HC Deb 11 June 1879 vol 246 cc1650-95

Order for Second Reading read.


The Bill I beg to ask the House to read a second time proposes to extend the hours of polling to 12—from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M.—in all boroughs. It extends to all boroughs in England and in Ireland, and applies to all elections—Parliamentary, municipal, and School Board. At the same time, I admit there may very well be established a distinction between large boroughs and small boroughs, where the circumstances are altogether different; and if it should be the opinion of the Government or of the House that that distinction should be made in the Bill, the promoters will be happy to accept any Amendment to that effect. Either a Schedule might be attached to the Bill in which the names might be placed of all boroughs in which the Bill should apply, or it might be provided that the Bill should only apply to boroughs having a certain population, or a discretion might be allowed, and the local officials might be permitted to arrange the hours of polling according to the circumstances and necessities of the case. I should like, before proceeding to the discussion of the measure, to call attention to the history of the question. It is certainly somewhat instructive, as showing the tendency of legislation and of the growing opinion of the House in favour of such a Bill. My hon. Friend (Sir Charges W. Dilke) was the first to call attention to the matter in 1871; but a more serious discussion of the whole subject took place in 1872, on the introduction of the Ballot Bill. I must say, on looking back to that time, it does exhibit an amount of vacillation and inconsistency on the part of the then Government in relation to that measure, which I should think is without parallel in Parliamentary history; for it appears the Bill was brought in by the Government providing that the poll should be open from 8 to 4, as at present, and when an Amendment was moved to extend the hours from 8 to 8, the Government voted against that Amendment, and it was consequently rejected; but observing, apparently, a strong feeling in favour of some extension, the Government proposed a compromise, which was that the hours should be from sunrise to sunset. Afterwards, however, they turned against their own proposition, and withdrew their support to the compromise they had suggested. It was certainty either withdrawn or rejected, and the Bill wont up to the House of Lords in the present form of the law. In the House of Lords the Earl of Shaftesbury moved an Amendment in favour of keeping open the poll from 8 to 8, which was carried against the Government. Thereupon they brought in again that compromise of theirs, which appeared to be a stalking-horse to get over any difficulty with which they might find themselves confronted, and they proposed that the hours should be from sunrise to sunset. They carried that in a subsequent Sitting, and the Bill came down to the Commons in that form; but when it got into the Commons, that convenient compromise was again dropped by the Government, and no extension whatever was finally permitted. The next occasion on which reference was made to the subject was in 1874, when my hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) brought in a Bill which was practically the same as that now before the House, except that it included the Metropolitan consti- tuencies which are now already dealt with. That Bill was rejected by 201 to 126. That minority of 126 included almost all the Liberal Members who were present in the House, and there were only six Members sitting for Liberal constituencies who voted against it. The minority also included my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Foster), the author of the Ballot Bill, whose support, therefore, I hope to obtain on the present occasion. Then, in 1877, my hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) brought in a Resolution, according to which he proposed that the hours should be in the Metropolis from 8 to 8, and that in all other places a discretion should be reserved to local authorities, which, as I have already suggested, might be done in the present Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that he had no objection to the principle of the measure, although he did object to the discretion so reserved, and, at his suggestion, the Bill was referred to a Committee. The Committee reported, during the same Session, in favour of the extension suggested in the Metropolitan constituencies; and in 1878 my hon. Friend accordingly brought in a Bill carrying into effect their suggestion, and he was rewarded for all the perseverance he had shown on the subject by carrying that Bill through the House without a Division. The Committee was re-appointed to consider the circumstances of the rest of the country. Let me say that the success of my lion. Friend very greatly increases the difficulty of hon. Members who intend to oppose the present Bill; because they have no longer to indulge in the very vague objections which are made to any reform at all; but they have to show why the difficulties which have been met in the Metropolis should not also be dealt with in the country. The Committee reported in July, 1878. The House is disposed to pay great respect to the opinion of a Committee; but in the present case I think it right to point out that the Committee was very nearly divided, and the Report was only carried by the casting vote of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Matthew White Ridley), who occupied the chair. It appears to me to be a very inadequate document; for, after admitting that a very considerable grievance had been established to the satisfaction of the Committee, it went on to say that the question did not press for immediate solution, and might stand over to the time for the renewal of the Ballot Act. I confess I think I can see another reason in the concluding paragraph of the Report, which speaks of the desirability of awaiting the experience of the extended hours in the Metropolis. Yes; there was also this reason—that there may also be a General Election, and a large number of working-class voters may be disfranchised by the existing state of the law. I think the House has reason to complain of the character of the inquiry of the Committee. Out of 23 witnesses, not one was called as a representative of the small towns. At the same time, the Committee issued a Circular to the Mayors of many of the principal towns. They appear to have received only 28 replies, seven being in favour of an alteration, and the other 21 opposed to it. I think it is a great pity that the Committee did not have before them some of those Mayors who objected, in order that they might have been examined and cross-examined as to the grounds of their objection, which I believe would have been found to be of the slightest and scantiest description. I am quite convinced that if those gentlemen had been examined, it would have been found that their objections were really based chiefly on the convenience of the officials, and that there was not sufficient grounds for those anticipated disturbances to which their letters alluded. Of the official witnesses examined, three were chief constables, one of whom, the Chief Constable for Glasgow, had experience of a rough population; and not only was this gentleman in favour of the extension, but he did not anticipate any disturbances in his own city. The last witness examined was the Town Clerk of Manchester. I am personally acquainted with Sir Joseph Heron, the Town Clerk of Manchester, and I must say that he is, to my mind, the type and pattern of municipal officialism. Anyone who reads the evidence given by him to the Committee will find that he did not venture to put any fear of disturbance as a reason against the extension, but the inconvenience to the officials, and the great expense. It seems to me these are not reasons which would justify the House in continuing a system which practically disfranchises a large portion of the community. Nevertheless, the evidence taken by the Committee established very important facts; and I will read one or two short extracts from that evidence. For instance, Mr. Duncan Kennedy, Secretary of the Glasgow Trades Council, said that a largo proportion of the working men were almost disfranchised by the present limited hours. Mr. Turner, the Secretary of the Sheffield Trades Council, considered that the number of working men prevented from voting was 5,000. The same gentleman stated that, at the first School Board election in that town, the number of votes polled was 13,000; but in 1873, when the hours were extended, the number amounted to 25,000. Mr. Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Birkenhead Ship Trades Council, said that 30 of the trades had resolved in favour of extending the hours to 8 o'clock, and he added that one half of the number could not vote under existing circumstances without sacrificing time and wages. The Secretary of the Manchester Trades Council gave evidence to the same effect. Sir Joseph Heron said he did not believe that any practical inconvenience was sustained by existing arrangements, nor had he ever heard any complaints upon the subject. Well, the moment that evidence was reported in Manchester, the Trades Council offered to give evidence before the Committee, and to show that half as many more persons would have voted had the hours been extended, and also that numerous complaints had been made. Mr. Peter Bull, of Manchester, said he believed that 12,000 more voters would have polled at the last Election, had they been furnished with the opportunity. Now, evidence of that kind established two things—first, that a very large number of persons are prevented from giving their votes at present; and, secondly, that many of those who now go to the poll lose time and money. Since I have come into the House I have received a telegram from the proprietor of The Leicester Mercury, who says that at the last Election he saw 60 persons leave without being able to record their votes; and he adds that he knows of another gentleman who saw 80 more in a similar position. The Secretary to the Trades Council, he says, told him that it was painful to see so large a number of persons unable to record their votes. Sir Joseph Heron rather cavalierly observed that he should have thought that if the working classes took a real intelligent interest in the government of their country, they might be expected to make a sacrifice for once in a certain number of years. All I can say is that, if that sacrifice is to be expected, it should not be confined to the one class of the community. I venture to say, if the House thought it desirable to test the interest of the electors in the government of the country by the sacrifice of a day's profits, that the number of persons polling would be very much reduced, and that the reduction would not be larger among the poorer classes than amongst the richer. It could not have been the intention of the Legislature, nor of the Conservative Party, to whom the present arrangements are due, to interpose obstacles to the free exercise of the franchise. It could not have meant to take away with one hand what it gave with the other. It seems to me very hard if English statesmanship is unable to find a remedy for the grievance. With respect to the large towns, there is only one further observation which I should wish to make, and I will take the number of persons who polled at the last General Election in the six principal towns—Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Dublin, Birmingham, and