would be scorned. He gave his entire support to the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell).


said, he was quite aware that there were few things more unsatisfactory than to debate a foregone conclusion in a thin House. He regretted that the forms of the House compelled him, in taking a hostile attitude to the Bill, to go into the lobby in opposition to the Government, and as his hon. Friend (Mr. Liddell) had moved a direct negative to the measure, he had no alternative than to follow him into the lobby. He would not enter into any of the stock arguments, of which the House was weary, on the intrinsic merits or demerits of secret as against open voting. He was not ashamed of being converted from any opinion he might have previously entertained on the subject. He admitted to the fullest extent that the arguments in favour of the Ballot, now that household suffrage had been lowered in boroughs, rested on a totally different footing from those which obtained when the suffrage was a £10 suffrage. At the same time, he must make one remark in answer to an observation of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, in which he disposed, as he thought, conclusively of the old-fashioned doctrine that the franchise was in the nature of a trust. He (Mr. Walter) thought nothing showed more clearly that the franchise was a species of trust than this—that when a public function was not shared by the entire community, but was committed to a certain class of persons, they were expected to discharge that function with a sense of the responsibility which was equivalent to that which in Courts of Law we called a trust. He fully believed that if the franchise had not been lowered to the extent to which it was now lowered, the advocates of the Ballot would have had no chance whatever of passing a Ballot Bill. There was one part of the Bill in which he entirely concurred, as he did last year. He entirely concurred in that part of the Bill which related to the municipal franchise. He thought there were strong arguments in favour of the Ballot as applied to municipal elections, which did not exist as applied to political elections. He believed that in municipal elections, where the personal character of the candidate was probably the main point under consideration, and where as little political feeling as possible ought to exist, secret voting would have a very salutary effect. But, with regard to the exercise of secret voting in political elections, he thought that hon. Gentlemen who imagined that the humbler classes of voters were the only classes that would make use of the Ballot were under a great mistake. He thought that if they were to have the Ballot at all they would find that persons in the upper classes would be quite as ready to avail themselves of it as the lower classes. But that was not a matter which he was anxious at the present moment to press upon the attention of the House. He regarded the introduction of this measure at the present time not as the completion of the Reform Bill of 1868, but as the beginning of a new one. He thought that, admitting all the arguments which had been used in favour of the Ballot, these two conclusions inevitably followed—first, that the disfranchisement of all small boroughs became imperatively necessary; and, secondly, that the enfranchisement of all county householders became equally imperatively necessary. He thought that, without these two accompaniments, the Ballot would create a mischief, and would perpetuate an injustice. He wanted to know on what ground, when the Ballot was passed, when the right of secret voting, which they were told would effectually protect voters from all intimidation and corrupt influences was accorded, a county householder was not to be admitted to the franchise. If the House would allow him, he would call attention to curious anomalies which existed in the county and borough representation. They were apt to draw a distinction between county and borough representation. He thought that distinction to be purely theoretical. He would take the case of the borough of Cricklade. That was not an isolated case. It contained a population of 37,000 or 38,000; and anyone looking into Dod, or any other Parliamentary companion, would come to the conclusion that it was a borough in the ordinary sense as distinguished from a county. Cricklade was a fifth part of the county of Wiltshire. Every labourer who resided within the Parliamentary borough, and who was a householder, had a vote. Now, what he wanted was to consider bow the distinction between voters in counties and boroughs was to be maintained in future. As the householders of Cricklade were of precisely the same class and position in life as the other labourers in the remaining four-fifths of the county, he wished to know why it was that they should enjoy the franchise in perfect security while the remaining four-fifths went without it. The borough of East Retford was still a more remarkable instance. It contained 207,906 acres, was more than twice as large as the county of Rutland, was four-fifths the size of Bedfordshire, and possessed upwards of 7,000 registered electors, of whom 6,000 occupied houses with rentals under £10. Upon what grounds were the remaining labouring men, who were householders in that part of Nottinghamshire in which East Retford was situated, to be debarred from the privilege of exercising the suffrage, as they could do under this Bill in perfect security? But while Cricklade and East Retford were the two most conspicuous instances of this curious anomaly, on the other hand Leamington, which contained a population of 25,000, was not a borough at all, but only part of the county of Warwickshire, though it ought, in his opinion, to be part of the borough of Warwick. How long were anomalies of this kind to be perpetuated? If the House was to go into the consideration of a new Reform Bill and to re-open the whole question he was prepared to accept all the consequences which justly flowed from this measure. There were 36 agricultural boroughs of England which contained more than 10,000 acres. Cricklade had 158,000 acres; East Retford, 207,000 acres; Shoreham, 112,000, or about a seventh part of the county of Sussex; Aylesbury, 61,181 acres; Wenlock, an extraordinary sort of archipelago of islands in the midst of a county, 51,000 acres; Droitwich, 27,000 acres; Midhurst, which had long enjoyed the honour of being represented by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Spencer Walpole), 26,000 acres. He noticed, in looking over the map, that in that 26,000 acres were comprised a park, a heath, a marsh, and about six miles of South Downs. The House ought to be prepared to go into this question, and to consider the consequences which must follow if the Ballot was to become law. They ought to be prepared to place all the other labouring householders in the country on as favourable a footing as the men of the same class in those electoral districts, for electoral districts they were. There was another point which must be considered in connection with this question. His belief was, and in that he perfectly agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell), that the logical and inevitable consequence of this measure was the entire disfranchisement of the small boroughs and the sub-division of the counties. If this Bill passed, it would follow inevitably that the counties which were far too large—he spoke as a county Member—ought to be divided, and the small boroughs disfranchised. In the county which he had the honour to represent (Berkshire) there were two small boroughs which any person looking at Dod would suppose to be in exactly the same position—the borough of Abingdon and the borough of Wallingford. Abingdon, the smaller borough, contained about 150 acres, and between 50 and 60 agricultural labourers who had votes, while Wallingford, which had about 18,000 acres, was in itself a large slice out of a county, and every labouring man in the borough had a vote. Would anyone tell him that with the Ballot it would not be perfectly easy for any wealthy and ambitious man desiring to get into that House to send an agent down and buy up such boroughs at once? The thing would be done—no one could prevent it—and no money need pass during the election. Everybody knew that where there was a large proportion of poor constituents to whom £20 now and then was a fortune, and where the number of electors was so limited as in these boroughs, a very small sum would buy these men straight off. There was no use in Government ignoring this fact. The thing must surely follow, and the reason why he objected to this Bill was that, if passed, we should not get the reforms to which he had referred. The Government would have kept their words to their supporters the Members for the great boroughs, and they would not trouble themselves during the rest of their term of office about redressing what he believed to be vastly greater grievances. How long did they think it possible that the distinction between the town and county franchise could be maintained? There was a time when people held that property was represented in counties and occupation in boroughs. How much longer could that doctrine be maintained? Could it be maintained gravely and seriously at the present moment? The time had long since passed for that. It could hardly have been maintained on any solid ground for the last 40 years. How did the principle work in boroughs? Boroughs were the spoiled children of our political constitution. A man might live in a borough and vote for the county. Now, he objected to a borough conferring a county vote, and he would tell the House why. He would take the case of Smith and Jones, who occupied their own freehold houses, say contiguous houses, in a borough. By their occupation of them they would each have a vote for the borough and not for the county. Suppose these two men to be of different political opinions, they would thus neutralize one another, and there would be no object in their gaining votes for the county. But suppose they agreed in politics, what would follow? Smith might say to Jones—"Why not have two votes—one for the county as well as one for the borough?" Jones would ask—"How can that be managed?" "Oh, very easily," Smith would reply; "you can go into my house and I into yours, and by exchanging in that way we get a vote for the county by our freehold and a vote for the borough by our occupation." That was not a fanciful thing. He knew it could be easily done, and could anything be conceived more utterly absurd and indefensible? In his opinion, occupation and property should each qualify for a vote for the borough in which that property was situate, and a similar qualification should exist for the counties. But if the House were to sanction a measure so fertile in important consequences as this Ballot Bill, it was impossible to disguise from themselves the questions which must follow; they were bound to face those questions, and before the end of this Parliament to come to a final settlement of them. With these few remarks he would take leave of the subject. He would vote against the second reading, but would take no further steps in opposition to the measure.


