§ Order of the Day for the Consideration of the Lords' Reasons read.
§ Lords Amendment and Reasons for disagreeing to one of the consequential Amendments made by this House to the Bill, and for insisting on certain Amendments to which this House hath disagreed, considered.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
Sir, I think I shall be saving the time of the House if I, as briefly as possible, state the course which the Government propose to ask the House to take with respect to the questions as to which there is still a difference between us and the other House of Parliament. I will allude, in the first instance, to the question of the polling-places. With regard to that point, the Lords substituted two miles instead of four miles as the distance for which polling-places should be provided, and they also struck out the provision enabling school-rooms to be used as polling-places. We disagreed from them with respect to both those Amendments, and upon consideration they did not insist on their Amendments on Clause 6, with regard to the two miles, nor did they insist on striking out the clause with reference to schools, but they sent 1044 it down to us with an Amendment to which I cannot ask the House to assent. The Lords propose to introduce the words, "and make good any loss of fees or Parliamentary Grant." Now, the effect of the Amendment would be to throw on the candidate the loss of the grant. The other House seem hardly to have considered how difficult the working of their Amendment would be, and that the probability was it would turn out to be delusive. But if it were possible to prove the loss of the grant, then the unfortunate candidate would have to suffer the whole of the loss—perhaps £100 or £150, for which sum he could hire all the assembly rooms in the town. This seemed to Her Majesty's Government to be a matter about which it should not ask the House to take up its time; and on the other hand, there was a majority in the one House quite as large as the hostile majority in the other. Under these circumstances we have thought that the Education Department must step in and solve the difficulty. I think we must alter our Code so as to provide that when a school-house is used as a polling-place, neither masters nor pupils shall lose by the electoral interregnum. While, therefore, I deem it right to ask the House to disagree from this Amendment, my noble Friend the President of the Committee of Council and myself will introduce into the Code at the earliest time an arrangement to the following effect:—If a school is employed as a polling-place under section of the Act, 1872, the number of meetings during which the managers are deprived of the use of it solely in consequence of its being so employed may, if necessary, be counted in making up—1, the 400 meetings of the school required by this article; 2, the 250 attendances of any scholars who were in attendance at the school the week before it was occupied for election purposes.We, of course, take it for granted that the children would have attended. I confess I make the concession with reluctance, because I object to any interference in the education of children; but the interruption will take place only once in three or four years, and there will, at any rate, be this advantage, that the children will associate a holiday in the performance of an important public duty. I now come to more important matter—namely, the position in which the question of the Ballot now stands. The House is aware that the Lords, when 1045 they first considered the Bill, made five alterations in it. They first inserted a scrutiny, but without any safeguards; secondly, they introduced the Optional Ballot; thirdly, they weakened, neutralized—in fact, made altogether useless—the clause inflicting penalties on the violation of secrecy. They allowed one voter to interfere with another whilst the latter was giving his vote, and permitted the presiding officer to obtain information as to how the elector had voted, and to give that information to anyone he pleased. In addition, the Lords struck out the declaration before a magistrate to be made by the illiterate voter, and substituted a declaration before the presiding officer, who was to take, and in this way to discover, his vote. When considering this alteration the House must bear in mind that by striking out Clause 4 all power of enforcing secrecy on the Returning Officer was lost. The last provision introduced by the Lords limited the duration of the Ballot Act to the 31st December, 1880. We accepted the scrutiny with certain safeguards, and we disagreed from all the other Amendments. The position is now this—that the Lords have accepted all our safeguards with regard to the scrutiny. They disposed of the Optional Ballot by a majority larger than that by which it was originally adopted in a House which I am told was the largest since the first Reform Bill. They also unanimously restored the penalty provisions in Clause 4, a matter which I look upon as being almost as important as that of the Optional Ballot. There are, therefore, as regards the Ballot, only two questions between this House and the House of Lords—the position of the illiterate voter, and the expiration of the Act in 1880. Now, although, on the one hand, I must be allowed with great respect to the other House to say that, while I regard the details as well as the principle of this Bill as matters which, very much concern the House of Commons, and though I think these are both points of importance, but nothing like the importance of the others, and should have been glad if they had been retained in the Bill; yet, on the other hand, I am prepared to take the question as it actually stands, and though the Government would certainly have thought that the introduction of the Optional Ballot, or the striking out the 1046 provision with regard to secrecy, so injurious to the operation of the Bill that we could not proceed with it, and must have subjected the House and the country to the trouble of re-considering the question, though fully alive to the inconvenience of such a course, yet we do not feel that the two points in discussion between us and the other House would justify us in preventing the measure from going on, and subjecting the country and the House to all the inconvenience of having to give its opinion over again on the machinery of a fresh Ballot Bill. If we had insisted on these Amendments, I do not believe, looking back at the experience of previous differences between the two Houses, that the Lords would have acquiesced. I propose