§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT
said, that before the Bill was read a third, time he desired to address a few words to the House. He did so for the sake of protesting once more—on the last occasion open to him—against the very partial and incomplete character of the Bill which the Government had laid before them. It was almost ungracious to criticize the Bill, considering that it was brought before them by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who, they all knew, had been at much trouble in urging the question before the country, and in attempting, on various occasions in the House, to forward the claims of borough voters to an extension of the hours of poll. But now that the subject was before the House, he felt it was the duty of the Government to show what was the reason for excluding from the benefits of this excellent Bill, so far as it went, the whole of the county voters. If one thing was more clear than another, it was this—that a Bill for the extension of the hours of poll was infinitely more required for county than for borough voters. In a borough the working classes and small trades people found it easy to vote during breakfast or dinner hour—voting with them was, perhaps, a matter which only occupied a few minutes of their time. But a county voter had to take sometimes the best part of the day to vote; formerly he could be conveyed to the poll, but now, as he (Mr. Elliot) thought very properly, the use of conveyances had in great measure been stopped. Under present arrangements, county voters would have very often to walk very considerable distances to the poll. What would be the feeling of a county 344 voter who came into such a place as Carlisle, and found that, whereas the poll for the county election was closed at 4 o'clock, that for the borough remained open until 8 o'clock? It was quite clear that, if the convenience of the voters was considered, the Bill ought to have been extended to counties. Let the House for a moment contemplate the absurdity that was entailed by the Bill as regarded groups of boroughs. The Bill extended to 3,000 voters and upwards. The constituency of Ayr borough included Inverary, and in the latter district, he believed, there were about 100 county electors. Now, these voters would be precluded from voting, unless they got to the poll before 5 o'clock; but if they lived in the Inverary borough itself, and voted for Ayr borough, they could vote up to 8 o'clock in the evening. He knew it was now too late to alter in any way this Bill; but still his remarks would not be altogether beside the mark if they succeeded in eliciting from the Government—and he hoped they would—some pledge or some intimation that, at the earliest convenient moment, possibly next Session, they would extend the provisions of the Bill to counties. It was extraordinary that at a time when the main business of legislation in the House had been to produce uniformity between counties and boroughs, a great difference was being made between them in regard to the facilities for recording votes. He could not help feeling that it was in great measure owing to the weak action of county Members, to those Members who had been constantly in attendance and yet had not desired to give trouble to Her Majesty's Government. All they could ask the Government to do was to bear the counties in mind. He was fully persuaded the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade sympathized with them in the matter. He had thought it right to make these remarks in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman might be induced to encourage them to think that before they renewed their acquaintance with their constituencies, the privilege, which was now very properly given to boroughs, would be extended to those people whom he (Mr. Elliot) and others represented.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
said, he rose to add his protest to that which had been so well expressed by his hon. Friend 345 the Member for Roxburghsire (Mr Elliot), and to express his surprise that the Government had not been able to extend the benefit of the Bill to counties. His hon. Friend had very property said that it was a comparatively easy matter for borough electors to record their votes during the dinner hour; but he (Dr. Farquharson) knew many people living in the remote glens of Scotland who would be absolutely prevented from voting unless the hours of poll were extended, especially now that they could not be conveyed to the poll. He was quite satisfied that, under the present condition of things, a great many earnest Liberals would be practically disfranchised.
§ MR. CAINE
said, he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in charge of the Bill had scrutinized the names of those who divided upon this question when it was introduced in Committee; but if he were to do so he would find that only five of his supporters followed him into the Lobby, while 55 independent Liberals voted in favour of extending the provisions of the Bill to counties. He (Mr. Caine) hoped it might be possible that "another place" would adopt the proposed Amendment; in which case he was persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would have no difficulty in accepting it when the Bill came back to this House. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and in the counties around London, the greatest disappointment was felt that the Government had deprived the people of what they considered their just rights in this respect.
§ MR. CAUSTON
said, that, although he sympathized very much with the hon. Members who complained that the provisions of the Bill did not extend to counties, he could not help thinking that county Members were themselves to blame. They ought to have attended, as borough Members attended, upon the debates in Committee, and pressed their views upon the Government. The borough Members were constant in their attendance, and they succeeded in carrying an Amendment providing that the Bill should operate in a constituency where the electors numbered 3,000. He was disappointed that the privilege boroughs had received was not extended 346 to counties. At the same time, he thought it was unfortunate that the county Members did not wait up on that memorable morning when the Amendment he referred to was carried, and give the Government a little spur, because there was then a great feeling that the provisions of the Bill should be extended to counties. If the measure was necessary in boroughs, surely it was more necessary in counties, where men had to travel long distances to the poll. At the recent elections which had taken place near the Metropolis, only about 50 per cent of the voters on the Register were enabled to poll. This was owing to the fact that there were not sufficient facilities afforded for business men, who started from their homes early in the morning and returned late in the evening, too late to record their votes. Personally, he should be glad to see the Bill come back from the other House amended in the way suggested.
§ MR. ALBERT GREY
also desired to protest against the exclusion of county constituencies from the benefits of the Bill. In answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton), he might say that if county Members had not been present in greater force on the evening when the Bill was discussed in Committee it was because they thought it was absolutely impossible that the Government could object to include county constituencies, and thus bring about this result—that the only measure affecting the status of the elector, that would get on the Statute Book this year; would be marked by the great defect that it would deliberately establish a great difference between the county and borough voter. It was somewhat strange that a Bill creating such a difference should be passed in a Session which had been conspicuous for the discussion of a measure which had for its object the equalization of political privilege between borough and county voters. Therefore, he thought those county Members who were away the other night were justified in their belief that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) would give way willingly to the demands that were made upon him by the noble Viscount the Member for Barnstaple (Viscount Lymington), and others, that he should place county and borough voters upon an equality as regarded the 347 facilities afforded them for exercising the franchise.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he was certainly able to give the assurance the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine) asked for—namely, that if the suggested Amendment were put in in "another place," Her Majesty's Government would not think it necessary to drop the Bill. And with regard to the remarks of his hon. Friend (Mr. A. Elliot) he was also able to give an assurance. On former occasions he had stated that, personally, he was in favour of extending the provisions of the Bill to counties; but although that was his own opinion, he must, to some extent, agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton.) The hon. Gentleman said that county Members were really to blame in this matter. It must be remembered that the Members for large boroughs had advocated the necessity of an extension of the hours of poll year after year. For the last 12 years this matter had been before the attention of Parliament; indeed, hardly a Session had passed by during that time without an attempt being made on the part of the Representatives of large borough constituencies to secure an extension of the hours of poll. Although for 12 years borough Members had exerted themselves in the matter, it was not until this year that it had been taken up by county Members. That, he thought, cleared the Government from any charge of being ungrateful. The Bill was brought in as one applying to large boroughs, and not to counties; and the pressure which was put on the Government to extend the scope of the Bill was entirely confined to county Members sitting on the Liberal side of the House. He thought they might have been open to the charge of sharp practice if, having read the Bill a second time, they had, in deference to the pressure of their own supporters, made it a universal Bill, applying to all counties as well as to all boroughs. As he had already said, he would take every step in his power to acquaint himself with county feeling on the subject. His own opinion was entirely in favour of the change; but he feared he could not say more on this occasion than to repeat the statement that if "another place" inserted the Amendment in question the Government would be glad to accept it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.