said, the Bill was in substance very much like the measure of last year. It had been amended in some respects, and altered in its shape by merely putting its principles in the body of the Bill and its details, or the mode in which it was to be carried out, in the schedules. It dealt with three main points—the nomination of candidates, voting by Ballot, and the powers and duties of the returning officer. As to the alterations which it proposed to make in the system of nomination, he did not think the Bill would be an adequate remedy for the evils which were said to exist. If the Bill passed, the returning officer would be vested with larger powers than he ever possessed before, to such an extent that it would be in his power to turn an election. The time fixed for the nomination was to be limited to two hours, and the nomination itself was accompanied with these restrictions—that the candidate should be nominated in writing by ten registered electors—the proposer, seconder, and eight others; that the nomination paper must be handed to the returning officer by the candidate himself or his proposer or seconder; that each candidate should be nominated by a separate nomination paper; that the same electors might subscribe as many nomination papers as there were vacancies to be filled up, but no more; and that the returning officer should have power to decide on the validity of every objection made against a nomination paper. If those provisions were agreed to, it would be easy enough to get the nomination of a candidate altogether vitiated by persuading one of the signers of the nomination paper that the candidate had retired, and that he (the elector) must therefore sign another paper nominating someone else. As to voting by Ballot, the returning officer was to determine the mode in which a candidate should be nominated, and what sort of a description of him should be sufficient; and that, again, was a serious objection. The filling in of the voting paper, in the same way, would be so much within the control of the returning officer as to what would constitute a proper filling in that he would have immense power over the recording of votes. Another great objection was that the Bill, as at present framed, would give the returning officer power, if he chose to exercise it, of delaying an election very considerably. He could take nine clear days between the receipt of the writ and the nomination, six clear days before fixing the poll, a certain time for appointing his presiding officers, and so on; so that if he received a writ on the 11th of March, he could postpone the election till so late a period as the 20th of April. In the hands of a political partizan such a power might be taken very unfair advantage of. Another amendment which he thought might be made on the Bill was to give candidates the power of withdrawing if they saw fit, after the nomination. The nomination paper might very often determine a man whether he should retire or not. Why should he be inflicted with all the expense of going to the poll when he was desirous of retiring? There was also too great discretion vested in the returning officer, which was more dangerous, he thought, than any he had referred to. Departing—and wisely departing, in his opinion—from the provisions of last year's Bill, the Bill provided that the electors who were required to sign the nomination paper were not to be ten qualified electors, as was required last year, but ten registered electors. But another great power came here into the hands of the returning officer, who was to have authority to decide whether the party was disqualified or not; not only whether the mark made on the polling papers was sufficient, whether it was such an identification that the person who had written it could be known, but whether the party was qualified or not. This gave the returning officer too great power over the votes in any election. A good many of the matters were matters of detail; but the opponents of the Bill had been challenged last year with having raised a great number of questions of detail without having mentioned them on the second reading. He thought it was possible to lick the Bill into shape; but if it was put on the Table in the state it was now in they were not to be taunted with criticizing the same too severely. He would endeavour, without offering any obstruction to the Bill, to get it put into a workable shape, and, if it was to become law, to make it a protection to the voter.