to amend the Lords' Amendment as to the illiterate voter, nor do I think that their Lordships will insist on it as it stands. The original provision was, that the required declaration should be made before a magistrate; but the House of Lords substituted a simple oral declaration to the presiding officer. We do not think that that would be sufficient, and we thought it highly probable that a voter who had been bribed or intimidated would have very little difficulty of saying, under such circumstances, that he could not write. We have thought it desirable that there should be some record of his declaration, and that the document should be kept, in order that we might know the extent to which votes were of that description, and that it should be ultimately lodged with the Clerk of the Crown. We could not deny, however, that there might be some truth in the assertion that there were parts of the country—and especially in Scotland and Ireland, in which the illiterate voter might be placed in some difficulty in distinguishing his candidate; and there were, besides, many staunch friends of the Ballot who feared that sometimes magistrates might be partizans, and be likely to take one side or the other, and that some voters might have an objection to going before such magistrates, and being questioned as to their votes. Taking all these things into consideration, we have made a concession to the House of Lords, and propose to accept a declaration made before any registered elector of the county or borough, so as to secure that some record may be kept of the declaration. The 1047 only other point remaining in dispute was the limitation of the Act to 1880, and on that point I must candidly say that I am very sorry that Amendment has been introduced. I cannot but think it will be found inconvenient by those who may have to reconsider the subject at the time appointed, and it may be inconvenient to the very party by whom it was introduced; but we do not think that that is a point which we can ask the House to contest with the House of Lords. I can only say that I believe that England, like other countries, having once got the Ballot will never for a moment think of getting rid of it. I do not fear the result of this temporary provision, and I think it will be the means of affording an opportunity to those in different parts of the House who had opposed the Ballot of coming forward and frankly declaring that they were mistaken. I believe this will be especially the case with the Conservatives; for I have always felt that the Ballot would prove in the best sense of the word Conservative. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment said it would give time for two General Elections, but an influential organ said this morning that it was very doubtful whether it would do so. I have therefore looked back, and I find that there has not been a decade since 1800 in which there has not been at least two elections. [A VOICE: We have not had one this decade.] We have not had one, but probably we shall have within two or three years. There is one other ground on which I think we may concur in the proposal of the House of Lords. Though we are prepared to abide by the principle of the Ballot, yet there may be some details which we may find on experience will admit of amendment. I must not be supposed to be indulging in over candour in making that statement, for I must express my conviction that this measure, which is substantially the same measure as we brought in, will work as well as any Ballot Bill which has ever been proposed. It is the Victoria Ballot, and though I should have preferred the South Australian, yet in Victoria the Ballot works uncommonly well and I hope it will work well here. The principle has been acknowledged, and the details will be improved, because it is impossible but that the measure should require some alteration. 1048 Hon. Members must be aware of the difficulty of framing perfectly a Bill embodying a great principle, but which must be worked through an endless variety of details, any one of which evokes differences of opinion. I will not, however, detain the House with what I trust will be my last remarks upon the Ballot Bill; it will save time if we now proceed to consider the Amendments in detail.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, he was glad the Government were prepared to take the course which they had just announced, and he felt sure that when the country got the protection of the Ballot, it would not part with it. He looked forward to the measure working so well that the staunchest Conservative would become in 1880 the most earnest supporter of the Bill. Indeed, he expected long before that date the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire would at some future Conservative banquet at the Crystal Palace claim the merit of being its real author. He regarded the Amendment respecting the illiterate voter as unimportant, for he felt sure that very few men would be found to declare that they were such fools as to require their voting papers to be filled up for them. Hon. Members must not forget that the House of Lords had had a great deal to swallow in reference to this Bill, and he could not help thinking that the Commons had got the best of the compromise. They had the substance, and the Lords had the shadow. On his own part, and on the part of the district which he represented, he thanked the Prime Minister and his lieutenant for the skill, judgment, and courage they had exhibited in steering the Bill through the sunken rocks and quicksands which everywhere lay in its path.
said, that if the Bill had been first introduced in the Lords, there might have been some foundation for the remark that the consideration of the machinery for electing Members to Parliament was more the business of the House of Commons than the House of Lords; but the people ought to look as much to the Lords as to the Commons for providing that proper liberty should be given them in recording their votes. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that the declaration by the illiterate voter should be made before any registered elector in a county or borough. Now, the declaration, as previously proposed, 1049 had at the least the value of being an official act; but could the same thing be said of a declaration made before any registered elector?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it would be a declaration handed to the presiding officer, and by him transmitted to the Clerk of the Crown, and the method of doing which he would subsequently explain.
