§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ New Clauses.
§ MR. ALBERT GREY
I rise, Sir, to move the following clause:—(Elections before 1st January 1887 to take place aa heretofore unless Parliament should otherwise determine.)Notwithstanding anything in this Act contained, in the event of a vacancy in the representation of any constituency or of a dissolution of Parliament taking place, and a writ or writs being issued, before the first day of January one thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven, for the election of Members to servo in the present or any new Parliament, each election shall, unless Parliament shall otherwise determine, take place in the same manner in all respects as if no alteration had been made by this Act in the franchises of electors.I wish, at the outset, to declare, in. The strongest possible manner, that my object in placing this clause on the Notice Paper, and in pressing it on the acceptance of the House, is one that is in every way friendly to Reform. I am as anxious as anyone in this House for the speedy passage through Parliament of a complete and comprehensive measure of Reform; dealing not only with extension, but with redistribution also. Far from admitting that my Amendment, if accepted, will prevent the Franchise Bill from taking effect at the earliest possible moment, I would venture to ask the Committee this question—what chance is there that the Bill will ever become an Act if it does not contain some security that a measure of redistribution shall be passed before it comes into full and active operation? It is not very certain, looking to the declarations of the Conservative Leaders, that if there is no security that a measure of redistribution shall have been passed before the Franchise Bill comes into operation, the Bill will find it impossible to win for itself a passage through 250 Parliament? On the other hand, is it not equally certain that if this Bill does contain such security, the ground of opposition will be cut away from under the feet of those who object, and, in my opinion, wisely object, to the passing of an incomplete measure of Reform; and the chances of the speedy enfranchisement of the householders of the United Kingdom be immeasurably increased? The fact that this is the case makes me hopeful that my Amendment may meet with the approval of hon. Members on this side of the House. But it is not on tactical considerations only that I have been influenced in putting the clause upon the Notice Paper. I do not think that I should be justified in bringing forward an Amendment of this importance on tactical considerations alone. It is because I believe we have a right, based on principle, to demand that a Dissolution upon the new franchise shall be made conditional on the previous passing of a Redistribution Bill, that I have ventured to put down upon the Notice Paper an Amendment which, has for its object to secure the passing of a Redistribution Bill before the Franchise Bill shall come into active operation. My object is very similar to that which the right hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley) had in view when he brought forward his Amendment, which was thrown out; but, although similar in its object, I would venture to point out that my Amendment would be different in its effect. It was pointed out at the time the Amendment of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was under discussion that it would hang up indefinitely the operation of the Franchise Bill, and that 2,000,000 of householders might be kept out of the enjoyment of their rights conceded to them by Parliament at the pleasure of the House of Lords for an indefinite period. While that might have been the effect of carrying the Amendment of the right hon. and gallant Member, I may point out that if my Amendment were accepted the effect would be very different. My Amendment would act as a stimulus, and as an incentive, to all those who wish to avoid the danger of a General Election on the new electorate and the old constituencies, and would cause them to press on the Redistribution Bill in order to secure themselves against such a contin- 251 geney. So far from my Amendment having a retarding effect, it would have an accelerating effect, and would help to secure the speedy passage of Reform through both Houses of Parliament. There have been two sorts of objections made to the Amendment which I propose —the objection, which comes from hon. Gentlemen opposite that it does not go far enough; and the objection of some of my Iron. Friends on this side of the House that it goes too far. In support of the objections advanced by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House they have pointed out that if no Redistribution Bill is passed before the 1st of January, 1887—that if the Government refrain from passing a Redistribution Bill during the Session of 1885 or the Session of 1886 it will be within their power to postpone the Dissolution until the 1 st of January, 1887, and then the very evil I seek to avert—namely, a Dissolution on the new electorate and the old constituencies—would be an accomplished fact. Let me point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that we have distinct and solemn assurances from the Government that it is their serious intention to bring forward their Redistribution Bill with the least possible delay. They have given us repeated assurances that this is their intention; they have always declared that redistribution is the Indispensable complement of extension; and they have assured us that the reason why they have been compelled to consent to a temporary separation between redistribution and extension proceeds, not from any desire to bring about a divorce between the two questions, but because it has been rendered absolutely necessary by the irresistible requirements of the case. When, therefore, wo have from Her Majesty's Government repeated professions of their determination to proceed with the work of redistribution as soon as circumstances will permit, then all that can fairly be, required by those who are willing' to accept those assurances as boná fide assurances—and that, I think, includes the large majority of Members on both sides of the House—["Oh, oh!"] —is the adoption of an Amendment which will give to the Government full security that they shall have ample opportunity of carrying into effect the very policy which they tell us they have at heart. That is my answer to hon. Gentlemen opposite who say the date in my Amendment is not far enough 252 off. But there are some hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who say that while the object of my Amendment is good it would be attained as effectually, and in a less objectionable manner, if the date in my Amendment w-ere 1st January, 1886, instead of 1st January, 1887. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has an Amendment on the Paper which would have the effect of postponing an election under this Bill until the 1st of January, 1886; and it has been pointed out to me that if security to enable the Government to carry their own policy is all that is wanting then this Amendment would be quite sufficient. Well, I admit there would be some force in that contention, if the precedents of 1867 and 1868 had not afforded convincing testimony as to what would be the course of procedure if a Redistribution Bill were, according to the general hope and expectation of this side of the House, to be passed in the course of next year. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that a clause was inserted in the Reform Bill of 1867 which postponed the operation of the Bill until the 1st of January, 1869; and in the Boundaries Bill, which was passed in the spring of 1868, in order to complete the legislation on Reform, a clause was inserteddrawing back the date at which the Franchise Bill of 1867 was to come into operation from the 1st of January, 1869, until the 1st of November, 1868. Therefore, I contend that should a Redistribution But be passed next year nothing would be more natural than that it should, following the precedent of 1868, contain a clause altering the date at which the present Franchise Bill would come into operation from the 1st of January, 1887, to the 1st of November, 1885, or any other date Parliament might think fit. I maintain, therefore, that the objection to the date in my Amendment on the ground that it is too remote is a sentimental rather than a practical one. If redistribution is passed in 1885, there is nothing to prevent Parliament from changing the date mentioned in my Amendment to any earlier date should it think fit; but if, on the other hand, unforeseen circumstances should arise in the shape of domestic or foreign complications to make it impossible for the Government to carry out their policy, then I contend that the date given in my 253 Amendment is absolutely necessary if we wish to avoid the danger of an election upon the old constituencies with a new electorate. I am perfectly aware that if a Redistribution Bill is not passed in 1885 and we are led into the inconvenience of postponing a Redistribution Bill until 1886, we should, if my Amendment be accepted, have for the space of one year the great inconvenience of a double Register. But let me point out that this danger would only arise in the event of the Government not being able to make good their promises. Should such a circumstance unfortunately arise, then I contend that the inconvenience and danger of having a double Register in 1886, great as the inconvenience would be, would be less than the danger of having a General Election on the new electorate and the old constituencies. It is not necessary for me to point out what is the character of that danger, and what are the reasons why there should be a close connection between extension and redistribution. This question has already been largely discussed, and the solemn assurances which have been given by the Government that they intend to deal with redistribution at the very earliest opportunity are equivalent to a profession of belief on their part that extension and redistribution form two integral parts of one great change, and that they ought not in their operation to be divorced. But, although it is unnecessary for me to enter into any discussion as to the reasons why extension and redistribution, even if divided in their passing, should in their operation go together, I should, with the permission of the Committee, like to make a remark upon an expression which has fallen from the Prime Minister on more than one occasion. The Prime Minister has pointed out more than once that in the Reform Bills which were passed at a time when a difference existed between the county and borough franchises, there was an irresistible argument for embodying the measure dealing with redistribution in any measure on the ground that enfranchisement and disfranchisement were necessarily the very essence of redistribution; and the right hon. Gentleman had implied that, as under this Bill, whatever might be the character of the redistribution, it could have no effect or influence upon the number of persons entitled to the vote, 254 the argument which was irresistible before had fallen completely to the ground. Now, I would venture to submit most respectfully to the Prime Minister this consideration. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, admit this—that enfranchisement is not an end in itself; but that it is only a means to a superior end, and that superior end is the representation of opinion and the participation of those who hold that opinion in the conduct of affairs. Now, if it could be shown that the effect of extension, unaccompanied by redistribution, would be to exclude large sections of opinion entitled by their numbers to a considerable share in the representation, from any share whatever in the representation, would there not be disfranchisement here, even although the individuals thus disfranchised might, by some cruel and mocking irony, belabelled with the name of electors? If the effect of extension, unaccompanied by redistribution, were to give a solid vote from Scotland, a solid vote from Wales, and an almost solid vote from Ireland, and if the meaning of that solid vote were this—that over one-third of the population of Scotland holding the same opinions, over one-third of the population of Wales also holding the same opinions, were to be excluded from representation in this House, and were not to have a single Representative, would there not be monstrous and most unjust disfranchisement here? Would not the electors be entitled to complain that because enfranchisement had 'been wrongly regarded as an end and not as a means. They were the victims of a cruel and abominable fraud, and were as practically disfranchised as if they had not even the right to vote? So that when the Prime Minister contends that wherever it can be shown that enfranchisement and disfranchisemeut be the essence of redistribution, there are good reasons why enfranchisement. and redistribution should in their operation be indissolubly linked together. Now, if we regard enfranchisement as a means of securing representation, and not as an end in itself, then I am entitled to maintain that inasmuch as everything which makes enfranchisement valuable or invaluable depends on the character of the redistribution to come, the old argument in favour of a close connection, between the two branches of Reform 255 exists quite as powerfully as before. I will not go further into the reasons why I believe we should include in this Bill a provision that a measure of redistribution should be passed before the Franchise Bill comes into active operation. The Government have declared their intention of dealing with the question of redistribution at the earliest possible opportunity, so that redistribution and extension may come into operation at one and the same time. It is my sincere hope that the Government may not fail in their endeavour to accomplish their desire; and in order to place this matter beyond the possibility of a doubt I beg to move that this clause be read a second time, so that the Government may have full security that they shall have ample opportunity for carrying into effect the policy of which they have themselves approved, and which, I believe, meets with the support of a large majority of the Members of this House.
§ New Clause (Elections before 1st January 1887 to take place as heretofore unless Parliament shall otherwise determine,)—(Mr. Albert Grey,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be road a second time."
