§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he merely wished the House at that time, by reading the Bill a second time, to affirm the desirability of extending in large boroughs the hours of polling which had been found to work so advantageously in London. By assenting to the second reading, it would not be understood that the House was committed to the particular form in which the Bill was drawn. The question of the particular constituencies to which the extension should apply would have to be carefully considered in Committee, and he would undertake, if the second reading were agreed to, to introduce the names of the particular constituencies in the Bill when it reached the Committee stage, instead of leaving it optional to the localities. That being so, the House would only be committed by the second reading to the principle that in certain large towns the hours of polling should be extended. He believed that an extension was recommended without distinction of Party by many Members of the House. He would, therefore, ask the House to assent to the second reading, subject to the consideration in Committee of what the extent should be.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)531
§ MR. BRODRICK
wished to protest against the second reading of the Bill being taken at that late hour. For his own part, he did not think there existed that consensus of opinion which the right hon. Baronet had mentioned. On the contrary, he thought there was a very great difference of opinion, and he believed that there would have been Notice of opposition to the Bill if there had been any notion that it would have been taken at that late hour. As to the statement of the right hon. Baronet, that the extension of the hours of polling in London had proved to be eminently satisfactory, probably what the right hon. Baronet meant was that in many of the London boroughs voters of doubtful persuasion had been brought up in large numbers under cover of darkness, and that a considerable majority of Liberal Members had thus been returned. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would himself see that it was objectionable to press the second reading at that hour. Under the circumstances, he objected to go on with the discussion, and he would move the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he begged to second the Motion for Adjournment. It was quite clear that the right hon. Baronet was exceedingly anxious to pass something through the House. He had pointed out that the Bill was a very small one, and that in reading it a second time they would admit nothing except the principle. But the right hon. Baronet went on to say that he had not yet considered where they were to draw the line. It would be easy for the right hon. Gentleman to write out a list of the boroughs to which the Bill would apply, because it was very easy to discover which were those that exceeded 5,000 registered electors. Therefore, notwithstanding the very bland way in which the right hon. Gentleman asked them to admit the principle of the Bill, on the assurance that they would affirm nothing by doing so, they would be really laying down that the Government were right in bringing in a Bill to extend the hours of polling in every constituency which numbered more than 5,000. They would also be declaring, almost in so many words, what the boroughs actually were; and no doubt when the Bill got into Committee they would be told that they had already 532 passed the principle which included all the details. He regretted that it should be the practice of the Government to hurry every Bill through every stage upon some false pretence. In this case they were proposing to consider a vast and important subject in a hurried and unusual manner, and he thought the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) was quite right in moving the adjournment of the debate at that hour. There was another reason why it was not desirable to go on with the Bill now. He thought it was of the utmost importance that they should not go away from the subject before them—namely, the Queen's Speech—until the Address had been agreed to. He protested against the restless desire manifested by the right hon. Baronet to do something under any pretence whatever. On these grounds he would second the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Brodrick.)
