HC Deb 03 July 1884 vol 289 cc1986-97

Bill, as amended considered.

Clause 1 (Hours of polling in boroughs with more than five thousand electors, 31 & 32 Vict. c. 125).


proposed, in page 1, line 10, after "any," to insert "county or." The hon. Gentleman said, that when he put down this Amendment there was no other Amendment standing on the Paper which had the effect he desired. He ventured in Committee to propose the extension of the operation of the Bill to counties; but he was ruled out of Order, consequently he put his Amendment down for the Report stage. He observed that the noble Viscount the Member for Barnstaple (Viscount Lymington) had an Amendment on the Paper which would have the same effect. It was, however, a little more explanatory, and he (Mr. H. Samuelson) need hardly say he would be quite willing to add the additional words in the Amendment of the noble Viscount to his own Amendment if the House saw fit. They were told that in proposing a measure of this sort it was intended to increase the time at the disposal of the electors during which they could record their votes. It was said they ought to go by steps and easy stages, in making the change, and that they had already taken a large step in the right direction by extending the hours of polling in the Metropolis. It, however, seemed to him that when a reform of this sort was under consideration it was just as easy to cut away at once all the objections which were raised to the present condition of affairs as to leave part of them to be dealt with in the future. Now, in his view, this Amendment was perfectly necessary, in order that the county voter might be able to give his vote without an amount of inconvenience leading to virtual disfranchisement. If some such Amendment were not accepted it would be necessary to put a clause in some Bill which should compel Returning Officers to fix Saturday as the day on which county elections should be held, otherwise many county voters would be practically disfranchised. He was present about a week ago at a conference of some 400 persons belonging to different Committees, and representing no less than five or six counties, or districts of counties, in the West of England. A number of interesting speeches were there made by gentlemen, who were conversant with the conduct of elections; and it was the general opinion that one of the greatest boons which could be conferred on the county voter was an extension of the hours of polling, similar to that proposed in the case of boroughs. He knew it might be said that, by the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, magistrates had power, and, indeed, were enjoined, to create such a large number of polling places in counties that no voter would have any difficulty practically in getting to the poll. But, although magistrates had that power, they had not in every case exercised it in a proper spirit. He was sure the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) was well aware of one county at least in which the magistrates had not carried out the intentions of the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act with regard to the number and arrangement of polling places. But even if the magistrates did carry out that Act in this respect that would not be enough. Let them take one instance of the necessity of an extension of the hours of polling. Every hon. Member would understand that if an employer happened to know that the opinions of certain of his employés were different upon political matters to his own, it was very easy for him, without saying a word, so to manage that their work should take the men a long way from the polling places on the day of election. As by the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act they were not allowed to provide paid conveyances, it was quite clear that a man who worked a long way from the place of polling could not manage, as the hours of polling at present stood, to get back in time, unless he sacrificed half-a-day's pay to record his vote. He did not think that any hon. Member of the House would stand up and say it was right that a poor voter should, in order to exercise what was not only a right, but a duty of an Englishman, lose a portion of his wages. It might be said that the question of conveying was easily got over, because there were always gentlemen ready to lend their carriage or conveyance without fee or reward. Unfortunately, however, there were many places in which one Party had almost a monopoly of convey- ances. It was quite clear that the political Party which possessed the most carriages, or waggons, or conveyances of different kinds was too favourably handicapped. The reform he suggested was particularly needed in the Metropolitan counties, because in those counties men went to work very early in the morning by train, possibly to a place far removed from the place in which they resided, and where they were entitled to vote. Many of such men could not return until long after the present hour of closing the poll; they, therefore, had no opportunity of voting. It seemed to him that the present hours of polling in "[the Metropolitan counties, at any rate, absolutely nullified the right of voting which was possessed by county voters; and as an illustration of that he might mention the fact, partly due, he knew, to other causes, but in great measure due to the difficulty voters had to get from their work in time to record their votes, that in the late election in Mid Surrey only 50 per cent of the electors went to the poll. They were now on the point, he hoped, of adding to the electorate 2,000,000 of capable citizens. At any rate, it was clear that if the Liberal Party did not add these people to the electorate, the opposite Party would do so whenever they came into power. It would be well to act handsomely to these people, and not give them the right to vote only, but give them the power and opportunity and time to vote, without any sacrifice on their part, or without having to go cap in hand to ask leave to vote from their employers. On these grounds he begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name, and he hoped the Government would look favourably upon it, because he could not see that the arguments which applied to the necessity of the change in large urban constituencies were wanting in the case of counties. Voters in counties had just as much difficulty in getting to the poll as men in large boroughs; indeed, the two cases seemed quite on all fours. He did not see what harm such a change could do. It was argued that it would lead to additional cost, and that the votes could not be counted the night they were given. It was seldom that the poll could be declared the same night in a county now, and it was very greatly in the interest of peace and quiet that the poll should not be declared until the day following the election. He begged to move his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, after the word "any," to insert the words "county or." — (Mr. Henry Samuelson.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, that on the second reading he had pointed out that the question of an extension of hours in boroughs was a very old question. It had been before the House over and over again, and had been considered by two Select Committees of that House. A great deal of evidence had been taken before those Committees, and communications had been addressed on more than one occasion to borough Members and to Corporations, so that there was a great mass of evidence collected on the subject. The extension of hours in counties was a new question; but there was clear evidence that, as regarded suburban counties, such a change was needed, although he was far from believing that it was the feeling of county Members that such an extension should take place, and it had not been shown that there was any desire for this change outside the suburban counties. Instead of overloading this Bill, he would try to ascertain between now and next Session what the opinion generally of the county constituencies was; and if he found it was in favour of the change, he would himself propose that it should be made.