said, although a uniform supporter of the Ballot from the time that he first had an opportunity of voting in its favour in the House, he had abstained from speaking on the subject last Session lest by so doing he might delay the passing of the measure by even five minutes. As far back as 1847, before the constituency of Aberdeen, he had advocated the Ballot in the interests of working men, with the view of protecting them against the coercion of their employers. In those days the working men were much more under the influence of their masters than they were now-a-days. The employer now was met by a very different influence indeed. He maintained that there was now a greater necessity of protecting the working man against the trades union committees than there ever was of protecting him before. The influence of his employer was nothing to what that of the trades union committee would be. They knew how the men of the unions were governed and dictated to by a small committee of active persons, and it was because those persons had political ideas, political views, and political objects, and because the unionist members were subject to the dictation of those who ruled them, that he had been induced to pursue a course different from that which he had pursued last Session, and address the House. He wished those men to have entire liberty and a free conscience to resist the pressure which might be put on them to act contrary to their own feelings and their own views. They must look also to the fact that these committees, if actuated by political views, might be dictating to their fellow tradesmen in the union, and ultimately become a serious power in this country by controlling to a certain extent its representation. What, then, would become of our system of election? If, therefore, there were reasons why the working men should have had the Ballot for their protection in times past, the reasons were tenfold stronger now why they should be in possession of that protection. The hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) had said that in America the Ballot was a mockery, that it professed one thing, and practically resulted in another. During the last Session of Parliament a gentleman travelling in Europe for his amusement was introduced to him, and he had the pleasure of providing a seat for him in the Speaker's Gallery, where he was present on two occasions when a debate was going on with regard to the Ballot, and he wrote to him (Colonel Sykes) a letter, from which he would extract a few words. The writer said— Few things had pleased him more on his journey than having had the opportunity of hearing discussions on the Ballot in the British House of Commons. The Ballot, he said, was not so bad in reality as it was represented to be, and as he heard many Members indicate. It was not probably so good as it might be with regard to America; but still he was sure the United States of America would rather give up their glorious stars, stripes, and eagle, than give up the ballot-boxes. This was the expression of a cultivated gentleman, well acquainted with America, and he might venture to say that the views which he expressed were those of a great majority in the States. In America, he told him (Colonel Sykes) if a suspected man came up to the ballot-box he was asked his name and address, and was immediately marched off to his residence, and in that way it was found out whether he was the individual he professed to be. If that were done in America, he saw no difficulty in dealing with a person in England in the same way, and in that way personation would be put down. With regard to bribery, there was no question that it had existed and would exist; but no man of common prudence and common sense would buy a "pig in a poke," or give £20 for a vote without knowing which way it would be given, and therefore bribery might be checked. Under these circumstances, it was that he gave his opinions on the Ballot for the first time in that House. He should vote for the second reading with very great satisfaction, and he trusted that the Bill would be carried through, not only with the majority of last year, but with an increased majority.