I will not follow my hon. Friend, even to the limited extent to which he has confined himself, into any argument upon the reason for combining enfranchisement and redistribution in the process of framing a series of measures of Reform before that series can be considered quite complete, because there is no difference of principle between us, and because, if any question has been fully argued during the course of the discussion on this Bill, it is that question. What I will do is this— I will endeavour to point out clearly to the Committee what there is we can, and what there is we cannot do. It was quite unnecessary for my hon. Friend to give any assurance to the Government that his making this Motion is compatible with a sincere wish that a Reform Bill should pass. I entertain no doubt upon that subject, and have not a shadow of suspicion upon that point. On the other hand, when we come to examine what is the aim and effect of the clause which he proposes, we find that 256 the aim of the clause, as interpreted by my hon. Friend, is that some security shall be given that a Redistribution Bill shall be passed before the new enfranchisement comes into operation. Well, Sir, upon that it might not be necessary for us to quarrel with him in any way or with his clause; but then, Sir, he wont on to say that he thought there was a right to demand that this should be so—that is to say, that enfranchisement should not come into operation before redistribution had taken place. Now, I must point out to my hon. Friend that this clause does not give that absolute security. The security this clause gives is this—that there shall be two Sessions, during either or both of which efforts might be made to pass a Redistribution Bill. Well, I am not very sure, under the circumstances, that two Sessions would be much better worth having than one Session; because if there was only one Session and the Government were pledged and the House held them to their pledge, they must proceed with such a measure at once, whereas if there were two Sessions and there were questions tolerably pressing, and such questions there always are, what with the pressure upon ratepayers and the rest of it, it would be possible for the Government to say in the first Session "a Redistribution Bill is not urgent this year, because we have another year in which we can deal with it." Therefore I cannot say that two Sessions by any means doubles the possibility of a measure of redistribution being passed. At any rate, if it does, it does not secure in any absolute manner the passing of that measure. You cannot secure it by saying "there shall be two Sessions," because, as a matter of experience, measures have been brought in in one Session and have not been passed in that Session. Measures have been brought in in one Session and have failed, and have boon brought in in another Session and have failed, and they have not been passed until even a third and a fourth Session; and, therefore, my hon. Friend does not gain one object which he seems to have in view— namely, the absolute security that there shall be no operation of a new franchise until a Redistribution Bill shall have been passed. Permit me to say that I am not finding fault with this at all, because I think it is morally and politi- 257 cally impossible for this House to enact a vast measure of enfranchisement, which I believe this to be, and then to hang up the operation of it for an indefinite time. I think that even to pass such a clause as this, for instance, that there could be no election under the new Bill until a new area is fixed, and a serious delay were to intervene, we should be obliged to repeal that proposal and allow the new electorate to come into operation. Having said that as to the insufficiency of the clause to secure its object, I will now state what are the reasons which, prevent us from acceding to his clause; and my hon. Friend will see that they contain nothing at all offensive in them. In the first place, he has taken into view the contingency that under his clause, as it stands, we might be subjected to the intolerable nuisance and the almost impossible operation of a double Register —of two Registers existing at the same time. My hon. Friend admits very fairly that a double Register would be a great evil; but he points out its improbability. Why is it improbable? It is because, he says, it would be probable to pass a Redistribution Bill next year. I wish to take advantage of that statement—that, there is a probability of redistribution being disposed of next year —aud I think I have shown to him that more than a probability you cannot possibly have. In all human affairs you must be content with probabilities, and beyond that you certainly cannot go. But there is another reason of a serious nature why we should not agree to the proposal of my hon. Friend. The proposal of my hon. Friend might involve the consequences that this should be a Parliament of seven Sessions. If it were passed, it would be passed with the view and intention of setting aside the extraordinary and unforeseen circumstance that Parliament should not dissolve until the spring of 1887. Now, that appears to be a very nice question. I am not aware that we have any precedent in our Parliamentary history for a Parliament of seven Sessions, properly so called. Of the Parliaments elected since the Reform Bill, there has been one which did wind up, in one Session, the mere residue of Business for a few weeks, and then sat for six Sessions—I refer to the Parliament of 1859; but the whole period of its existence was 258 only six years and one month. Now, I am not willing to be entangled in any operation which implies an approval or a satisfied contemplation of an arrangement by which Parliament should sit for seven Sessions. I remember that I thought there was very great objection to the course of procedure adopted by the late Government—and I stated the objection at the time—to their commencing their seventh Session in 1880. But that objection was concurred in by them, and, therefore, I will not dwell upon it. I am very loth to depart from the Constitutional usage in this respect, which has always abated something from the seven Sessions which, under the Septennial Act, may exist; and I feel bound to add this—that I can conceive great practical inconvenienceindeed —inconvenience to the Crown and the country of the most serious kind—if the Government were to attempt to place the Crown in a position in which at any moment it could not have the assistance of Parliament. I hold distinctly that there ought to be no time—absolutely none—at which the Crown ought not to be able to call Parliament together. If you run too near the extreme period, it is evident that you reach a time during which it becomes absolutely impossible, by law, for the Crown to have the assistance of Parliament. Therefore, I object to anything which implies the sitting of Parliament for seven Sessions. And now let me see what it is we can do. As the Bill was introduced, it expressly provided that it should take immediate effect. The Bill, of course, was introduced, as it had been framed, with the words "at or before the next Session of Parliament." At that time it was not at all unreasonable to hope, judging from the more favourable precedents of Parliamentary Business, that the Bill might pass before Whitsuntide; and if that had been realized, there would have been ample time for framing a new Register. As I am now dealing simply with the practical aspects of the case, those practical aspects have very much changed indeed. We are now on the 13th of June—I hope at the closing of the Committee on the Bill, but it is not yet closed—and although we may now see our way with tolerable confidence to the last stage of the Bill in the House of Commons, it is impossible for us, even with approximate accuracy, to 259 define the time which, may be required for passing the Bill through the other branch of the Legislature. We should be compelled by courtesy to say that there must be a fortnight, or three weeks, or something of that kind; but that is a matter altogether beyond our jurisdiction. Being, as we now are, on the 13th of June, and still having something to do in Committee, and having beyond that two stages to take, and then having to send the Bill to the House of Lords, and not being masters of the exact time that will be extended to it there, it is quite evident that we require to look at the provisions of the law with regard to registration, and to the duties which the law fixes for the purposes of registration. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is much more competent than I am to explain the whole of this portion of the case; but anyone can see plainly enough that notices are to be given under the Act between the 10th and the 20th of June, and that the operations of the overseers in preparing the list of voters are to last until the 31 st of July. We are already between the 10th and the 20th of June, and when the 20th comes the Bill will still be working its onward way. With regard to the interval between the 20th of June and the 31st of July, it is not in our power to say that Parliament will not be occupied with the subsequent proceedings upon the Bill. But it does appear rational to say — and we must confine ourselves to rationalities — that if we leave the Bill as it now is—not tied down by express words, but still subjected to the general rule that there is no doubt immediate operation does take effect—the consequence would be that the overseers would be so driven into a corner in regard to the preparation of a new list, that they could not discharge their duties in a satisfactory manner. My idea is that there would be a likelihood of having a constituency that would neither be the old one nor the new. The business of framing the Register according to the intentions of the Act would be so doubtful and unsatisfactory, that we should have a certain number of persons belonging to the new class of voters who would come in; but the overseers could not possibly overtake the business which would fall upon them under the Act. We must all agree that 260 this would be a very unsatisfactory arrangement. I have endeavoured to look at this practically, and, looking at it practically and apart from all political questions, it appears to me that the balance of argument is decidedly in favour of the considerations advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) for inserting a date in the Bill. Then I come to another question, which is the political aspect of the case. One or two Members have expressed a great apprehension that if a date is inserted in the Bill, other than the date on which it receives the Royal Assent, a great shock will be given to public confidence. I am sure that no great shock would be given to public confidence by our doing that which is rational, and I am satisfied that the public generally will be satisfied with any provision which may be introduced into the measure in order to make its enactments correspond with the ordinary rules of law. But, then, there is another question which arises in regard to the insertion of a date in the Bill, and which induces me to go some way in meeting the views of my hon. Friend and other Members of the House. We have endeavoured, as we always do, to frame the Bill with every consideration for the ideas, wishes, and feelings of those who are ordinarily opposed to us. I must own that, as far as regards the Front Bench opposite, our intentions have been a total failure. I do not think we have obtained from any right hon. or hon. Gentleman who sits on that Bench a single word in acknowledgment, I will not say of our intention, but of a belief that we had that intention. But, Sir, I am not discouraged by that fact. I am not discouraged by a want of what is termed gratitude. That is a very rare quality indeed, and one in which I know hon. Gentlemen ought not to deal too largely. There are certainly Gentlemen in this House who have told us that their feelings towards this Bill would be considerably conciliated by the insertion of a date. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), who is not now in his place, but who commonly sits near the noble Lord, have attached great value to the insertion of a date in the Bill. Now, what 261 is the practical significance of inserting a date? It is simply this. We have stated all along, and we continue to say, that it is our earnest desire, if we continue to be the Ministers of the Crown, to deal with the subject of redistribution during the next Session of Parliament. We think that we entertain that desire in good faith, although, when my hon. Friend referred to our expressions as signifying our real intentions, some hon. Gentleman opposite could not understand so extravagant a supposition as that, and some cries of "Oh, oh!" greeted the announcement of my hon. Friend—namely, that he, at any rate, believed we meant what we said. Therefore, I do not ask for too much confidence from hon. Members who sit opposite. One reason for not asking it is that I am aware that if I do ask it I should not get it. The Government have all along declared that, in their view, the next Session of Parliament is the proper time when the Ministers of the Grown ought to make a resolute effort to settle the question of redistribution, with a view to bringing a Bill for the redistribution of seats into operation before the General Election. Now, it is proposed that some enactment should be put in the Bill, which, as it were, takes note of that declaration of the Government, and expresses, if I may so say, on the part of the House, an expectation that it will be fulfilled. We have made a declaration and an offer. If I understand what is desired by some hon. Gentlemen, it is that there should be something in the Bill which should signify, on the part of the House, the acceptance of that offer. We cannot do more than say there is a likelihood—there is no power on our part of giving a certainty—that it will not be necessary to postpone our proceedings in regard to redistribution indefinitely. We believe that redistribution is and ought to be practically possible next Session; and if hon. Gentlemen attach significance to the insertion of that belief in the Bill— that redistribution should be dealt with next Session—especially hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House —we shall be extremely glad to meet their wishes, as far as we can, without injury to public objects. That being so, and coming to the mode of operation, I think it will best be found in the Amendment which stands on page 18, in the 262 name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), where he says, in a very few words, that this Act should commence and come into operation on the 1st of January, 1885. Of course, it will be understood by this, and I only explain it in point of form, that this is the proper mode of saying that the voting power should come into operation on the 1st of January, 1886. The right to register will accrue in 1885, and the Register itself will come into force in 1886. The registration will go on throughout next year, and on the 1st of January, 1886, the new Register will come into operation. I do not think we shall incur any loss by entering into an arrangement of that kind. We should have this distinct advantage—that we should not be giving possession of the new franchise to constituencies who might only exercise the privilege once, because a Redistribution Bill, when passed through Parliament, might remove them by a change of area to some other constituency. That, however, is not a matter that is worth considering now. I have explained to my hon. Friend that we are in real sympathy with his Amendment, and that we are willing to go with him as far as we can towards the attainment of the object he has in view. But our view is that that object cannot be attained in the form in which it is now proposed. When the proper time arrives we shall be perfectly ready to support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton; but we cannot agree with the proposal which has been submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The concession which the right hon. Gentleman asks the Committee to accept does not go a single step towards meeting the real difficulty or towards effecting a settlement of it, and I must say that I feel there is a considerable amount of practical inconvenience