§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. ASHTON DILKE,
in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he must apologize to the House for having been so successful in the ballot that he was compelled to occupy the attention of the House on the first Wednesday set apart for the consideration of private Members' Bills. The Bill which he now ventured to introduce to the House for the extension of the hours of polling had been rejected by only a small majority in the last Parliament, and there was very little doubt that the principle of the Bill was one which was generally acceptable. That principle had already been applied to the Metropolis. In the bye election in Southwark, what struck him most was that the rate of polling was much equalized during the day, though the number of persons polled was not greatly increased, a fact that might be accounted for by the circumstances of the election. But comparing the General Election of 18b0 with that of 1874, as far as the Metropolitan boroughs were concerned, there was an increase of 8 per cent in the numbers polled in the late election. He did not think this increase was attributable to greater excitement having prevailed, as it was smallest in the City, Westminster, and Chelsea, where the election was carried on with vigour, not to say acrimony, and was largest in the boroughs where the artizan population predominated. There was no doubt that in a very large proportion of the constituencies the bulk of the voters consisted of the artizan class, who, to a great extent, were virtually excluded by the present system from the exercise of the right of the franchise. He believed the feeling on the question of the passage of this Bill was stronger than the fooling on almost any other subject of domestic legislation, for it was felt that the present system involved several hardships. It was held to be very unfair that a man should be either de- 977 prived of the right of voting at all, or forced, in order to exercise that right, to ask as a favour from his employer that which he believed ought to be conceded as a right. He could not understand that there could be any opposition to the measure from that side of the House, because it was a theory held by the more advanced Members of the Liberal Party that the franchise was not so much a trust as a right, and in debarring a man from the exercise of that right he believed they would be committing a wrong. If there was any difference between the classes of voters found in the North and in the South of England, it was this—that in the North there was a high tone of independence among the artizans and dwellers in towns generally, and large numbers of men, whom the employers would be perfectly willing and pleased to give a day's holiday to for the purpose of enabling them to record their votes, deliberately preferred to incur the loss of a day's wages rather than ask as a favour that which they considered they should have as a right, and which, therefore, they would be more or less degraded in begging as a boon. The House would probably agree with him in thinking that the fact that at the 1874 elections the clergymen and publicans took a very deep interest in those elections, and in 1880 took a much smaller interest, must have greatly outweighed the extra interest felt in foreign policy on the last occasion. It had been said that the question of the extension of the hours of polling solved itself, because in large communities a holiday was general on election days. It was doubtless true that in many constituencies this practice had grown up; but this point applied in a special way to some half-dozen boroughs which were peculiarly circumstanced. Thus, in the case of Newcastle and Gateshead, all the Newcastle voters seemed to live in Gateshead, and all the Gateshead voters in Newcastle, and the same thing largely prevailed in the cases of Manchester and Salford. In such double boroughs, unless they had the elections on the same day in each, a general holiday was of no use. But this was not a question purely of factories and workshops, because there were large numbers of workmen who could not afford a holiday, and who were, as in the case of railway em- 978 ployés, more pressed in the discharge of their duties on holidays than on ordinary days. Further, unless public-houses should be closed on the polling day, drunkenness was increased by a general holiday, as men had nothing to do all day after polling. The chief and almost the only objection raised to the Bill last year was that the experiment had not been tried; but now it had been, there having been a General Election, and it was found that there was no rioting or disturbance in consequence of the later hours of polling. Where riots had taken place was at places in counties, and amongst people who had not votes, but who he hoped would have before long. He thought that any temptation now existing to riot or create disturbance would be removed if the hours of polling were extended. With regard to expenditure, he thought that under the Bill it would be decreased and not increased. There might be a slight increase of expense for polling clerks; but this disadvantage would be well counterbalanced by the diminution in the number of polling booths and in the number of cabs required. At present there was a rush in the middle of the day, and more cabs and polling booths were required on that account. They were told that this was a retrograde step, and that the hours of polling were reduced by the Reform Act of l832; but they must now look at the question by the light of the Reform Act of 1867. A strong feeling existed among labourers and artizans that the vote granted by that Bill was of little use—first, because of 1he difficulty of being placed upon the Register, and, in the second place, because of the impossibility of recording their votes in suitable hours. His Bill also applied to elections to school boards and municipal offices. In these elections, which were of frequent occurrence, the change was even more needed than in Parliamentary elections, for people would take greater trouble to record their votes in a Parliamentary election than in a municipal contest. It was considered by many hon. Members on both sides that the measure was not required; but, perhaps, the Home Secretary would state his experience in regard to the boroughs which he had represented. He had been asked why he had not scheduled certain boroughs to which the Bill should 979 apply, but there was a difficulty in making out a Schedule; and it had been suggested that the question whether the Bill should apply to a borough should be left to the vote of the municipal authority, but that would be very objectionable for many reasons. He did not think that the hours of polling should be extended in boroughs of a certain population only, because there were large boroughs in the South in which the extension was not required, and small boroughs in the North, with a large proportionate population, in which it was needed. But he was willing to accept a reasonable compromise, such as that there should be a primâ facie case against boroughs of less than a specified population, but that this should be reversible on the petition of the borough or the vote of the municipal authority. In conclusion, he wished to say that Parliament had no right to make an artizan's vote depend on the goodwill of the master, and he did not think that they ought to call upon any master to stop his works and lose money in order that his workmen might record their votes, when the present state of things might so easily be altered in the manner proposed by his Bill. The experiment of extending the hours of polling had been tried on the corpus vile of London. He now asked the House to endorse his measure, even though it should not have a probability of passing into law this Session, in order to lay down a principle in view of a Reform Bill being brought in in the course of two or three years by the Government. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Ashton Dilke.)