supposed this provision would cause an addition to be made to the penalties of the Bill. He was glad the Government had assented to the other Amendment of the House of Lords limiting the duration of the Bill to 1880. As the opinion of this country was undergoing a rapid change, and reaction was setting in against the principle of the Ballot, that Amendment was most welcome. He was very glad, too, that the right hon. Gentleman had not reiterated the statements which had been so frequently made in both Houses of Parliament—that the elections which had recently been held justified the belief that the Ballot was gaining ground in the country. The recklessness of those statements he held to be only equalled by their inaccuracy. He had already stated the facts in a letter to the newspapers; and he might as well repeat them now. There had been 23 elections since the 1st of July last year, and of the Members returned 19 had voted against the third reading of the Ballot Bill, and only four for it. The hon. Member who took his seat for South-west Yorkshire (Mr. Stanhope) yesterday might, he presumed, be also reckoned among the opponents of the Ballot. Again, in 1872, there had been 14 new Members elected for England, of whom nine had voted against the third reading of the Ballot, and only four in its favour. The hon. Member for Oldham also spoke against the Bill, although he had not been in the House when the third reading was passed. There might be something attractive to Liberal electors in the ballot-box; but he did not think it would last long. It might be very imposing to be marched up into a gloomy shed, guarded by policemen, and initiated into the mysteries of which the right hon. Gentleman was the hierophant, but the reaction would soon set in; more especially; when it was found that the feeling of the really independent class had been 1050 wholly disregarded for the doubtful convenience of the illiterate voters.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, that as a Conservative, he had no great regard for a man who could not read or write, more especially when he was called upon to exercise the franchise; but it never entered his head that the party to whom he belonged would place much reliance on such voters, or that Conservative doctrines were at all popular among them. He had heard with silent consternation the statistics of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, when he stated that the Reform Bill of 1867 enfranchised one-fifth of the illiterate classes. If that were so, he only regretted the fact was not more widely known before that measure passed. He would not be a party to offering any facility to the illiterate class to record their votes; and, in his opinion, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman would give the same facilities for that purpose as the Lords' Amendments. There would be no protection whatever in the declaration to be made before a "registered elector." He was inclined to trust more to the prospective securities offered by that other measure of the right hon. Gentleman's—the Education Act.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
said, he wished to register his protest against the wanton way in which the valuable time of the House had been wasted on this Bill. The same thing occurred year after year. Government thought it necessary to introduce measures more or less of sensational legislation. They strenuously and pertinaciously resisted every Amendment which was proposed, not because they were unreasonable in themselves, or because the Government did not mean eventually to adopt them, but solely that they might keep something in reserve to meet the demand made upon them in "another place." That was meant as a sop for Cerberus, that he might allow some part of the measure to pass. He did not mean to speak disrespectfully of the House of Lords, but it was well known to everyone that the Conservative party in that Assembly possessed three heads. He only wished sincerely that they had one of those heads to lead them in that House. What happened? In one short Sitting the House of Lords demolished the Bill on which that House had spent weeks 1051 and months. "The deformed was so transformed" that when it came back they could hardly recognize its features. Then came the really important question—what was to be done with the Bill as amended by the Lords? How far were both Houses prepared to yield? Hon. Gentlemen opposite were very indignant. Some of them thought once—they thought twice—they even thought three times about abolishing the hereditary branch of the Legislature; but, as they were great, so they were merciful. After a good deal of discussion something or other of an arrangement was arrived at, not by the force of reason or argument, but by the happy-go-lucky principle of splitting the difference. Then it was pretended by the right hon. Gentleman that the Government had adopted only the Amendments which were not antagonistic to the Bill; but the fact was, that he had himself ventured in Committee to propose, with reference to the illiterate voter, precisely the same provision agreed to by the other House, but it was then described by the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill as simply preposterous, if not absurd—at all events, it was utterly inconsistent with the principles of the Bill, and, if adopted, would render the whole measure a sham. Yet the right hon. Gentleman now asked them to agree to the Lords' Amendments in that respect. They had debated this Bill for 20 nights last year, and he wanted to know why they had to go over the same ground twice? Would it not have been much better, as the Lords had very properly rejected this measure last Session—having had no time to discuss it—that it should have been reproduced in February, and, instead of going through all its dreary clauses, that a short Resolution should have been passed—"That, in order to meet the political exigencies of the Government, and give a fictitious appearance of cohesion to the Liberal party, the House of Commons agreed to this Bill to legalize lying, to promote personation, and encourage bribery." If they disliked the phraseology, they might put the matter in any words they pleased. The only difference would be that the measure would have been passed in the middle of March, instead of the end of July.