said, that in the abolition of public nominations and public declarations of the poll we were declaring to the world that we were abolishing two of our most highly-prized advantages—the right of public meeting and the right of public discussion. With regard to the taking of votes in secret, the reasons given by those in favour of that process were, that it would stop or diminish bribery and intimidation. Bribery had a far deeper root than could be eradicated by any legislative enactment. If a rich man was corrupt enough to go to a poor man, and say—"If you will vote for me I will give you so much money," knowing that the poor man, from his very necessities, was open to the influence—so long as there were these two classes—the corrupt rich and the poor who were ready to receive the money the rich offered—so long, whatever the laws were, would these two parties come together. The only real check upon the unscrupulous use of wealth by the rich was publicity; but by the introduction of secret voting they shut the door to all chance of discovery. He suggested that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down should write to his American friend, and ask if bribery did not take place in the United States. The thing was done in this way. The election was paid for by results. A candidate would go to one of the many political clubs which existed in that country. The agreement generally was that if he became what is called a "ticket"—that was, that if he was accepted as the candidate of the club, he paid so much money down to the club, and on his election he paid another sum to the club. Now, if the aim of the Government was to do away with bribery by this Bill, they were closing the door to its detection. Then, as to intimidation, it was a thing of so subtle a nature that it could not be prevented by any enactment. It resulted from the power which one man exercised over another, either from his wealth, his social position, or from any other inference, and that power could be used in a thousand ways. The thing which alone could control the exercise of this power was publicity. But the question of secret voting shrank into utter insignificance when they came to consider the question of the abolition of public nominations, which were simply the greatest of our public meetings. We had in this country various kinds of public meetings so called; but they were really private meetings under a public name. The greatest public meeting of all was the nomination meeting for the election of Members of the House of Commons; and he asked, after they had abolished this meeting, whether they could defend other public meetings. Would anybody assert that because there were sometimes disturbances, therefore public meetings should be abolished? If not, the whole argument for abolishing public nominations must fall to the ground. Where they had free open discussion, and that which must be the necessary accompaniment of free discussion, free action, there must of necessity be the liability to stormy meetings and even attempts of breaches of the peace. This was incidental to freedom in the expression of opinion; but if, in consequence, the right was to be abolished, then the days of England's freedom would be gone. It was a grand sight to see candidates nominated in open day, in view of the people from whom the trust was asked, and it was something that the poorest could go to the hustings and ask the candidate questions. He felt sure that the framers of the Bill could not have contemplated what its effect would be. The countries of the world had endeavoured to copy our institutions, and in more than anything else to obtain that freedom of public meeting and of the Press which openly canvassed the acts of those who governed us. The Bill proposed that instead of an open nomination, the proposer, the seconder, and the returning officer should retire into a private room. This was to be the climax of the policy of the party that had ever since 1832 professed themselves so anxious to give the people more power. The people now had the power to see their candidate in the light of day, to put questions to him, and to hold up their hands upon the question whether he was fit to represent them. Instead of this it was now proposed that they should have a hole-and-corner meeting at which the number of persons to be present were to be restricted by statute. If this had been done by the Emperor of Russia, what would the English papers have said? They would have denounced the suspension of the right of public meeting and the free expression of opinion. He would ask, what was there in this Bill to prevent a candidate in a small borough sending down some one to contest the borough against him. This man whom the electors would have chosen, might in the hole-and-corner meeting from which the public were excluded, retire in favour of the candidate who had bribed him to go down to oppose him, and thus cause a man to be elected whom the public outside totally disapproved of. The Bill, to his mind, was calculated to promote bribery and to give the intimidator freedom to intimidate; and this Bill announced to the world that a Liberal Ministry, at least, believed that England, in spite of her progress, prosperity, and boasted freedom, had become unfit to have entrusted to her citizens the free expression of opinion in public meeting.


, while desiring in his own name and that of his constituents to give a cordial support to this Bill, demurred most emphatically to the expression of opinion that the Ballot Bill was a traditionary prejudice. He freely admitted that any Bill for secret voting did clash with the abstract theory and sentiment of political freedom; but in the times in which they lived they had passed out of the realm of sentiment and theory, and the question presented itself as one of paramount importance and requirement, particularly on the part of the lower class of voters who had lately had the franchise given them. He held that secret voting fulfilled that requirement to the largest possible extent. His individual opinion was that the Bill would not have the slightest effect upon bribery. It must not be forgotten, however, that bribery was dying out fast through the influence of public opinion, and the relatively high tone of public opinion on the part of the lower orders which was brought to bear upon the upper classes. But where the Bill would tell most directly was as regarded coercion. It had come within his personal knowledge that the employers of labour brought a very galling and humiliating amount of coercion to bear upon the employed, and this Bill would strike at the root of that evil.


said, he should vote with Her Majesty's Government on this question. Personally he entertained a dislike to anything secret in the mode of conducting elections, and prior to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867 he should have been prepared to oppose anything in the shape of secret voting. But since the passing of that measure large numbers of voters had come so entirely under the influence of masters, landlords, and others about them, that it was absolutely necessary to pass a Ballot Bill for their protection. He did not think that the Ballot would stop bribery, though it was possible that it might stop intimidation. What he should prefer was that the Ballot should be first applied to boroughs as an experiment, because in the counties the franchise was not so low as it was in boroughs. A proposition of this kind would also, if adopted, form something like a compromise with the other House of Parliament.


