HC Deb 01 July 1872 vol 212 cc472-85

Lords' Amendments further considered.

Amendments, from Amendments in page 13, line 23, to Amendment in page 13, line 38, agreed to.

Several Amendments disagreed to, and two consequential Amendments made to the Bill.

Page 19, line 36, at end of Clause 33, add— ("and shall continue in force till the thirty-first day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty, and no longer, unless Parliament shall otherwise determine; and on the said day the Acts in the fourth, fifth, and sixth schedules shall be thereupon revived; provided that such revival shall not affect any act done, any rights acquired, any liability or penalty incurred, or any proceeding pending under this Act, but such proceeding shall be carried on as if this Act had continued in force"), the next Amendment, being read a second time.


, in moving that the House disagree from the Lords' Amendment which would have the effect of making this Bill merely temporary in its character, said, that having considered the measure so carefully, having entered upon the matter with so much deliberation, and having discussed every provision of the Bill with so much minuteness, they could hardly condemn a future Parliament to repeat the same process over again.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with The Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)


said, he must appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to retain the Amendment. The argument, from the unusual nature of the proposition, broke down. The right hon. Gentleman, at the instance of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Dickinson), had recently given a temporary character to the Bishop's Resignation Continuance Act, thus affording a valuable precedent in this case. But a precedent still more direct was afforded by the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act, one in pari materia with the present measure, which would expire this year if not renewed. Those who, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, not merely admired, but passionately loved the Ballot, must wish for an opportunity of enabling those who now opposed the measure to be able hereafter publicly to avow their error, and to do penance in white sheets hereafter, if the Ballot hobby proved a success; while those, on the other hand, who opposed the Ballot, were equally anxious that an opportunity should be reserved, if need be, for coming back hereafter to the old English method of election. He should, therefore, divide the House upon the question.


said, there was an old Conservative maxim about the danger of taking your machinery to pieces too often; and he had heard no argument to convince him that the machinery of the Ballot ought to be taken to pieces at the end of eight years. That Act would either do good or do harm. If it worked well, why should it be put an end to? If it did harm, it would be easy to introduce a Bill to repeal it without waiting for this period of eight years. They had had several interminable debates on the subject, and many of them would not be there probably in 1880. It would therefore be cruel to provide for their successors the trouble which they had themselves gone through. Last year the House of Lords threw out the Ballot Bill on the plea that they had not time to discuss it; but in so acting they did themselves injustice, for this year they were able to discuss the present Bill in about seven hours. Let not hon. Members be deluded about the matter; let them show respect for themselves, and give to the people the precious gift of freedom of representation. They might lose the Bill altogether; but it would not be long before another Bill, purged of the imperfections which the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) had laboured so hard to introduce into the present Bill, would be passed. If the House of Lords prevented the passing of the Bill, he, for one, had confidence in the Government, and believed that they would stand to their guns and appeal to the country. Never since the Reform Bill of 1832 could the Government go to the country with so just and righteous a cause—in fact, the Prime Minister might say as Sir James Graham said in one of his speeches—"Let hon. Gentlemen, if they wish, go to the country with the cry of 'Up with the Lords and down with the Commons,' and I, for one, have no fear for the result."


said, he had just been charged with making the Ballot Bill what it was, and so far as it was a good Bill he admitted the charge. He would observe that the hon. Member (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was one of those who wished to inflict pains and penalties and imprisonment on anyone who did not vote as they liked. Why, the hon. Member himself was an ultra-Liberal upon every question but the land question, and he had very good reason for that exception.


Will the hon. Gentleman mention what he means?


The land question.


I wish to know what vote of mine upon the land question he refers to?


Upon the Ballot question he has always been in favour of pains and penalties.


I repeat my question.


The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) appears to be addressing merely a portion of the House; he must address himself to the Chair.