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I heard with some surprise several of the remarks of 1052 the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Education, especially the manner in which he treated one of the reasons adduced by the Lords in support of their Amendments—I mean the Amendment which assigns a limit to the duration of this Bill, or rather this Act, as, I suppose, it will be. The Lords insist on their Amendment to Clause 33, to which the Commons have disagreed, for the following reason:—Because the measure being experimental, and the result of its working being to a great extent speculative and uncertain, and the evils to which it is designed to obviate being evils which are already rapidly disappearing, it is not desirable that legislation on the subject should be made perpetual in the first instance.I regret that the House of Lords should trifle with the legislation of the country by sanctioning an experiment upon it in a matter so important as that of this Bill. The manner in which the Vice President of the Council treated this objection was no less remarkable: he said that it was immaterial; for when once the new system of secret voting was established, there would be no fear of its being abandoned by the country. Now, I think, that there is a strong reason in support of the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, the reason assigned by Lord Brougham in his Political Philosophy. It is this—that elections under the new system of secret voting are certain to fall into the hands of agents, who will be so deeply interested in a pecuniary sense and otherwise in the maintenance of the system, that they will use the power with which they will have become invested for the purpose of perpetuating the system. That opinion of Lord Brougham is, to my mind, a perfectly sound one. I have no doubt that if an effort should hereafter be made to relieve the country from the incubus of secret voting, that the agency created for the manipulation of electors under the system of secret voting will oppose to the utmost any abrogation of that system. As this is the last occasion on which any of us will have the opportunity of addressing the House on the Bill, I wish to notice some other matters. It has been assumed by the Vice President of the Council, and by the hon. and learned Member for the Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Osborne Morgan) that the House of Lords had no option but to accept the principle of this Bill. And why? Because it has been persistently, 1053 during two Sessions, adopted by the House of Commons. Now, Sir, the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. Yorke)showed that the last manifestations of public opinion in England are directly opposed to this system—that, of the new Members, nine have voted against the Ballot, and four only in its favour. The opinion constantly enunciated on this side of the House has been and is—that the people of England are not in favour of this system, and that they were not fairly consulted at the last General Election upon it. It is clear that not one-third of the House were pledged to the system of secret voting upon the hustings. That to my mind, presents a very grave aspect in a constitutional point of view. The present position of this question, is, I think, creditable to neither House of Parliament. I think it dangerous to the Constitution. And when I find the House of Lords, acting on the presumption, Session after Session, upon measure after measure, that where an opinion has been manifested upon any great principle by this House, they, the Lords, have no option but to adopt it, I feel, that one of the safeguards of the Constitution is lost. That this question of secret as against open voting is of great constitutional interest I state upon the authority of Lord Palmerston, the authority of Lord Brougham, and the authority of Earl Russell. The change involved in this Bill is, in fact, a fundamental change in the Constitution of the county. A change from open to secret voting changes the character of the franchise;—changes it from being a trust to being a property—from being a vote, which is the property of the community, although held and used by the voter, to being the property of the individual who gives it. I would, with all deference to hon. Gentlemen opposite of advanced opinion, call their attention to that fact. They may rejoice in the adoption of this measure, because it meets their views; they may chuckle over the compliance of the House of Lords. But measures may be proposed, and may be carried, in this House, to which they will be deadly opposed, and they then may have reason to lament that the House of Lords have abrogated their functions. It seems, forsooth, that we have reached the days of infallibility; for the House of Lords has voted the inerrency of the House of Commons, We have not yet received the 1054 securities against rash legislation and for freedom which the people of the United States have adopted, the conditions of which are fundamentally democratic. I find in the 5th Article of the Constitution of the United States this provision. I read from an abstract, but it is a correct one taken from the Statesman's Year Book, page 577—The Congress of the United States has the power to alter the Constitution, by the 5th Article of the same. The Article orders that the Congress, (whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary to propose Amendments to the Constitution, or on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States) shall call a convention for proposing the Amendments, which in either case shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.The Congress of the United States has proved itself a far more independent body than the House of Lords has for many years proved itself in England. And yet, notwithstanding the strength of the Senate, in the United States, the people of America insist upon the 5th Article of the Constitution. If such a measure as this had been proposed in Congress, it could only have been passed by a Convention summoned by two-thirds of the Houses of Congress, or by two-thirds of the States in Convention. I feel that this country, through the abdication of its independent functions by the House of Lords, has lost an essential security for the maintenance of its constitution, and its freedom; and, if that course is to be persevered in by the House of Lords—and I see no signs of their changing—I, for one, shall think it my duty as a Conservative, and at the same time the advocate of popular rights, to look around me for some tribunal more independent than the House of Lords—some security against the hasty decisions of that House upon constitutional questions, on which the constituencies have not been fairly consulted, passing into law; some tribunal to which such questions shall be submitted; some authority more independent than the House of Lords has proved itself. I have thought it right to say this much, for although, as I have said, I am a Conservative, I respect the popular rights of the people. I value freedom more deeply, perhaps, than some hon. Members who call themselves ultra-Liberals, 1055 I watch this tendency to unchecked Democracy with jealousy, and for this reason—that all modern history proves that Democracy always tends to despotism, if it be not itself despotic. I, therefore, as an old soldier in the cause of freedom, valuing the Constitution of this country chiefly as it has secured our freedom, look about me for some security which shall tend to check the somewhat usurping temper of this House in its invasions upon the securities for the freedom of the people by hasty legislation with respect to grave matters, upon which the constituencies have not been fairly consulted, and with respect to which therefore Parliament cannot fairly be held to represent the people.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he regretted that the House was called upon to consider the important matter of the declaration by an illiterate voter at such a short notice. The objection to making a declaration before the Returning Officer was simply that it would obstruct the Returning Officer in taking the votes. But in Ireland the registered elector before whom the declaration was to be made might be the agent or bailiff of the voter's landlord; and he did not see anything to prevent the agent or bailiff from taking the declarations of a great number of voters. The declaration was merely a statement that the voter could not read or write. But even a voter who could not read could be easily taught to distinguish between the printed names of two different candidates.