Glasgow. The number of votes polled was altogether 183,634, while the constituency of these towns was 276,491. Therefore, only two-thirds of the constituencies, on the average, polled in those great towns. As regards the larger boroughs, the case appears to me to be complete. All I ask the House to do, by passing the second reading of this Bill, is to affirm this principle—that there should be no unnecessary obstacles interposed to the exercise of the franchise. As regards the smaller places, I admit the necessity may be much less. I find that the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) has given Notice to move the rejection of the Bill. There is one objection he will, no doubt, offer—namety, that his own borough does not need the change proposed by the Bill. Well, I find that in Clitheroe, at the last Election, the number of electors was 1,700; and of those 896 gave their votes to the hon. Gentleman, and 804 to his opponent; so that, unless some of the electors voted impartially for Liberal and Conservative too, or unless the voters in Clitheroe arc like the Ameri- cans, who vote "early and often," it is clear that the whole constituency was polled out; and the hon. Gentleman may assert that, so far as Clitheroe is concerned, no case has been made out for an extension of hours. I have, however, to-day presented two Petitions from Clitheroe in favour of the Bill, and I believe the hon. Gentleman will himself present another from his own constituents. I take it, the feeling of the constituency of Clitheroe, as well as other small places, is that, although now there are a good many who vote, they vote at a considerable sacrifice. That is the point to which the hon. Gentleman should direct his observations. It must be evident that those men who work in buildings at some little distance from the place in which they live must find it very difficult, unless they take a holiday and sacrifice a day's wages, to come to the poll. That is the case in places where there is a large number of miners. Some interesting evidence on this matter was given to the Committee. Mr. John Hughes, of Coalbrookdale, told the Committee there were but few voters who did not poll at the last Election; but some of those who voted had to lose their time, which to them was money, and that is the hardship which they complained of. No doubt, at the last General Election, the contest at Morpeth excited a good deal of local interest, and the miners made many sacrifices in order to secure the services of their present Member. Mr. Glassey, in reply to the Committee, said he did not think that many were prevented from voting; but they had to take a general holiday, and lose wages in order to poll. Mr. Bryson, Secretary of the Northumberland Miners' Union, gave similar evidence, and said he calculated that the actual loss of wages to the miners, excluding collateral losses, on the day of the General Election, amounted to £1,000. Under these circumstances, it seems to be simpler and better that the Bill should apply to all constituencies. I find it very difficult to see what harm will result from its application, although in many cases I can see a great deal of good. It is used as an argument against the measure that if the hours are extended it will lead to increased drunkenness; but I venture to suggest that you should allow this Bill to go into Committee, and then, if this is found to be the case, an additional clause might be inserted closing public-houses altogether on the day of Election. By such means you would secure all the advantages I desire to obtain, and, at the same time, most materially lessen in every constituency both the intemperance and the very gross form of bribery which now prevails to a very serious extent. I have now to consider very briefly the objections which have been taken to this proposal. They appear to be two, and two only. The first—and, of course, the most serious one—is the fear that if the hours were greatly extended rioting or disturbance would result. Now, I am bound to say that the evidence on this subject is entirely conflicting. You have, on the one hand, the Chief Constable of Glasgow expressing no fear whatever of disturbance; you have the Mayor of Birmingham stating a similar thing in reply to a question addressed to him; you have the Mayor of Sunderland declaring that at the last School Board election in January, when the hours of polling-were from 12 to 7, no disturbance took place, and he is strongly in favour of an extension. The Provost of Perth is of opinion that the extension of the hours of polling would lead to no bad effect; because, in his opinion, the greatest excitement occurs during the hour preceding the declaration of the poll. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh is of opinion that, without danger to the peace of the city, there might be an extension of the hours of polling. Those Mayors who take opposite views do not give airy ground for their opinion; and, in many cases, their opinion amounts to the vaguest possible anticipation. In my opinion, rioting is almost a thing of the past; that since the establishment of the Ballot disturbances have become less frequent, and shortly will die out altogether. In my opinion, the present system is more conducive to rioting than anything that can be substituted. Mr. Jackson, the Chief Constable of Sheffield, was asked— Do you think that if the Parliamentary Election should fall in the winter, and if the hours were from 8 o'clock, in the morning till 8 o'clock in the evening, and the poll were declared the next day, there would he any danger at all to the peace in your borough? and in answer he said— I am not so sure about that; but I think there would be many inconveniences in keeping the poll open in the dark. Mr. Henderson, the Chief Constable of Leeds, was asked— From your past experience, would you have any reason to fear that any disturbance would take place which would lead to jeopardizing the safety of the ballot-boxes? and he replied— I can only repeat my last answer—that up to the present time I have seen no reason to think that any such danger would arise; but in the event of any great excitement, I can see that the difficulty of conveying the ballot-boxes through such districts as we have in Leeds would be very great indeed. Again, Mr. Henderson was asked— But you have never seen such a state of excitement as to lead you to suppose that they were in danger!" "No; certainly not."—"And you have no reason to apprehend anything of the kind from extending the hours of voting?" "Not up to the present time. At the last General Election in Sheffield, when I contested the borough with the present junior Member, there was, undoubtedly, very considerable excitement, and great crowds assembled in the street; but the Chief Constable says there was no rioting, only a little horseplay. The playfulness of the people consisted in throwing at my Friend and myself brick-bats and old brushes—and, what was worse than all, a dead cat. Still, I believe, with the Chief Constable, that there was nothing like serious disturbance. What was the state of the case? The poll was continued until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the declaration of the poll was made at midnight, and during the whole of that time the town was in a state of considerable excitement. That, in itself, is likely to bring about disturbance; because, under the present arrangement, you have the most exciting event of the whole election—the declaration of the poll—made known just in the small hours of the night. If the present Bill is passed, it will necessitate the postponement of the declaration of the poll until the next day, when it might be made about 10 o'clock in the morning, and it would be made, I have no doubt, in perfect quiet. We may speak with some certainty about this matter of disturbance, because we have considerable experience concerning it. Evidence was given to the Committee by Mr. Hagger, Vestry Clerk in Liverpool, who said that the last vestry poll was kept open until 8 o'clock at night; and, in his opinion, the result of that was that the number of persons who voted doubled those who voted at any previous election. Then, again, we have still more important experience—that of the London School Board. The last was a very exciting election, which largely interested the working classes, and a very much larger number of persons polled at that election than polled at the previous Parliamentary Election. The poll was taken on a November day, in a London fog, and in gas-light; and, in spite of all these circumstances, there was not the slightest disturbance, or oven apprehension of disturbance. I cannot see, under these circumstances, how the objection, which is taken by some of the official representatives, can have the slightest foundation. The second objection is, that any alteration of the law of the kind proposed would increase the expense. Sir Joseph Heron thinks that if the hours of polling are extended, it would be necessary to employ relays of polling clerks. Again, I may appeal to the experience of the London School Board election. It has not been found necessary in London to employ relays of clerks, and to use this objection appears perfectly ridiculous. There is no merchant's or business man's office in which the clerks do not occasionally—for instance, when making up the books—attend for a period of at least 10 hours; and I am sure there would be no difficulty in finding plenty of persons willing to undertake the work under the altered conditions. Neither do I think it would be necessary to increase the remuneration; for, at the present time, the payment to the polling clerks is not exactly proportioned to the amount of work performed. From my own experience, I am confident that it would be perfectly possible to obtain a sufficient number of clerks even if the hours were extended until 8 o'clock at night. I believe, however, that if the proposed extension of hours takes place, there will be a corresponding reduction in many items of expense. Under the present system there is an unnecessary multiplication of the number of polling stations. In Birmingham we have no less than 180 polling stations, and the Returning Officers' expenses amount to £1,500. Notwithstanding that we have so many stations, we find that at the dinner-hour our polling accommodation is not sufficient; but if the hours were extended, there is no doubt it would be possible to very materially reduce the number of polling stations, and, consequently, reduce the expense. These are the only objections I have been able to find against the present measure, and I think they disappear in the face of the evidence before us. In conclusion, I venture to hope that, although the Under-Secretary appeared to oppose any alteration in Committee, I may, nevertheless, have the support of the Government on the present occasion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated, when this subject was last discussed, that he had no objection whatever to the principle of the measure. Under these circumstances, I may claim his support for the second reading of this Bill; and, as I have previously stated, the promoters will be willing to accept any Amendment the Government might make with the view of meeting the circumstances of small boroughs. I hope we may all assist to remedy the present evil, and that we may be enabled to remove the existing restrictions, which are not only undesirable in themselves, but especially undesirable in this—that they affect one class only of the community, that class being the largest. I move the second reading of the Bill.