said, he did not agree with the hon. Member for Cricklade (Mr. Cadogan) that the Ballot would put an end to coercion—the favourite electioneering weapon of the purse-proud, half-educated, tyrannical employer of labour who had once been at the bottom of the sawpit, and who had, with an unchanged nature, grown to be top sawyer. The real restraining power upon their intimidation was public opinion. At present, the man who desired to coerce was in a measure restrained by the publicity of the poll-book, which gave the clue to his sinister machinations, but with the Ballot in force he could do his worst. At present, the great safeguard of political purity against coercion or intimidation was the patent discrepancy between the vote which the poll-book bore on the face of it and the views which the voter may have been known to proclaim in public; but destroy the identity of each vote, as you would do by the secret Ballot, and there would remain no means of bringing home coercion to those who practised it. The machinery by which coercion and intimidation would in future be worked would be that a system of espionage would be established, under which dependent voters would be brought to the poll in gangs, watched up to the booth and away from it again, and put under the strongest moral pressure to vote in the sense of their escorts. The House had just been congratulated on the absence of the metaphysical argument. He would equally congratulate it on the absence of the antipodean one, of which they had heard so much last year that they might almost have thought themselves convicts. Britannia possessed in Australia a thriving nursery of which any mother might be proud; but were they to be told that she was to draw her lessons of political experience from her suckling progeny? Were they to revolutionize this old and settled country by initiating a system founded on the practice of embryonic communities, the best of which had enjoyed a dozen successive Governments in ten years? He had great respect for that noble energy of the British character which had founded our magnificent settlements in the Southern seas; but the progress of those settlements should not be made apparently ridiculous—really ridiculous it could not be made—by adducing the crude experiments of their tentative apprenticeship of a few years in Cabinet and Parliament-making as evidence of what ought to rule the oldest, most respectable, and most powerful Legislative Assembly in the world. If they were to be thus invited to try the dangerous experiment of unlimited precedent, where might they not be landed? In the coming debate upon the Business of the House, where, upon the same principle, might not the argument from unlimited precedent be stretched? For example, why might they not be told that they ought to follow the example of foreign Assemblies by electing their Speaker every Session, or by placing Members of the House in the places of those who now so ably occupied the seats at the Table. The Ballot might be a necessity in Australia, so might also be the payment of Members which had gone hand-in-hand with it; but were the Members of the time-honoured British House of Commons to be degraded by having money forced upon them for the services which they rendered there? It was said that the Ballot was necessary because the voter must be protected in every way in the fullest discharge of his duty; but might it not be urged with equal cogency that this end could not be fully attained while the field for the selection of his representatives was narrowed by being confined to men who could dispense with remuneration for their services? He was almost surprised at the neatness and logical consistency of his own argument, for they must all instinctively feel that it would be a dangerous and a levelling thing to substitute paid delegates for unpaid English gentlemen. Yet they would see that there was a great deal to be said for that if they accepted, as a point of departure for their argument, the modern theory of the unlimited rights of uneducated men. The British Empire had achieved its present high and glorious position without the aid of that which, with a fine Irish sense of humour, the Attorney General for Ireland had termed the free recording of votes, because it succeeded in suppressing any record of how the votes were given. He warned them of the danger attending such a change as that proposed. They should remember and take warning by the epitaph of a man who had studied the hygienics of the human body as hon. Gentlemen opposite had studied the hygienics of the body politic, and who at last died a martyr to science. The epitaph was—"I was well: I tried to be better: here I am." Publicity was the general characteristic of all our public life, and why were Parliamentary elections to be made an exception to so salutary a rule? There was no enthusiasm for the Ballot in the country; while the empty state of the Benches on the opposite side of the House, with their long rows of ghostly cards, at that moment reflected the apathy existing on the subject among the constituencies, and faithfully mirrored by the representatives. He was far from saying that considerable portions of the Liberal party might not have persuaded themselves that they behoved in the Ballot, for self-persuasion was a marvellous and mysterious thing. There was so much simplicity in the human heart that whenever any man or body of men found out that it was their interest to do or think something not in itself palpably wrong or absolutely forbidden by the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, they always discovered a ready way to persuade themselves that they really believed in it, and, if they had very strong imagination, even to persuade themselves that they had never thought otherwise in all their lives. He therefore gave the Liberal party in that House full credit for the present belief that they were now sincere friends of the Ballot; but the elections within the last few months had not shown that the country had gone through a similar process of conversion. In East Surrey, Mr. Buxton, one of the most promising, able, and honest supporters of advanced Liberalism, whose loss he could not speak of without sincere regret, had been replaced by a professed opponent of the Ballot; while at Plymouth and Truro the same result had occurred. It was said, indeed, that in the West Riding of Yorkshire both candidates were in favour of the Ballot, yet the election there did not at all turn upon the Ballot; but the Conservative candidate was returned because he was a supporter of his right hon. Friend's (Mr. Forster's) principles in regard to education, against the candidate on whose Committee, as the opponent of his own measure, the right hon. Vice President had placed himself. Therefore the advocates of the Ballot could take no change out of that West Riding contest. Again, at Glasgow, which was not only the second city of Great Britain, next to London itself, but the head-quarters of such advanced Liberalism, that its minority Member was as decided liberal as his two Colleagues put together. At the very beginning of the Recess a splendid ovation was given to the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) who had, only a few days before, moved the rejection of the Ballot Bill in the other House of Parliament. Surely that event did not look very much as if the whole country felt keenly the loss of that Bill. The most important three-fourths of this year's measure were relegated into schedules. It was like a lady's letter, in which all that was interesting was reserved for the postscript. While opposed to that feminine form of legislation, he was, however, in favour of the portion of the Bill which provided for the abolition of public nominations, which were now only a "sham." Formerly the nomination was the election itself; now it was only the saturnalia of those whose mission was to make a row, and who did not themselves possess the franchise Desiring to fight the Bill as a fair and not as a factious antagonist, he should support those of its provisions which would limit the licence of public nominations and make elections more orderly; but, for the rest, the experience of the Recess had only strengthened his sense of the futility of the arguments by which the measure was defended.