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he was glad that the Government had been able to meet the views of the House of Lords to so great an extent. He would not dwell on all the various proposals of the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill; but he could not help thinking that the acceptance of a scrutiny, of the limitation of the duration of the Act, and of the other matters on which the House of Lords had insisted, would do much to render the Bill unpalatable to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that the result of this legislation would be the passing of a Bill which in reality would be approved of by no one. As to the proposal with regard the illiterate voter, he never could see why the voter should be placed in a worse and more unfavourable position than that of a Jew, whose conscientious feelings led him to allow others to 1056 do for him that which he would not do for himself. With reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), that the landlord or landlord's agent might take the declarations of his tenants, and thus thwart the object of the Bill, he wished to know if anyone with the judgment of Judge Keogh fresh in his mind would venture to say that the priest might not also take the declarations with precisely the same effect, and thus render the Act nugatory in Ireland in reference to the very class of illiterate voters who were most easily influenced. When that Amendment came before them he should certainly take the sense of the House upon it. If the Government insisted on having these declarations taken, it would be only reasonable to provide that they should be taken before the person who after all, was in the most independent position—he meant the Returning Officer.
I wish to take the liberty to point out to the House that the course it is at present pursuing is unusual. At the close of the Session it is unusual for a Bill which has gone backwards and forwards between the House of Lords and House of Commons to have its provisions treated as in a preliminary debate—on the second reading for instance. It is perfectly within the competency of hon. Members to debate the question now before them with that fulness which has characterized all our proceeding on this Bill; but I think there is a good deal of practical wisdom in the suggestion that we should discuss the Amendments, one by one, as they come before us, when put from the Chair. I beg to point out that we have arrived at a stage when we must consider the best manner for coming to an arrangement with the other House of Parliament. It is not on points of detail that the question ought now to be considered, and I venture therefore to express a hope that it may not be thought necessary to prolong the discussion, as it would be an important diversion from the course which the House has hitherto pursued.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, there was, no doubt, great force in what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government; but if there was any irregularity in the discusssion it originated with the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Vice President of the 1057 Committee of Council, who had not in his opening statement contented himself with simply announcing the intentions of the Government, but had gone into the details of the Amendments with great fullness, and thus challenged discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had also assumed that it was not within the province of the House of Lords to discuss either the principles or the details of a measure of that kind. He (Lord John Manners) would, however, say that neither on the point of constitutional doctrine or of practice was he justified in complaining of the course which the House of Lords had adopted. That was a Bill not affecting the constitution of the House of Commons, but it was one which affected the habits and customs of the electors, among whom, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman, were ranked by the Constitution all Peers who were ratepayers. The Bill referred not only to votes given for Parliamentary elections, but for the election of municipal officers also, and Peers might vote for such officers, and could and did fill such positions themselves. Therefore, they had a direct interest in the Ballot. He must repeat that any irregularity which had taken place in the way of debate was owing to the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman; and, therefore, there was, under the circumstances, he contended, no irregularity in commenting upon that opening statement.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
, while congratulating the Vice President of the Council on the fact that only a small fringe of the Bill remained to be dealt with, felt bound to thank him for the ability which had characterized his conduct of it through the House; for the courtesy he had shown to hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to him in its progress; and for the careful attention he had given to the Amendments which they had proposed.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
also thanked the right hon. Gentleman for his concessions, and said that on Wednesday evening last, in the discussion on the Proportional Representation Bill, he had been referred to as "the accidental Member for Southwark" by the honourable, the learned, the versatile, and he thought he might, without discourtesy, say the temporary Member for Boston. The hon. and learned Gentleman had better look to his own house, and when the 1058 Ballot became law, perhaps it would be found that he (Colonel Beresford) was not the "accidental Member for Southwark."
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he was quite unaware that he had made such a statement as had been attributed to him. All he had said was that there had been a disagreement among the Liberals in Southwark, the result being the return of the hon. and gallant Member. He had never ventured to prophesy that the hon. and gallant Member would not long continue to hold the dignified position he now occupied in the House of Commons.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, that after much experience in elections, he was of opinion that the Ballot would deteriorate our constituencies, put a premium upon lying, facilitate personation, increase the opportunities of bribery, and place Irish constituencies at the feet of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Before bringing about such a change, it was the duty of a constitutional statesman to have appealed to the constituencies. He denied that the last Election turned upon the Ballot, and if the constituencies were consulted, he believed they would repudiate the principle on which the system of vote by Ballot was founded. The recorded opinions of prominent Members of the Government against the Ballot were as strong as his own, and he regarded the position of the Government on this question as disgraceful and degrading to British statesmanship. Men like Lord Grey and Lord Palmerston would never have taken such a position; at all events, without appealing to the electors, and would never otherwise have dreamt of turning the outspoken, independent British voter into a sneaking menial.