in the way in which this House and the country are involved by the peculiar mode of procedure which the Government have adopted in reference to the question of Reform. The Prime Minister says that this question of considering the two branches of Reform together—namely, the reduction of the franchise and a redistribution of seats, has often been discussed during the preceding debates on 263 the Bill. I think it was a great misfortune that during the whole of the second reading of the Bill, except on the last night, the Prime Minister was not present, because it prevented him from hearing the arguments delivered on this side of the House against the disassociation of the question of lowering the franchise from that of the redistribution of seats. The right hon. Gentleman, unfortunately, did not hear those arguments, and it appears to me that he does not appreciate them. What is his argument in favour of the acceptance of the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. (Mr. H. H. Fowler)? I will take his own words. It is that the expectation of the House, that the Government will fulfil their promise, may be embodied in an Act of Parliament. Does anybody suppose that embodying the expectation that the Government will fulfil their promise, will, in the slightest degree, make the Government fulfil or break their promise? The Prime Minister is a perfect master of the English language, and he said that he thought the Government entertained that intention in good faith. He was not quite sure about it; but I do not care what guarantee, or what promise, or what pledge is made by the Government, because it is not in the power of the Government to fulfil their promise; and that is the whole difficulty of the situation. As I understand the object of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) in bringing the clause forward, it was to prevent an election taking place during the present Parliament on the enlarged constituencies, unless a redistribution scheme had been passed in the first instance. By the 1st of April, 1887, the Septennial Parliament must come to an end, and, therefore, it would be necessary to appeal to the old Constituencies, unless a Redistribution Bill be passed. That, however, is not the object of my hon. Friend; but the object of his proposal is that the Government should have two years instead of one with which to pass a Bill for the redistribution of seats. Is that true, or is it not? It is not in their power to force on a Redistribution Bill. The argument of the Prime Minister, in opening the debate upon this Bill, if it justified him in the beginning from dealing with the redistribution of seats, was a most conclusive argument in favour of associating 264 redistribution with the extension of the franchise. Let the House look at the question impartially. Redistribution must always be unpopular in certain quarters, because it may take away political power which is now vested in the hands of certain people, whereas the extension of the franchise must always be popular, because it gives increased political power to those who do not now possess it. It, therefore, has been an invariable practice hitherto, to associate the extension of the franchise with redistribution. The argument of the Prime Minister, that the redistribution parts of the Acts of 1832 and 1867 took a longer time in discussion than the proposals for the reduction of the franchise, is a conclusive proof that if the reduction of the franchise had not been associated with redistribution, then it would not have been carried except after considerable delay. If a redistribution scheme is a fair scheme as between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, you may have the whole of the Irish Members opposing it, and every Gentleman whose constituency it is proposed to disfranchise; and what will you have to overcome their objection? You will have given a franchise, and you will not have the sympathy which would arise out of a proposal to extend the franchise, and great influences would be brought to bear on the Government not to persevere with a redistribution scheme. If Jerry Mander himself were alive, he could not manipulate the constituencies more for the advantage of the Liberal Party than this Bill does; and when the Government comes forward with a Redistribution Bill, they will have a solid phalanx of Irish Members against it, and the wire-pullers on the Liberal side would say—"Do not be so foolish as to proceed with it, because it will place us in a worse position than we are in now, and we do not think you will be able to carry your Redistribution Bill." Assuming that they bring in a Redistribution Bill, is the House bound to accept any scheme which may be proposed next year? Yet that is the assumption of the Prime Minister. Take my own constituency—the county of Middlesex. That constituency contains within its boundaries the Metropolis of the Empire, and it is a constituency, enormously unrepresented, which has the strongest claims to increased representation on the ground of its wealth 265 and numbers. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear !] The right hon. Gentleman cheers that; but he and the Government say that it is not to be represented according to its wealth and numbers. And why? Because the constituency of Middlesex contains the Metropolis of the Empire, and therefore it is not to be represented according to its wealth, intelligence, and numbers. Notwithstanding that extraordinary argument, within the last few days the noble Lord the present Member for Haverfordwest (Lord Kensington), who acts as Whip for the Government, and is popular with hon. Members on both sides of this House, is coming forward as a candidate for the representation of the county. But his main qualification for the confidence of the electors will be that when the Government brought forward a Bill which would deprive Middlesex of its proper share of representation, he went into the Lobby to support them. I only mention that, to show what extraordinary "fads" even an intellect like that of the Prime Minister can entertain when the question of redistribution is brought forward. What parts of the United Kingdom are to be enfranchised, considering their wealth, intelligence, and numbers? Why, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, because they are further off from the Metropolis; but, unfortunately, they are parts of the United Kingdom which are in favour of the policy of the Prime Minister, whereas those parts which are nearest London are those portions of the United Kingdom which are most Conservative. The Prime Minister ratifies that view by distinctly telling us that he is going to act upon it, and that he is justified in giving an undue representation to those parts of the Kingdom which hold his opinions, and no representation to those which are opposed to him. I am sorry to trouble the Committee at such length; but as the right hon. Gentleman was not present during the debate on the second reading, I have felt it my duty to call his attention to these points, and I challenge an answer to this one statement— that it is tolerably certain it will be for the gain of the Liberal Party to dissolve upon the enlarged constituencies without a redistribution of seats. How much their gain will be it is for the Government to show. A great proportion of the borough representation—upwards of 266 two-thirds in England and Wales—is held by Liberals, whereas upwards of two-thirds of the county representation is held by Conservatives. If this Bill passes into law without a Redistribution Bill following it, every county will represent on the average more than 12,000 voters, while every borough will only represent on the average 5,500. We, the Conservative Party, hold two-thirds of the county representation, and you, the Liberal borough Members, hold two-thirds of the borough representation. Therefore, you propose to convert the existing anomalies of the representation into a mathematical certainty, and that certainty is that 49 Conservative Members in one Lobby will represent more electors than 99 Liberal borough Members in the other—a disproportion that would be both absurd and unjustifiable. On the second reading of the Bill the noble Marquess the Secretary for War gave us his opinions upon it. He said that if the Bill meant electoral districts he would not vote for it. I thought that a somewhat startling statement; but, as far as I am concerned, I would sooner vote for the Bill if it were coupled with electoral districts than if it were coupled with no redistribution seats at all. It might possibly affect our interests as a Party, or it might not; but, at any rate, it would secure equality between England, Ireland, and Scotland. At present we are absolutely in the dark as to what the principle will be on which the Redistribution Bill may be brought in, except on one or two points to which I have already alluded. Then, what are we to do? It does not seem to me that the Amendment of my hon. Friend effects the purpose for which it has been introduced; and as to the clause which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) proposes to add, it does not seem to be of the slightest advantage, but is mere surplusage. It is satisfactory to know, after the discussion upon legal points between the hon. and learned Attorney General and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that the hon. Member has proved himself to be in the right. But if this Bill passes, it cannot possibly come into operation until January, 1886, and that is the date to which the Amendment of the hon. Member refers. Therefore, I cannot understand what the object of the Government is in accepting that Amend- 267 ment. The Prime Minister says that he has not received one single word of civility from the Front Opposition Bench. If he has not done so hitherto, perhaps he will allow me to indulge in a compliment towards Mm and his Government. I am quite ready to admit that, as far as the reduction of the franchise is concerned, this measure is a Conservative measure in its nature, and I am prepared to admit that the Prime Minister has kept to his promise that the Bill should not be a Disfranchising Bill, because he does not propose to disenfranchise anyone who is now on the Register. As the Prime Minister has kept his promise in regard to the franchise, I do think it is unfortunate that he should put himself in such an absolute untenable position in regard to redistribution. We are only arguing as almost all distinguished Radicals have previously argued, and we are merely taking the same position as the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) and Mr. John Stuart Mill always took—that a reduction of the franchise would be useless unless accompanied by a Redistribution Bill. The reduction of the franchise merely confers a vote upon certain individuals, and without specifying the constituencies on which it is to be conferred it really confers no benefit whatever. We have been told that there is no precedent for putting into an Act of Parliament a direction that the House should sit for seven Sessions. But, talking about precedents, is there any precedent whatever for the Government introducing a Bill purporting to be a measure of Reform unaccompanied by a measure of redistribution? There is absolutely no precedent whatever. I would ask hon. Gentlemen to put themselves in our position, and I do not suppose that the most fanatical supporter of the Government would contend that the present House of Commons really represents the accurate feeling of public opinion in the country at the present moment. Recent elections have shown that the Liberal majority in this House is far in excess of the support which the Government received from the country. We are now in the fifth Session of Parliament. The Prime Minister says that Parliament ought not to sit for seven Sessions; therefore, this is a moribund Parliament. I have shown that this Bill manipulates to an 268 extraordinary extent, to the advantage of the Liberal Party, the constituencies of the country. These arc the positions I have fairly pointed out. I say that this Bill, in a moribund Parliament, allows the Government to manipulate the constituencies to their own advantage. Is there a likelihood of the Bill assuming that position? Surely we, who are opposed to the Government, and believe that they have committed gross blunders, are bound to oppose the Bill, and to oppose any proposal which is made ostensibly for the purpose of carrying Reform, but ill reality for the purpose of advancing Party objects. I must apologize for detaining the Committee at such length. I think I have made it clear what our position is. The Government have made no concession whatever of any kind or sort. The object my hon. Friend had in view in submitting his Amendment, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, would not be obtained by the adoption of his clause; and the sole and the only guarantee that the Government can give that they are in earnest in wishing to carry a Redistribution Bill is to withdraw the present Bill, and reintroduce it accompanied by a measure for redistribution.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
It seems to be necessary to remind the Committee that the question before us is the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey), although it is quite true that the Prime Minister made an allusion to another Amendment which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). But I think a great many of us have heard the speech which has just been delivered by the noble Lord once before. If the noble Lord thought the speech which he made on the second reading of the Bill was sufficiently excellent to demand that he should deliver it over again, then I think the third reading of the Bill would have been a more appropriate occasion than the clause we are now discussing. If I may deal, in a very few words, with the question before the Committee, I would submit to the Committee, and to the noble Lord, that he has altogether misunderstood the effect of the concession which has been made by the Prime Minister. That that concession is a most material, and a most 269 substantial one, everyone who understands the legal position of the matter will at once appreciate. The proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Northumberland is objectionable for the reason the Prime Minister has given. To say that there should be no election virtually under the measure until the year 1887 would be objectionable, and that is really what we should say by accepting the Amendment. To commence with, it would be difficult to say that there should be no election until the commencement of the year 1887, or as soon as the new Register came into play. If that were done, it would be an unfortunate circumstance to the country if we were to have an Election in 1885 or 1886, and were to find that we could not conveniently do without such an Election. The Prime Minister has offered a most substantial concession. If we pass this Bill, with the words "after the passing of this Act" inserted in it, it would come into operation on the 30th July next, or into immediate operation, and from that moment every person affected by the Bill would be entitled to be registered, and to vote. Under the circumstances of the case, I say it would be impossible to pass this Bill by the 20th or 30th of July; and rather than keep these persons off the Register until October, 1885, we should have felt ourselves bound to introduce a Registration Bill, because by that means, and by anticipating by a few days or weeks the power of putting the new voters upon the Register, we should not be keeping them off for another year. We should not have kept them in suspense, which would be the case if we allowed this measure to be passed, and appear upon the Statute Book, and were to keep these persons in a position of being able to see their neighbours vote, without voting themselves, although they would well know that they were equally entitled to vote. Such a state of things would be intolerable and impossible. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord Gorge Hamilton) says that I have come into conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). No doubt, that possibility might occur; but on this point we have never come into conflict. My hon. Friend saw it was impossible to come into possession of the vote until 1886, unless a Registration Bill were specially passed. The Gentlemen who formed 270 the Government in 1867 did that very thing, and proposed a Registration Bill for a particular purpose, not following the general law, but to allow persons not to be delayed in their opportunity of voting as soon as sanction was given by the Legislature to the measures which conferred the power of voting upon them. See what difference there would have been if we had inserted the words "after the passing of this Act." We should then have had to submit to Parliament a Bill for the purpose of enabling registration to take place this year. We might have had a difficulty in carrying that measure "elsewhere;" but we put the power of introducing such a measure out of our hands by adopting the suggestion of the Prime Minister. There will be no Registration Bill for the purposes of this measure until 1885, and Parliament has now a positive assurance, in the words of my hon. Friend's Amendment, that there can be no registration under this Bill until the autumn of 1885, and no right of voting until the 1st of January, 1886. Yet the noble Lord, with his profound knowledge, says this is no concession at all. Does he think it no concession to say that there shall be no Registration Bill until 1885? [Mr. RAIKES dissented.] Does the right hon. Gentleman say that that is no concession? The Prime Minister has said that he has never received a generous word, or a grateful word, from the Bench opposite. I think I may add that we have never received a just one. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) implies that it is no concession to say that we will not allow these persons to go on the Register until 1885, when we have the power of putting them on the Register in 1884, his criticism is not a just criticism. I can only repeat what the Prime Minister has stated —that it must prove to be a substantial alteration and concession in the minds of every hon. Member of the House who looks at the matter impartially and fairly. We shall then have before us the whole of the Session of 1885 to devote to a Redistribution Bill. I think that everyone in this House will naturally wish that a General Election should take place after a Redistribution Bill has been passed, and not before. I will not trouble the Committee with Constitutional rea- 271 sons, but I think we are all agreed upon this. The noble Lord says it may be impossible to carry a Redistribution Bill next year. He says that we may have opposition from this side of the House; but shall we not have support from that? I wonder in whose hands the fate of the Redistribution Bill will be? If hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House choose, as it were, in defiance, to pledge themselves, in the words of the noble Lord, that no fair redistribution can or shall pass, it is probable that we shall fail; but if every man of moderation who desires to do justice to the constituencies will aid—and I give them credit for believing that they will aid—in passing what the noble Lord called a fair Redistribution Bill, then the next Session of Parliament will accomplish that work. The only alternative suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) is, that there should be two opportunities instead of one. To my mind, the pressing necessity of doing what ought to be done, is better than having two chances. There are men who shoot much, better with a single than a double-barrelled gun; it makes a man more careful of his shots. Therefore, I think if we devote the Session of 1885 to that Bill, which everyone of us wishes to pass, there will be every chance of our being able to carry that Bill into effective legislation. I will only ask, as to the noble Lord's second reading speech, and his contention that we ought to have accompanied this measure by a Redistribution Bill, that if we had attempted to pass a Redistribution Bill in 1884, plus the present Bill, what would have become either of the Redistribution Bill or of the Franchise Bill? Sir, I hope that hon. Members will believe that the concession which bas been made by the Government is a most substantial one, and I trust it will be accepted with the desire to secure a satisfactory measure for the representation of the people.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made a very remarkable speech, which has thrown a new and a strange light upon the intention and spirit with which Her Majesty's Government have approached this question of Reform. We have always hitherto been led to suppose that Her Majesty's Government, to use the words which the Attorney General him- 272 self employed in the latter part of his remarks, had only separated this question of the extension of the franchise from that of redistribution, because of the difficulty of dealing with the two questions in the same Session, but in their hearts they desired, as far as possible, to deal with these two great questions together as essential parts of the question of Reform; and if it was necessary, from their point of view, to pass a Franchise Bill before a Redistribution Bill, at any rate it was also essential that a Redistribution Bill should follow the Franchise Bill at the earliest possible date. But what has the Attorney General now disclosed to the House? Why, this—that Her Majesty's Government, when they framed the measure now under consideration., and when they inserted words to provide that it should come into force "after the passing of the Act," had the intention of introducing a Registration Bill during the present Session— so that a fresh registration of now voters was at once to take place, and those new voters were to be put on the Register by the 1st of January, 1885, so that from that date they should have the franchise, and be able to vote at any dissolution of Parliament, or at any bye-election which might occur after that date, the intention being that such election should be decided by the voters created under this Bill, registered according to the present constituencies. Well, Sir, I should very much like to know why that announcement has now, for the first time, been made?
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
It is the first time, as far as I am aware, that it has been made, and I think I may say the same for all the hon. Members sitting on this side of the House. We have never entertained the faintest idea that Her Majesty's Government proposed to introduce a Registration Bill at all during the present Session. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman told us that to complete the scheme a Registration Bill would be necessary; but he led us to suppose that redistribution, and not registration, would be the thing that would immediately, follow the settlement of the franchise, and in that belief we have hitherto been considering the measure now before the House. What can be more ridiculous than the anomaly 273 which, according to the Attorney General, Her Majesty's Government proposed to establish, by this mixture of franchise and registration? The idea that the House of Commons, which may sit next Session, and possibly for two subsequent Sessions, to consider the great questions which may come before it, and to decide on a change of Government, or upon vital measures concerning the country, should be composed of Members, partly elected under the old franchise and partly under the new, sitting together to perform the work of legislation, is most absurd. I say this—that it is perfectly clear, from the speech of the Attorney General, that Her Majesty's Government had in view not only the possibility of bye-elections taking place under the new franchise with the present constituencies, but that they had also in view, or, at any rate, they regarded with no great amount of disfavour, the possibility of a General Election under the new franchise with the existing constituencies. I would venture to say that such a course would have been entirely opposed to the feeling of the great majority of this House. It was to guard against such a possibility that my hon. Friend who sits opposite (Mr. Albert Grey) has moved his Amendment today. I wish that the Amendment of my hon. Friend was sufficient to carry out the purpose he has in view; but I am sorry to say that circumstances may occur in which the Amendment of my hon. Friend, even if it were inserted in the Bill, might fail to have the effect he intends. But the proposal the Committee virtually have before them is the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), which has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. I quite agree with my noble Friend that that clause amounts simply to nothing at all—that it would be impossible, with any fairness to this House or to the country, for a new franchise to come into operation, and the new elections to take place under it, before the date the hon. Member proposes by his clause, if Her Majesty's Government really propose this Bill with the intention that it should come into operation at the date from which it might fairly be expected to take effect. Certainly, the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton will be better than the scheme which the Attor- 274 ney General, for the first time, has suggested to us to-day. Certainly, it will save us from what I have already described as the ridiculous anomaly he has proposed to the Committee; but I am afraid it will be utterly insufficient to secure that we shall have a bonâ fide redistribution of seats before the next General Election; and, therefore, if it be added to the Bill, it will not in the least degree diminish my objections to the measure.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had delivered what might be called an imaginative speech. He quite agreed with the Prime Minister that it should be their endeavour to act is a conciliatory spirit in regard to the views of hon. Members opposite; but that was found to be absolutely impossible, because the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) had made a proposal, and the Prime Minister had made another, and neither one nor the other seemed to find favour with hon. Members opposite. Indeed, he despaired of hearing from any quarter of the House any suggestion in which hon. Gentlemen would coincide. He had risen, in this position of affairs, for the purpose of making an appeal to the hon. Member for South Northumberland, whether, as his proposition was regarded with something like disfavour by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and seeing that most hon. Members on that side of the House were prepared to accept the proposition of the Prime Minister, he would not deem it desirable to withdraw the Amendment, and not press it further upon the House? He wished to point out to his hon. Friend that he was not strictly correct when he said, in reference to the Act of 1867, that there was a clause inserted in it postponing its operation until the year 1867. That Act, in its inception, was like the Bill before the House, and dealt primarily with the franchise; and if his hon. Friend would look at the principal clause of the Act of 1867, he would find that the operation of the Act was fixed to take effect from the end of the year 1868. Now, he must say, for his own. part, being somewhat Conservative with reference to precedents, that he should have preferred, although it would make no difference whatever, if, instead of the proposal the Prime Minister had made, he had suggested that on the Report he 275 would insert words in the 2nd clause of the Bill making the Act operative after the end of the year 1884. The operation of the Act would thon have been exactly the same as that suggested by the clause of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton; but the words would have been in accordance with the last Act for the Representation of the People. His hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland had also failed to remind the House that the clause from which his own was taken was a direct copy, as far as it was possible, of the clause of the Act of 1867; nor had his hon. Friend reminded the Committee that that clause was not inserted by the House of Commons, but was placed in the Act of 1867 in "another place," and that the Act of 1867 left the House of Commons without any provision such as his hon. Friend proposed now to insert. His hon. Friend seemed to him to have made another omission in reference to a matter which was not very important in form. During the short period he had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had observed one rule which struck him as being applicable to this proceeding. He never remembered a case of legislation in that House in which a date had been proposed with such a view as that which was now suggested by his hon. Friend. It might be necessary to make use of it, or it might be necessary to repeal it; but it was the invariable rule of the House that the date might be progressive, but that a date once fixed should never be put back. In all proceedings of that House they acted upon that principle. If an hon. Member gave Notice at the Table of a Motion, he was not allowed to bring it on at an earlier date, although he might put it back until a more remote date. As to the arguments which had been used by his hon. Friend in support of a certain date, it was quite possible that a Redistribution Bill might be passed next year, and in that case the measure would not become operative until the date suggested by his hon. Friend. Then, why proclaim a want of confidence in the action of Parliament in one respect, and of confidence in another? His hon. Friend, and other hon. Members, contended that it was not desirable that the Franchise Bill should come into operation before a Redistribution Bill had passed, and he was disposed to concur in a measure that would 276 prevent it from coming into operation before the passing of a Redistribution Bill, provided that that step were not taken with a view of retarding the operation of the Franchise Bill. He trusted that a complete scheme for the redistribution of seats and the enlargement of the franchise would be in force next year, and that it might come into earlier operation than the Amendment of his hon. Friend would allow. He gladly supported the suggestion of the Prime Minister, although he thought it would have been better if the Government had acted in conformity with the Act of 1867 by inserting words in the earlier part of the Bill to provide that the measure should come into operation at the end of the present year.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the form of the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was a more convenient form than that of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey). The question of a double Register seemed to him to be one of a serious character, and if the Committee desired to postpone the dates as far as was proposed by the hon. Member for South Northumberland, it could do so by amending the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He thought that they on the Ministerial side of the House, at all events, might come to the conclusion that the form in which the matter was now raised was not so good a form, from any point of view, as the form which was proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He agreed with much that had been said opposite, to the effect that the clause of his hon. Friend (Mr. Albert Grey) did not entirely secure thorn against the danger of a Dissolution without a Redistribution Bill having been carried. It had already been attempted to guard against such a state of things, and he endeavoured to contribute to the attempt. But they were defeated, and now all that remained to be done was to see how far they could still secure the general object—namely, of having a Redistribution Bill passed before an election took place under the new franchise. He differed from the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), because he considered that the House had distinctly advanced; they had certainly secured one Session, partly by the time 277 which had elapsed, and partly by the fresh declarations that had been made by the Government, and the engagements they had undertaken that they would not attempt in any way to hasten the time in which the new electors would be put on the Register. They were, therefore, in this position—that, at all events, they had the year 1885 before them, during which he trusted that every effort would be made by all Parties in the House to carry a Redistribution Bill. There remained, therefore, the question between one Session and two Sessions, and that was the chief difference between his hon. Friends the Member for Wolverhampton and the Member for South Northumberland. He confessed he preferred two Sessions to one; but, on the other hand, he admitted that there was considerable force in the argument that perhaps more pressure would be put upon the Government to bring in the Redistribution Bill if only one Session were allowed in which it could be brought in. He, for one, would not press his hon. Friend to divide upon the second reading of this clause, especially after the debate which had taken place.