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


, in moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice—that the Bill be read a second time that day three months—said, that as regarded small boroughs the hon. Member, as it seemed to him, did not intend to press his Bill. He would thank the hon. Member for the reference which he had made to Clitheroe. No doubt, the electors were well polled at the last Election. He had been reminded that there was a Petition from that borough in favour of the Bill. He had obtained possession of it, and would present it in the course of the afternoon. Referring to the heading of it, he found that the words, "the inhabitants of the borough," had been struck out, and the words, "members of the Liberal Club," had been inserted in their stead. He did not know whether the Committee on Petitions would receive the Petition. It was obvious that the attempt to get up the Petition of the people of Clitheroe had failed, and that the promoters had been obliged, in the last resort, to go down to the Liberal Club to get the necessary signatures. On looking at the back of the Bill itself, he found it was specially patronized by some of the most eminent rising Liberals of that House. He did not say that it was a revolutionary measure; but, on the contrary, he condemned it as a re-actionary measure, tending to revive some of the worst usages of the dark ages by lengthening the hours of polling. Such a Bill was fraught with the most dangerous consequences, and was quite uncalled for by the circumstances of the present time. Members opposite appeared to regard this as a Party measure; but, so far as it could be regarded as a measure to facilitate the recording of votes, it was not Liberal, any more than it was Conservative in its object, the Conservative Members being as much dependent for their seats on the votes of the working classes as were the Liberal Members. In the old days, there was no limit whatever to the time at which the poll should be kept open, though he supposed it was allowed to close at some time or other; but in 1785 an Act was passed—25 Geo. III., c. 84—providing that— Every poll should be duly proceeded in from day to day, Sundays excepted, until it shall be finished, hut so that no poll shall continue open more than 15 days at most; but that period was, by the Act 9 Geo. IV. cut down to nine days, and by 2 Will. IV. to two days. Since that time other changes had been made, limiting the period to one day, and fixing the hours in England, in boroughs from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., and in counties from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., and he believed the were similar in Scotland and Ireland. The promoters of this Bill now proposed to extend those hours from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. The constant tendency of modern legislation in these days of expeditious travelling had been to shorten the hours of polling; and although this Bill would only give four additional hours for that process, still it sought to insert the thin end of the wedge, and it went in a retrograde direction—at which he was a little surprised, considering the quarter in which it originated. In 1877 the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) brought forward a proposal to make the hours of polling in the Metropolis from 8 to 8. A Committee was afterwards appointed to inquire into the subject, and it recommended that those should be the hours adopted for the Metropolis. An Act was passed in 1878 giving effect to that recommendation; but there had not been an election in any one of the Metropolitan boroughs since then, so they could not look for any assistance from the experience of these boroughs in determining what line ought to be pursued at the present moment; but, however, they might hope to receive some little help from the experience of the School Boards. Twenty only out of 71 School Boards had tried hours of polling different from the normal ones of 9 to 4; but very few had tried as late as 8 o'clock. Brighton had tried later hours than 9 to 4, but never kept the poll open until 8 o'clock, and had since returned to the old hours of from 9 to 4; and Salford tried from 12 to 7 in 1873, but there had been no contest since. In point of fact, there had been little experience in keeping polls open until a late hour beyond that afforded by School Board elections in the Metropolis. As appears by the Appendix of the Report of the Committee of 1877, the Town Clerk of Salford said that the arrangement by which the poll was kept open until 7 o'clock was found to work admirably, inasmuch as it afforded a better opportunity for the working classes to record their votes. Leeds had tried from 1 to 8, but had returned to 9 to 4. The Town Clerk of Birmingham said that from 9 o'clock to 4 o'clock had been found the most convenient hours for polling; and he also said— It has been represented that hours in the evening would be a convenience to working men; but the elections are held in the short days of the year, and it is important that the poll should take place during the hours of daylight. That opinion he (Mr. Assheton) commended to the hon. Member for Birmingham. Another Committee of the House of Commons sat in 1878 to consider the whole question, and the concluding paragraphs of the Report of that Committee were conclusive against this Bill; and they suggested that as the question did not press for an immediate solution it should stand over until the time—not very far distant—arrived for considering whether the Ballot Act should be continued. The hon. Member for Binning- ham was prepared to confine his Bill to the large boroughs, and altogether to abandon the small boroughs.


explained, that he did not abandon the small boroughs, but left himself as to them in the hands of the House.


said, it was not very easy to draw a hard-and-fast line in such a matter between the large and the small boroughs; but, in his opinion, the evils of keeping the poll open till 8 at night would be much greater in the small than in the large boroughs. He could not understand why the working men of this country were to be put to no inconvenience or pecuniary loss by attending to vote. There was no Member of that House that was not put to some inconvenience by attending to his duties; and Mr. Speaker was obliged to take a hasty dinner on four days every week for six months, in order to allow him to attend to his political duties. What were the reasons advanced for the Bill? The main reason was that working men and business men had, under the present system, some difficulty in recording their votes. Hon. Members on this and the other side of the House approached the question, in one substantial particular, from a very different point of view. He looked upon the franchise as a trust, while many Gentlemen opposite looked upon it as a right. Looking upon it as a trust, he naturally wished that those who were likely to discharge the trust to the benefit of the community at large should have full opportunity of doing so; but if there were any who were really unfit to have the trust reposed in them, then it was no very great hardship that they should be excluded. If people were not prepared to make some sacrifice to exercise the franchise, they could well be done without; and to pass this Bill would, in a great measure, meet the circumstances of that class of persons who, politically speaking, were most idle and most vacillating and venal. In a former speech, the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea pointed out that the hours of polling in boroughs and counties were not the same; that in England and Ireland, also, they were not the same; and that the reason for those variations was that the circumstances of various localities greatly differed. Nevertheless, the hon. Baronet had put his name on the back of the present Bill, which went in for a dull, uniform system, wholly irrespective of the varying circumstances of different places. It was easy to get up Petitions, either for or against a particular measure. In the course of his communication with an Association who were opposed to this Bill, he had inquired whether they had any Petition against it, and was told that they would get up one if he liked, oil which he said that he was not sure whether it was necessary, but that he would let them know. He did not think that it was necessary to present a Petition against the Bill, and, therefore, he did not let them know. This was the reason why he was not in a position, like the hon. Member opposite, to present a bundle of Petitions on the subject to the House; and he could only express his regret if, owing to an error of judgment, he had weakened the case of the hon. Members who thought with him by not letting the different associations who were opposed to the Bill "know." A general reason against the Bill was that there was not the least doubt that the proposed extension would give increased facilities for bribery, treating, and personation; and he felt sure that the more hours there were for polling the more time there would be for bribery and treating, and, consequently, the more it would be likely to take place; besides which, the fact that the hours would be extended into the dark hours of the night rendered bribery and the other abuses of treating and personation considerably easier than in the light of day. If the Bill before the House was passed into law, he believed about 85 per cent of the Elections which took place would be closed in the dark; but whether they were closed in the dark or in the light, one thing was certain—namely, that the adding up of the votes could not be finished in time for the declaration of the poll on the same night, and thus another day would be broken into. The poll would then have to be declared on the next day, and that meant the additional expense of Returning Officers, clerks, &c, for another day; and he contended that the more they increased the expenses of Elections the more the House of Commons would be what hon. Members opposite said it should not be, and the less likely would it be to have other than wealthy Members returned to it. For those reasons, which he considered very important ones, he moved the rejection of the Bill.

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

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


observed, that the lion. Member who had just sat down had made a long and elaborate, and a somewhat humorous speech against the Bill; but had failed to demolish, or even seriously to touch, the very sound arguments of the hon. Member for Birmingham in its favour. The hon. Member opposite had complained that the Liberal Members were treating this subject as a Party question; but were not the Conservative Members open to a similar charge? The question had not been made a Party one in that House in the last Parliament; while, in the House of Lords, the Conservative Party had actually carried an Amendment upon which the present Bill was founded. Owing to the manner in which the Conservative Party were now treating the question, he was afraid that it must now become a Party one; but that would not be the fault of the Liberal Members. The Committee which sat last year to consider this subject had been composed of an equal number of Conservative and of Liberal Members, the casting vote being given by the Chairman in favour of the Conservative view. It was a remarkable fact that, although the Committee were agreed that a grievance on this question existed, and ought to be remedied, the voting in all divisions was conducted on strictly Party principles. The Conservative Party had not opposed the extension of the hours of polling in the Metropolis; and it lay upon them to show why the same principle that applied to the Metropolis should not apply equally to the large Provincial boroughs. There were a large number of towns in the country in which the grievance was almost as great as it was in London, and in which it could be as easily remedied. The opinion of Sir Joseph Heron, which had been quoted, only represented the view of the Town Clerk of Manchester, who, having become accustomed to one system, did not wish to be bothered with another likely to make him put off his dinner one day in the year to a later hour than usual. But the inconvenience of a Town Clerk was a small matter in comparison with the disadvantage at present suffered by a vast mass of the population by the hours of polling. Artizans disliked being obliged to ask the favour of a holiday from an employer, who was likely to be of opposite politics to themselves, in order that they might record their votes, and in many trades if one or two machinemen were allowed to leave business must come to a stop for the whole day. There was nothing to compel Manchester and Salford, or Newcastle and Gateshead, to have the polling on the same day. Very often in those places the polling was on different days; and some men working in one borough would have to vote in another, as they did not belong to the same constituency as their employers. In such cases, they could not benefit by those general holidays which were granted at Elections in some towns, and which rendered this grievance less in some parts of Lancashire than elsewhere. It was a "dog in the manger" policy for Lancashire Members to resist the Bill; but he was sure the Conservative Members for Liverpool would not oppose it, for in that town both political Parties were agreed as to the necessity of extended hours. With regard to the Report of the Select Committee, the Chairman's draft Report was lost by a single vote, one of the Conservative phalanx not having arrived, and the draft of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) was carried as the basis of the Report. But, then, the missing Conservative turned up; and, thereafter, the proceedings were entirely changed, every paragraph in that draft Report being either rejected or mangled by the Chairman's casting vote, and the result was the curious patchwork which had been presented. It was thus the Conservatives, and not the Liberals, who had dealt with this subject on strict Party lines. The hon. Member opposite had brought forward the old argument that the franchise was a trust, whereas the Liberals regarded it as a right; but whether a trust or a right, every man who possessed it should be placed in a position to exercise it. The hon. Member said that as many obstacles as possible should be placed in the way of idle men recording their votes; but the effect of the present law was not to prevent the idle, but the industrious, men from voting. There was nothing to prevent the pot-house loafer from voting; while the man who was in steady employment might have considerable difficulty in doing so. He thought it could not be desirable that they should fine one or two classes a day's wages to enable them to exercise the franchise, unless there were some stronger reason for closing the poll at 4 o'clock than at present appeared. With regard to bribery, treating, and personation, it was a delicate subject to refer to; but he was afraid, from the fact that at the last Election at Clitheroe—which the hon. Member (Mr. Assheton) represented—the poll represented the full number of electors on the roll, that the dead men must have polled. He did not believe there was any very considerable or organized personation in existence at the present time, and gaslight would be quite as effectual a preventive of personation as daylight. The last General Election in London took place on a foggy day, and was conducted entirely by gaslight. The hon. Member had not laid much stress on bribery and treating; but he had expressed the fear that rioting would take place. Sir Edmund Henderson, the Chief of the Police in the Metropolis, had expressed the opinion that an extension of hours would not lead to rioting; and the fact was, that the risk of rioting at Elections had been decreased enormously since the passing of the Ballot Act. There had been only one riot at an Election since that Act had been in force, and that was at Great Grimsby; but it had nothing to do with the hour of closing, and, in fact, took place the next day on the declaration of the poll. As to his last argument, that there would be an increase of expense, it was true that the evidence before the Committee went to show that there would be a small increase of expense. In London, however, their experience was that there would be no increase of expense at all. The fact was that at Elections they did not pay in proportion to the length of work; but trustworthy men were obtained, and they were paid for the work as a whole. It might, however, be desirable, if this Bill were passed, to delay the counting of the papers till the day after the poll. His hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham had gone into the question so completely, that he did not think it necessary to detain the House with any further observations.