regretted the reply which the right hon. Baronet had been obliged to give; and he must, in the first place, differ from the right hon. Baronet as to the distinction between boroughs and counties. Why should an agricultural labourer living within the radius of a Parliamentary borough, like Cricklade, Aylesbury, and Shoreham, have the advantage of this Bill, while the agricultural labourer living outside that radius should not have it? As the Bill stood, it would create an anomaly as great as the Franchise Bill intended to remove. It was of vital importance, if the labourer was to enjoy the vote which the Liberal Party wished to confer upon him, that the hours of polling should be extended. The arrangement of the polling districts depended on the magistrates; but it must be remembered that the vast majority of magistrates at Quarter Sessions did not belong to the Party in favour of the extension of the franchise. It was said that an extension of the hours would be likely to lead to riots and disorder; but if there was any such danger as that, he would venture to say there was far greater risk in large and crowded constituencies like the Metropolitan boroughs, where the hours had already been extended, than in quiet rural districts. He did not think that was an argument deserving of much attention. He felt that there was no other course than to divide.


said, this was a practical question for both Tory and Liberal county Members; and his right hon. Friend had said he was anxious and willing to consider this subject with regard to legislation, and to entertain any arguments practically put before him. Everyone agreed that polling places should only be kept open so long as was necessary; and until the general feeling of the counties had been ascertained, this proposition should not be hastily adopted. In the absence of such information, he must give his vote against the Motion.


observed that this was a question which did not so much affect county Members. The House had nothing to do with the convenience of county Members in this matter. What they had to consider was the best means of giving voters a chance of recording their votes. The question really did not need much argument. It was simply a question whether voters should be fully enfranchised or not; and there was no doubt that if the hours of polling were not extended until 8 o'clock a large number of present voters would be disfranchised.


said, he thought it of great importance that the hours should be extended, and he should support the Amendment.


said, it would be useless to appeal to county authorities for information in favour of an extension of hours, for they were certain to be opposed to it. There was no existing authority in counties except Toryism.


said, he should apply to Associations.


replied that the only authorities to be applied to were the Quarter Sessions Magistrates, and the case would be as hopeless as any that could be imagined.