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he did not think that either the clause proposed by the hon. Member for South Northumberland, or that proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, was worth the ink it was written with. The real difference between the two great Parties in the House was that hon. Gentlemen opposite believed that the Government would introduce and pass a fair Redisbution of Seats Bill, while hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had no such belief. It was on that ground that he and his hon. Friends had always endeavoured to tie and link the question of the extension of the suffrage with the question of redistribution of seats. A very interesting illustration of what might happen in the future occurred last night. Lot them suppose, for argument sake, that next Session a majority of the House affirmed, as he hoped they would affirm, that it was desirable to extend the principle of the representation of minorities. They would very likely have the Prime Minister coming down, as he did yesterday, upon the unfortunate advocates of woman suffrage, and saying— "If you choose to insert in this Bill for the redistribution of seats any extension of the right of minorities to 278 representation, I will throw up the Bill." If the House—even a majority of the House, much less a minority—were disposed to accept the suggestions which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) and by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock), such was the rod which might be in pickle for them; the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would, no doubt, get up and say— "I am no longer responsible for any Bill for the redistribution of seats." What would be the consequence? They would have to take the Bill of the Government pure and simple. Now, what was the effect of the clause of the hon. Member for South Northumberland? Why, it was that unless the House of Commons and another House were prepared to accept the Bill for the redistribution of seats which the Government chose to bring forward, whether the House or the country believed it to be just or not, the next appeal to the people would be made, not to the existing constituencies, but to the constituencies manipulated, and fraudulently manipulated, in the interest of the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party were going to make a raid upon the county constituencies, in which they were notoriously weak, while they left their own constituencies untouched. Now, the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was not worth the ink with which it was written, because the effect of it was already the law, and would remain so unless the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) brought in a Bill for a special registration of the electors. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton knew perfectly well that on the 10th of June—now three days ago—the first process of registration for next year began. Long before this Bill was sent to "another place" for discussion, the great majority of processes with reference to the registration of electors for next year would have taken place; therefore, without special legislation, the Bill, even without the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, could not come into operation before the 1st of January, 1885. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General only to-day said he hoped they would agree to pass a moderate Bill for the redistribution of seats. It was a moderate Bill 279 that he (Mr. T. Collins) objected to. He wished that there should be a very extensive Bill for the redistribution of seats. He wanted to see a Bill which should lay it down that no town under 20,000 inhabitants should have a Member at all, and that no town under 40,000 or 50,000 should return more than one Member. He wanted to see larger constituencies; he wanted to see the minority vote and the system of the single vote and the single Member very largely extended. He would do away with the system of the dual vote—namely, a person voting for two Members for one constituency. He maintained that 110 good would be done by the clause of the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Grey); and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would withdraw it.
§ MR. ALBERT GREY
said, that after what had been said by his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), and considering that his proposal was not likely to receive support from hon. Members opposite after the speeches which had been made from the Front Opposition Bench, he would ask leave to withdraw his clause. In doing so, however, he desired to express his personal satisfaction at the renewed and more emphatic expressions which had fallen from the Ministerial Bench that it was their decided and determined resolution to pass a Redistribution Bill before the Franchise Bill came into operation. He only hoped that should the contingency arise which was in the contemplation of some hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that the Government should fail in their endeavours to carry a Redistribution Bill, that the Prime Minister would take care, either by having recourse to an Autumn Session, or to a Dissolution on the old electorate, to secure that the House should have every opportunity of passing a Redistribution Bill before the Franchise Bill came into full and active operation.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I hope that the Committee will agree to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment. I entirely concur in the spirit which has led the hon. Gentleman to propose that Amendment, and I am far from thinking that we have derived no advantage from the discussion. I think, however, in the circumstances—and, indeed, in almost any circumstances—we should gain 280 nothing, but, on the contrary, we might involve ourselves in some inconvenience, by putting that Amendment in the Bill. The hon. Member told us in the beginning of his speech that his object in putting down this Amendment was to obtain some security that a Redistribution Bill should be passed before the present Bill came into operation.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I may have mistaken the expression; but what the hon. Gentleman meant was that it was desirable that a Redistribution Bill should be passed before this Bill came into operation and the new electors began to exercise their functions. Now, it has always been our contention from the beginning and throughout all these debates that it was desirable that, before parting with this Bill, and before committing ourselves to the extension of the franchise, we should know, and, if possible, should secure, the principles of the Redistribution Bill. That was to be done in one of two ways, either by putting something into the Bill, or by an undertaking on the part of the Government. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley) endeavoured, on the part of the hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House, to obtain a security which should stand in the Bill itself, and the clause which he proposed was one which would certainly have had that effect, because his provision was that the Bill should not come into operation until a Redistribution Bill had been passed. Therefore, a strong pressure was put on the Government to proceed with a Redistribution Bill in order to bring their Bill into operation. The matter was discussed, and my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) was defeated. The hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) did not think it right to support my right hon. and gallant Friend; but I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) did. The hon. Member for South Northumberland referred us to the Amendment which he proposed to move; but the Amendment does not in any way accomplish the object we had in view. It undoubtedly puts off for a certain time the coming into operation of the new Franchise Bill; but what do 281 we gain by that? We do not ensure that during the next Session, or the next two Sessions, the Government will proceed with the Redistribution Bill. We can only trust to the assurances of the Government, and those assurauces have been renewed. It is one great advantage of this debate that it has called forth another and more distinct assurance from the Government that they will waste no time, but will proceed with the measure. After all, however, it is one thing to say that you will proceed with a measure of redistribution, and quite another thing to say that it will be a satisfactory measure, or one which will be approved by the House; and I think we should be taking false comfort to ourselves if we sat down and said that we had a year or two years during which the Redistribution Bill is to be passed, while we did not know what sort of Redistribution Bill is to be passed. In the meantime, we do not gain any advantage, but some disadvantage, from limiting the time or putting a restriction on the time during which this new electorate might come into working order, because during that time you put a sort of embargo on the Government, and I think you give an encouragement to the Ministry to abstain as long as possible from their redistribution scheme and appeal to the country. I say that, under all the circumstances, I think we can do no more—and I am quite willing to give the Government credit for being perfectly honest and sincere in what they now say—we can do no more than trust to their repeated assurances that it is their intention, as early as possible, to proceed with a Redistribution Bill, and we must wait to see what we can do with that Bill when it comes before us. There is another observation I wish to make, and it has reference to what was said just now by the Attorney General in regard to the remark that the Government had made no concession. Certainly, when my noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) said that the Government were making no concession, we were all of opinion that he was perfectly right; but the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General said—"It is a great mistake; we are making a great concession; we shall not do now what we had in our minds as a probable thing to do; we shall not bring forward a 282 measure to hasten the registration." Undoubtedly, that was a revelation to us. It reminded me of one of the fables of AEsop, with which we are all familiar. When the wolf had a bone in his throat, the stork went to pick it out, intrusting his head in the wolf's mouth for the purpose, and when he had extracted the bone, the stork asked for some reward for the service he had rendered; whereupon the wolf said—" I have given you quite enough reward by not biting off your head." The Attorney General now says— "We have made concession enough by not bringing forward a measure which we might have proposed for hastening the registration. And then the hon. and learned Gentleman, and other hon. Members, said—" Well, after all, this bringing forward a measure to hasten the registration is a thing which you did yourselves in 1868, and why should you now object to it?" There is no doubt the Government of that day did introduce a clause for hastening and having a special registration; but let me remind the Committee of the very great difference between the circumstances. At that time, the measure of Reform included not only the question of the franchise, but a scheme of redistribution had been completed, and, owing to extraneous circumstances which had nothing to do with the Reform Bill, it became desirable to have a Dissolution and a new Election, and it was found necessary to accelerate the registration so as to enable the new constituency to vote. That is a very different thing from bringing in a measure to accelerate the registration when you have not completed your scheme of Reform. Our complaint is, that the scheme presented to us is not a complete scheme, and we have hesitated to give our assent to it until we know what your whole scheme is. It is rather hard on us to find that, after all, we have escaped the great danger of having this incomplete scheme brought into operation at once without any time being allowed for redistribution. If that is the only advantage we have derived from this discussion, I should say it is a very considerable one. We must tender our thanks to the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) for having brought the matter forward, and for the speech in which his proposal was made. I am bound to say I do not think the clause 283 would have proved any great safeguard itself; but, indirectly, the discussion and declarations it has drawn forth have been of a real and valuable character.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that one of the functions of the House was to preserve itself; and he asked if it was becoming on the part of the House of Commons to trust to any agreement or understanding between the Leaders of the Government and the Leaders of the Opposition as to when this Bill should come into operation, and thereby change the whole constituencies of the country? It was admitted on both sides of the House that the change in the franchise ought not to be brought into operation until there had been a redistribution of seats. Was it becoming in the House to allow the fixture of the date at which the Bill was to come into operation to pass out of their own hands? Practically, that was the question before the Committee. Despite what had been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins), the clause of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) had this value—it brought within the command of the Committee the date at which this Bill should come into operation. In 1867, the House of Commons was so careless, or was so occupied, he supposed, in Party discussions, that it left the decision of such a matter as this to the House of Lords. Thank God there was a House of Lords ! He- prayed the House of Commons not to do its work in so slovenly a manner as not to retain within its own jurisdiction the fixing of the date on which the Bill should come into operation. He was opposed to personal government in every sense, and he, as an old Member of the House, entered his protest against the idea of intrusting to the Prime Minister the fixing of the date on which an Act of Parliament should come into operation, because it was, if not unprecedented, a disgrace to the House.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he desired to call attention to a point which had been overlooked. It seemed pretty clear, from what had fallen from the Prime Minister, that he was disposed to accept the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). That being so, it was right the Attorney General's attention should be called to the fact that in the 4th clause the words "after the 284 passing of this Act" still remained. The 4th clause was really a disfranchising clause, inasmuch as it prevented the possessors of rent-charges voting. He would like to know whether it was the intention of the Attorney General to retain the words he had quoted, or to strike them out on Report?, because he (Mr. Warton) was inclined to think that if the Committee were to accept the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, the effect would be that the words "after the passing of this Act" might override the general words which the Government seemed disposed to accept.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the retention of the words in Clause 4 was quite unintentional. They had been struck out of Clauses 2 and 5, and it would be possible on Report to strike them out of Clause 4.