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he could not but express surprise that this important measure should have been opposed and the Motion for the adjournment of the debate made by a county Member (Mr. Brodrick) and seconded by a Member for a small borough (Mr. Warton) which was, unfortunately, outside the provisions of the Bill. Without going at greater length into the question, he would only say, on behalf of one of the largest boroughs in the country, that there, and in the great manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the measure was very warmly supported by both political Parties.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he could not allow the debate on the second reading of this Bill to proceed without a protest on his part. He had been rather taken by surprise at hearing, about a quarter of an hour ago or even less, that Her Majesty's Government were going to assent to an early adjournment of the debate on the Address. After hearing so much of the importance of the Speech from the Throne and the Address to Her Majesty, he was quite unprepared for the course now taken by the Government. It certainly had not been customary to press on any important mea- 533 sure during the discussions on the Address, and he was not certain that the Government could point to any precedent for the present proceeding. As far as he was aware, although matters of importance might have been brought forward, there was no precedent whatever for a measure of importance being pressed on before the conclusion of the debates on the Address. He was astonished at the course proposed to be taken on this occasion, especially as the Government must have known that if there had been the slighest idea amongst Members interested in the question that the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill would be taken at that Sitting, the Benches on both sides of the House would have been much more fully occupied than they were at that moment. He hoped, therefore, his hon. Friend would divide the House on his Motion for the adjournment of the debate, and then, if the numbers were against him, and the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board were agreed to, he should regard the second reading of the Bill as having been taken by surprise. He repeated that hon. Members had not the slightest information as to the Bill coming forward at that hour. After the excitement of that evening's debate, and in view of the opinions expressed by the President of the Local Government Board last year as to the bearing of the measure, so far as his political Party was concerned, he did not think it worthy of Her Majesty's Government or the right hon. Baronet to force on the Bill as they now proposed. Few things were more astonishing than a comparison of the action of the right hon. Baronet hitherto with regard to the Bill and the speech which he had just delivered; but he would allude to that subject for no other reason than that it afforded a strong argument in favour of the adjournment of the debate. The right hon. Baronet had that evening endeavoured to make the House believe that the passing of the Bill was a matter of very small importance; that it would practically not affect anything very much; that the present occasion was a fitting one on which to take the second reading, and that all consideration of the merits of the case ought to be postponed to another day. Such were the invitation and the inducements 534 which the right hon. Baronet now held out to the House. But what was the position he had hitherto taken up? Having read the speeches delivered by the right hon. Baronet during the Recess, he was able to state that he had, in every one of them, laid the greatest possible stress upon this Bill as being one of the highest political importance; a Bill which he put forward in all parts of the country as the one measure he intended to pass, which, on account of its vast importance, ought to receive the attention of the House and the people, and the passing of which into law would redound to the credit of the present Government. Upon the right hon. Baronet's own showing, therefore, he said that the Bill was of such importance that the House ought not to allow the second reading to be taken at that hour (12.25). The right hon. Baronet had just said that the Bill was introduced for the purpose of extending the hours of polling at Parliamentary elections in boroughs, but that the House would have to consider in what cases it should be applied. He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) begged to say that they had to deal with the Bill as they found it. Its object was unmistakably plain; in every borough with 5,000 electors the Act was to come into operation. What then was the use of stating to the House that on some future occasion they should consider to what boroughs the Act was to apply? He repeated that the Bill must be considered by them as it stood, and that, on account of its large importance, they ought not to be called upon to do so then. The right hon. Baronet seemed very anxious to reply to his remarks, but he regrotted being obliged to detain him in his seat for a few moments longer. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet would give him his attention; otherwise he should certainly press the adjournment of the debate more strongly than he had done. His contention was that they ought not to be discussing a Bill of this nature by surprise. It was a retrograde measure. Throughout the whole progress of Reform the direction of legislation had been towards the shortening of the hours of election—in other words, shortening the time during which electors were under temptation from bribery and other causes. But this Bill went in the opposite direction, and proposed to extend the period of temptation to which 535 voters were exposed. The right hon. Baronet must remember that in the large boroughs it was much more difficult to find out what was taking place during the dark nights of winter than it was in the hours of daylight. The later, therefore, was the hour of polling in the evening, the more temptation was to be feared.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he is departing from the Question before the House, which is, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ SIR E. ASSHETON CROSS