admitted that it would be unfair, having given the franchise, to attempt to restrict it by limiting the hours of polling. If it were desired to restrict the hours of voting, that ought to be done in a straightforward manner by bringing in a Bill on the subject. Nor did he think it possible for anyone who had heard or read the evidence given before the Committee to deny that, in certain instances, a case had been made out for the extension of the polling hours. For instance, people engaged in mines went down before the poll was opened, and did not get up till after it was closed. It was found, also, that engineers and persons in charge of engines could not leave their work without putting a whole establishment out of gear. But, while admitting that, he was not prepared to admit also that this was a time when, in view of other circumstances, they should make an alteration of such a sweeping character as was proposed in the Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham, to a certain extent, recognized that objection, because there were three modifications to which he was willing to consent. One was, that there should be attached to the Bill a Schedule containing the names of certain boroughs to which the Bill should not apply; another was, that some limit of population should be established; and the third was, that there should be a certain amount of local discretion. But it was hardly fair to throw such a sweeping Bill upon the Table of the House and leave it to hon. Members to make changes which would entirely alter its character. The main reason, however, why he opposed the Bill he could not give in better language than was contained in the last paragraph of the Report of the Committee—it was to the effect that this question did not press for any immediate solution, and that, in the absence of urgent necessity, it might best stand over for the time, not now far distant, when the Ballot Act would have to be reconsidered.


I do hope that the House will see its way to passing this Bill. It is one of considerable importance to the respectable working man who wishes to give his vote without either leaving his work or being taken to the poll by a practical breach of the law against the employment of conveyances by the candidate or his friends. It is important, therefore, on two grounds that we should not seem, on the one hand, to have given the working man his vote, and, on the other hand, to have thrown difficulties in the way of his exercising it; and it is very important, also, on the ground that Parliament should never pass laws with the certainty that they will not be obeyed. I think I can give the House some valuable experience on this subject, showing, first, that the danger which has been put forward against allowing voting, possibly in the dark hours, is purely chimerical; and, secondly, showing what an immense convenience it would be to the working man to be able to vote, on returning from his work, in the neighbourhood of his own house. Our experience in Liverpool is the more important and conclusive because, no doubt, the House is aware that we have in Liverpool considerable difficulties from the existence among our working population of considerable antagonism of both national and religious feeling, owing to our having in the town a large number of Irish Catholics, and also a very large number of Orangemen and others with strong Protestant feelings; and I am also afraid that there is a certain amount of jealousy of the Irish population of the town. In 1874, at our Easter election for Select Vestrymen—that is, the Guardians of the poor—we had a very strong contest, which lasted for the extraordinary term of 26 days, during which these feelings of antagonism were strongly excited. The Vestry determined to try the experiment of different hours of polling—from 10 to 4 on some days, from 2 to 8 on others, and from 3 and 4 to 9 on other clays, feeling satisfied that there was no real risk of disturbance even in a period of excitement. Now, it will be evident, from the season of the year, that from 6 to 9 at night it was dark; but there was no disturbance, and the average number of persons voting at different hours strikingly shows how valuable to the working man is the power of voting after his work is done. The average number of persons voting per hour between 10 and 2 was only 52; I whereas from 6 to 7 an average of 112 persons voted; from 7 to 8 an average of 184 persons voted; and from 8 to 9 an average of 169 persons voted; and of the latter, from the number of votes given by each person voting, it was evident that the vast majority were working men. Now, this shows two things—first, that even where considerable excitement, both religious and political, exists, the working man may be safely trusted to go to the poll without disturbance; and, secondly, the great advantage it is to the working man to have this facility given to him. I shall be happy to show to anyone the analysis of the figures to which I have referred. They show conclusively that for all classes of the community the later hours, say from 10, or 11, or 12 to 8 or 9, would cover the hours most convenient for polling, where voters have their choice. I would further point out that where the poll is kept open to a late hour, it will be impossible for the numbers to be known until the next clay; and this would prevent the assemblage of large crowds late at night to hear the result of the poll, and the excitement which might result from disappointment. Then, as to the compulsory violation of the law under the present system. The law makes the employment of cabs by candidates, or those acting on their behalf, illegal. Yet, in large towns, this law is habitually evaded, if not violated; and it is impossible to prevent it, for it is easy for friends of a candidate to avoid becoming members of his committee, or otherwise agents of the candidate, and to make their contribution to the expenses of the election by providing cabs for the conveyance of voters to the poll. By the adoption of different hours of polling the employment of cabs would be rendered absolutely unnecessary, for working men could vote close to their own homes after they had returned from their work; and I am satisfied that, for the reasons I have given, the danger of disturbance would not only not be increased, but would lie diminished by such a system. I am aware that a difficulty has been alleged against our proposal, in that the hours of polling would be so long as to necessitate a double set of polling-clerks, deputy Returning Officers, &c.; but this would easily be met by commencing to vote at a later hour, say 10 or 12 o'clock. There is, therefore, no, practical reason against the proposal we now make; while its advantages, both to the working man, and in facilitating the due observance of the law, would be very great indeed.