said, that it had always been a received axiom in political history that when great changes were proposed to be made in the electoral law great evils must be in existence which those changes were intended to remedy. Every hon. Member who had spoken on the subject had taken pains to point out to the House that the Ballot would not cure any single evil with reference to elections that was now in existence except the very moderate amount of coercion that prevailed in some of our larger towns. But if the evils to be cured should be patent, so should the measures propounded be equal to the occasion. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of this Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster) would not think that he was casting any reflection upon him when he stated that he saw no probability of this measure being more calculated to remedy the evils attendant upon an election than was the one of last year. The House of Lords did a signal service to the country in the course they adopted last Session in stopping the course of a crude and imperfect measure, and in giving the country time to reflect and re-consider the course it was asked to pursue. Nothing had occurred during the Recess to make the passing of this measure more urgent, desirable, or necessary than existed this time last year; but rather the isolated elections that had taken place during the Recess had supplied plenty of evidence to show that the House was asked to adopt a course not required for the protection of the electoral body. At the late election for the Northern Division of the West Riding both candidates were in favour of the Ballot; but he did not believe that it had the slightest influence upon the result of the election; and more than that, he was in a position to state positively that the successful candidate took pains to point out to the electors that it was quite possible that the Ballot might bring in its train greater evils than it was intended to cure, especially pointing out the enormous power proposed to be given to the returning officers to deal with the electoral return. Before this Bill was passed the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of it would doubtless find himself compelled to amend a great number of the provisions which, although placed in the schedule, really contained the very pith and marrow of the Bill. He would find that the substitute proposed for open nomination days would not bear criticism, and that it would not work in practice. He had himself dwelt in former days upon the evils which nomination days, as they were known in the North, brought in their train; but reflection had brought him to the conclusion that the system now proposed would be infinitely more pernicious in its effects than anything that had heretofore been experienced. It would be possible under the provisions of this Bill for ten electors, utterly unknown to the great body of voters, to put in nomination candidates without the electors having the slightest opportunity of putting a single question to them on the political subjects of the day. Could any system be more subversive or more utterly destructive of the power of the franchise? The crowd in front of the hustings on a nomination day was, no doubt, for the most part composed of non-electors; but in theory they were electors, and it was impossible for a candidate under the present system to seek the suffrages of the electoral body without giving every elector and non-elector an opportunity of putting him through the sieve, and of finding out what he was worth both intellectually and politically. He was afraid that in their anxiety to throw a shield over electors in the exercise of the franchise, the Government had had in their minds the evils that had long since passed away rather than those that now existed. In asking Parliament to adopt this measure, the Government left out of sight some much greater evils than that of moderate and minimised coercion. In small boroughs the system of secret voting would only be a delusion and a snare, and would not put it in the power of the electors any more than they had the power at present to secure the man of their deliberate choice. If that were so did it not follow, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), that before this change in the electoral system could be satisfactory to the country at large it must be supplemented by a great many other changes which would amount, to use his own words, to a re-opening of the Reform question, which, in his opinion, the country was not prepared for? The experience of all countries showed that there could be no perfect system of voting, and it was idle to tell the electors of England that by secret voting they would secure a purer and more perfect representation of their wishes. Before this Bill became law he hoped they would have an opportunity of reviewing their position and of collecting the experience of other countries possessing the Ballot, so that they might arrive at something more perfect, better digested, and more likely to produce the results which the Government anticipated from this measure. He knew it was vain to attempt to stop the second reading of the Bill, and therefore all their efforts must be directed to perfecting it as far as possible; but when he looked through the Bill he almost despaired of bringing order out of what seemed to him to be legislative chaos. He approached the question from no party view, because he could not conceive that either side of the House had anything to gain by having an imperfect electoral system; but holding the opinions he did, he could see no other course for him than to vote against the second reading, and afterwards to offer such criticisms upon the details of the Bill as might tend in any way to their improvement.


said, he had listened attentively to the observations of the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), but he had failed to trace the connecting link, which was evidently present to the mind of the hon. Gentleman, between the question of the Ballot and the whole subject of the reform of the electoral system of the country. The hon. Gentleman had argued that the Ballot would inevitably lead to a re-distribution of seats and to the reduction of the county franchise; but he (Mr. Egerton) could not see that that would follow. But the objections to the Ballot did not depend so much upon its ultimate results as on the question of principle. He had always opposed the Ballot on the question of principle, for he believed that the publicity of the vote formed the whole groundwork for the exercise of the franchise; and the franchise itself, whether it was regarded as a trust or as a privilege, was so important a matter that it was only right that it should be exposed to all the checks which were placed upon it. He believed that if the Ballot became law we should have eventually to retrace our footsteps and reverse our decision by repealing the Act.