, in continuation, said, that when he was interrupted, it was natural that he should reply to the interruption; but he would now address himself to the Chair to the question raised by his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Beresford Hope). The experiment now proposed to be made was a novel one, and should be treated as such. What was the course of the Government upon the Education question in 1870? At the last moment the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who was a new convert to the principle of the Ballot, determined to have the Ballot introduced into that Bill not as a compulsory, but as a permissive Ballot. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) complied with that determination, but how? He proposed that the Ballot should be not compulsory, but permissive. The right hon. Gentleman maintained that it would be quite sufficient that a man might vote in secret if he thought fit.


said, he must correct the hon. Gentleman upon a question of fact; the Ballot upon the Education Bill was introduced for the metropolis, and it was not permissive, but compulsory.


begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, and he would read his words if he had an opportunity, but he had not them by him at that moment. On the 14th and 21st July, 1870, the right hon. Gentleman argued against the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) that it should not be a compulsory Ballot. ["No, no!"] He maintained that the right hon. Gentleman did do so; and the Ballot under the Education Act was at that moment a permissive Ballot. That being so, how could the right hon. Gentleman resist the Amendment of the Lords? Why should not the same principle be introduced into that Bill as was introduced into the Education Act by the right hon. Gentleman at the last moment? It was desirable that that Bill should not be permanent, as the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government changed his opinions so suddenly. Having done it, why should he not change it again? They could not tell what his opinion might be eight years or one year hence. No man was more changeable in his opinions than the present Prime Minister. Upon those grounds he should support the view of his hon. Friend (Mr. Beresford Hope).


Sir, the hon. Member who has just sat down must recollect that those who meet him in debate do not meet him on equal terms. He never makes any mistakes; he is not subject to any human infirmity; he knows what a man can deny, and what not; and when he asserts that my right hon. Friend cannot deny a certain statement, and when my right hon. Friend does deny it, the hon. Member continues with unabated confidence to assert that my right hon. Friend had not denied it. The hon. Member's means of acquiring knowledge are derived from higher sources than are available to us—sources of which we know nothing, and to which we have no access. We must approach him as infirm mortals, and any humble suggestions we make must be submitted to his infallible judgment. If he disapprove, we must submit to whatever chastisement he in the plenitude of his wisdom may think proper to inflict. The hon. Member says that the Education. Ballot is permissive, and he is so positive of that, that I am disposed to believe that my right hon. Friend knows nothing of the matter, that he never read the Education Bill, that he had no concern in framing it, and that if he ever read it he must have read it backwards, or with the paper turned upside down. I make these reservations, for without them I should scarcely dare to comment on what the hon. Member has said. I will not speak of it according to my recollection. The hon. Member says that no one can tell what opinion I may hold next year, and that therefore my recollection of last year cannot be worth much. I am the mere being of to-day. I cannot tell what I may do in the future, and how can I know anything of the past? Still, I will say that the Education Ballot was compulsory, not permissive; and the reason it was made temporary was that we found the Ballot to prevail in the metropolis, and open voting in the country, and we objected to recognizing the arrangement either for open or for secret voting until we had settled the question of the Parliamentary Ballot. We did not wish to prejudge the great question of the Parliamentary Ballot. We meant to make the Parliamentary Ballot compulsory, and that that should become the model. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) is more amenable to reason and argument, for he has founded himself on the fact that I agreed, in deference to the representations of my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Dickinson), that the Bishops Resignation Bill should be a temporary, not a permanent, measure. Why was that done? It was done on this very ground—that the details had never been submitted to the prolonged consideration of this House, and it was admitted that they might require to be further modified. Therefore it was made a temporary Act. Will my hon. Friend, of all men, be the man to say that the details of the Ballot Act have not been submitted to prolonged consideration? We spent half the Session of 1871 on the Ballot Bill. We have spent half the Session of 1872 on the Ballot Bill. The wisdom of "another place" has undone in minutes that which it took us months to create; and not unnaturally with re- ference to the extreme rapidity of its conversations—for I can hardly call them more—and of its votes, added—"We have really considered this matter so little that we think proper to make it a temporary Bill." But it is not really proper or becoming to ask this House under existing circumstances to admit that we have not given sufficient consideration to the measure. I want to know what is sufficient consideration for a Parliamentary Bill if this has not had sufficient consideration? All human actions are subject to conditions of time and space, and unless the time bestowed in the manipulation of this measure is likely to lead us to definite and positive conclusions, I do not know on what measure of difficulty and importance we are likely to arrive at any definite conclusions at all. My hon. Friend also referred to the Corrupt Practices Act. Does he think that a parallel case? That Act referred to a question which had never been presented to the public mind of this country at all. It was a question within the four walls of this House, and I never recollect a case of a single measure when, irrespective of party, the experienced men and the able men of this House were more equally divided than they were in regard to the Corrupt Practices Act. It was a question with reference to which we had no guidance from experience, from public opinion, or from the multitude of proceedings carried on in Parliament year after year with little intermission for a generation; and it was, therefore, no analogy to the case before us. It is therefore the duty of this House to vindicate the reality, the seriousness, the laboriousness of its proceedings with regard to this Bill. What is the meaning of enacting that a measure of this kind shall subsist for eight years? If my hon. Friend had made a proposal of the kind at the commencement of the debates on the Ballot Bill last year it might have been worth listening to. My hon. Friend would then have released us from the necessity of almost immeasurable labours, and the freedom we should thus have obtained might have been applied in maturing other measures of great importance to the country, which are now obliged to wait for a more convenient season. But that has not been the case. The House has spent weary months both this year and last year upon maturing this Bill with care and consideration in all its details, and the fact that in "another place" it has only been found necessary to spend a few hours in pulling to pieces that which we have done, really is and can be no argument why we should blot out from our recollections the nature and character of our own labours. I therefore trust that the House will agree with the Government and my right hon. Friend that we should disagree with this Amendment.