said, he regretted as much as anybody in the world that there was no Conservative Member's name on the back of this Bill. This matter ought not to be considered as a Party question; and he did not think that until this Bill was, unfortunately, published without a single Conservative Member's name upon the back of it, the question partook of Party politics in any way whatever. But even if this was a Party matter, that was by no means an answer to the question as to whether it was right or whether it was wrong any longer to deprive a large portion of the greatest class of this country of the franchise, which was undoubtedly given to them. He was not then going to enter into the question whether the power of voting was a right or a trust, though he himself entertained very strong views on that subject; but he might say that he hoped it partook in a large measure of both. But when the franchise had been given—and whether as a right or a trust he cared not—and it came to he exercised, he was one of those who thought they were bound, as a branch of the Legislature, to do everything they could to enable that right or trust to be employed. This extension of polling time had been already granted to the Metropolis, and he was glad it had been so granted; but when he was told that the Metropolitan boroughs were the largest boroughs in the country, he was simply told that which he could place no reliance on as a fact. Why, half the boroughs of the Metropolis were mere children to the borough he represented, and as grand-children when compared with the borough represented by the hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Path-bone). In the Metropolitan boroughs, some 6,000 or 8,000 electors on each side determined the whole thing. His own borough was not one of the largest; but taking that, and such boroughs as Glasgow, Liverpool, or even Birmingham, surely if it was right and reasonable to grant longer hours for polling to the Metropolitan boroughs with their 14,000 or 15,000 electors—surely there could be no reason on earth why in those large boroughs such as he had mentioned the long polling hours should not also be granted. Besides, it applied with tenfold more force to a borough like Leeds than to any Metropolitan one, for there a large proportion of the constituency was made up of the wage-earning class. They were deeply interested in what went on in the House, and in the discussion of every question which affected them. No class was more alive to the importance of questions of the incidence of taxation, both Imperial and local, than was the wage-earning class of a large manufacturing borough. When he was told that it was right and reasonable to give the franchise to the working men of Marylebone, and practically to deny it to the working class of a town like Leeds, why the statement was so palpably founded on error that it carried with it its own refutation. Gentlemen who opposed this measure seemed to forget that they had not now the excitement of the nomination day. The abolition of that was one of the few good things the Ballot gave them; it undoubtedly was a great gain to get rid of all the turmoil consequent upon nominations, and in some measure had, in many large towns, got rid of the tumult arising out of declarations, and hereafter he trusted it would be got rid of altogether. Having swept those evils aside, what was there to fear in this extension? If a man wanted to personate, or to bribe, or to make any member of his constituency amenable to the law punishing corrupt practices at elections, why, he could do it now in any dark corner away from the light of day. But to tell him, with his 40 years' experience, that there was, practically, the slightest chance of increasing facilities for bribery and corruption, or in any way conducing to the demoralization of a constituency by this extension of polling time, was to say that which he no more regarded than the idle wind. Leeds—and he spoke of the borough with respect and pleasure—set a foremost example for many years past of how Parliamentary Elections could be conducted absolutely free from the intimidation, bribery, and corruption, of which so much was heard in the House, but of which, considering our enormous population, so little was found from end to end of the country. But even granting that the larger boroughs were more subject to these infru- ences than they were, or were ever likely to be, that was no reason why the wage earning class should be altogether deprived of the franchise which had been given them, and which, under every possible circumstance, they desired to exercise. Was it reasonable, was it right, was it just, that a man engaged, say, in driving a railway engine, should be deprived of the power of registering his vote at some hour when he was free from his daily occupation? Was it right that a man working in a mine, and who could not leave his work until the cage was lowered for him, should be prevented from voting? If the hours were extended, then this man could record his vote whether engaged upon the day shift or the night shift, and with this advantage—that he would be free from any influence on the part of his master. No door would be closed upon him; there would be no block in his way—no fear of what was called the "sack," to prevent the exercise of the power the Ballot gave him. The arguments in favour of the Bill in regard to large boroughs—and, certainly, as regarded his own constituency—were unanswerable, and he gave the Bill his cordial support even to the length to which it went. If the principle of the Bill were accepted, then if a distinction was drawn between larger and smaller boroughs—and in some of the latter it might not be desirable to extend the polling time—then, if that should be found to be the case, it was a matter for settling in Committee, and was nothing against the principle as the House had it proposed to them. It had been said that someone had recommended the House should wait for some length of time—and the waiting in that House had become an indefinite prolongation—to watch the operation of the Metropolitan Law. But why should they wait? If Parliament had declared by enactment that this change was good for Chelsea, or for Marylebone, or the Tower Hamlets, why should Leeds, with similar circumstances, wait? Or why should Bradford be called on to wait? If the measure was good for the first-mentioned borough, then it was good for the others; and he could not understand why the large boroughs of Yorkshire should be called upon to wait and waive their claim for a time until some dilatory spirits had convinced themselves they had done right in London, and that their legislation was such as they could rely on. That was an argument eminently un-characteristic of this Assembly. Either the House had done wrong—in which case the Act should be repealed—or else let what had been done for the Metropolitan boroughs be extended to boroughs far larger than any in the Metropolis. Surely, if it was a mistake to pass the late Statute, that should have been discovered before the measure became law; and when it was found that the only reason for saying the large boroughs must wait until it could be said the Act worked well in smaller boroughs, it was asking him to accept a principle he could not view with any favour. With regard to the measure itself, he could only say that supposing any alterations or addition to the hours of polling were to be made, those alterations should be made with reference to the requirements and position of the borough, rather than to mere population; the circumstances of each case should be decided on its own merits, and not according to that rough-and-ready method of dealing with mere arithmetical numbers, which often did much damage. If distinctions were made, and any separation and classification of boroughs proposed, then all the circumstances of each should be taken into account before coming to a determination. Another observation he wished to make in regard to what had been said was, that a great many boroughs violated the law by the use of cabs at Elections. He did not know that this violation of the law was general, and he was quite prepared to deny that every borough did so, and that from his own knowledge. He wished there was less use of hired cabs; but, still, there were circumstances applicable to some boroughs which rendered their use absolutely necessary. For example, Leeds extended for 7¾ miles in one direction, and 3½ miles in another; and in such a borough it was almost impossible, under existing regulations, that every man wishing to register his vote could find the opportunity of doing so. He mentioned this, because he could not help thinking it desirable, in dealing with any re-arrangement of polls or polling places, an increase should be made in the number of polling places, or else in the largo boroughs the same right should be allowed as existed in the counties and in Wenlock and Shoreham. In saying that, he wished to emphasize in the strongest manner his desire to see every man who was in possession of the franchise have the means of exercising it. He hoped those mythical anticipations—that length of polling time would lead to corruption, bribery, and intimidation—would be swept away; and, so far as the large boroughs were concerned, he was anxious that wherever the franchise had been given to the working classes there should be every opportunity for the full use of it.