§ MR. MARK STEWART
said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He thought the hon. Member had done himself great credit by the way in which he had brought the subject forward, and, although the House might not agree with all his conclusions, it would be admitted the subject had been treated in a moderate manner. The hon. Gentleman had commenced his speech by saying that he was quite sure that all the Members in that House would agree with the principle of the Bill; but he (Mr. Mark 980 Stewart) could not gather very much of what had been called the principle— whether it was the extension of the hours of polling up to 8 o'clock all over the Kingdom, or whether that every man who had a vote ought to have an opportunity of voting. If the latter were the case, he was quite at one with the hon. Member in thinking that every facility should be given, commensurate with order and the interests of the public, for the exercise of the franchise. No doubt, a certain degree of hardship was to be found here and there among printers, shippers, and Sheffield engineers, who ought to exercise the franchise. Where such interests were interfered with, great care must be taken in extending the hours of polling merely to satisfy a small number of the constituencies throughout the country. The hon. Member had pointed out that something like 8 per cent more of the voters in the Metropolitan boroughs had gone to the poll in the last Election than during previous Elections; but the hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that during the turmoil of a General Election there was a much greater degree of interest and excitement than at a bye election, even although the South-wark election had been considered of great importance. In any General Election, indeed, one would find more votes recorded than in a bye contest. He was rather surprised that the hon. Member should have introduced this Bill on his own authority. He should have thought that the Government would have seen fit to introduce it, had it impressed with its justice the Members of the House to the extent that was alleged, especially when there was present that day the Home Secretary, who had so great experience in such matters. The question, indeed, was a very large one, and was not to be debated in a few hours, for it involved considerations apart from the mere extension of the hours of polling from 4 to 8 o'clock. The hon. Member for Newcastle had made no allusion to the Select Committee which had sat on this question in June, 1878. The Report of that Committee was only carried by a small majority, for the subject was by no means unattended with difficulty. They had reported in this fashion, and it was of so much importance that he should read their words;— 981Your Committee are of opinion that it would be undesirable to extend the hours of polling in all Parliamentary and municipal elections, irrespective of local requirements, in the absence of pressing necessity.The Report further said that they could suggest no other remedy than the extension of the hours of polling, and yet, as was seen, did not adopt this conclusion. It was one thing to talk of principles, but it was quite another to carry those principles out. Supposing they agreed that in many large constituencies great modifications as to the hours of polling were necessary, he did not think they were in a position to say to any man that such ought to be applied to the whole country indiscriminately. The question, at the same time, did not press for the immediate solution which the Mover of the Motion had seeemed to think. There was no urgent necessity for it. Other questions of electoral reform had been promised by the Government, and this question could very well be dealt with in connection with it. As to the experience gained in the Metropolitan boroughs on the extension of the hours of polling, he contended that there was no proof that the advantages accruing were commensurate with the disadvantages. Among the main objections to the Bill, the first was that of expense. They all knew how great the expenses were candidates had to incur in contesting large as well as small constituencies. It was all very well to say that the additional expense would only amount to about a few shillings; but, to his idea, it would amount to many shillings—many hundreds of pounds. Take, for instance, the case of 300 clerks being employed on a polling day, as at Leeds. Well, they would not be able to count the votes on the same day on account of the extended hours, in consequence of which their pay and expenses would run on to the second day. Again, there was the question of lighting, and this would be a serious item when an election came off in winter. Next would come the question of the police, as to which body there would be increased expense and great inconvenience, not to speak of the additional expense for committee rooms. There were great risks also of irregularities and disorder committed under cover of darkness in the winter afternoons. As to these men who recorded their votes at the last hour, did they not suppose that among all the 982 furore, a great number of these would be attacked, intimidated, and possibly prevented from recording their votes at all? The excitement, too, which in ordinary circumstances would only last a day, would be extended over two or three. The Chief Constable of Sheffield, and other police officials, had come to the conclusion that the extension of the hours of polling would be attended with very disastrous consequences. These disturbances, he asserted, would not be so much among the electors as the non-electors, for it was that class who really perpetrated many of the enormities of which they constantly heard at elections. Political feeling would be encouraged to a marked extent at school board and municipal elections. On the whole, he would rather trust to the consideration and forbearance of employers to accord facilities to their people for voting than to any measure. In his experience, at least, these gentlemen were always anxious to give facilities to artizans and workmen for voting. The fact was, that a polling day was a holiday whether it was given or not; and so imbued were many men with political feeling or prejudice, that they would leave their work in defiance of their employers. The Town Clerk of Manchester—Sir Joseph Heron—affirmed