§ Clause 6 (Use of school and public room for poll).
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
, for the reasons he had already assigned, moved that this House do disagree from the Lords in their Amendment to this clause.
§ Amendment proposed by The Lords in lieu of the Amendments made by this House to Clause 6, disagreed to.
§ Clause 25 (Vote to be struck off for bribery, treating, or undue influence).
§ Lords Reason for disagreeing to the omission of Clause 25, read a second time.1059
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the clause was one striking off a bad vote. That clause was rendered necessary in the original Bill, because there was no provision for a scrutiny; but when a scrutiny was provided for, the clause was struck out by this House as a consequential Amendment upon the altered state of things. There was some doubt, however, as to whether Parliament had the power to strike out a clause which had passed both Houses of Parliament, but he was inclined to think that it could be struck out, as the best authorities upon such matters had said it could if it were consequential. No doubt the House of Lords were right in declaring that the omission of the clause was not entirely consequential upon the Amendments, as cases might arise in which it would be necessary to strike off bad votes without the necessity of examining all the counterfoils, and taking all the trouble of a scrutiny. That being so, he now moved that the House do not insist upon the Amendment.
§ Resolved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment.
§ Clause 33 (Short title).
§ Lords Reason for insisting on their Amendment to Clause 33, read a second time.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
proposed that this House should not insist upon their Amendment to the Lords Amendment.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, he could not allow the Lords Amendment to pass without entering his protest against it, not with reference to the Bill alone, but to the constitutional principle involved. No more revolutionary doctrine had been entered upon the Journals of Parliament since the Long Parliament than that contained in the Reason of the Lords for that Amendment. It stated that the Bill, which most materially affected the Constitution of the country, was to be passed because, the measure being experimental, it was not desirable that legislation on the subject should at first be made perpetual. Therefore, the majority in the Upper House had laid down the doctrine that the method of dealing with the Constitution of the country was by experimental legislation. Such a precedent might have very serious consequences, supposing it were proposed for a few years to do without the House 1060 of Lords or the Church. He could understand the majority of either House saying that a measure was wrong, and opposing it; but he could not understand a majority in one House passing a measure, and a majority in the other House saying that they were so doubtful of its principles that they proposed it should be experimental, though they had not the courage to reject it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir James Elphinstone) had said it was the business of the Government to consult the country before passing the measure; but they had no occasion to consult the country, because a majority of that House had affirmed the principle of the Bill. There was, however, a power which might have caused the country to be consulted, and that was the majority of the House of Lords. They knew perfectly well when the division took place the other night in the House of Lords, that the question was whether or not there should be a dissolution on the question of the Ballot. But the House of Lords shrank from a dissolution, and therefore the hon. and gallant Member, in seeking to cast the responsibility of shrinking from a dissolution upon the Government, assumed a position which he was not entitled to take. And having declined to consult the country, they passed a Bill which they would not venture to defend, but appended to it the reasons before the House—Willing to wound, find yet afraid to strike,Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;and they asked the House of Commons to be parties to entering upon the Journals of Parliament reasons which recommended that that great measure should be treated as experimental. If he entertained any opinion that that was an experiment, and that the results would be speculative and uncertain, he should have voted against the second reading of the Bill. He did not wish to try experiments on the Constitution of the country; it was for Parliament to make up its mind whether a measure was right or wrong, and whether to pass it or reject it; and although he would not take the responsibility of suggesting a different course from that recommended by the Government, he could not allow an Amendment to pass accompanied by such reasons without entering his protest against them. He ventured to say that the course adopted by the House of 1061 Lords was one which no party would have more reason to regret in the future than the Conservative party, by whom it had been for the first time introduced. He did not know whether their adoption of this policy was to be attributed to the circumstance of their resembling Cerberus—who kept guard in another place—but if so, then three heads did not seem to have been wiser than one on that occasion. Fortunately, they in that House were not in the same position. They had passed a measure by which they were willing to stand or fall, and he would only enter a further protest against what was said by an hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who had expressed a desire that a measure which had received the sanction of both Houses of Parliament should go forth to the country in a form which would make it unpalatable to everybody.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