said, there were a number of hon. Members who wished to address the House; and, therefore, he should make his remarks very brief, but should not like the discussion to pass without taking some part in it, because it was a matter in which his constituents were very much interested, and because he had had the honour of serving on the two Committees which sat upon this subject, and, as far as the debate had gone, he was the only Member who had served on the two. Up to that point they had only had one speech directly against the Bill, because the hon. Member's (Mr. Halsey's) speech was not against the principle of the measure; he objected only to the manner and the time in which it was brought forward, and in saying that he thought he was supporting the Report of the Committee, in favour of which he had voted. That was not, however, the part of the Report of the Committee to which they objected. The part of the Report to which they objected was that in which it was declared that it would be undesirable to extend the hours of polling in boroughs, in the absence of any urgent necessity, and in the face of certain difficulties which had been indicated. Now, they did not see that there was anything undesirable in the matter. They did not see that any harm could arise were the hours of polling extended in every borough constituency and even in every county constituency throughout the Kingdom. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) asked very emphatically why that had been made a Party question? Well, he could not understand how it had come to be made a Party question, except through the mismanagement of the Party opposite. Up to last year it was not a Party question. The Committee which sat in 1877 included the majority of Conservative Metropolitan borough Members, and its Chairman was the then President of the Board of Trade (Sir Charles Adderley); and yet that Committee unanimously reported that the case in favour of the extension of the hours in Metropolitan constituencies had been clearly made out. Up to that point there was nothing of a Party character in the matter. But when the Committee was re-appointed in 1878 there was a considerable change made in its personnel. Now, exception had been taken to the limited nature of the inquiry of the Committee. On what account was it that they did not go further into the evidence? that they did not get more witnesses to prove the necessity and desirability of the extension? Why, after they had examined a certain number of witnesses representing political and trade organizations of working men in all parts of the country the Committee considered the question of receiving further evidence; and he most distinctly recollected their saying that if those Members who opposed the extension of hours were not satisfied with the amount of evidence that they had brought on that point, they were ready to go on ad infinitum. Those Gentlemen, however, replied—"You can go and get secretaries and representatives of working men, and evidence of that sort ad infinitum, but we do not want a repetition. We have had all their arguments, let us go on to something else." And it was on that account that they did not go into the question of comparatively smaller boroughs at any length. They did, however, go into the case of one or two of them; and if hon. Members would look at the evidence of the last two witnesses, they would find that they were representatives of small and scattered boroughs. As to the case of Ireland, unfortunately the Member representing the Home Rule Party who was appointed on the Committee chose not to attend on it, and, therefore, there was no one to conduct the case on behalf of Ireland. He did not know that there was any great demand for this reform on the part of Ireland; but if there was not, he could well understand why there should not be—for the simple reason that there was no working class constituency in Ireland. The franchise was totally different in Ireland to that in this country, and, consequently, the grievance might not arise and might not exist. But as to what did occur; had the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Matthew White Ridley) taken up the position which had been taken to-day by the hon. Member (Mr. Halsey), and had he said that this was not the time to consider the question of an extension of the franchise—had he simply said that the Ballot Act would expire in another year, and then that the matter could be taken in connection with other matters that would then arise, he did not think his hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) would have had any reason for bringing in his Bill. What had justified him in acting now was the distinct expression of opinion hostile to the principle of extended hours contained in the Report of the Chairman of the Committee of last year. There were one or two points to which he should like to call attention which had not yet been noticed. The convenience of, and the necessity for, an extension of the hours of polling were so evident to unprejudiced persons that when the Education Act came into operation, the hours of polling in the Metropolitan boroughs were fixed by the Privy Council at from 8 to 8, and the official witness who gave evidence upon the point told them distinctly that the reason why the hours were so fixed by the Education Department was because of the obvious necessity for giving facilities to the working class voters, who, unless the hours were so extended, would have no opportunity of recording their votes. As he had said, his constituency had all along shown a great interest in the matter; and he could safely affirm there was no domestic political question on which he had been so repeatedly catechized by them as on that question of the extension of the hours of polling. Last year, when the Committee was sitting, his constituents sent up a Petition signed by 12,000 or 13,000 artizans, each of whom appended his address to his signature, praying for an extension of the hours of polling. Well, they asked what were the arguments against it? The arguments were that there would be a serious increase of expense, and a great risk of disturbance. As to the risk of disturbances, all the evidence given before the Committee of last year on that point was theoretical; and he verily believed that was one reason why the Under Secretary of State for the Home Depart- ment, who, he must say, approached the subject in a very fair and impartial manner, and afforded them every facility for bringing up the evidence that they desired—he said that was one of the reasons why he did not adopt the same view as that which was adopted by the Chairman of the Committee in 1877. For before the Committee of 1877 they had practical men, and they one and all laughed at the idea of danger to the peace. It was almost absurd and quite useless to bring up one Town Clerk after another last year, and to repeat a dialogue like this— You have had no experience of extended hours of polling?—Not at all. You think it would be attended with considerable risk?—Yes. You think it would not be very desirable?—1 am sure of it. You think it would cause additional expense?—Obviously. The fact was that those witnesses wore naturally averse to incurring any extra trouble; but on the previous Committee they had examined men who had had actual experience of the longer hours, and they had facts and not theories. The consequence was that they had practical and conclusive evidence in favour of such an extension of hours, and the Committee of 1877 reported accordingly. His hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had referred to Colonel Henderson's evidence; and, as it was important on the point of increased danger of rioting, he might be permitted to make a further reference to it. Colonel Henderson was asked whether, in his opinion, the hours of polling at Parliamentary Elections in the Metropolis could be safely extended? and he said— He saw no objection to it whatever. Since the passing of the Ballot Act we have never had the slightest trouble at any Election which has taken place in London, and the places that used to be the worst are now the best; so that, from a police point of view, I do not see any objection whatever to extending the hours. He was then asked if he had had any experience of rioting? He said— Yes, in the Tower Hamlets, which had always been a hot-bed of rioting, but since 1870 had given no trouble whatever. Now, experience of that sort was of some value; but to argue that because a number of Town Clerks and Chief Constables of towns, who had had no experience on the subject, contradicted each other, therefore a danger of riot had been proved, was absurd. They did not go into the London experience in the matter, they did not bring up practical evidence before the Committee last year on that subject, because the Report of the Committee of the previous year had been referred to them. It had been referred to them; but he could not say how many Members of the Committee took the trouble to read it. Then, as to the consideration of expense, they had been told that the expense would be increased. The first Committee had approached that question also from a practical standpoint. There had been previously in London three School Board elections, all from 8 to 8. What did they find? He specially examined one witness after another with respect to the comparative expense of the School Board and Parliamentary Elections in the Metropolitan boroughs; and, referring to that evidence, he found some rather remarkable facts. Mr. Ellis, who acted as the Returning Officer for Hackney, told them that the Parliamentary constituency of that borough numbered 44,000, while the School Board constituency numbered 56,000. There were two Members returned to Parliament, and five members to the School Board, and in the case of the School Board's election there was the additional complication of the cumulative voting. The risk of riot in the School Board election, if any, would be, of course, increased from the fact that those elections took place all through the Metropolis on the same clay; and yet the School Board elections passed off with perfect quiet, and cost only £800, as against £1,150 for the Parliamentary Election. Again, in Marylebone, they found that four School Board elections had taken place. On the first occasion, 125,000 votes were recorded, and the total of the official expenses was only £669; whilst, on the second occasion, 136,000 votes were recorded, and the official expenses were £735. This showed very clearly that a mere extension of hours need not involve any increased expenditure. If there was, it would be a mere bagatelle. The Sheriff-Clerk of Glasgow, who had gone minutely into the case, said that in that large constituency the increased expenditure would probably amount to about £500. His hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) had referred to the case of Morpeth, where a holiday was necessitated by the short hours of poll- ing, which cost the men £1,000, and the masters probably much more. It was worthy of remark that the men who were in favour of the extension of hours were not so in favour of it on the ground that the extra expense incurred would come out of other men's pockets, because they were all in favour of the official expenses being put upon the rates. An objection which had been raised to the proposal of his hon. Friend was that it was not right to thrust it upon towns which did not want it. To meet that objection, he (Dr. Cameron) submitted to the Committee an alternative Report, recommending that a distinction should be drawn between boroughs of a population of 100,000, and boroughs with less than that number, and that the presumption in the first case should be in favour of the longer hours, and in the second case in favour of the shorter hours, but that every Town Council should have the power to adopt, by special resolution, the short hours in the case of the larger, or the longer hours in the case of the smaller boroughs. He believed that plan would very soon work itself right, and would adjust the hours to the local requirements and the wishes of each constituency. He had very little doubt that few of the larger boroughs would choose the shorter hours; because the support given to the proposal for extension by Conservative Members for large constituencies was significant of the wishes of those whom they represented. He would not enter more fully into the matter, and would only add that he hoped the House would give the Bill a second reading.


said, he thought the cautious and careful Report of the Committee of last Session ought to be sanctioned rather than the proposition of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Let the experiment be tried in the Metropolis at the next Election; and, if it succeeded, then the legislation might be extended to the rest of the country. Scant justice had been done to the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee on this subject, and who pointed out a great many inconveniences which might result, and which ought to be considered before the House rushed into further legislation. No doubt, in the case of large boroughs, it would have been easy to have multiplied witnesses in favour of longer hours; but he did not make the same admission with regard to the smaller boroughs, which did not desire longer hours unless some local peculiarity of trade rendered them necessary. There could not be much necessity in a borough like Wenlock, where 3,121 out of 3,492 voters went to the poll, and the majority of them did so before half-past 2 o'clock. Even the secretaries of trade councils and others who advocated extension admitted that they always managed to record their votes. The passing of the Bill would be inconvenient to smaller boroughs in several respects. Every witness before the Committee admitted that there would be an increase of expense. The officials would have to be paid at a higher rate than at present if the hours of polling were extended. It was easier to bribe and personate in the dark than in the light, and the danger of drunkenness would increase, accompanied with riot and disturbance. Another objection was that the Bill would make voting gregarious, the working men would come up together in large numbers, and there would be enlarged opportunities for intimidation. They could not argue, as the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) did, that because one Election had passed off quietly all others would do so. It was the members of trades councils who were not apprehensive of disturbance; but those who were responsible for the maintenance of order did not view the proposal with equanimity. One of the witnesses examined by the Committee was Sir Joseph Heron—[A laugh]—who had been 40 years Town Clerk of Manchester. Hon. Gentlemen laughed at Sir Joseph Heron's name—["No, no!"]—and evidence; but he ventured to say that Sir Joseph Heron's evidence was worth as much as that of many other witnesses who were called, and it was given in no uncertain voice. Sir Joseph Heron said an extension was wholly unnecessary, and that, with one exception, the representatives of 30 Corporations, whom he had occasion to meet on another subject, were unanimous in thinking such an extension undesirable and dangerous. The Chief Constable of Sheffield said he would not like to be responsible for order if voting was to be carried on in the dark. Since then a Circular had been sent to the 28 Corporations, including those of Ashton- under-Lyne, Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford, Burnley, Chester, and Edinburgh, and of that number only seven were favourable to this extension. For these reasons he supported experimental legislation.