§ SIR EAEDLEY WILMOT
said, he claimed the indulgence of the Committee while he made a few remarks upon this clause. He had risen several times during the progress of the Bill to offer some observations upon the question of Reform; but he had never, until the present moment, succeeded in catching the eye of the Chair. He came down to the House to-day with a most cordial desire to support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland, and he extremely regretted that it was now on the point of being withdrawn. For many years he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had been a warm advocate of Parliamentary Reform; indeed, it was now 31 years since he made the proposal—and he believed he was the first to make the published proposal—to introduce household suffrage in boroughs. He merely mentioned this circumstance to show that for some time he had been a warm and consistent advocate of Parliamentary Reform. He would have been a warm advocate of the Bill now before the House had it contained ingredients similar to those contained in every Reform Bill which had hitherto been presented to the House. The first proposal in the Reform Bill of 1832 had reference to the disfranchisement of certain boroughs and the enfranchisement of others. Every Government knew that to pass a proposal to take away the Parliamentary rights of certain boroughs required all the strength of the Govern- 285 ment; and, therefore, in the case of the Bill of 1832, and, indeed, in the case of every subsequent Bill, redistribution had always accompanied, if not preceded, a proposal for the extension of the franchise. There was only one exception, and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would remember it, and that was when Lord John Russell, after the death of Lord Palmerston, introduced, in. 1866, a measure for Parliamentary Reform. Lord John Russell omitted, what the Prime Minister had omitted in this case, the indispensable ingredient of redistribution. What was the result? One of his own Party—Lord Grosvenor—proposed an Amendment, which, notwithstanding the great strength of the Government, he carried by a majority only of five votes. Redistribution was added to the Bill; but ultimately the Government went out of Office; the Derby and Disraeli Government came in, and, as was well known, carried a measure of Reform in the subsequent year. His objection to the present measure was that redistribution was not one of its accompaniments, because he regarded redistribution as an indispensable ingredient of every proposal of Parliamentary Reform; in fact, he considered that it ought to precede it. He was in favour of any measure giving the Parliamentary franchise to the agricultural labourer; but he was not in favour of giving the agricultural labourer that franchise in such a manner that his influence and power would preponderate over that of every other class of the community; and that must necessarily be the case if extension of the franchise were to be carried without redistribution. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said to them—"Let us pass this Franchise Bill; and then we will give you a solemn promise that we will, in the course of the next year, bring in a Redistribution Bill." But a Redistribution Bill was easier spoken of than carried. To enfranchise a number of electors, and to introduce a Bill which would deprive electors of their rights, were very different things; one was an enfranchising measure, and the other a disfranchising measure. He maintained that when the 2,000,000 electors were enfranchised their power would be supreme; they would completely overwhelm every other part of the constituency. He agreed with the 286 hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins), that the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was not worth the paper on which it was written. The proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was that the Bill was to take effect on the 1st January, 1885. Knowing, as they did, the circumstances in which the House was placed, did they think there was even a probability of a Redistribution Bill being carried in the course of next year? If the Government remained in power so long, which seemed very doubtful, they must encounter very great opposition when they proposed to disfranchise a large number of boroughs, depriving, as such a process would, many Members of their seats? Was there, therefore, a certainty, much less a probability, that a Redistribution Bill would be carried next year? It was because there was no such certainty that he extremely regretted that the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) had expressed a wish to withdraw his clause. The Committee were indebted to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Albert Grey) for bringing forward his clause, by which he wanted to add to the promise of the Government a guarantee that within a certain time a Redistribution Bill should be brought in, if not carried. He (Sir Eardley Wilmot) could not understand why, in the face of the arguments in favour of the clause, the hon. Gentleman should have been prevailed upon not to take the sense of the Committee upon it. Desiring, as he did, to see a good and sound measure of Reform passed, he confessed that, after studying the history of his country most carefully for 40 years, it had never been his lot to look into a Bill more unsatisfactory, more unstatesmanlike, more fragmentary, and more unworthy of the character of the statesman who introduced it, than this measure. Mr. Pitt, when he introduced a Bill for Parliamentary Reform, did exactly what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was not doing—he preceded an extension of the franchise by redistribution. The present Prime Minister had no greater admirer than he (Sir Eardley Wilmot), although he politically altogether differed from him. For 40 years he had looked up to the right hon. Gentleman as a great scholar and a great man. He had heard what he 287 believed was the first speech -which the right hon. Gentleman made in that House. On that occasion a relative came to him under the Gallery, and said—"Did you hear the speech of that young man? If you live long enough you will see him Prime Minister of England." Greatly as he admired and appreciated his wonderful genius, his eloquence, and his unrivalled talents, and looking Lack over the long period of 50 years that had elapsed since then, he could not help thinking that the Bill, with which he probably very nearly was closing his memorable career, was totally unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman; and he solemnly believed that it would add to his honour with posterity if, by any means, this Bill could be withdrawn or thrown out.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Clause withdrawn.
§ MR. PULESTON
, in moving that the following clause be added to the Bill:—(Votes of officers and men in the Navy and Army.)Every officer and man enrolled in Her Majesty's Navy or Army who shall be registered as a voter in any constituency of the United Kingdom shall, when stationed or engaged on Her Majesty's service more than twenty miles away from the constituency in which he shall be so registered, but in some part of the United Kingdom, he entitled to give his vote for such constituency at the place at which he shall he so engaged or stationed, under such conditions and in such manner as may he prescribed by Her Majesty in Council,said, he thought hon. Members would agree that a person serving Her Majesty in the Army or Navy or Marino Force should not be deprived of his right to vote because he happened to be stationed at a distance from his voting locality. He proposed to prevent that by the clause which he asked the Committee to read a second time. He had put the distance from the constituency at. 20 miles; but, of course, he was not bound to that limit or measure of distance. The principle of the clause was not a new one—it involved no new principle of voting, and it only gave to those who possessed 288 votes the right of recording them. In the case of America, everyone during the War there, he remembered, was allowed to record his vote at the place at which he might be at the time of election. As there could be no sufficient reason why a person serving the country at a reasonable distance from his constituency should not have the right of recording his vote, he trusted the Prime Minister would be able to meet him in this matter. He begged to move the clause of which he had given Notice.
§ New Clause (Votes of officers and men in the Army and Navy,)—(Mr. Puleston,) —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
said, that while the object of the clause was a good one, it was impossible for the Government to accept it. It would be almost hopeless to endeavour to work such a system, owing to its complexity and difficulty, and also to the fact that it would be almost impossible to prevent personation.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
, in moving the following clause:—(Suspension of the franchise of convicted persons.)Every person convicted of offences against the person or against property shall be excluded from the exercise of the franchise for a term of years proportionate to the nature of the offence for which such person may be convicted, that is to say:—(a)every person convicted of an indictable offence other than felony shall be, and is hereby declared, incapable of exercising the franchise for a period of seven years from the date of such conviction, and for each subsequent conviction shall be rendered incapable of exercising such franchise for a further period of seven years for each offence; (b) every person convicted of a felony shall he, and is hereby declared, incapable of exercising the franchise for a period of fourteen years from the date of such conviction, and for each subsequent conviction shall be rendered incapable of exercising such franchise for a further period of fourteen years for each offence: provided that any person convicted for a third time of felony shall, from and after the date of such conviction, be wholly incapable of exercising the franchise,said, that the object of the clause was that persons convicted of crimes against person or property should be excluded from the exercise of the franchise during 289 a term proportioned to the nature of the crimes for which they had been convicted. He did not think this was a perfectly novel idea, as he understood there were provisions of this kind in force in various other countries. He believed that provisions of this kind were in force in Germany and in Austria, where a person convicted of crime was deprived of the right of exercising the privilege of the franchise for various periods, ranging from five years to total disfranchisement. He knew, for a fact, that there were provisions of this nature in the Penal Code at present in force in France. They were to be found in the 42nd Article of that Code, which was really the Code Napoleon under another name; and in Section 10 there were provisions set forth for the same purpose. He believed that the periods of suspension ranged, as he had before mentioned, from five years to total disfranchisement, the term having to be determined by the Judge, before whom the convicted person was tried. They had been told, in the course of the debates on this measure, that the admission to the franchise of a large number of capable citizens would be fraught with no disadvantage; but he could not help thinking the Committee would consider that persons convicted of crime were such as could not properly exercise the franchise proposed to be conferred upon a large mass of the people by this Bill. He had another case in point, which he would place before the Committee as an argument in favour of the admission of his clause. He believed that in the year 1848–9 the Chartists, whose agitation was going on at that time, promulgated a Charter, one of the provisions of which was that the country should be given manhood suffrage; and amongst the provisions which were to disqualify persons from possessing the franchise were that a man should not exercise it if under age, and if he had been convicted of crime. Therefore, as the provisions of this clause were analogous to those in force in other countries with regard to the franchise, and as it had entered into the minds of others who wished to extend the franchise to the people of this country to make similar provisions, he was not averse to its being incorporated in our electoral law. He begged to move the clause which stood in his name.