that there were very few in that great constituency who could not go to the poll on account of its being closed at 4 o'clock. The delegates, again, representing something like 140 municipalities, with one exception, were adverse to the proposed extension. He quite agreed that it would not do to make any legislation on the subject permissive, for nothing could be more dangerous than to allow local authorities to have charge of such matters. It would be far better, if Government were resolved to pass some measure, that a hard-and-fast line should be drawn. He could not see, if the hon. Gentleman wished his Bill at once to become law, why he had not selected several large towns in the Provinces, and there given scope to the principle of his Bill. He did not, however, wish to see this retrograde step taken, because it was, no doubt, a step in the wrong direction; for all our recent legislation had gone to shorten elections, and reduce the expense and disorder. He believed that the machinery of the Ballot had secured for the country very quiet elections, and 983 if a new element were to be introduced, it would be but to break down the efficacy of a system which had been in force for eight years. Although he was not an advocate of that particular system of voting, it was better than riot and confusion. He had been rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman, as the Member for Newcastle, had not referred to the Report of the Select Committee to which he (Mr. Mark Stewart) had alluded, especially with reference to Newcastle. It was in answer to a communication made by the Clerk of the Committee to the different Mayors and Lord Provosts of boroughs, and was as follows:—If the hours of polling were extended, the officials would have more difficulty in giving constant attention during so many continuous hours, and there would he some risk of disturbance.The evidence taken before the Committee also showed that the following towns were opposed to the suggested extension:—Blackburn, Bradford, Burnley, Exeter, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Plymouth, Rochdale, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Wakefield, and Leamington, and many others; while out of 22 witnesses examined before the Committee, nearly all came from the large towns—namely, 3 from Leeds, 4 from Glasgow, 4 from Sheffield, 3 from Liverpool, 3 from Manchester, leaving 5 for populous districts. From this, he gathered the Committee did not so much regard the matter from the view to be taken by the small boroughs as the large ones. In conclusion, he asked the House whether it was prepared to adopt the Bill as it now stood, or whether it would give further time for consideration, not only of the question generally, but of the particular results of the operation of the Metropolitan Act? There was a much larger measure, he understood, in contemplation with regard to the assimilation of the county and borough franchise, and when the House had that question before it, the whole question, he thought, could be more opportunely considered. He hoped, at least, that the Government would not agree to swamp small boroughs and constituencies with the expense and confusion which would accompany the operation of this Bill. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ 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. Mark Stewart.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. T. C. THOMPSON
observed, that the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill asked what the principle of the Bill was? He would tell him what it was. The principle of the Bill might be explained in a very few words. It was to give every person entitled to a vote the opportunity of exercising his privilege without expense or inconvenience to himself. There were, he maintained, a great many persons of good character and industrious habits who were prevented from exercising the right conferred upon them by the Legislature by the existence of the rule which closed the poll at 4 o'clock. No doubt, a good many persons would be naturally opposed to this Bill, and he was quite prepared for opposition from a great body of Members in that House. He did not know a more distressing sight than candidates on the election day, with all their eloquence expended, and, of course, some of them would not care to have their labours extended up to a late hour in the evening. Some towns, such as Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, were said to be opposed to the Bill; and they opposed it because there was no particular reason in their case why the hours of polling should be extended. But, in that part of the country whence he came, a very different state of things prevailed. They could not expect that in many cases the dinner-hour afforded the necessary time in which large bodies of electors could go to the poll. The fact was, that the objections to the measure were small compared with the advantages that would arise from it. The polling clerks and others connected with the taking of the poll might possibly object. But, take the ease of the mining population in his own and other mining counties; they could not afford the time to come and vote. It was most important to them, one day's wages, and he felt that they should not suffer in the exercise of their rights as electors. As to what had been said about disorder arising if the hours of polling were extended, he appealed to hon. Members opposite to say if it was 985 not the non-electors who gathered round the polling places? and he was sorry that there were so many non-voters in the country. He supported the measure in the interests of the working men, who were as well qualified to vote intelligently as any Member of the House. As to the allegation of the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart), of a great increase of expense being the consequence of the passing of this Bill, he thought that there was no ground for such an assumption; and oven if the expenses were to be increased, such an objection came badly from a Member of the Party that supported the Government measure of last year, allowing the use of cabs and vehicles for the conveyance of electors to the polling places. From every point of view the Bill was a good one, and he should vote for it even though it enabled no more than 10 zealous working men to record their votes.