said, he thought as the whole question had been so elaborately treated by the House on many previous occasions, it would not be reasonable that there should be any serious discussion of it at this, the last stage of the proceedings. But there were one or two observations he wished to make on what had fallen from his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the Ballot under the Education Act being compulsory, but it was not a Ballot with compulsory secrecy. The alteration suggested by the hon. Member for Carlisle would apply to any Act; but there were many alterations and Amendments which might be made in a measure which had not succeeded. His right hon. Friend said there was no analogy between this and the Corrupt Practices Act, which was made temporary. Seeing that the best Parliamentary authorities were divided upon that question, the Bill was quite reasonably made a temporary measure, and it was as clear as possible that that measure was upon all fours with this. We were avowedly making an experiment, which might answer or might fail, in the conduct of Parliamentary elections; and Parliamentary authorities were still divided on the question whether this was a desirable alteration or not. In short, all the circumstances which applied to the Election Petitions Act applied to this Bill; and the only question was, whether it was reasonable that, as we were trying an experiment, we should do it by a temporary Act. If we found the experiment succeed, there would be no long discussion in this House when it was necessary to renew the Act; but as it might fail, it was only reasonable that Parliament should have an opportunity of re-considering the matter when the experiment had been tried.


said, it would be competent for the House next Session to repeal the Act if the Amendment were rejected; but, if it were accepted, the House would have tied its hands for eight years. If this were a bad Bill, why should they be saddled with it for eight years? If it were a good Bill, the limitation was not needed.


said, that two false issues had been raised in the Ministerial speeches. Stress had been laid upon the short consideration given to the measure by the House of Lords; but it was important that the question should be decided in entire independence of a false issue of that kind. It was well known that an immense amount of time had been spent on the measure by the House of Commons, and the more discussion the House of Commons gave to a Bill, the more naturally would the Lords be able to come to a decision upon it in a short space of time. ["No, no!"] He quite understood the expression of disapprobation. The Prime Minister some time ago said that the Peers were so far removed from these matters that they looked down upon them, as it were, from a balloon; but as sensible men they all knew that the Peers had been carefully watching the discussions in this House on the subject, and it was a perfectly fair argument that the more matters were sifted in this House and discussed in the Press the less discussion would they require in the other House. The other false issue raised was that the opposition to this Bill rested on the alleged insufficiency of the discussions upon it in this House. He denied that entirely, and maintained that the opposition rested upon the fact that the matter had not been sufficiently discussed at the hustings, which was a perfectly different issue.