said, he did not intend to keep the House long after the able speeches that had been made; but he wished to state the peculiar position in which he was placed as regarded the Bill before the House. The opinions of Town Clerks had been quoted in favour of the measure; but he looked at the matter from a much broader point of view. He thought, from many of the speeches heard that day, and from the evidence which was taken by the Committee, they could not come to any other conclusion than that there were several reasons why the hours of polling should be extended; while, at the same time, something, he thought, might be said why the proposed alteration should not be extended to every town. He himself did not certainly approve of all the details of the proposal as contained in the Bill before the House, for he did not think it desirable that a hard-and-fast line should be made to apply to every borough in the Kingdom, whether it was a large borough or a small one; but, at the same time, he could not admit the distinction which had been made by several hon. Members who had spoken as to the great difference between large and small boroughs. He thought the distinction which ought to be made was whether a borough had a large working-class population or not, because the only reason for the measure before the House was to meet the wants and requirements of a certain class of people who could not, under the present law, give their vote in the time laid down by the Act of Parliament. His hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill, in his pleasant speech, seemed to be perfectly satisfied to have things as they were. He took for his text, "Whatever is, is best;" and if, when the hours were fixed, it had been laid down that they should be from 8 in the morning till 8 in the evening, bethought his hon. Friend would have accepted them, and been just as strongly in favour of those hours as he was in favour of the present ones. Let them consider what the position of affairs was when the law was passed. When the Act which at present regulated the hours of polling was passed there were only a very few working men in the constituencies. He would only mention one case of his own borough, which would show what a great difference there was between the old suffrage and the present one. Before the last Reform Act the number of constituents in his borough was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000, and very few of those of the working-class character; but at the present time, since the Reform Act, there were about 23,000, so that they might say that at the present time there were nearly 20,000—certainly 18,000 or 19,000—out of 23,000 voters, who were of the working classes; and it was on that ground that he supported the proposition for the extension of the hours of polling, because he could not think that those who were engaged in the various industries in the country—and particularly those who worked in factories—were enabled to record their votes, within the time specified by the Act of Parliament, in the easy manner which was desirable. So far as his own borough was concerned, he was prepared to admit that the employers of labour there nearly always, on the afternoon of the Election day, closed their mills; but they did so because of the interest felt in the Election, and because of the excitement which was manifested. But they had no right to expect that employers of labour would do such a thing, and they ought really not to be put to such an inconvenience, and to the loss of even half-a-day's profit, for such a purpose. There was a great deal more to be said in favour of municipal elections than Parliamentary. Parliamentary Elections did not take place so often, perhaps not more than once in four or five years; therefore, the loss of a day's work and pay was of comparatively little moment; but municipal elections occurred once a-year, and the working people did not care about sacrificing a day's labour on every occasion. They were thus debarred, under the present system, from recording their votes. If they compared the number of votes given at Parliamentary and municipal Elections, they would find that the votes given at the latter were fewer than those given at the former. That was, no doubt, owing to the reason that people did not care to lose their day's work for a municipal election. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House suggested that they should try the experiment, as they had now the chance of doing, by the Act applying to the Metropolis; but he wanted to know why the working classes of the country should be left without an opportunity of recording their votes, as many, indeed, were while the experiment was being tried? He thought there was nothing to show the House that there was any reason to fear any great danger from the change that was proposed. As to the question of riots, he thought riots had ceased in our Elections since the passing of the Ballot Act; for in no case, with one exception, had a riot taken place at an Election since the passing of the Act. If the polling was to go on until 8 o'clock at night, in his opinion, there would be just as much quiet as when it was closed at 4. He knew from personal experience that at Elections the military had had to be called into towns in order to preserve the peace until the close of the poll; but the reason why the presence of the military was needed was because the people knew from hour to hour what was the state of the poll, and on that account there was the greatest excitement, and, in many cases, riot. In one instance he remembered he had to declare the poll at 11 o'clock at night to some 20,000 people, but there was no rioting, only great excitement; and he believed that there would never be anything worse if they did not close the poll till 8 o'clock at night when the proceedings were carried out under the Ballot. With regard to the inconvenience which some hon. Gentlemen thought might be experienced in large bodies of workpeople coming to the poll together, he did not share in that fear, and thought that intimidation had also ceased from the time the Ballot Act was passed. He would not say there were no cases of bribery and treating; but that was generally carried on in secret and in the dark, and had no reference whatever to the time the poll was closed. What was really needed to stop personation was not so much fixing the hours of closing the poll at an early or late period; but what was wanted was to divide the district into a great number of small polling districts, so that one or two persons should know every voter in the district, and would thus be able to detect any attempt at deceit. He thought that a much greater protection than anything else. It had been stated that only seven boroughs were favourable to the proposal of extending the hours of polling. He contended that even if that were so, the law should be altered so as to meet their wishes, while the other towns could retain the Act as now provided. He would suggest that the best method in which to accomplish that would be to give the authorities in those particular towns the power to extend the hours according to the number of the population, so that those classes of the people who were really unable to vote in the given time, and needed the extension in order to record their votes, should be enabled to do so.


supported the second reading of the Bill, as all the evidence taken before the Committee went to show how desirable it was, in the interests of the working man, that he should have every facility for recording his vote. He was not afraid of shadows, and, therefore, paid no attention to the argument that the change would lead to riot and disturbance. He wished to see every one of his constituents enabled to give his vote at the Parliamentary Election. If the Bill wore not passed, the practical effect would be the disfranchisement of large numbers of the working classes, who had conducted themselves very well at the London School Board elections, when the poll was open until 8 o'clock in the evening. He had great confidence in the working classes, and he hoped the Bill would be passed as a measure of justice.


likewise supported the second reading of the Bill. He believed that if the hours of polling were extended, there would be less danger of the polling day becoming a kind of holiday; and that being so, there would be less drunkenness and disturbance. It might also tend to reduce the expense, because, possibly, fewer polling stations would be required. He had no hesitation in saying that at present a large number of voters were disfranchised simply because they could not attend the polling station within the hours at present fixed; and he considered that the balance of argument was strongly in favour of the Bill. The importance to be attached to the opinion of Sir Joseph Heron, who did not claim any personal experience, was to be qualified by his remark that it was monstrous to expect poll clerks to work for 12 hours a day.


opposed the Bill, and remarked that this was a very different measure to that which was recently introduced having reference to the Metropolis. The Committee of 1877 upon the Hours of Polling in the Metropolitan Districts, of which he was a Member, sat to inquire into the hours of polling to be provided for a particular district, a district comprising some 10 or 11 boroughs, lying close together, and having similar businesses, trades, and occupations. With regard to every one of those boroughs there was most clear and distinct evidence before the Committee to the effect that there existed in each of such boroughs a class of men who were so situated that, under the existing hours of polling, it was impossible for many of them to exercise the franchise. After fully weighing the evidence, he came to the conclusion that he could not do otherwise than give his vote in favour of the proposition of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) to extend the hours of polling in the Metropolitan boroughs. But now they had before them a Bill to extend the hours of polling, not in 10 or 11 boroughs lying together, and thus peculiarly situated, but probably in 200 boroughs, situated in various parts of the three Kingdoms. The evidence pointing to the necessity for the present Bill was of the most meagre description. There were a few boroughs—such as Liverpool and Glasgow—in which it might be well to extend the hours of polling, and if a Bill for any such purpose were introduced he should most probably vote for it; but when he found that this proposition was intended to apply to large and small boroughs alike—to boroughs even with an electorate of less than 1,000—he could not but think that he was right in opposing it. It was true that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had placed himself in the hands of the House, inasmuch as he had expressed his willingness to have the Bill cut down in any way in Committee, providing the general principle were adopted. This could not be considered a satisfactory way in which to bring a Bill before the House; in fact, it could only be characterized as angling for votes. There was one argument that certainly weighed with him in favour of the Bill, and that was the very awkward predicament in which some working men were placed as regarded the recording of their votes. In the generality of instances, however, masters afforded facilities for their employés to vote, considering that it would he improper and a scandal to place impediments in the way; and he (Mr. Serjeant Spinks) was inclined to think it would be wise that some arrangement should be made by which it should not be in the power of any man to put obstacles in the way of the exercise of the franchise. If a clear and distinct proposition of that nature were introduced, he should have no hesitation as to the way in which he would record his vote. Looking to the Bill itself, which was of a very large and sweeping character; to the willingness on the part of the promoters to have it cut down in Committee to any extent, which showed their want of confidence in the Bill they had introduced; and to the opinion of his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Hibbert), who spoke in a rather faltering manner in favour of the Bill, he had no hesitation in voting against it.