§ MR. DALY
said, he had carefully listened to the remarks of the hon. Gentle-man the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart), but had failed to see in them anything which really affected the principle of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman had gone into a great many details, and had given numerous extracts from meetings of municipal boroughs, the experience of the police, expenses of lighting—indeed, everything but the principle underlying the Bill. For his part, he considered that the hon. Gentleman took a rather selfish view of the question, since he urged the House not to vote on the principle of the measure, but rather to be influenced by considerations affecting themselves. There was great force in the observations made by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. A. Dilke) with reference to the disorder likely to attend the prolongation of hours in the opinion of some hon. Members. He had considerable personal experience of elections before entering the House. He had been engaged in two contested elections, and he confidently asked hon. Gentlemen by whom was the disorder complained of caused? was it not by those persons who were not entitled to vote? Representing, as he did, the working classes in the City of Cork, he said if they trusted them with the franchise to enable them to send men to represent them in Parliament they ought to give them an independent 986 opportunity of exercising that franchise lie knew from personal observation that the lower class of voters regarded the power as a sacred trust, and, as a rule, they exercised that power wisely. Looking at the prospect of the franchise of Ireland being assimilated to that of England, he remarked that in connection with the City of Cork, which he represented, a number of the persons who would be added to the electoral roll would be at a considerable distance from the polling station where they would be able to record their votes. He fully recognised the principle that an opportunity should be found by the Legislature to enable the elector to give his vote without sacrificing his day's wages—the principle that the working man should have an opportunity afforded him of giving his vote either in his dinner-hour or after his day's work. The Government should give the elector an opportunity of being independent in the exercise of his vote, and this could only be done by extending the polling hours, which would be altogether more wholesome in its operations upon the electors than if they were allowed a holiday in which to record their votes by their employers. For these and other reasons he would support the Bill, believing it was a step in the right direction. He had always understood that the more responsibility that was placed upon a class the better they behaved themselves. Speaking from his own knowledge of the immediate surroundings of his own people, he knew this measure would be accepted as a very great boon to a number of persons who would probably be enfranchised by the Bill of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. In England, where there were very great industries, very few men would have the courage or the hardihood to dismiss a workman because he left his work to record his vote; but in Irish cities there were large classes of labourers, dependent for employment upon public bodies, who would be liable to dismissal from the report of the superintendents. In some of those bodies there were political tendencies which were directly antagonistic to the manner in which the humble workmen ought to be allowed to exercise his vote. Therefore, if they intrusted a man with the franchise, he said do not let them make its exercise penal, which might be the case if he had to leave his work in con- 987 nection with those public bodies, and thus incur the risk of dismissal. He considered that the principle enunciated by the hon. Member for Newcastle as a most valuable one, and he hoped the House would pass into law a Bill which would be accepted by the working classes as a valuable measure, and, if extended to Ireland, would be recognized as one of the most efficient pieces of legislation ever afforded to that country for some years past.
§ MR. CAINE
said, that, having had considerable experience of electioneering matters in Liverpool, he believed the Bill would materially assist the working men, and would relieve them from the corrupt temptation of being offered half a-day's wages for their vote. The proposed extension of the hours of polling would lighten rather than increase the cost of elections by rendering the conveyance of voters to the poll to some extent unnecessary. It was always difficult to induce the workmen to vote early; and in one borough circulars had been issued by both parties begging the non-artizan voters to abstain from going to the poll during the dinner-hour of the working men, in order that the latter might give their votes. The inconvenience of the present system was very great, and he cordially welcomed the prospect of a change.
said, he was desirous of saying a few words in support of the Bill, and also on behalf of the small towns, all the other speakers in the course of the debate on this very important Bill for the extension of the hours of polling having advocated it in the interest of the large towns alone. Now, he contended that the claims of the small towns were not less worthy of the consideration of the House. In many small boroughs, by reason of their being small, the electors had to go elsewhere, say, to larger towns near them, to obtain employment, and they could not during the present polling hours go to and from their work during the dinner-hour to record their votes. He represented a group of burghs — the Kilmarnock Burghs—where such was the state of affairs. That group comprised five burghs, one of considerable size, the second even, so large, that if in England it would have had one, if not two, representatives to itself, although, being in Scotland, it was allowed only one-fifth 988 of a representative. The others were small boroughs. In these many of the electors had to go two or three miles from the burgh to their daily occupation, and it was impossible that those men could record their votes to any great extent if the hours of polling were not altered. He hoped the hon. Member who had brought in the Bill would listen to no compromise, but would adopt the Bill as it stood.
