HC Deb 27 June 1872 vol 212 cc290-3

What I am about to say has reference to the course of Business for to-morrow. It may be for the convenience of the House that I should describe in a few words the course we propose to adopt with regard to the Ballot Bill when the House meets at 9 o'clock. That time has been fixed for taking the Bill into consideration in consequence of an intimation which we have received from several hon. Gentleman opposite that it would be inconvenient if it should be taken on Monday. It is not, I believe, in accordance with the usages of the House, that in cases where Amendments on a Bill are made, and there arises a discussion upon those Amendments, as between the two Houses of Parliament, notice should be given by the Member in charge of the Bill of the exact course which he proposes to adopt with respect to each of those Amendments, many of which may be merely verbal. But in this case the Amendments are both numerous and very important. I therefore propose to state generally the intentions of the Government with respect to them. We look upon those Amendments as having the most important and vital effect, considered as a whole, on the character of the Bill; and it will be, generally speaking, our duty to advise the House to disagree from those Amendments. I have said "generally speaking;" and, perhaps, I had better explain our intentions as to the main particulars. We could not accept those Amendments as they stand; indeed, we should think it our duty rather to go to the extent of sacrificing the Bill. But before proceeding to examine the Amendments which we cannot accept, I would briefly advert to those changes made in the Bill in the other House which may be either beneficial or allowable, and which changes are, in our opinion, so far allowable as to be less evil, less mischievous, than the loss of the Bill or the postponement of the subject to be dealt with by subsequent measures, whatever they may be. An important question which we have had to consider in this view is the question of a scrutiny; and, although we have for ourselves come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the Legislature would have done better to exclude a scrutiny from the Bill, yet, the House of Lords having introduced it, we feel bound to say that we do not wish to join issue with them with respect to a scrutiny on principle. The particular form of the scrutiny, however, as it now appears on the Bill, seems to us to be so objectionable in connection with the conditions attached to it that we think it will hardly bear discussion in detail. I, of course, make no assumption on that beyond saying that we shall propose to the House by way of Amendment of the Lords' Amendment, that we should adopt a scrutiny, but on the basis generally of that which was embodied in the Bill of 1870 by my noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland for the purpose of establishing a system of secret voting. That will be the course which we shall take with regard to the question of a scrutiny. The House of Lords have also struck out of the Bill a provision which was adopted, with the very general concurrence of the House, that school buildings throughout the country should be used as polling-places. We shall, although with some reluctance, propose to defer to the judgment of the Lords in that matter. With respect to the alterations of the hours of polling made by the House of Lords, though I regret that alteration, yet we shall submit to the judgment of the House whether we might not concur in it as it now stands. Those points which we cannot agree to, and which we regard, some if taken alone, and certainly in their collective effect, as essentially altering the character of the Bill, are—first, what is called the optional Ballot; secondly, the permission to get and give information in the polling booths as to the votes; thirdly, the removal of the necessity, on the part of what is called the illiterate voter, to make a declaration before a magistrate; and, fourthly, the provision that the Bill shall be considered to be a temporary Act. Those are the principal points. Of course, I do not enter into any argument as to the propriety of one course or another; the House will be kind enough to consider this as a general sketch and outline which will enable it to form an idea of the course we intend to take.


wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would place on the Notice Paper the Amendments which he proposed to make in the Bill?


To do so would, I believe, be a departure from usage; but the hon. Baronet will, I think, find no inconvenience resulting from the established usage, because in a very important particular—that relating to a scrutiny—we shall follow the form laid down in a Bill of my noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1870.