Sir, it would be hard—very unjust—if this House were to refuse to the House of Lords the locus penitentiœ which they have provided for themselves by assigning a limit to the duration of this Act. It is true, as has been said by the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), that this subject has been discussed very fully in the House of Commons; but when I heard the description which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council of Education gave us of his pains of parturition, during the last and present Session, I felt perfectly confident that if he had been subjected to the same exertion in a third Session, he would have failed to reproduce and mature such a measure as this which we have now before us. I am confident, also, from the feebleness with which the debate on the other side has been conducted—if hon. Gentlemen opposite will forgive me—that the effect of the protracted discussions which have been carried on in this House upon this subject instead of adding to their confidence in the beneficent character of this measure has shaken the confidence of many who might have been confident before. But there is another reason for their hesitation. They begin to perceive that this measure is but the precursor, if it be made permanent, of other changes. I am confident, as was the late Lord Palmerston, that it is idle to expect that with secrecy of voting you will not stop short of household suffrage in the first instance and of manhood suffrage afterwards. There is no instance of any country having permanently adopted the Ballot without the franchise having been reduced to manhood suffrage. I challenge any hon. Member to cite an example to the contrary. Well, then, the House of Lords calculating that before the expiration of eight years there may be a House of Commons less headlong upon this subject than I am sorry to say the present House has been, have thought it prudent to provide for the termination of this Act, and thus to afford a future House of Commons the opportunity of reconsidering the revolution upon which you are now entering.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 246; Noes 165: Majority 81.


, amid considerable interruption and cries of "Order!" said: I crave the indulgence of the House to make a personal explanation. In the remarks which I felt it my duty to address to the House a short time ago I founded my argument on a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council on the 21st of July, 1870. ["Chair!"]


If the hon. Member proposes to make a personal explanation, no doubt he will receive the indulgence of the House.


I wish merely to read a passage from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, as recorded in Hansard; but if the House does not think fit to hear it, I will not persevere. It consists only of a few lines, and it justifies the remarks I made. On the 21st of July, 1870, the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on the Elementary Education Bill, said— He had, on behalf of the Education Department, to solve the very difficult question, as to what kind of Ballot ought ultimately to be adopted in reference to the election of Boards. There appeared to be two kinds of Ballot—in one the voter might have secrecy if he pleased; but in the other secret voting was compulsory, and it was because he understood his hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke)and those who thought like him, to mean that secrecy in the election of Boards ought to be of the compulsory kind, that he felt it would not be desirable for the Government to be hampered with that condition."—[3 Hansard, cciii. 657.]


I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, whether the explanation now made can be considered a personal one? Perhaps, I may be allowed in two or three words of really personal explanation to justify my statement. I think that what the hon. Member has just read completely justifies me. The statement he made a short time ago was that during the passing of the Education Act, I had advocated a permissive Ballot. But the speech from which he has read a portion in order to prove the correctness of his statement, shows that while engaged in the arduous task of carrying the Education Bill I rather demurred to having put upon me the difficulty of deciding what kind of Ballot should be the Ballot for the metropolis. But the House decided that that duty should be imposed on the Education Department, and we fulfilled it by a regulation enforcing Ballot for the metropolis. Therefore, there is nothing in what the hon. Member has stated which in the slightest degree justifies his previous statement.

Lords' Amendment disagreed to.

Several Amendments agreed to, and consequential Amendments made to the Bill.

In page 25, line 34,

MR. W. E. FORSTER moved to disagree to the Lords' Amendment to leave out the words, "and the declarations of inability to read," the object of the Motion being to require that illiterate voters shouid make a declaration of inability to read before a magistrate, and not merely before the returning officer. Statements had been made on the other side of the House as to the danger of admitting the illiterate class of voters to an optional Ballot, and in order to limit that danger as far as possible, it seemed very desirable that this provision for a declaration should be retained.


thought the provision for such a declaration was very objectionable. The magistrate before whom it was made had only to perform the official duty of receiving it, and would not subject the voter to any objection or questioning; and as there would be three days between the nomination and the polling, during which these declarations might be made, the election agents would have ample time to marshal together a number of such voters as would profess an inability to read or write, and thus practically secure for them a system of open voting which in all probability, among such a class of men, would lead to a great deal of bribery. He thought it would be a very unwise thing to disagree with the Lords' Amendment on this point.


said, that the House had made it a point to lessen the distance which people had to go to the poll, but did nothing to lessen the difficulties in the way of the illiterate voter. If this provision for a declaration before a magistrate were insisted upon, it might entail a great deal of inconvenience and loss of time upon such of the illiterate voters as lived a long way from a magistrate, and who would have to go several miles in order to make their declaration. He thought it would be just as well to provide that the declaration should be made before the presiding officer, who would be just as well able to take it as a magistrate. It might be urged that the magistrate would make an examination into the voter's statement of his inability to read; but there was no provision of that sort in the Bill, and if the presiding officer could be trusted to show the illiterate voter how to fill up his paper, he could also be trusted to receive the declaration.