said, with submission to the ruling of Mr. Speaker, he only wished to point out that this was a step in the direction opposite to that of the legislation of past years, and that they had to consider the important question as to whether, by allowing the Bill to proceed, they would not be increasing, instead of reducing, the opportunities for bribery at elections. There were several very important points raised by the Bill; and it might, perhaps, have been belter, instead of extending the hour of polling to 5 o'clock at night, to allow the polling to commence at 5 o'clock in the morning, because the temptations to bribery would not then be of the same kind. Finally, in entering his protest against the second reading being taken under the circumstances he had described, he could assure the right hon. Baronet that nothing would be gained by the course proposed, because the whole subject would have to be as minutely considered on the Motion for going into Committee as if the Bill had not been read a second time. For these reasons he should feel it his duty to support the Motion of his hon. Friend if he went to a Division.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the Motion before the House being for the adjournment of the debate, he could not but feel that the right hon. Gentleman had rather strayed from the Question. The right hon. Gentleman said the debate ought to be adjourned because the House was engaged in discussing the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, and because, on former occasions, during the time of discussion on the Address it had been the rule not to put forward for the consideration of the House any measures of importance. That might, doubtless, have been the rule in former 536 years; but hon. Members would bear in mind that then the debates on the Address were concluded in two or three Sittings, and did not, as was now the case, extend over a period of 13 or 14 days. A new condition of things had arisen to which they must adapt themselves, and hence the reason for putting forward the Bill at the present time. Before they agreed to the adjournment of the debate the Government had to ask why that adjournment should take place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South - West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) said he objected to the measure as being of a retrograde character, and that the House ought not to undertake legislation under such circumstances. But it was not a retrograde measure when the hours of polling were last extended. [Sir E. ASSHETON GROSS: Yes.] Then they had a precedent for retrogression. But the right hon. Gentleman was in a great degree answerable for the present measure; he had borne a very conspicuous part in the discussions which took place last year, and Her Majesty's Government were very grateful to him for the position he then took up with regard to this question. The Bill was a necessary consequence of the Act of last year, and the right hon. Gentleman must regard it as a little child of his own. He agreed that there should be no delay in passing the measure, and that no election ought to take place under the new order of things without it. The right hon. Gentleman had a conspicuous responsibility in this matter; and it was, therefore, to be hoped that the discussion on the measure, which, against his (the Attorney General's) former views, had become necessary, would be proceeded with, and that there would be no adjournment of the debate. The object in introducing the Bill was to establish a rule at elections in accordance with the views of Members on both sides of the House. It had become necessary to do something on behalf of those who required an extension of time for recording their votes. He, therefore, trusted that the House would agree to the passing of the measure, and that those Gentlemen who had spoken on the present Motion would not be amongst its opponents. In asking that the discussion on the Motion of his right hon. Friend might now be allowed to proceed, he 537 begged to assure the House that Her Majesty's Government would, in Committee, consider any suggestions which hon. Members might have to offer, provided they were not opposed to the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he regarded the speech of the Attorney General as the strongest argument he had heard in favour of the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for West (Surrey (Mr. Brodrick). He passed over the most extraordinary and irrelevant argument of the hon. Member for Sal-ford (Mr. Arthur Arnold), who thought there was something very amusing in the fact of the adjournment being moved by a county Member, and seconded by the Member for a borough of smaller size than those to be dealt with by the Bill—as if that had anything to do with the question. But as for the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General, every argument that he or the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board had urged for going on with the debate was an infringement of the argument in favour of the great importance of this measure. And then the Attorney General asked what reason there was for not going on that night? Why, the question answered itself. The House had just adjourned a debate of exceeding importance and interest; they had had a very exciting event in the early hours of the day, and they would have a more exciting event to-morrow. He would not say that issues of more importance, but issues of another sort than those which had occupied them until the dinner hour to-day, would be before them; so to ask the House at midnight to deal with a measure which must have, and might be having, a very important influence on the future destinies of our electoral system, and to call on them to do that on the fifth night of the Session, when, upon hypothesis, they had more than half-a-year before them in which to carry out this legislation, was too much. He repeated that the question of the Attorney General answered itself. The debate on the Address was not concluded; in Her Majesty's Speech this measure was not mentioned; and yet, before the Address had been agreed to, it was to be rushed through the House, because, forsooth, some bye-election might shortly occur. He trusted hon. Gentlemen would not 538 be so wanting in respect for Parliament and its Forms as to press the Motion for the second reading of the Bill on the present occasion. It was a clever and adroit movement to bring it forward, but it was a failure, and he thought the Government had better back out of it.