An hon. MEMBER suggested that if, on the day of election, the dinner-time of the working men were extended from one hour to two they would have an opportunity of voting, and the dangers which some persons apprehended from an extension of the hours of polling into darkness would be avoided.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he had heard with great satisfaction the speeches made in support of this Bill, and especially was he pleased with the able speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. T. C. Thompson). The subject had apparently been exhausted, and he would have indicated the views of the Government sooner if he had not waited to see how much support would be given to the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs. He had not observed anyone rise to support the Amendment from the same side of the House as that occupied by the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart)— a circumstance which led him to the conclusion that among the Opposition there was little sympathy with the view of the hon. Member. He was not surprised at that, when he remembered what had happened last year in the discussion of this Bill. The hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs had asked the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. A. Dilke) why he did not quote from the Report of the Committee that sat on the question of extending the hours of polling? Now, he (Sir William Harcourt) would quote from the Report of the Committee who sat in 1878. That Report stated that—The artizans had, in many cases, been prevented from recording their votes, and had been put to great inconvenience where they had done so. 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.Conservative witnesses examined before the Committee were of opinion that there 989 was only one way of remedying the evil complained of, except by extending the hours of polling. But who was the Chairman of that Committee? The Chairman was the hon. Baronet the Member for Northumberland (Sir Matthew Ridley), then the Under Secretary for the Home Department. The Report that the Committee issued was altogether a peculiar one, as a reference to it would show. The Chairman of the Committee himself had stated that in many large boroughs there was a difficulty for the working man to get to the poll before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and he showed exhaustively that the only remedy was the extension of the polling hours until 8 o'clock in the evening. This Committee showed—first, that the grievance complained of, and which the Bill now before the House was intended to remove, was in existence; and secondly, that there was no other moans of meeting it. The Under Secretary of the Home Department then, however, pointed out that the Conservatives were more determined than the Liberals in getting voters to the poll; but that, however, did not appear to be the view of the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs. When he (Sir William Harcourt) said that it had been already proved that there was only one way of remedying the evil, and, that being so, he could not see why there was any reason that the Government should not support the Bill now before the House. Having made this statement, he thought he would be only wasting the time of the House if he detained them further. They must not listen to the usual dilatory plea of "Let us see how the extension of polling hours will work in London." Well, of course they had seen how it had worked in London, and only very recently, too, in a very satisfactory manner. A strange case had been made out on behalf of the mining interest, and on behalf of persons employed upon the river and in other industries; but there was one class of men whose position should not be left out of sight—ho referred to those men who were employed upon railways. He had had experience himself of the great difficulty of getting railway officials to vote during the hours at present the law of the land. These men were employed, as a rule, from a very early hour in the morning, and they did not 990 return to their homes until late in the evening, when it was impossible for them to record their votes. Therefore, on he-half of the Government, he would give his cordial support to the second reading of the Bill, subject, however, to such modification in Committee as had been shadowed forth by the hon. Member for Newcastle.
remarked, that the extension of the hours of polling generally excited the same dislike among Conservatives as was felt by hon. Members on the other side for such devices as voting-papers, though they would undeniably be a convenience to at least a section of each constituency. However, it was the interest of both Parties to give every facility for the record of the verdict of the voters. He thought the opening of the poll at 6 o'clock in the morning would enable clerks and people similarly employed to attend at the booths and vote; but he did not think it would afford any additional facilities to the working classes enabling them to do so. There was no doubt the expenses would be increased; but that was a small matter, as the chief expenditure was connected with the placarding of the walls and the employment of paid canvassers. The keeping the poll open to 8 o'colck at night would, he was afraid, increase the excitement, and in small boroughs that meant the prolongation of the time for bribery, treating, and other irregularities. The principle of the Bill was acceptable to both sides of the House, but its application was open to criticism. There was the preliminary objection to the Bill that it affected only the boroughs and left the counties untouched, although in their case precisely the same arguments might be used. It was, therefore, impossible to regard it as a settlement of the difficulty, and he hoped that it would be taken, if it became law, as only an instalment of a general reform of their electoral system. He advised his hon Friend the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart) to withdraw his opposition to the Bill. If, however, he went to a division, he should not be able to vote with him.