said, he regarded this a perfectly right and proper Amendment, and he should vote for it; but, at the same time, there was a great difference between its being supported by the Government and being opposed by the Government; and he wished to suggest that some compromise should be aimed at.


said, he did not intend to divide the House. There was no need to discuss the Amendment any longer, as the strongest speech in favour of it had been made by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill.


said, the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lyulph Stanley) had asked if there was no possibility of a compromise on the Bill. He would suggest to the Government a compromise which was not unfamiliar to them— namely, that they should arrange for their supporters to go into one Lobby whilst they went into the other.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 54; Noes 107: Majority 53.—(Div. List, No. 150.)


said, he wished to propose an Amendment in page 1, line 11, to omit all the words after the word "which" to the end of the sub-section, in order to insert the words— Has 'at the last registration on the register the names of more than three thousand electors. He did not wish to preclude the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) from bringing on his Amendment; therefore he would suggest that Mr. Speaker should put the Question so as to leave the hon. Member his opportunity. He (Mr. Warton) apologized to the House for not having put his Amendment on the Paper. He had not had time to do it. As to the words in the Bill, he ventured to think it was the wrong test to take the time of the passing of the Act, because they all knew that amongst a body of 3,000 electors the chances of life were such that some few were sure to die between the registration and the time the Act came into operation. It was quite within the bounds of possibility that an alteration might be brought about which would prevent the measure coming into operation in certain places unless some such Amendment as that he proposed were accepted. In considering this matter they ought not to contemplate the Reform Bill— they should take things as they were, and discard altogether the possibility of any future Reform Bill. It was quite time to deal with any such Bill when it was passed. The Government wished to adopt a hurried mode of legislation to save them the trouble of preparing a Schedule. They could not take the trouble to look through the number of electors in the boroughs at the last election and make out a list.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 11, to leave out all the words after the word "which" to the end of the subsection, in order to insert the words "has at the last registration on the register the names of more than three thousand electors."—(Mr. Warton.)

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


said, he proposed to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Monaghau (Mr. Healy). It was rather long, but it seemed to make the matter clear. As to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport as to the registration, there was no official statement as to the number of names on the Register. Until the list was printed it was no one's business to count them; and no one, save, perhaps, the Revising Barrister and the Returning Officer, had any knowledge on the subject. There was always a good deal of doubt before the printing as to the number of electors on the Register, and the most careful estimates were generally found to be wrong in large registrations—perhaps by some 10 or 20 names. The Register was not printed until the 1st of January. He thought, therefore, they ought to take the Register in force rather than wait until the 1st of January for the "last registration."


said, he was sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government proposed to accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy). They might have this anomaly—that a constituency which had only a little less than 3,000 electors might acquire that number in a year or two, and then have a right to the extended hours for polling; but, supposing the constituency decreased, and from over 3,000 fell to below that number, they would have this absurd state of things existing—that whereas the hours of polling extended to 8 o'clock one year, the next year they would not go beyond 4 o'clock. Such a state of things would be intolerable, therefore he thought the words "at the passing of the Act" should remain in the Bill.


said, there must necessarily be a difficulty in regard to want of certainty as to what the number of electors was. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Monaghan would make the matter clear, because, under it, it would be the ascertained number of electors that would be fixed.


said, that at a registration sometimes a large number of names were held over for appeal to the Revision Court, and the appeals were not heard until some time—perhaps months—after.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) had given a most conclusive reason against the 3,000 limit. As the Bill stood, it would exclude 141 boroughs in England and Ireland, which he considered a most serious matter, and one upon which it would be incumbent on him to take the sense of the House again a little later on. Let the House reflect upon these fluctuating numbers, and what the consequence of the course the Government proposed to take would be. A voter might, practically, have a vote given to him when the constituency to which he belonged numbered 3,000, but would have it withheld on the following year if the number fell to 2,999.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 12, to leave out the words "at the passing of this Act," and insert the words "for the time being, as appears from the number of names entered in the register of electors for the time being in operation in such borough."—(Mr. Healy.)