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he was one of those who opposed the Bill of last year, and he certainly intended at the present time to "stick to his guns." He had had no idea whatever that the Bill would be brought on at that Sitting; but, at the same time, he must tell the right hon. Baronet that the Bill which he now proposed was very different indeed from the measure introduced by him last year and in the year before. The view which he had taken of the Bill was, therefore, somewhat modified. He had always held the ground that as long as there were small boroughs—and he hoped there would be comparatively small boroughs for many years to come—this Bill would be most obnoxious for them. The right hon. Baronet now proposed that the extension of the hours of polling should apply to boroughs with an electorate of 5,000; and, although he repeated that his views with regard to the measure had become somewhat modified, he could not but think that his hon. Friend the Member for West Surrey had been perfectly right in the course he had taken of moving the adjournment of the debate. He believed there were very few Members on either side of the House who had any idea that the Bill would come forward that night. He was aware, of course, that the House was a House of surprises, and no one who had been present that evening could have been more surprised than himself at the course taken by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was bound to say, considering the interest that many right hon. Gentlemen had in this question, both now and in previous Sessions, that the Government were demanding too much in asking the House to assent at once to the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. The Attorney General had informed them that the measure was very urgent, on the ground that it was a necessary consequence of the Act of last year. He would not go into the merits of the Bill, for he should be out of Order in so doing; but he strongly demurred to the argument of the Attorney General, that the House should pass the Bill because another 539 Bill had been passed. Whether the measure was a right or a wrong one, it was his opinion that a Committee of that House should be appointed, in order that the House might ascertain the opinions of Mayors, Aldermen, and members of Corporations in the various boroughs as to whether the measure was necessary or not. The Attorney General would say, no doubt, that there had been many Committees already which had considered the subject, and that they did not need another. But he repeated that another Committee ought to inquire into the matter before a Bill of this great importance was passed into law. He believed that the measure had not been properly considered by some hon. Members—that was to say, not thoroughly considered by those who represented boroughs having less than 5,000 electors; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would gather from the speeches which had been made that there existed in the House a very strong feeling that a measure of this great importance should not be pressed on at an hour when neither the right hon. Gentleman himself, nor hon. Members generally, had any idea that it would come forward. For his own part, he should be happy, at a fitting time, to give the Bill his most serious consideration; and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he would do this altogether irrespective of Party politics, because he did not regard it as a Party measure at all. Nevertheless, although he thought the Bill ought to be considered on its merits, he held that the proper time for its consideration had not yet come; and he therefore trusted Her Majesty's Government would give way on that occasion, and not press the Motion for the second reading.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, the electors he had the honour to represent could hardly be described as Conservatives; but they were quite satisfied with things as they were, and very much objected to this Bill. If the Bill passed in its present form, and made it obligatory in all cases to fix the time at 8 o'clock, he should vote against the Bill; but he did not think that would be the consequence; and it seemed to him that, this being a non-Party measure, it would be well for the House to pass the second reading now, and 540 then deal with these questions in Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 29; Noes 105: Majority 76.—(Div. List, No. 6.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, he protested against this endeavour to force a Bill of this immense importance through the House during the discussion of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech; and he should move that the House be now adjourned. He thoroughly endorsed what had been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) as to this being no Party question; but it was a question which involved very great matters connected with the electorate of this country. It had been said that the Bill was a corollary to the Bill of last Session; but he must dispute that. They did not know what fruit the Bill of last Session would yet bear in a General Election; and, from his own knowledge, he must say that a Bill of this kind might do serious injury to a certain class of constituencies in this country. He could not now discuss the Bill on its merits; but he alluded to boroughs whore there were corrupt voters who hung back until they were paid for their votes. He appealed to the Government not to force this matter now, considering the importance of the subject, and that such matters as this connected with elections had never been treated as Party questions.
SIR HENRY FLETCHER
said, he wished to second the Motion. It was a great surprise to hon. Members that, at that hour of the night, after they had been in the House so many hours, they should be asked to pass the second reading of this Bill, when they had not had an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with it. It would not be in Order to discuss the Bill on this occasion; but he trusted the House would agree to an adjournment, in order that a deliberate judgment might be taken upon the question whether the Bill would be for the benefit of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir William Bart Dyke.)