supported the Bill. He was anxious to see the line that would be taken, not only by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but by the Government. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill (Mr. Assheton) seemed to think there was really no grievance that it was necessary to attend to; while the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. A. Gathorne-Hardy), who was on the Committee, and had made an able speech, did not deny that there was some grievance in the case of largo towns; hut he seemed to suppose that we must he content with what he called "experimental legislation" in the Metropolis, in order to see how that would work by the next Election. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) saw no reason why the Metropolis should be regarded as a test for other large towns, and by which we were to ascertain whether the hours of polling should be extended or not. He was anxious to hear what the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Matthew White Ridley), who knew the question in all its bearings, and who was besides, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) might say, the impartial Chair- man of the Committee, had to say on this subject. It could not for a moment be supposed that the Government would allow a matter like this to rest till after the next Election. It was a small matter in one sense, but it was a very large matter in another. If they took the arguments against the change, it would be found that none of them were arguments of any great force, or were what might be called comprehensive arguments. On the other hand, it had been clearly shown that the matter was a very grave one. Indeed, by our legislation, we had given a very large number of working men the right to vote. The State had imposed upon them the duty of voting, and expected them to vote; yet, by the arrangements of our polling hours, we made it as difficult as possible for them to exercise that right. That, really, was a great grievance. He, therefore, could not suppose that the Government intended to go to the country at the General Election on the principle that they would refuse to listen to arguments which showed how a large number of persons in important constituencies might vote without any great inconvenience or loss to themselves. He was sure the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department was not of that opinion, because the Report which he drew up would contradict it. It was a very near Committee in point of opinion. The morning on which the Report was drawn up there happened to be a majority on the side of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain); but after the Report of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) had been taken in place of that of the Chairman, an additional Member came in who supported the Chairman in bringing back the Report to his own views. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) thought the Under Secretary would not have been sorry if the Report of the hon. Member for Glasgow had been taken. But what was the Report which they had got? The first part of it was a very strong argument in favour of the change, and that it should not be put off. He would ask the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) to pay attention to what was the opinion of the Government through the Under Secretary, and what was the opinion of the Committee. It was the I opinion of the Committee that, for various reasons— The artizans had been prevented from recording their votes, and had been put to great inconvenience where they had done so. They could not have stronger evidence than that. It would simply be trifling with the House to attempt to bring forward any grievances after quoting those words. The next paragraph stated— The witnesses were unable to suggest any other remedy than to extend the hours of polling, and the Committee were satisfied there was no other way of meeting the difficulty. Well, the Government, not being anxious to bring in a Bill, suggested that the matter should stand over for some time, which they did not attempt to limit, for the purpose of seeing the effect of the extension in the Metropolis. That looked very much as if, when the suggestion was made, there was an idea on the part of the Government that we should have had a General Election before the time contemplated. No one now had any idea when the next Election was to come. He did not suppose the Government meant to say they would allow this matter to stand over, and that they would go before the country knowing that a largo number of men would be unable to record their votes. He could not help thinking that, in the sort of statement they would make as to the way in which they were going to settle this matter, they would also give some information about the General Election. Leaving that matter, however, he would just say a word as to the line taken by the hon. Member for Clitheroe. The hon. Member made a very good speech, considering the bad case which lie had. Surely, the ground which he took would not be taken not merely by the Government, but by any number of Gentlemen in the House, no matter on which side they might sit. What was it that the hon. Gentleman said? Why, that if the working classes were not willing to give up this small part of their income for the purpose of recording their votes, they did not deserve to have votes, and that the House ought not to interfere. Now, that was pure class legislation. The House, it was argued, ought not to interfere, because it was only the working classes who wore concerned. Hon. Gentlemen might think that part of a day's wages was a very small thing to lose, and so it would be to hon. Gentlemen; but to the working men it was a very large sum indeed. Would hon. Gentlemen expect their middle-class supporters to sacrifice the whole of a day's profits for them? The House had no right to condemn the working men to it, nor had they a right to blame them if they did not make the sacrifice. The hon. Gentleman said that working men were too timid to ask their employers for a holiday. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) saw no reason why working men should be compelled to go and ask their employers, who often differed from them in politics, for a holiday in order to go to the poll. Again, the hon. Gentleman said the working men who did not vote were the most ignorant, vacillating, and idle portion of the community, and, therefore, we ought to do without their votes. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) could not for one moment believe that the Under Secretary would take that ground. He would not attempt to answer the objections to the Bill, except in a very few remarks. They had already been well answered. Pie might just say this—that they had now found out that any objection which had any real force had lost that force. Three objections had been alluded to—namely, the increased expense, the danger of personation, and disorder. As regarded expense, that would be a very small addition, and would only bear a very small proportion to the general expenses of the Election. With respect to the danger of personation, he thought they had got to that point in the improvement in gaslight, to say nothing of the electric light, that they might fairly trust that the authorities would be able to turn up the light on those who came to the poll so as to defeat any attempts in that direction. The only objection in former times which had any force was that of disorder. His hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain}, in his very able speech in bringing on the Bill, gave an interesting history of the proceedings with regard to the hours of polling. The hon. Member for Birmingham complained of the vacillation of the late Government in dealing with this question. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) would remind the hon. Gentleman that when he came to bring a measure through the House of Commons he would have to be very careful of side-issues. When he (Mr. W. E. Forster) brought in the Ballot Bill, the House and the country were not con- vinced there would be no disorder in evening voting, because they judged of the danger by the then system of voting. The experiment might have been dangerous then. He had confidence as to how the Ballot would prevent disorder, but the House had not; and, in order to secure the passing of the Ballot Bill, he was obliged to give up the question of the hours of polling. Now they had experience to guide them. Now that the people were not made acquainted with the state of the poll, chances of disorder had been very much diminished. Experience had also been gained of the working of School Board elections. There was one objection, however, which he thought had something in it, although it was not a very strong objection after all. He believed there were several towns in which the grievance was not a particularly severe one. It was felt in several large towns that the present hours were quite sufficient for the purpose, and there was no general desire to lengthen them. He was glad, therefore, to find that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill was quite willing to make a limitation as to boroughs. No doubt, there were many small boroughs where no change was needed; but, on the other hand, there were boroughs, not large, like Morpeth, where an alteration would be of great service. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) had hoped the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) would have been able to show the House how the present system worked there. The presumption, however, ought to be that the less hours were necessary for large boroughs. He would not lay down any exact limit as to population. That was a matter to be decided by a Committee on the Bill. He thought that in making the presumption for less hours in large and for the present hours in small boroughs, power might be given to the Town Council to determine what the hours should be—say, for a particular number of years, giving the Council power to lengthen the hours if they thought fit. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) understood his hon. Friend was only asking the House to vole for this principle—namely, that instead of compelling working men to vote at great inconvenience, and at a great sacrifice to themselves, they should so arrange the hours of the poll as to enable them to vote without incurring any loss. That was a principle for which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should gladly vote. He could not understand how any hon. Member on either side of the House, much less any responsible Government, could refuse to support that principle.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down wished to obtain some information from him as to whether the question before the House would be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government before the General Election, and also as to when the General Election might be expected to take place. He would state, at the outset, that he had no information as to what the Government intended to do in this matter, and still less had he any idea as to when a General Election might be expected. The right hon. Gentleman had done him no more than justice, when he said that the inquiry last year had been conducted throughout in an unbiassed manner. The Report proposed by him, to which reference had been made, spoke as to the view he held. It appeared to him—and the Report stated it—that in many boroughs of large extent the present hours of polling did impose a difficulty upon the working classes, and, therefore, a grievance existed in the way of recording their votes. He felt that; and he also felt that, as far as the evidence went, no means of meeting that grievance had been shown, except the extension of the hours of polling to 8 o'clock in the evening. The only way in which Party came in was, that the Conservatives were, perhaps, more cautious than the Liberals in determining upon the means of meeting a grievance which they did not deny. He was himself more alive to the difficulties and dangers of the subject than some Members of the Committee. On the question of increased expenditure there was not much, to be said, and too much stress ought not to be laid on that ground of objection. Sufficient importance had not, however, been given to the opinions expressed by the Mayors and other authorities who had been examined, and who were responsible for order in their several localities. It was not quite a fair way of getting rid of their objections by saying that those gentlemen were personally interested in preventing an extension of hours. He attached some importance to the fears they expressed; and, besides, he would appeal to hon. Members who had any knowledge of the subject as to the sort of thing which went on during the last half-hour before the close of the poll in some of the smaller constituencies. That, he thought, was the critical time when bribery might be expected to prevail. It was a question whether the practice of bribery at Parliamentary Elections had been diminished to any material extent by the passing of the Ballot Act; but he thought no one could doubt that the extension of the franchise had tended in that direction by largely increasing the number of persons entitled to vote, and so making bribery a much more costly process than it was in the clays of small constituencies. No one could doubt that the question proposed to be dealt with by the Bill of the hon. Member for Birmingham was one beset with difficulties, and, at the same time, presenting points in which real grievances existed; but the details involved were not easy of settlement. There was much to be said in favour of the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), that in boroughs of above 100,000 population the presumption should be that the hours of polling were extended to 8 o'clock, and that in boroughs below that number the presumption should be the other way; but that, in both cases, discretion should be given to the Town Councils either to extend or diminish the hours. That proposal had, to his mind, some considerable weight; but he felt there were considerable objections also to intrusting such powers to Town Councils, inasmuch as it might introduce an element of discord. He apprehended that if such a measure were agreed to, it would have to be for a fixed period of years and under certain limitations. No doubt, the proposition was worthy of consideration; but the Bill before the House was an entirely different matter. It was not in any sense a carrying out of the Report of the Committee, or of the alternative Report proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). The difference between the two Parties in the Committee was not so very great. It was really the difference which naturally existed between the two political Parties of the State. His own Party- regarded with more caution the proposed change, and thought that time should be given to see how the experiment worked in the Metropolis. They also foresaw a greater element of danger than did the others; and, consequently, he had now to recommend to the House the Report of the Committee rather than the Bill of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), which proposed to enact that in every borough in England, Scotland, and Ireland, the hours should be extended to 8 o'clock, and that not only for Parliamentary Elections, but apparently also for all elections of whatever kind. He thought the House could hardly be expected to agree to that. It was said by some, as, for instance, by the right hon. the Member for Bradford, that voting for a Bill like that was no more than voting for an abstract Resolution in favour of extension of hours, and in favour of remedying what was, doubtless, an admitted grievance in many parts of England. For his own part, he declined to take that view; and it appeared to him that if the Bill wore to be made acceptable to the House, it would have to be altered to one of an entirely different character. The Government, therefore, could not assent to the second reading of this Bill, which would mean immediate legislation on a uniform rule. There were cases in which the voters had not an opportunity of voting without sacrifice of working time, and that could not be the intention of Parliament; but this crude and undigested scheme did not meet the difficulty. Any proposal on the subject must recognize the fact that in a smaller borough, owing to the distance of workmen from their homes, more time would be required than in the large boroughs, where they lived close to their work, and he did not think this Bill afforded a satisfactory solution.


, in reply, expressed his regret that, speaking on the part of the Government, the Undersecretary had not been able to give the House some more definite information as to the course they intended to take. The question now remained in this state—that here was an acknowledged grievance which the Government distinctly refused to entertain.


opposed the Bill, on the ground that its principle had been tried and had failed.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 165; Noes 190: Majority 25.—(Div. List, No. 117.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for three months.