said, though he supported the Bill brought forward in 1870 by the noble Lord the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (the Marquess of Hartington), he could not support the Bill of last year or the present measure. Speaking from long professional experience with regard to Election Petitions, and as a Royal Commissioner in the case of a delinquent borough, he had never feared the Ballot, and he had for many years thought it might be properly adopted. The three evils to be dealt with were undue influence, personation, and corrupt practices. As to personation, he was surprised to hear the Attorney General state the other evening that he proposed for the first time to make it a misdemeanour. It had always been a misdemeanour, and under the 6th Victoria it was punishable with two years' hard labour. As to undue influence, the evidence taken by the Select Committee a year or two ago led him, and, he believed, some of his Colleagues, to think that there was a certain case made out in favour of preventing it by the Ballot, especially undue influence exercised by customers on small tradesmen; for the other forms of it appeared hardly worthy of consideration. Bribery, however, was by far the most serious election offence, and it would not be diminished by this Bill. It was only checked at present by the fear of detection and Petition. Now, in the case of Petitions, the persons who gave the information on which they were based, frequently, on being placed in the witness-box, recanted their original statements, either because they had come to their senses and resolved to tell the truth, or because they had been tampered with. Such persons could not be questioned as to their original statement, unless the Judge was satisfied that they were hostile witnesses, which was now done by its being shown that they voted for the sitting Member. The 12th clause of this Bill, however, provided that no witness should be required to state for whom he voted, so that a person could not be contradicted by his previous statement, and scrutinies and inquiries would be practically put an end to. He opposed the Bill on this ground, and also because it would impair the effect of that public opinion under which bribery was fast diminishing and almost passing away.