§ New Clause (Suspension of the franchise of convicted persons,)—(Viscount Folkestone,) —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he quite admitted that under this Bill some persons might be placed on the Register whom they conscientiously believed were unfitted to exercise the franchise; but he could not accept the clause, because he believed it would be most objectionable in its consequences. The clause included all convictions, and the effect of it would be that a man sentenced by a Judge to the light punishment of a day's imprisonment would be deprived of his vote for a period of seven years. He did not think the Committee would sanction any such proposal.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
thought it would be very improper that a man who had been convicted and served the period of punishment which the law imposed upon him should be stigmatized as a criminal for so many years afterwards by having his name, perhaps, exhibited over the blacksmith's shop in the village, to remind all his neighbours that he was a person convicted of crime. He thought it had been ruled by the highest legal authorities in the land that it was a libellous act on the part of a Railway Company to placard their premises with the announcement that John Smith, or as the case might be, had infringed one of their bye-laws. Another objection to the clause was that, although under it a person would be prevented from voting, he might yet be elected to sit as a Member of the House of Commons. There was a distinguished prisoner in Dartmoor Gaol who, it was not at all inconceivable, might become a Member of the House when his period of punishment was at an end; however, it was hard to say that a nobleman should be deprived of the vote, and yet be perfectly qualified for election as a Member of Parliament. On the whole, he thought the noble Lord had better not pursue this Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, there was a precedent for his proposal in the measure passed last year with regard to corrupt and illegal practices at elections. 291 By that Act, persons convicted of bribery and other illegal acts at elections were deprived of the right of sitting in that House for various periods. The precedent, being thus established, there was nothing to prevent the clause being amended so as to deprive persons convicted of crime of the right of sitting in the House of Commons for a certain number of years. He certainly had no desire to see there the distinguished person referred to by his hon. Friend as languishing in Dartmoor Gaol. He felt it his duty to take the sense of the Committee on this clause; and it seemed to him only right that if they excluded a man from sitting in the House of Commons for an offence against the electoral law, they should also prevent a person from exercising the franchise who had been convicted of felony.
§ MR. WARTON
said, the hon. and learned Attorney General would remember that seven years ago it was decided as improper to apply the word "convict" to a man who had been convicted and served his term of penal servitude. Although he considered that the disqualification of persons from sitting in that House for the time specified in the Act of last year for an offence against the electoral law was too heavy, the principle was a sound one.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. BRINTON
, in rising to move the following clause:—No person shall be entitled to be registered under this Act in any year as a Voter in the election of a Member or Members to serve in any future Parliament who shall, within twelve calendar months next previous to the last day of July in such year, have been convicted and sentenced for felony or indictable misdemeanour in any court of justice in the United Kingdom,said, he thought it was a very reasonable thing to ask the Government to accept this clause. They all agreed that persons subsisting by honest labour should be allowed to exercise the franchise, but that those who came within the definition of the criminal classes, who lived in a state of destitution and crime, should not be allowed to do so. The Act of 1832 brought up the electorate to about 800,000 for the United Kingdom, and under it peers, women, and imbeciles were excluded; in a subsequent Act idiots, lunatic persons, and convicted felons and paupers, were excluded from the exercise of the fran- 292 chise. There were on the average, during the last 10 years, 16,000 convictions annually. The Act of 1869 increased the electorate to 2,000,000; it was at present 3,000,000; and under this Bill, when it became law, the number would be increased probably to 5,000,000. That being so, he thought it only fair to ask that, during the period of 12 months from the time when persons convicted of felony had completed their sentence and were turned loose on society, they should not be allowed to be registered as voters. It was asked why paupers should be placed in a worse position than persons convicted of indictable offences. There were similar suspensions of civil rights in Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland; and under the Corrupt and Illegal Practices at Elections Act of last year a man might be deprived of the privilege of voting for seven years. As he thought the time had arrived when the principle advocated by him should be adopted, he begged to move the clause which stood in his name.
§ New Clause (Conviction for felony to disqualify for twelve months,) — (Mr, Brinton,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the same objections applied to this clause as were urged against that moved by the noble Lord (Viscount Folkestone). For some crimes visited with light penalties the clause would make a heavy addition to the punishment awarded, and would interfere with the discretion which it was desirable to leave in the hands of the Judges and magistrates.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, there was a great difference between this and the proposal of the noble Lord. The Attorney General, moreover, had objected to them on different grounds. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman was hardly the person who should object to disqualification as a punishment, considering the extent to which last year he applied the principle to crimes, so-called, but which certainly did not involve immorality in the same sense as was understood by the word felony. In a Bill conferring wholesale enfranchisement one might suppose respectability 293 to count to the extent of putting disqualification on a felon; but if the Government thought it necessary to have all and sundry on the Register, he supposed there was nothing for the Committee but to submit.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
said, that under this Bill they were likely to have a large number of convicted criminals on the Register if the existing law remained without change. That being so, it was only right that a man who had committed a crime and been convicted should be in at least as bad a position as the person who was compelled to obtain parish relief. He did not think it looked well that a man, simply because he was a pauper, should be disfranchised; while a person convicted of theft, and punished with two or three months' imprisonment, could go immediately he was liberated and vote in a Parliamentary Election. A man convicted of an offence punishable with hard labour might, in his opinion, be with propriety excluded from exercising the franchise for a certain period of time; and he hoped the Government would reconsider the position they had taken up, because he believed it would be to the advantage of the country and an improvement of the Bill that a clause such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Brinton) should be added to it.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that the clause of the noble Lord and that before the Committee were totally different; and he was much astonished at the cavalier way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman had dealt with the latter. For his own part, he could not see a single reason for allowing offenders to resume the right of voting earlier than paupers. He should vote for the second reading of the clause if the hon. Member divided the Committee upon it; and if it were carried the Amendments which it might be necessary to make in it could then be added. They were told that the Bill was to admit capable citizens to the franchise. No doubt, in one sense, gentlemen who broke into houses and those who stole the money and property of others were very clever and capable; but they were not capable in the sense in which he and other hon. Members understood the term used by the Prime Minister, and certainly when they were convicted and punished they ought not 294 to be allowed to vote, at any rate during the period for which even a man obliged to obtain parish relief was excluded. He hoped the hon. Member would press his Amendment to a Division, in which case he should give it his support.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the same observation applied to the case of a person convicted for assault as applied to that of a man convicted and sentenced for felony. So long as the person suffered punishment he could not vote; and the question they had to consider in reference to this Amendment was whether they should continue the punishment of the individual when his sentence expired by refusing him the vote for one year? Again, they had to consider whether they should, as they had done before, leave the Judge to determine the extent of punishment, or whether they should draw the hard-and-fast line which the Amendment would render it necessary to be observed? Ought they not rather to say that when a man had served his term of punishment he should have an opportunity of retrieving his position, and that it should not be permitted that a person should get up in the Registration Court and say that, having received one day's imprisonment, he should not vote?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not a speech adapted to the second reading of a clause, but to its discussion in Committee. Moreover, the hon. and learned Gentleman had not, throughout the three speeches he had made upon this Amendment, and that of the noble Lord, advanced a single valid argument against the principle of excluding the criminal classes from the Register. What argument had he used? He said that a Judge might find himself obliged to impose for a small offence a very long term, of exclusion from the privilege of exercising the franchise. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): No; not in those words.] To this it might be replied that the Judge might safely be left a discretion in the matter; he might be allowed to fix the term of exclusion. But that was not all. The Attorney General, who thought it so mischievous and unjust that a man should be excluded from the exercise of the franchise for a misdemeanour or a felony, forgot that as 295 the law at present stood a man was excluded from voting for a whole year who had received the smallest amount of medical relief from the Union either for himself or his family. What conclusion could the ordinary working man draw from that? Beyond all doubt, he would think that it was more disgraceful to be poor than to be criminal. A man who, through temporary misfortune, had been obliged to ask the parish to provide him with one day's medical relief was excluded for a year from the exercise of the franchise, and yet the Attorney General refused to impose the same disability upon a man convicted of felony. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) thought, apart from the advantage there would be to the State from the exclusion of persons of that character, that in the interest of public morality they should express in the Statute Book their sense of the justice of the principle that a man convicted of felony was not competent to exercise political rights.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
observed that there was a great deal in the principle which the clause of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Brinton) embodied. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had pointed out that, as the law now stood, a penalty attached to poverty which the Attorney General refused to attach to crime. The hon. and learned Gentleman told the Committee that a crime might be venial; but he would ask whether poverty might not also be venial? For his own part, he should think that poverty, as a rule, was more venial than crime, although the Attorney General did not appear to hold that view. He did not think any Party question was involved hero, because there were not, as far as he knew, any Returns published which would show to which side of the House the criminal classes wore likely to belong. But, however that might be, he did not think it an excessive punishment to add to the sentence of a convicted person that he should not be allowed to vote for one year, because the privilege of voting in a Parliamentary Election was one that, after all, was not likely to be made use of more than once in about four or five years. They had not yet come to yearly elections, and, therefore, the occasions on which the pet criminal of the Attorney General might exercise the franchise would 296 be but few. He thought the hon. Member for Kidderminster had done good service in bringing forward the clause.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, although the clause of the hon. Member, opposite (Mr. Brinton) did not go so far as his own, he was glad that it had been moved, and he could not but feel some regret at not having pressed his clause to a Division; because he believed, after listening to the discussion which had taken place, that it would have received more support than at the time he anticipated for it. He trusted his hon. Friend would divide the Committee, in which case he believed the clause would be supported by a considerable number of hon. Gentlemen. He thought, so far as the amount of punishment was concerned, that the remarks of the Attorney General upon the clause in its present form wore in some respects correct. There were offences that might be too heavily punished by incapacitating the individual for voting, as was proposed in his clause; but he proposed to obviate the difficulty by giving discretion to the Judge to limit the amount of punishment as regarded such incapacity for voting, and removing it altogether if he considered it advisable in the case of a man sentenced for the crime for which he might be convicted. If the clause of the hon. Member for Kidderminster were carried, he should move to amend it in such a manner that it would run thus—Any person who has been convicted and sentenced for felony or indictable misdemeanour in any Court of Justice in the United Kingdom shall be disqualified from voting for a Member of Parliament, or from being eligible to sit in the House of Commons, for such period not exceeding five years from the expiration of his sentence as the presiding Judge may determine.In that way it would be perfectly competent to the Judge, in certain cases, to inflict no disqualification at all. For instance, if a young man given to stealing apples should come before a Judge and be sentenced to one day's imprisonment the Judge might not inflict upon him any disqualification. With the object, then, of amending the clause of the hon. Member, if it were carried, be should support it on a Division.