Amendment agreed to.


said, he had already stated the argument in favour of the Amendment he was about to move —namely, that if it was right that the working man should have the opportunity of recording his vote at all, he ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of doing so at a reasonable hour, because he lived in a small instead of a large constituency. Another argument in favour of the Amendment was that they ought, as the Attorney General said, to legislate in this matter on practical grounds. At the next General Election there would be 141 constituencies of less than 3,000 electors which would be excluded from the operation of the Bill, on what ground, rational, political, or logical, he was unable to conceive. He therefore asked the House to agree to the substitution of 1,000 for 3,000 as the limit of the electorate of boroughs below which the Bill was not to apply.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 13, to leave out the words "three thousand," in order to insert the words "one thousand,"—(Mr. H. H. Fowler,) — instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'three thousand' stand part of the Bill."


said, he could not assent to the proposal of his hon. Friend. That proposal was to reverse the decision at which the House had arrived on a previous occasion, and could not, therefore, be entertained. With regard to the wishes of the constituencies, he might say that since his hon. Friend and others raised the question of 2,000 as against 3,000 a few nights ago, he had gone through the list of boroughs of between 2,000 and 3,000 electors, and had made as many inquiries as he possibly could in the time, with the result that he did not find that in more than four or five out of the whole number of them there seemed to be any strong desire for a change, and certainly there were many opinions against it. This was, therefore, not very conclusive of the matter. But he would point out that, in drawing the line even where they had drawn it, they had included some boroughs where there was no feeling in favour of the change. He thought, on the whole, that the Government had arrived at a fair decision.


said, as was evident from the tone of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, this was really no Party question. It was simply a matter of convenience, and of giving to everyone entitled to vote, whether he resided in a largo or small borough, an opportunity of discharging his duties of citizenship without robbing his family of part of a day's wages. That being so, he sincerely hoped hon. Gentlemen would support the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) in the proposal he had made.


pointed out that the argument used with regard to boroughs of 3,000 electors was equally applicable to boroughs of 2,000 electors or less; because if the electorate of a borough of 3,000 might be reduced to 2,999, that of a borough of 2,000 might be reduced to 1,999, and so on. He had found great inconvenience result from extended hours of polling in his own constituency.


said, it did not matter in the least whether the borough in which a man who was entitled to vote lived contained 3,000 or 1,000 electors, or whether there were only 100. The question was, as to whether a man who worked three or four miles from the voting place could record his vote and get back to work without sacrificing his day's pay, or a portion of it. It was perfectly logical to place the question on that basis; and he should, therefore, vote for the Amendment.


said, he was glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Broadhurst) had discovered that this was not a Party question, because, if he remembered rightly, the hon. Gentleman had taken an opposite view of it a short time ago. But, to come back to the Amendment before them, he ventured to hope that the House would not for one moment think of disturbing the settlement arrived at the other night on this question. That settlement was one not entirely agreeable to all on that side of the House. He, himself, had not assented to it; and the Government did not support it entirely with their vote; but, the settlement having been made, Gentlemen on that side would make no attempt to disturb it; and he hoped the Government would stand by it.


said, he had been unable to discover what reason the Government had for insisting upon 3,000, as against a smaller number. He agreed with the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Broadhurst) that this was no Party question; and he hoped the Government would see their way to substitute the number proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton for that fixed by the Bill. He had listened attentively to the arguments on this subject; but had not been able to ascertain the reasons for insisting upon the latter number, and, therefore, in the hope of discovering what the reasons of the Government were, he should vote for the Amendment.


said, he could conceive no reason for any limit being placed in a Bill of this kind. He supposed, however, that the Government had some reason for insisting upon the limit of 3,000.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 43: Majority 51.—(Div. List, No. 151.)

Bill to be read the third time To-morrow, at Two of the clock.