said, he should not have risen had it not been for the misleading extracts which had been given from the Report of the Committee by the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart). He wished, 991 however, in the first place, to allude to the remark of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in reference to the extension of hours for counties. He quite agreed with him in this view; but it would be remembered that that question had never been brought before the House. So far as the hon. Members whose names were on the back of the Bill were concerned, they would be, he was sure, delighted to extend its provisions in that direction. As to his suggestion in regard to the poll being opened earlier, he might in-form hon. Members opposite that the Returning Officer had generally sufficient difficulty to get his staff to work at 8 o'clock. As to the objection that extended hours would lead to prolongation of treating and scenes of drunkenness, he could only say that the obvious remedy would be to close public-houses earlier on such occasions. In regard to the argument of the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs, one would have thought that he was like a political Rip Van Winkle—that he had been asleep during all the recent working of the system in the Metropolitan boroughs. There was no disorder; and it so happened that school board elections had also taken place repeatedly on dark winter nights without any of the disorder that had been spoken of. The hon. Gentleman had quoted from the evidence of the police officers before the Committee, in which they had expressed themselves apprehensive of disorder in the event of the system being set at work; but he had omitted to state that the evidence given by those gentlemen was purely theoretical. They had had no experience whatever on the point, and the only police officer who had any practical experience—Colonel Henderson, chief of the Metropolitan Force—had told the Committee that the extension of the hours of polling would be attended with no danger whatever. Then as to the question of expenses, he begged to point out that it had been shown by the evidence of Returning Officers in school board elections in the Metropolitan boroughs under the extended hours, that the expense on these occasions was much less than in ordinary and Parliamentary elections. As to the objection that it would be impossible to declare the poll on the day of election, he contended that that was not to be taken for granted. In Glasgow, 992 where there was an enormous constituency, and a triangular system of voting, the poll, which terminated at 4 o'clock on the occasion of the last election, was declared at a little after 9 o'clock the same evening. He saw no reason, therefore, why even in large constituencies, with an ex-tension in the hours, they should not have a declaration of the state of the poll on the evening of the polling day. Again, the hon. Member had quoted the Town Clerk of Manchester—Sir James Heron —who told the Committee that the working men had no difficulty in getting leave from their masters in order to record their votes. The hon. Gentleman, however, forgot to say that this evidence created so much indignation among the artizans in Manchester that they sent in a protest, and asked to be examined in contradiction of that statement. The same thing might be said as to the Town Clerks' meeting. These gentlemen did not want to have anymore work put upon their shoulders. As a matter of fact, the examination of witnesses in support of the Bill had only ceased when the Committee came to the conviction that it might be taken for granted that any amount of evidence could be produced as to the desirableness of the proposal. As to the modifications in the Bill before it became law, he did not, of course, think this was a fitting time to discuss them; but he trusted the House would not pass this measure simply for the sake of affirming a principle, but with the honest intention of making it law this Session.
§ MR. J. RICHARDSON
thought so good a case had been made out for the Bill that he did not intend to offer opposition. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Daly) had spoken on the measure, and, sorry as he was to disagree with the views expressed by an Irish Member, he could not but say that while Cork, Waterford, Dublin, or Belfast would be fairly benefited by such an Act, there was considerable doubt if this would be the case with smaller boroughs, such as Portarlington with its less than 200 voters, Armagh, Newry, or Carrick-fergus. He was sorry the hon. Member for Newry (Mr. Thomson) was not in his place, because he would, doubtless, confirm this view of the matter. His (Mr. Richardson's) opinion was, that the extension of the polling hours from 4 in the afternoon to 8 in the evening 993 would be a disadvantage rather than an advantage in the smaller towns. Public opinion in these places was so strong that he did not think that any employer would keep back any artizan from polling, and no operative suffered inconvenience from the hours of polling in the smaller towns. They lost nothing in wages; they were near the polling booth, and could run from their work and back in a very short time. The four extra hours would be but hours of disorder in those smaller towns of the North of Ireland, where party feeling ran high; and he expressed a hope that some hon. Member better versed in the Forms of the House than he was—perhaps the Home Secretary — would introduce a clause in Committee scheduling the large towns, and not including the smaller towns of Ireland under the provisions of the Bill.
§ MR. BARRAN
said, he would remind the House, with reference to the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), that any extension made in the polling hours should equally apply to counties as to boroughs, that in 1870 the Committee which inquired into the subject had only for consideration the circumstances relating to the franchise in boroughs, and it was entirely to evidence bearing upon that point that the Committee addressed itself. The evidence was of three kinds —in the first place, evidence from those most interested in relation to the subject, the artizan and operative class; and to secure the best kind of this class of evidence witnesses were examined from political and industrial associations, from trade councils, and other combinations of working men. The Committee felt that the question, which so much concerned the working classes, demanded evidence principally from the class concerned; and the evidence was so conclusive and unanimous, that after a few sittings the Committee felt that it was unnecessary to call any more witnesses from that class. The argument had been used, and last year it was freely used, that working men should be willing, if called upon, to make some sacrifice in order to exercise the franchise. But here he felt, and he hoped the House would feel, that the question was not confined merely to the working man himself. Three interests were concerned in the time lost by a man who 994 had to leave work to record his vote. The employer was subjected to inconvenience; the man himself was frequently called on to sacrifice time, which to him was money; and another and important consideration was that so many persons having to leave their work almost necessitated a cessation of work in the factories on polling days. In consequence of this a great many operatives who had no vote—and a large number of women who were employed—were forced to take a holiday owing to the voters having to break time to reach the polling booth. This was strongly represented by witnesses, who urged the extension of