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he hoped, after the overwhelming expres- 541 sion of opinion just given, that the House would not consent to the adjournment. The right hon. Member opposite (Sir William Hart Dyke) had rather complained of this Bill being described as a corollary to the Corrupt Practices Bill, but who laid that principle down? The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) who, last Session, attacked the Government for not having carried a Bill for the extension of polling hours in connection with the Corrupt Practices Bill. The hon. Member laid down that doctrine towards the end of the Session; and he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was astonished to see how the hon. Member had voted, for he had expected that the hon. Member would vote with the Government. He was also astonished at the vote of the right hon Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith;. The right hon. Gentleman knew how perfectly the Corrupt Practices Act had been working, and he was astonished to see the right hon. Gentleman vote against this Bill. He hoped the House would insist on passing the second reading that night. The Government had had an overwhelming majority, such as was seldom seen; and it was a remarkable fact that, up to the present time, in this debate, no one had opposed the second reading to whose constituency the Bill would apply, the opposition having come from hon. Gentlemen to whose constituencies the Bill would not apply.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he wished to put it to Mr. Speaker, whether it was not the "evident sense" of the House that the Question should now be put? The majority in this case had been over 100, and the minority was under 40. He did not think the country would relish anything better than that the Conservative Party should be defeated under the circumstances, when the Conservative Party was endeavouring to put the clôture on working men after 5 o'clock.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was to be congratulated on the facility with which he had slipped into the House, at a convenient opportunity to-night, having accomplished the unique feat of slipping out of the House the other night on the Amendment to the Address moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member 542 for King's Lynn (Mr. Bourke). A charge of Obstruction was brought against the Conservative Party, because they opposed the taking of this important Bill at 20 minutes past 12, without any proper Notice having been given; but he (Mr. Ashmead-Bartletf) would venture to say there were not 10 hon. Members yesterday or to-day who expected that this Bill would come on that night. There was a large number of hon. Members who would like to speak on the second reading of the Bill; and the right hon. Gentleman ought to remember that the reason for the large majority was that the Bill had been brought on without Notice in this unexpected and unfair way. It was an unexpected accident that the debate on the Address had closed before half-past 12; and bethought it was due to the dignity of the House, and to hon. Members who were absent, that they should have a fair opportunity, in accordance with Parliamentary warfare, of considering this Bill on the second reading. It was most intolerably unjust that, when a Bill was brought on in this unexpected way at 20 minutes past 12, a charge of Obstruction should be brought against the Conservative Party, because they resisted the taking of this Bill in the middle of the debate on the Queen's Speech, and at this time of the night. He should like the Government to show any precedent for the introduction of a Bill of this kind at this hour of the night, when the debate on the Address, in reply to the Queen's Speech, was in full progress; and he repudiated the trumped-up charge of Obstruction made against the Conservative Party.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, that what he had urged last year was that the only way to meet the wishes and needs of working men in regard to voting was by an extension of the hours.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, he did not think he was at all inconsistent in supporting the adjournment, because he was very much surprised at the Bill being now taken.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 27; Noes 101: Majority 74.—(Div. List, No. 7.)543
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he would move the adjournment of the debate. He did so, on account of the course pursued by the Government in regard to the Bill. As representing a constituency which would be affected by the Bill in its present shape, he objected to the manner in which it was pressed forward. They had been taken by surprise by the precipitancy with which the measure was being hurried on. He could not help noting the difference between the Bill now introduced and that which was brought forward by the right hon Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) last year. Owing to the considerable difference between the two Bills, it was very necessary the House should receive from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure an explanation of the reasons which had induced the change. The hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Henry James) had