said, it was not a question of trusting the presiding officer, because it was impossible for anyone to ascertain whether the voter's statement was true or not; but what was material was, that they should be upon their guard lest the machinations of those en- gaged in conducting elections should multiply and extend to a class of persons who pretended an inability to read or write, and who were, therefore, compelled virtually to vote openly, under the old system, with all the facilities which it gave for intimidation. With regard to the distance the voter would have to travel to make his declaration before a magistrate, those cases would be very few indeed in which he would have to go several miles, and even if he had to do that, those who were connected with the conduct of elections would be able to give legitimate facilities for access to magistrates. If the voter went before a magistrate he would do a serious and deliberate act, and would consider well before making the declaration. On the other hand, if they were to accept his slip-shod verbal statement as he passed into the booth, it would be possible to thrust into this class a multitude of pretended illiterate voters, and so to maintain the exercise of undue influence.


said, he understood the right hon. Gentleman to mean that magistrates would attend at the polling-places to receive the declaration of illiterate voters. ["No, no!"] At any rate, he believed that under the provision of the Government partizan magistrates would attend at the polling-places to prevent votes being lost. Thus, magistrates would be led to engage more in these matters than they did at present, and he did not think that desirable. The provision would merely cause a great deal of unnecessary trouble. If the provision was intended to prevent electors from voting it would be better to say so at once, and introduce an educational test. It would be quite sufficient that this declaration should be made before the presiding officer.


also opposed the proposal of the Government as being ineffective.

Lords' Amendment disagreed to.

Page 24, lines 25 and 26, leave out ("produces such a declaration as hereinafter mentioned"), and insert ("declares.")

The next Amendment being read a second time;

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Several Amendments disagreed to, and consequential Amendments made to the Bill.

Several Amendments amended, and agreed to.


said, he wished to be permitted to express a hope that the Lords would insist upon their Amendments. Perhaps the Lords would be urged to give way, on the ground that the Bill had come up to them twice, but this was no argument, since the Bill had been sent up on both occasions by the same House of Commons, and since the majority for the second reading had dwindled from 94 to 58.


said, he had now to move— That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing with the Amendments to which this House hath disagreed; the Committee to consist of himself, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bruce, Mr. Cardwell, the Attorney and Solicitor General, the Marquess of Hartington, the Lord Advocate, the Attorney General for Ireland, Mr. Stansfeld, Mr. Winterbotham, Mr. A. Peel, Mr. Glyn, and Mr. Adam. He should have made the Motion without saying a word, had it not been for the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite, who had expressed a hope that the Lords would adhere to their Amendments. It struck him as hardly in accordance with the usual mode in which they conducted their deliberations, that that House should express a wish that the Lords should do one thing or another. But as the hon. Member had made that statement, he might be permitted to state that he had not the slightest doubt that the Lords, in the exercise of their constitutional duty, and with that patriotism which they had generally shown in regard to the public welfare, whatever had been their individual opinions, would consider two or three facts. They would remember that this was a Bill affecting the election of Members of that House by their constituencies; that that House had, by repeated and large majorities, declared their adhesion to the measure; that there was no doubt amongst the majority of the Members of that House professedly stated—and he believed there was no doubt amongst the minority of that House also—that the large majority of the constituencies of England were in favour of the measure; and that more time and deliberation had been spent upon the principle and details of that Bill than almost on any other measure that had ever been brought before that House. He had not the slightest doubt that these facts would be considered, and also this fact—that in deference to the opinion of the other House of Parliament, the majority of that House had made a concession, of the necessity of which they were not themselves convinced, simply in order that the measure should be passed into law, and that the constituencies of the country should have the opportunity of what the Government considered to be a real security for freedom of votes.

Motion agreed to.

Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to the Amendments to which this House hath disagreed:" Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, Mr. GLADSTONE, Mr. Secretary BRUCE, Mr. Secretary CARDWELL, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, The Marquess of HARTINGTON, The LORD ADVOCATE, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND, Mr. STANSFELD, Mr. WINTERBOTHAM, Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, Mr. GLYN, and Mr. ADAM:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.