the polling hours from 4 o'clock to 8. Many questions were put in reference to the suggestion whether it would be possible to extend the hours by commencing earlier in the morning—say, at 6 o'clock. Now, to ask a man to vote soon after 6 in the morning was as bad as to ask him to vote at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, for work generally commenced at 6 o'clock or half-past. It was equally an infringement on the working man's time, and it was conceded by the Committee that the proposition to commence polling at 6 o'clock was undesirable. Having completed the evidence of the artizan class, the Committee proceeded to evidence of a very different character—that of the Town Clerks of Leeds and Manchester. These gentlemen were in the habit of going from their homes to their offices, and saw little of the working-class population of their towns, except on days of election; and certainly this intercourse was insufficient for them to form a fair opinion upon the right of the working classes to an extension of polling hours. It was well known that our highly-paid and easily-worked officials were the last men to advise an extension of their own hours of work almost to midnight; and, of course, these witnesses had a strong objection to an increased amount of work and anxiety being imposed upon them. So he was not surprised to find the late Town Clerk of Leeds giving evidence against the extension of the hours, and urging that such an extension must be attended with increased expense. Then there was another class of witnesses, the Chief Constables, who were asked to give evidence in relation to the preservation of the peace. Now, he (Mr. Barran) could speak from experience of 995 the first school board election held in Leeds—it was held under his Mayoralty —and he fixed the polling hours from 1 o'clock to 8. On that occasion 30,000 electors polled, everything was done regularly and with order, and by 6 o'clock the following morning the return was made out. Everything went off as smoothly as if the poll had been closed at 4. When the Chief Constable gave evidence expressing anxiety for the peace of the borough if an extension took place, then he (Mr. Barran) might venture to say from his own experience—and it was not inconsiderable in relation to elections—that, so far as the Northern towns were concerned, he had not the slightest fear of any disturbance attending the extension of hours. Objection had been taken to the excitement being kept up by the declaration of the poll being thrown over to the next day. But experience did not justify this objection. In county elections, for instance, the return must come the day following the elections, by which time those engaged in the excitement of the contest had cooled down and calmed their party feelings. If worth anything at all, this argument told in favour of an extension of the hours. Then, as to the question of expense. The Town Clerk of Leeds said that in all probability there would be very little extra expense for an extension of the hours to 8 o'clock. He said the clerks were engaged for the day to do the work, and if required to do a little more, the probability was they would do it without increased expenditure, and that would probably be the case. But though there might be some little doubt whether they could get an increased amount of work for the same pay, he felt sure it would be compensated for by a large decrease in the cost of conveyances. In his own borough he found the item of conveyances a serious and expensive one; and the Bill which passed during the last days of the last Parliament, extending and increasing the use of vehicles on polling days, had offered increased facilities for extravagant expenditure, and had told unfavourably against many hon. Gentlemen who were engaged in the late electoral campaign. But if the hours were extended to 8 o'clock, he felt sure that the expenditure for conveyances would be reduced 50 per cent. And more, he believed the ex- 996 tension would have a good moral effect —that the extension of the hours for municipal and Parliamentary elections would increase the interest the people took in political matters; and the greater the number of people who recorded their votes, the larger would be the area of sympathy and good feeling for the institutions of the country. Some dread had been expressed of riots and disturbances; but he believed that now the schoolmaster was abroad among the people the moral tone among those classes by whom disturbances had arisen was much influenced for good. It was evident from the witnesses who came before the Committee, and who represented the class of working men taking the deepest interest in political affairs, that the great bulk of those combining for trade purposes and industries were well-educated, steady working men, and an increase of this respectable class might be looked forward to, together with a continued decrease of the rowdy class. Speaking for his own borough, he might mention that he drove round and about the town, covering a distance of 40 miles, on the day of election, and he was thankful to say he did not see a single drunken man in the whole of that drive.
§ MR. WARTON
said, the Conservative Party had been accused by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. T. C. Thompson) of being in some way responsible for the distress which prevailed in the country. The hon. Gentleman said the working men had suffered so much distress during the time the Conservatives were in power that they ought to have this boon granted to them in order to compensate them for the wrong they had endured.
§ MR. T. C. THOMPSON,
interposing, said, his remarks were misrepresented by the hon. and learned Member. He in reality spoke of the distress throughout the country, and said that a clay's wages were of great importance to the working men, in consequence of the distress caused by the Conservative Government.
§ MR. WARTON
went on to observe that the hon. Gentleman's explanation perfectly justified his own remarks. He hoped that all the other Party cries used to promote the Liberal cause at the late General Election would be repeated in the House and thoroughly exposed. Adverting to the measure under discussion, he said the grievance brought for- 997 ward was ridiculously small. Hon. Members were asked to extend the hours of polling simply in order to suit the convenience of this working man or of that master. In political matters all persons ought to act on the principle of self-denial; but it was proposed that the artizan should not even sacrifice his dinner-hour or half of it, and that the whole Constitution should be changed for his peculiar benefit. He felt quite ashamed of such an argument. The Tory Party were the real Mends of the working men, while those who professed to be their friends gave them this character—that they would not put themselves a little out of the way in order to vote. An hon. Member had supported the Bill on the ground of morality. But in small boroughs there were bodies of men who "hung back," as it was called, until nearly 4 o'clock, and would hang back more effectively if the poll were to be kept open until 8 o'clock, and they could act under cover of darkness. In the interest of morality, therefore, they ought to reject the proposal. It had been said that little boroughs required an extensions of the hours as much as the larger boroughs. But they all knew that in small boroughs the constituency was generally polled out early in the day. In the Metropolis the police could suppress disorders, which could not be done in small country boroughs. For all these reasons, he hoped the House would not assent to the second reading.