explained that what he said was that the alterations in the Bill made it as unpalatable to the sincere friends of the Ballot—among whom the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had not always been included—as it originally was to the opponents of the Ballot.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
, in continuation, observed that the Bill had not been made unpalatable to him, because the Bill was now in the form in which he had desired to see it. His objection had related to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), and to the penalties which were not now in the Bill. He should be sorry if the Amendments in the Bill had made it unpalatable to the country, because it was desirable that the decision of Parliament should be accepted.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, that as both this Session and last he had put upon the Paper Notice of an Amendment to give the Bill a temporary character, he supported the Amendment of the Lords, and therefore he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for not opposing it. There was really nothing unconstitutional in passing temporary Acts. If legislation was intended to be experimental, surely it was better to treat it as such. The Bill was supported by two classes—those who preferred secret to public voting, and those who had ulterior objects in view; and, to the astonishment of many people, it was supported by the Catholic priesthood of Ireland, by the 1062 heads of trades unions, and even by philosophers whose machinations it was intended to frustrate. While it would leave spiritual intimidation and social pressure untouched, it would deprive men of any credit for, and satisfaction in, withstanding such intimidation and pressure. For instance, the 27 men who the other day voted for Sir Arthur Guinness at the risk of their lives would not under this Bill have the satisfaction of proving that they had courage to stand up for their rights. Moreover, if the Bill were made permanent, and the Ballot failed as a means of recording votes, it would be in the power of a small section of the House to frustrate the Government of the day in repairing the mistake; while if the Bill were made a temporary measure, no section of the House could re-enact it as a permanent measure when the time for revision came, and the decision of the question whether the Act was a good one or not would rest with the Government of the day and a majority of the House. In fact, the arrangement now proposed was one by which in the future a decision could be arrived at in the easiest manner, and with the least waste of time; and if hon. Members had confidence in the principle of the Ballot, there could be no objection to the Lords Amendment that was worth a moment's consideration. The Government had changed their front considerably within two years, as the first Bill provided for a scrutiny. Experience might suggest other changes; and this Amendment of the Lords would enable the Government of the day and the House of Commons to say whether the Bill was a success or not.
§ MR. CHARLEY
said, that if anything could reconcile him to the Bill it was the Amendment of the Lords, who had done the next best thing to throwing out the Bill on the second reading. This was an experimental measure, untried in any part of the world, for wherever the Ballot had been tried it had been either accompanied or preceded by universal suffrage. Without it, 2,000,000 of electors would, without any responsibility, control 30,000,000 of unenfranchised inhabitants. Of the newly-elected Conservative Members eight were against the Bill and two in its favour; therefore, the latest indication of the opinion of the country was that it was adverse to the Bill.
§ Resolved, That this House doth not insist on its disagreement to the said Amendment.
§ Lords Reason for insisting on their Amendments in page 24, lines 25 and 26; and line 33; in page 25, line 34; in page 27, line 18; and in page 39, read, a second time.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that the object of the Lords Amendment was simply to substitute an oral declaration on the part of the illiterate voter in place of the proposal of the Government; and as he thought that the majority of the House was opposed to accepting a provision for a mere oral declaration, he should, while reserving to himself any remarks as to the actual declaration to be provided by a future Amendment, move that the Lords Amendment be disagreed to.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
inquired whether the declaration of the illiterate voter given to a registered elector was to be documentary
explained that at that moment they were not called on to decide as to the kind of declaration, but as to the fact that there should be a declaration.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he wished to know what the Government proposed to substitute for the Amendment of the other House? The illiterate voter should be placed on exactly the same footing as the right hon. Gentleman proposed to place the blind man, and allowed to give his vote freely and uncontrolledly, and he hoped the hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire would divide the House on the question. It was now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman that any registered elector might constitute himself for the nonce a justice of the peace to take the declaration; but this arrangement would simply open the door to the greatest corruption.