said, he thought the Bill had been much more carefully drawn than that which was discussed last year; but the really important part of the measure was contained in its schedules. In a Ballot Bill the most important thing was to settle the best regulations upon which the Ballot was to proceed; and as nearly every regulation was contained in the schedules, these regulations could not be so well discussed in Committee as they could have been if contained in the clauses. In the speech of the Attorney General for Ireland a great deal was said in praise of the Ballot in the abstract, but very little indeed of the particular mode in which the Government proposed to carry it out. He did not intend to trouble the House with any lengthened repetition of arguments against the principle of the Ballot; though he still believed that secrecy in the performance of a public duty was objectionable, and that in any case, this Bill could not cure the evils against which it was directed. In regard to bribery, it was admitted that secret voting could not put an end to this evil; but there were still some who failed to see how easy it would be to pay by results. He was disposed to concur with the Attorney General for Ireland on this one point—that we must not look to the Ballot to put down bribery, but to the growing force of public opinion. All the Ballot would do would be to make bribery safer, and, very possibly, to extend it from the electors to the returning officers. With regard to intimidation, nothing in the present day was so much the subject of exaggeration as intimidation. He was convinced that labourers were rather ruling their employers now than employers ruling their labourers. Tenants were often far more powerful than landlords, and he did not believe there was a man in the United Kingdom who would be so foolish as to evict a tenant for having given a vote against him at an election. The Ballot would be no protection whatever to individual members of the International Society, or a trades union, or the Fenian Society, against their fellow members; for no men were less capable than the working classes of that constant and vigilant reserve which would be necessary to conceal their real opinions. The Attorney General for Ireland referred to the terrorism exercised at the Meath election; but he seemed to forget that the Ballot would not prevent voters from being kept away from the poll. Suppose open violence was out of the question, threatening letters and other machinery would be used to keep away those voters who were suspected of wishing to vote against the popular candidate. But it was now hardly pretended that the Ballot could, in practice, be really secret. He thought it was pretty generally admitted that the secrecy which the Ballot would bring about would be, at the most, optional, and would not be a secrecy which the vast majority of the electors of this country would avail themselves of. They would follow the universal practice of the English race, whether in our colonies or in the United States, and would declare their opinions as openly as at present. It appeared to him to be an unheard-of proposal that for the sake of enabling a miserable minority of cowardly electors to live a life of hypocrisy the vast majority of Englishmen should be deprived of their privilege of being able to satisfy themselves that their votes, when given, had been actually reckoned in favour of the candidate of their choice, and that the real power of deciding elections should be taken from them and placed in the hands of the returning officer. There was no end to the evils which would be encouraged by this measure as it now stood, and perhaps the chief of these evils was personation. He was thankful for the admission of the Attorney General that personation would become a far more important matter under secret voting than under the present open system, and that it would need far more stringent enactments than at present to prevent that evil. It was very much to be regretted that in introducing this disease into the country the Government had not also at the same time introduced their remedy. He should have liked the present Bill and the Corrupt Practices Bill to be considered by the same Committee. It would not be in order for him now to fully enter into the remedies which the Government proposed for personation; but he might say this—that the provisions in the Corrupt Practices Bill would inflict serious hardships upon the voter who was personated. He would be the only person in the constituency who would be unable to avail himself of that secrecy which would be extended to every other voter. In a large constituency nothing would be easier than for any one who wished to coerce a voter, or to neutralize his vote, than to procure that the voter should be personated. Upon a scrutiny, a man thus personated would not be able to vote unless he voted openly. Then how futile would be their attempts to check this acknowledged danger. Though all who had really considered the matter agreed in the vast importance of a power of scrutiny, the Government had been unable to adopt any plan to identify the voter with the ballot paper. Yet, as they seemed to be more aware of the serious danger of personation than they were last Session, and had now learnt to look this evil fully in the face, he sincerely trusted that they might still see their way to adopt the form of scrutiny that was recommended by the Select Committee, and which they themselves proposed in their Bill two Sessions ago. But the present measure was not simply a Ballot Bill, because it contained very important provisions as to the increase of polling places in counties. He thanked the Government for these provisions; but with regard to England he did not think the provisions were entirely satisfactory. A voter might still have to go four miles to a polling place, and besides that, there was to be no polling place unless there were 100 voters to poll at it; and, therefore, in his opinion, the provisions did not fully meet the evils that existed. If a polling place was beyond an easy walk from the voter, he was not likely to go to it unless he were conveyed, and the expense of conveyance, now so great in county elections, would not in that case be materially reduced. Besides, he understood that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) was about to move that the conveyance of voters to poll should be made illegal in counties as well as in boroughs; and if that Motion were carried, without a larger increase of polling places than that proposed by the Bill, many poor county voters would be practically disfranchised. With regard to Ireland, the Bill of last year made it imperative on the magistrates to establish polling places in every petty sessional division, and as many more as might be requisite, subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council. But by this Bill it would be optional for the Lord Lieutenant to order the magistrates to hold quarter sessions at which these alterations were to be made. But those who remembered how the proposal of a former Government to increase the polling places in Ireland was defeated, would not be inclined to leave to the Lord Lieutenant, who was only the representative of a party, the initiative in the matter. He must express his great surprise at the reluctance of the Government to extend the increase of polling places to Scotland. Last Session a proposal to increase the number of polling places in Scotland was carried against the Government, without a division; and yet in the present Bill the proposal so carried last year was not inserted. This was so, notwithstanding that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster) said that he should have the greatest consideration for the decisions of the House last year. But after all, these were minor points. This was really a Ballot Bill. It was pressed upon the Government, and by them upon the House, because the question had become a party shibboleth; but was there really any feeling in the country upon the subject? There had been times that evening when the House might with the greatest facility have been counted out, though it was upon the first night of the discussion of a measure which the Government affected to consider as one of the greatest importance. Nothing could exceed the indifference of the country upon this matter. Did anybody really regret the rejection of last year's Bill by the House of Lords? Then, again, was anybody satisfied with this Bill? They on that side were not. And could the old Whigs like a measure which they had opposed for so many years; or could hon. Gentlemen below the gangway be satisfied with it as it stood? Did they really want to pass a measure which, while nullifying, as far as it could, the influence of localized property and ancestral connection, did nothing to facilitate the entrance into Parliament of men with moderate means? With bribery undiscoverable, with irresponsible returning officers, the way to that House would be easy to one class—that of the newly-rich. He was not prepared to change that Assembly, representing every variety of classes and interests, into a mere Plutocracy, who would be much more disposed to consult their own private ends than the public good. He was not prepared to legalize hypocrisy, to facilitate fraud, to entrust the real power of returning Members to that House to a class of corruptible officials; and therefore he should continue to give his most strenuous opposition to the Bill.


supported the second reading, on the ground that the Bill, if passed, would enable the majority of the electors to exercise the franchise with freedom, uninfluenced by the terrorism of mobs, and the elections to be conducted quietly and in order. He believed that the Bill would be ultimately one of as Conservative as of a Liberal character, and that the landed interest instead of losing by it would be considerable gainers.


admitted that, with the exception of one or two constituencies, there was last year no great agitation on the subject of the Bill, nor was any to be seen at present; but the reason was because the country regarded the passing of the measure as a foregone conclusion. He was in America during the time when the elections were going on, and he was never more struck by anything than by the easy way in which personation could be prevented, provided the agents were reasonably honest. His experience of the Ballot in America convinced him that if a voter determined not to divulge the manner in which he had voted, his secret was absolutely inviolable. He had had considerable experience of election contests, and had known every species of trickery resorted to for the purpose of securing elections, and he was convinced that if the Ballot had been in operation 30 years ago, Norwich would not have acquired the bad name it had obtained from the corruption practised there a few years ago. He would not only support the Bill; but if it were necessary to convince hon. Gentlemen opposite of the opinion of the Liberals of the country on the subject, he would have no objection to go before his own constituents on the question of the Ballot.


protested against the statement which had been made that evening, that hon. Members were influenced in their opinions by the probable effect of the measure upon their constituencies. He believed that hon. Members on both sides would give their votes according to their conviction as to its beneficial effect or otherwise upon the country at large. He trusted that the House would come to a decision as soon as possible, and endeavour to make the best of a bad measure, if the determination of the majority was that it should be read a second time.

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

The House divided:—Ayes, 109; Noes 51: Majority 58.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 29th February.