§ MR. FINDLATER
agreed with the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. Richardson) that it would be a calamity if the hours of polling should be extended indiscriminately in all the boroughs of Ireland. The extension should be confined to those boroughs where it could be shown that the voters suffered inconvenience from the present hours. He quite believed that to extend the hours in the smaller boroughs would be to run the risk of disturbance and calamity. An hon. Member had suggested the extension should apply to counties also. So far as his experience of his own county went, he could say that voting was practically over by 2 o'clock. Very few polled after that—in fact, the officials in the polling booths had nothing to do. For these reasons, he hoped that the extension of the hours for polling would not be made general without restriction.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, all must agree that it was desirable that every proper facility should be given to all classes of electors to exercise the privilege which Parliament had conferred upon them; and if it was necessary for that purpose to extend the hours of polling, it was a legitimate subject of inquiry whether it could be done without causing greater evils than it might cure. He could not help feeling that there were many dangers to which they might be exposed if they were indiscriminately to extend the hours of polling throughout the country. If such a course were taken without a necessity for it existing, it was obvious it would lay them open to the great danger of advantage being taken of the hours of darkness for the commission of practices which above all things they desired to put a stop to. Greater facilities would be given for personation and corruption, and some risk would be involved of greater disturbance and irregularities at the poll. Therefore, they ought to be careful of carrying such a measure into places where it was not proved to be necessary. If it could be shown that there were constituencies in which a fair opportunity could not be given to a considerable number of voters to record their votes without some extension of the hours of polling the case would be very different. He did not know whether it was possible by any other means to increase the facilities of voters. They discussed that subject in the last Parliament in connection with the question of the conveyance of voters. But it would be very advantageous to take a proposal like this in connection with other proposals which might have to be made with regard to our electoral system. He wished to point out, also, that the prolongation of the hours of polling would lead in many cases to a postponement of the hour for the declaration of the poll. Where the polling closed at 4 o'clock the declaration might be made in the course of the evening; but if the poll were kept on until 8 o'clock, in many cases the declaration could not be made before next morning, and thus the excitement would be kept up for another day. These were matters which deserved consideration. He understood that the Home Secretary pointed to the probability of some modifications being introduced in Committee, and that the 999 proposer of the Bill was not opposed to such a proceeding. He would, therefore, recommend that they should not oppose the second reading of the Bill, and that the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart) should not press his Amendment. Then, before the Bill went into Committee, they might consider the question, with a view to seeing whether they could remove or mitigate the inconvenience complained of; and, if they were to extend the hours of voting, with what safeguards and precaution it should be done.
§ DR. KINNEAR,
in supporting the Bill, said, he was gratified to hear the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Daly) describe the Bill as being a great boon for the North of Ireland. He was sure such would be the case in Donegal. There the Bill would certainly be a great convenience to voters, and in the same spirit he believed it would be accepted throughout Ireland; therefore, he approved of the objects of the Bill.
§ MR. W. EWART
did not believe this Bill would be found a boon by the people of Ireland. In his constituency of 20,000 electors there was no difficulty in bringing voters to the poll within the hours allowed by law, and he believed the extension of the hours to 8 o'clock would be an unmitigated evil. It would open the door to frauds of many kinds incident to contested elections, would throw the declaration of the poll to the next day, and largely increase the expense of election contests.
§ MR. BURT
said, it seemed to have been assumed throughout the entire discussion that this was a Bill only applicable to the large boroughs of the country. An extension of the hours of polling was greatly needed in the large boroughs; but it was not altogether peculiar to them, inasmuch as in many small boroughs the necessity also prevailed. He knew that in some small boroughs, and especially in the borough he had the honour to represent, the necessity for an extension of the hour was equally felt. The electors of his borough were over 5,000 in number, and the area covered was very extensive in proportion to the population; and, therefore, the voters found a difficulty in getting to the poll when it was closed at so early an hour. In the Morpeth district an election necessitated the closing of the pits, if all the 1000 men were to vote, and the pits could not be stopped without very great disadvantage; and in some other districts the pits could not be closed at all. His contention was that, even if they could, it was not a matter that should be forced upon them; it was the duty of Parliament to afford every reasonable facility for the exercise of the franchise with which the electors had been endowed.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
expressed his willingness to accept the advice of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). In giving Notice of opposition, he had no intention of resisting the principle of the Bill so far as it referred to allowing the working man to record his vote; but what he did object to was that that principle should be extended to every borough indiscriminately.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday loth June.