said that a change had taken place in the mode of carrying on the debate on the Address, and the hon. and learned Gentleman assigned that as a reason why the Bill had been brought in while the discussion upon the Address was proceeding. But if that was really the reason for deviating from the usual course—namely, of not proposing a Government Bill until the Address had been finally disposed of—the House ought to have been informed of the fact before this, and an opportunity ought to have been given to hon. Members who were interested in the provisions of the measure, to have the second reading properly debated. As yet he was not aware whether the Bill would be approved by the majority of his constituents; but this he did know, that its provisions had been much discussed, and that there was great difference of opinion as to the details of any alteration. The constituencies of the country ought to have a greater opportunity of considering the details of the measure than had so far been afforded them; and, therefore, he moved the adjournment of the debate,
§ MR. DIXON-HARTLAND
said, he would second the Motion. Many hon. Members had not the slightest idea that the Bill would come on that night, and had left the House. He protested against the Bill being sprung upon 544 them at that hour (1.15 A.M.) of the morning.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 18; Noes 105: Majority 87.—(Div. List, No. 8.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, it was very unreasonable that, at that hour (1.20 A.M.), they should be compelled to continue the debate upon the principles of a Bill of such importance. He could assure the House, however, that, so far as he was concerned, he should not make many observations, but should confine himself to entering a protest, and calling attention to one or two points. It was said that this Bill was necessary in consequence of the measure of last Session; but he would point out that, while, in the latter, the expenses of elections were reduced, in the present Bill a large amount of additional labour would be thrown on the polling clerks. He believed that, in large cities and boroughs, it would be impossible to get polling clerks to work from 8 to 8, or 12 hours a-day. The work might be done by relays of clerks, but that would, of course, lead to greater expenditure. In the city he represented—Liverpool—there were a large number of polling clerks, and these gentlemen complained very much of the present number of hours. If an additional tax were to be imposed upon their time, they would refuse the work, and it would be found very difficult to get polling clerks. Then, again, he had always entertained a very strong feeling that there should be a distinction drawn between the hours of polling in summer and those in winter. In summer, the hours might be safely extended; but he was convinced that in a large city, like Liverpool, for example, where there were a large number of young Orangemen and Roman Catholics, who were likely to come into conflict if the hours were extended in the winter months, it would be almost impossible for respectable electors to record their votes at night. He had always felt that the wisest course would be—and he would venture to urge it on the Government for their adoption—to give the local authorities power to fix the hours of polling. The 545 fixing of a hard-and-fast line, notwithstanding that it might be found convenient and even advantageous in some places, might be found to be singularly irksome in many cities. He would press on those in charge of the Bill the desirability of very carefully considering these points, particularly his suggestion for a variation in the hours of polling in the winter and the summer. In some constituencies there might be no danger in having the hours the same in winter as in summer; but, from his experience of elections in Liverpool, he was convinced that, in that city, the system would be in the highest degree dangerous. Many people, as he had said, would be unable to vote during the hours of darkness. Altogether, on the ground of increased expense, for which no provision was made in the Bill of last year, and on the ground of the inconvenience of drawing a hard-and-fast line, which, while it might be advantageous in some districts, might be highly disadvantageous in others, he hoped that the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) would see his way to the acceptance of substantial Amendments. It could not be denied that some of the arguments he (Mr. Whitley) had advanced were strong ones, and he really hoped that, whilst the Government were introducing this change, they would take every care to make their Bill a good one, and do all they could to bring about security in polling. The right hon. Baronet, he was aware, represented a large constituency—but one not, he thought, so large as his (Mr. Whitley's) own. There were some streets in Liverpool where Party riots were continually taking place, and it could hardly be the wish of the Government, or of anyone else, to render polling in such places insecure. What they should all desire was to obtain perfect freedom of voting, and when, in his desire to secure that object, he brought forward Amendments to make the Bill more perfect, he earnestly hoped he should receive support from the House.