§ MR. JAMES
said, he would counsel hon. Members sitting on his side of the House to accept the proposal of the Government rather than abandon the Bill. The hon. Member for York was anxious that the illiterate voter should vote freely and uncontrolledly; but the question to decide was, whether the man who declared that he could not read and write really could not do so? If they allowed any man who chose to say that he could not read and write to give his 1064 vote openly, the secrecy of the Ballot would be entirely destroyed. The substitute for the Lords Amendment now proposed by the Government would enable a record to be kept of the declaration of the illiterate voter; and, therefore, if a man made a false declaration he would afterwards have to face his neighbours, who would reproach him with having told an untruth.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had proposed this particular Motion without assigning any particular reason for it. The only reason ever assigned for the illiterate voter making a declaration was the alleged necessity of having a record of the statement of the voter that he was illiterate, which was to be sent up to some Department in London; but now the Government submitted to the House the remarkable proposition that any voter might make a declaration to any registered elector. He, however, would suggest that that object might be attained by the presiding officer entering in a printed form the name of any elector voting as an illiterate person. The course taken by the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) was perfectly legitimate, because the House ought seriously to consider at this stage whether the principle laid down in the Amendment of the Lords was not a sound and wise one.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he must object entirely to any registered elector being the depositary of the declaration of the illiterate voter. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: That is not the proposition.] Then, what was the proposition? He complained of the House being left in such a state of uncertainty on the point. As he understood the matter, a class of persons would be the depositaries of these declarations, who would play into the hands of the agents on either side, and a gross system of corruption might be set on foot.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that what was proposed was, that there should be such a declaration as the Lords had struck out. The proposition of the Government was that, in place of a declaration attested by a justice of the peace, the declaration should be attested by a "registered elector of the same county or borough for which the voter claimed to vote." The question now was, whether they should not restore these words 1065 "produce such a declaration as hereinafter mentioned." There ought to be, not an oral declaration, but an actual declaration to be kept by the presiding officer, and returned by him to the Clerk of the Crown.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was glad they now knew what it was the Government wished. They gave up the attestation of the justice of the peace, and only required the declaration of the illiterate voter to be signed by a "registered elector." [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: Witnessed.] Was the "registered elector" to be allowed to make his "mark?" He was not aware that a man might not "witness" by a "mark" as well as by a signature. What guarantee was there that when the declaration was handed in to the presiding officer he should know whether a "registered elector" had really signed the declaration of the illiterate voter? He might be wholly unacquainted with him and with his handwriting. What was really wanted was a register to remind the presiding officer of the person who was illiterate and did not vote in the ordinary manner. Surely, that could be easily provided? The Bill allowed the presiding officer to receive the blind voter's declaration and sign it as a witness. There was the same provision in regard to the Jew. A man might pretend to be blind, or a Jew, or illiterate; but when a man came into the polling booth, saying to the presiding officer—"I declare I am unable to read, I require your assistance to fill up the paper," what was to prevent the presiding officer from making his record of the fact that the voter did make the declaration, and, without any additional declaration, retaining that record, so as to enable him to refresh his memory and prove who the man was who had so declared? That might be accomplished by a mark on the counterfoil; or, if they required something more, papers might be prepared for the purpose. By introducing a "registered elector" the whole security was rendered illusory.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
asked if the voter produced what purported to be the signature of a "registered elector," and was allowed to vote, and the signature turned out to be a forgery, what would happen to the voter? If the vote was to be vitiated, how was it to be got at in the ballot box, and what became of the security?
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he could not help regarding the present attitude of the Government as a graceful act of recognition of "another place." The Lords wished "optional" Ballot. That was refused; but if this new Amendment were adopted, it would give more than optional Ballot. He had so much faith in the cunning and audacity of election agents as to believe that in every sharp contest the order would go forth to local agents to arm themselves with the declarations of the illiterate. These voters would go into the polling booth, the agent would be present, and would know how they voted to a man. So that they would not only have optional Ballot, but would multiply the machinery of corruption.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
thought the proposition of the Government was so objectionable that he hoped they would not persevere with it. He warned the right hon. Gentleman when this was first proposed that he would fall into a trap, and his statements had been verified. The declaration would be used for the most fraudulent purposes.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he was apprehensive that under such a provision a vast number of persons who had been paid £5 a-piece would go before the Returning Officer and say that they were unable to read, and a large number of persons would thus have their votes traced. There should be something more formal than the declaration before the presiding officer. His objection to the proposal of the Vice President of the Council was that it substituted for the Returning Officer another person who was by no means a fit and proper person to execute the office. He thought this was rather worse than the proposition of the House of Lords. If a declaration had to be made, it should be made before a constitutional authority, and he thought it should not be merely an oral declaration.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that the Government had considered very carefully what alteration should be made. He thought it very desirable that there should be a written declaration, and that 1067 they should not allow it to be merely oral. Much consideration also had been bestowed upon the consideration of the fittest person to be chosen to act in this matter. He did not deny that this did not appear to him to be a matter of vital importance. A great deal might be said on the one side and on the other; but he thought that the balance of opinion was in favour of this declaration being taken by the presiding officer, though that was not without cause for strong objection. Upon the whole, however, it seemed to be the feeling of the House that they should have an actual declaration, and that it should be made before the presiding officer, and the Amendment would embody words having this effect.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, as they were heartily tired of the Bill, they were glad to get rid of it by any possible compromise, and would therefore accept this.
§ MR. COLLINS
, alluding to the provision with respect to Jews, said, they ought to put the illiterate voter and the Jew on the same footing. On Saturday the Jew ought to be made an illiterate person.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he could not understand why an illiterate Jew should be placed on a better footing than an illiterate Christian.
Resolved, That this House doth insist on its disagreement to the said Amendments, but proposes to amend the words reinstated by its disagreement to the Amendments made by The Lords in page 24, lines 25 and 26; and line 33; and in page 39.
Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to the Amendment to which this House hath disagreed; and for insisting on its disagreement to certain other Amendments on which The Lords insist:" 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.
Reasons for disagreement to The Lords Amendment, and for insisting on disagreement to certain other Amendments on which The Lords insist, reported, and agreed to.
To be communicated to The Lords.