Sir, I agree entirely with those who hold that this is not a Party question; and, therefore, I say let us approach it impartially. I 297 own that it is impossible to listen, without a certain amount of sympathy, to the opinions expressed in the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and in that of the noble Lord who has just spoken. But what aspect does this question assume when we examine it? We find that when a man is punished for a criminal offence, his punishment is defined and limited, and that when the whole punishment has been inflicted no other penal consequences are allowed to fall upon him. Then my hon. Friend comes in and says, let us purge the electorate of convicted persons. But let us see how far that will carry us. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane) has judiciously referred to the proportion of criminal Members who might be found on one side of the House or the other. Now, there is nothing to prevent Her Majesty, after a man sentenced for a criminal offence has served out his time, from appointing him one of her Secretaries of State. His chance, I believe, would not be very great; although hon. Gentlemen opposite might say that such a course was not at all inappropriate to the case of the present Government. But if the House is to decide that a certain system of disabilities shall attach to criminal conviction, it is a question which demands that we should consider at large why we should inflict the very smallest of these disabilities, and leave every other franchise capacity in full working. I do not think we can afford to deal with a question of this kind piecemeal; and although, as I have admitted, it is impossible for us not to sympathize with those hon. Members who have supported the clause, I think it is our duty to give an impartial, and not an intimidated, vote against it.
SIR R. ASSHETON GROSS
said, the proposal ought not to be looked upon so much as providing punishment for the criminal classes as a protection to the people generally; and it was upon the latter ground that he should support the clause of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. They were considering the capability of citizens; and he contended, notwithstanding what had fallen from the Prime Minister, that if a man so misconducted himself as to be convicted of felony, he had shown by his act that he was a man from whom the community ought to be protected, and that, 298 consequently, he and his hon. Friends were right in claiming that the community should be protected from the votes of the criminal class.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he could not agree with the noble Lord in giving the Judge discretionary power as to the enfranchisement or disenfranchisement of any individual, because, in his opinion, it would be wrong to convert the Judges into political characters. The Committee were not called upon by the hon. Member for Kidderminster to decide that question, however. They were asked whether they intended to put the convicted felon on the same level as the pauper? Everyone acquainted with the system of Union relief knew that a man might come upon the pay list for some temporary assistance—perhaps in the case of his wife's miscarriage —and that that circumstance was, in the eye of the law, sufficient to constitute him a pauper, and disqualify him, as such, from voting during a period of 12 months. All that the hon. Member asked was that a person convicted of felony should not be in a better position in respect of the exercise of civil rights than the unfortunate man who received parochial relief. The adoption of the clause would have the effect of making our laws consistent in this respect, and it would have the good effect also of showing to the people of the country that Parliament did not regard the commission of an act of felony in a less serious light than it looked upon the act of a man who applied for parochial relief. Upon those grounds he should feel it his duty to vote for the clause.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, he thought that the discussion on the clause had shown that it would act very unfairly indeed. He believed that all those acquainted with the subject would know that one of the greatest difficulties that had to be encountered was the restoring of discharged prisoners to their lost position as citizens, and that it was never thought desirable to rake up the fact that a man had committed an offence. But, if this clause became law, in every Registration Court a man might have his offence brought forward and again registered against him, the effect being that he would have to suffer another year's punishment. The two eases of the pauper and the criminal should be kept entirely apart in their 299 endeavours to arrive at a just solution of this question.; and it was because he believed the Amendment would, on the whole, have an injurious effect that he felt it his duty to vote against it.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
said, if the clause, or one which embodied its principle, were not adopted, he should have to propose, in due course, that the enactment which prevented paupers being upon the Register as voters for one year after the time of their receiving relief should be repealed. It seemed to him that they must either disqualify criminals from exercising the franchise for a certain term, or that they should qualify paupers. This was not a question, as had been pointed out, of punishing a man for an offence; it was a question of discretion—whether they should or should not make a distinction between two classes of men in favour of the criminal. Were they to disqualify a poor man for receiving parochial relief; and, on the other hand, say that a convicted thief should be continued on the Register?
§ MR. WHITLEY
regretted the view taken of this question by the hon. and learned Gentleman at his side (Mr. Grantham). It was impossible for him to think that the question of depriving a person of civil rights ought to be kept quite distinct from that of the punishment to be inflicted for the offence. The Attorney General had endeavoured to lead the Committee away from the real considerations attaching to the subject. The Prime Minister said that the disfranchisement of a convicted person would be equivalent to a double punishment, and that was no doubt true; but he would point out to the Committee that double punishment was enacted by the Corrupt and Illegal Practices at Elections Act of last year. By that Act a man could not only be sentenced to fine and imprisonment; he was, at the same time, to be deprived of his rights of citizenship. Therefore, he asked why, if the principle were right in the case of the Act referred to, it should not be applied in the present instance? What distinction there was between the two cases which should place them upon a different footing he was totally unable to perceive. Nor could he perceive any force in the argument that the Judge would take into consideration the disfranchisement which would follow upon 300 conviction in awarding sentence; he did not think the Judge would go into the question of civil rights at all; but that, on the contrary, he would punish the individual for his crime, whatever it might be. He held, in the interest of civil society at large, that a man who had committed felony ought not to be allowed the same privileges, in respect of the franchise, as capable citizens, a term which, to his mind, certainly did not include the criminal class. That consideration, he said, was one which ought not to be put out of sight, especially at a time when it was proposed to add an enormous number of the people to the electorate. He repeated his belief that the Judge would in no way be influenced by the clause in sentencing the convicted person. the punishment which the Judge would award would be for the crime itself, quite irrespective of the civil disability which he (Mr. Whitley) thought should be imposed upon him during the time which his hon. Friend had spoken of, as a period of probation at the end of which, having restored himself to the rights of citizenship, it was proper that the individual should be allowed to vote. For these reasons he should cordially support the clause of the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
§ MR. PELL
said, it was because he valued very much the clause in the Act which disfranchised paupers that he should support the proposal of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. If it were not agreed to, he did not see how they could consistently maintain the present law by which paupers were excluded from voting. Reference had been made to the desirability of not following up a criminal by subsequent punishment; but he would point out that in cases where a person was convicted of an offence, any previous offence which he had committed was brought up against him. What would the people think when they saw one man disfranchised by the mere act of receiving parish relief, and another man, perhaps, followed by a detective to the Revising Barrister's Court, allowed to register himself as a voter? He hoped the hon. Member would go to a Division on a clause which involved such a very important principle, when, for the reasons stated, he should feel it his duty to vote for it.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins) objected to its being left to the Judge to decide for how long a period a prisoner should be disfranchised; and he objected to the proposal on the ground that it might convert the Judge into something like a political partisan. In that respect it would appear that he had a higher opinion of Her Majesty's Judges than the hon. Member. However that might be, he would remind the Committee that the Judges who tried Election Petitions, whatever their political opinions might be, had the power the hon. Member deprecated already; and 110 complaint had ever been made of the manner in which they discharged their duties in connection with them. He wished to make an observation with regard to the remark of the Prime Minister against the idea of putting additional punishment on criminals by disfranchising them for any period after the expiration of the punishment inflicted upon them for the crimes they had committed. The right hon. Gentleman stated that after the expiration of his sentence a criminal was under no disability whatever, though what he meant by being under no disability he (Viscount Folkestone) did not know. After a criminal had come out of prison he was obliged, in many cases, to undergo a certain amount of police supervision; and if that was not a disability he should very much like to know what was. As a matter of fact, this police supervision was one of the most severe punishments, short of imprisonment, which could possibly be inflicted on a man. It did away with his freedom; he could not move from one place to another without giving notice to the police in the district. He had to report himslf from time to time to the police to show that he was in the district, and when he left for another place he had to make known his intention and report himself in the new locality in which he had taken up his quarters. That, he was led to believe, was one of the most severe punishments, short, as he had said, of actual imprisonment, which could be inflicted upon a person; and, therefore, it appeared to him that there were cases in which, after the expiring of imprisonment, criminals underwent a certain amount of disability.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he hoped the Prime Minister would allow him to congratulate him upon his improved tone. He (Mr. Warton) was very glad to hear that this was not a Government question, for, that being so, they could approach it impartially. Last night they could not approach the matter then under discussion impartially because of the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman; and he (Mr. Warton) had been obliged to vote against him to counteract the action of one of his (Mr. Gladstone's) supporters. He had been obliged to vote against the right hon. Gentleman because the matter had been discussed partially; and now that it was discussed impartially he (Mr. Warton) was going to vote with the right hon. Gentleman. As a matter of fact, the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Brinton) was a most absurd one. It was one, the title of which did not agree with the substance of the clause—neither had the speech of the hon. Member agreed with the title nor the clause. The title referred only to felony, whereas the proposal referred to felony and misdemeanours; and the hon. Member's speech did not agree with, his Motion, because his Motion had reference to convictions 12 months previous to a certain date, whereas his speech referred to a period of 12 months after the expiring of his sentence. It had been asked with considerable gravity—and even the Prime Minister had condescended to notice the question, —which political Party sympathized most with the criminal classes? He was inclined to think that the criminal classes as a rule must be Liberals, because it appeared to him that those who stole would sympathize with those large schemes of plunder that had been brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. He was not saying this merely from theory, but had proof to adduce in support of his assertion. He remembered a case about the time of the destruction of the Irish Church when a Liberal—a man whom he presumed belonged to the Liberal Party— was brought up for an assault and robbery, and he recollected that the man defended himself by stating that he merely "disestablished the man's legs, and disendowed his pockets." But even though he believed that the great majority of the criminals of the country belonged to the Liberal Party, tha