§ MR. HEALY
said, that if the Bill was passed in its present form, it would be of little use to the people of Ireland, and it was to be hoped the Government would take into their consideration the small number of places in that country to which it would apply. It would apply in only three or four cases; indeed, he was told only in two, so that Ireland 546 would be practically shut out from the advantages of a Bill which her Representatives deemed of the greatest importance. If they had had the extension of the borough franchise in Ireland in 1867, when it was given to England and Scotland, there would have been many Irish boroughs which would have reaped advantage from this measure; but they had not had that extension. They were told that they were to have an extension of the franchise this year; but, for his own part, he did not believe it—he did not believe that the Lords would be such fools as to pass the Bill. It would, therefore, be very hard on the people of Ireland to be shut out, not only from the advantages of the franchise given 16 years ago, but also from the advantages of the present Bill. The limitation in the case of Ireland should be fixed at 1,000; at all events, he trusted that they would hear that a lesser limit in the case of that country than 5,000 had been decided on.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the last subject referred to, and several other of the points raised, were purely matters for Committee. He was not inclined to discuss details as to how the Bill could be made applicable to the different portions of the United Kingdom, as those things would have to be discussed and settled when the Bill reached its next stage. With regard to the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley), he was, no doubt, entitled to express his opinion upon the measure, and to have great weight attached to that opinion, representing, as he did, probably, the largest constituency in England. It was difficult, however, to know what the hon. Member's view really was with regard to the Bill. Last year he practically asked for this measure—he asked for an extension of the hours of polling—and, if he (the Attorney General) recollected rightly, the hon. Member, or certain other hon. Members opposite, objected to the principle of allowing the local authorities to fix the hours of polling, on the ground that those functionaries would be guided by their political views in the arrangements they made. Last year, in regard to one matter, they did do what the hon. Member now asked should be done in regard to Parliamentary elections—that was to say, they allowed the local authorities to fix the hours of polling; and the evils of that 547 principle had been pointed out so clearly, that many hon. Members thought it desirable that a Bill should be introduced on the subject. Every evil the hon. Member had pointed out, if it were likely to exist at all, would be found to exist in the Metropolis. They were moving on, it was true, and had new positions to deal with; but they were not without experience in the matter, and, from what had taken place in the Metropolis, they were led to believe that the evils feared were theoretical and not practical. For the amount of payment allowed in the Returning Officers' Expenses Bill, it was found possible to find men able to perform the duties of polling clerks and presiding officers, and willing to sit from 8 o'clock to 8. The same result had been found in connection with school board elections, no difficulty having been experienced in finding persons to perform the duties for one day. Though he should have thought, theoretically, that some difficulty would have been experienced in this matter, it had turned out not to be the case. Since 1878, at these elections, they had found no greater difficulty in getting persons to sit from 8 to 8 than they had previously experienced in getting them to sit from 8 to 4. [An hon. MEMBER: At the same price?] Yes. It must be recollected that, by Statute, the men could not be paid more than a certain sum. As to a variation in the hours in winter and summer, in the Ballot Act, when passing through the House of Lords, Lord Shaftesbury did propose that there should be such a variation; but when the measure came back to the Commons the idea was scouted by both sides of the House, and it was held that what was good for winter was equally good for summer. The proposition was entirely put aside. But, if this subject required discussion, let them discuss it in Committee. The hon. Member for Liverpool desired them to consider the interests of the working classes. The Government were anxious to do so, and if the hon. Member brought forward a suggestion, it would be carefully considered, as there could be no doubt, proceeding from such a quarter, it would be tendered in the desire to find some method by which the working men of large and small boroughs should have a fair opportunity of recording their votes at the poll. The hon. Member must not 548 think that he (the Attorney General) was throwing unnecessary obstacles in the way of working men recording their votes. He was anxious to facilitate their getting to the poll—to enable everyone who was duly qualified to record his vote, if it were possible for him to do so. They would endeavour to find a method of doing this, and all they now asked was that the principle should be accepted. If the principle were accepted, he was sure they would easily discover a way of fashioning the details.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he did not think there would be much prospect of taking the Committee stage for some little time; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman would repeat his question to-morrow night, probably a more definite answer might be returned. He intended to put the Bill down for to-morrow night, because there had been a mistake made in the drafting which should be rectified before going into Committee. The Committee would be taken pro formâ, so that the mistake might be corrected. The hon. and learned Member would, perhaps, repeat his question to-morrow.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.