§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ New Clauses.
, in rising to move the following clause:—(Persons serving in sea or land forces of Her Majesty.)Any man serving in Her Majesty's sea or land forces, and occupying separate quarters in any building belonging to or being occupied on behalf of the Crown, shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act and of the Representation of the People Acts to be an inhabitant occupier of such building as a tenant,said, he was sorry to have to raise this point again; but, with due deference to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, he found that considerable doubt prevailed on the part of his hon. Friends upon that side of the House whether the provision he sought to include in the Bill was already included in it or not, and he thought it was desirable that the doubt should be cleared up. No one in that House would dispute that the class included in his Amendment was fully entitled to enjoy the franchise. It included seamen and others, who, although of the same class as those who enjoyed the franchise, were at present deprived of their rights. He believed that in some cases Marines, and in other cases seamen, did enjoy the franchise; but those classes did not enjoy it generally, and would not be enfranchised unless a clause of this nature were inserted in the Bill. What he wished to learn from the Government was, whether the term "dwelling-house" included a separate room or rooms in which a non-commissioned 590 officer or an officer lived in barracks? Of course, there was this very great difficulty—that they were constantly moving about entirely without any fault of their own, and were thus deprived of the franchise. That was a difficulty which he confessed he did not see the possibility of remedying; but it was extremely hard, where a regiment was quartered for a long time in the same town, and where non-commissioned officers had separate dwellings, that they should enjoy the franchise, while those non-commissioned officers who had rooms in barracks were deprived of the vote. If there was any doubt about the matter he thought it ought to be made clear. He did not understand that there was any objection to the principle of the clause, and he was quite willing to qualify the words in any way that would gain the object in view. He put it earnestly to the Government whether they would not consent to the clause or introduce one of their own?
New Clause (Persons serving in sea or land forces of Her Majesty,)—(Earl Percy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that before the Attorney General addressed the Committee he should like to put a question upon this matter, because it was understood the last time the subject was brought before the Committee the Attorney General said that it was met by provisions already in the Bill in Clause 9, page 6, line 30. He wanted it made perfectly clear whether or not separate quarters such as those referred to in the Amendment of his noble Friend really, as a matter of fact, came within the term of a dwelling-house. He was not at all prepared to say that they did. He took it for granted, from what had fallen from the Attorney General, that it was the intention of the Government to allow persons in this position to vote, and if that were so it ought to be made perfectly clear by the insertion of distinct words. He confessed that considerable doubt existed in his own mind; but he had no doubt that some of his hon. and learned Friends would address the Committee before the debate closed, and settle the doubt whether, as a 591 matter of fact, a non-commissioned officer occupying separate quarters would be entitled to vote or not. It was quite clear that the words of the clause— namely, "separate quarters in any building" that might be held by a man serving in Her Majesty's sea and land forces, would come within the terms of a dwelling-house in Clause 9.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he hoped that the case of these non-commissioned officers and men would be seriously considered by Her Majesty's Government; because he thought it would not be denied that they were very capable citizens, and certainly deserved to have a vote if a vote could possibly be given to them. There were few officers and non-commissioned officers who occupied the same quarters for more than a year, and it was owing to their being moved about; but in the case of the Marines and permanent sergeants and others, the same quarters were occupied for a considerable time, and he had no doubt in the world that the persons by whom they were occupied were entitled to have a vote. He, therefore, desired to have it clearly laid down whether an officer, living in a barrack-room entirely to himself, was not entitled to have a vote; and also whether a married sergeant or a married private, who had an independent room or rooms, was not equally entitled, supposing he occupied such rooms for a sufficient length of time to give him the right to a vote? He had received many letters on the subject from persons whom he certainly thought were left out in the cold. The Government were now going to enfranchise 2,000,000 of men; and certainly a class of men like those, who rendered valuable service to the country, deserved serious consideration at the hands of the Government.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he hoped that, when the matter was fully understood, the noble Lord would not feel justified in pressing his new clause, because he thought the Committee would see that it was impossible for the Government to accept it. They were all agreed as to the object of it, and they were willing that officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers should be in the same position as all the rest of Her Majesty's subjects. But it could not be claimed that officers and non-commissioned officers 592 should have greater advantages and more rights than other people, and the Government did not want them to have less. The only reason why they had not previously had a right to vote was that rating was essential, and Crown property was not rated. They had now got rid of that difficulty by inserting in the 9th clause, on page 6, line 30, the following words:—In any part of the United Kingdom, where a man inhabits a dwelling-house in respect of which no person is rated by reason of such, dwelling-house belonging to or being occupied on behalf of the Crown, or by reason of any other ground of exemption, such person shall not be disentitled to be registered as a voter, &c.Thus, although Crown property was not actually rated, it would be treated for this purpose as if it were; and, therefore, there would be no disqualification, either against the person or in respect of the building. If the matter were left as it was, men in Her Majesty's Service, under the general law, would be in the same position as ordinary civilians. But if they went further by accepting the present Amendment, soldiers and sailors would have certain privileges extended to them, and would be put in a different and better position than the rest of the community, which the Government did not desire to do. The Amendment of the noble Lord said—Any man serving in Her Majesty's sea and land forces, and occupying separate quarters in any building belonging to or being occupied on behalf of the Crown, shall be deemed, for the purposes of this Act and of the Representation of the People Acts, to be an inhabitant occupier of such building as a tenant.The noble Lord asked for a definition of the term "dwelling-house;" but his (the Attorney General's) reply was that he could not give a definition. But, although there was no exact definition of the term "dwelling house," the term "separate quarters" was absolutely unknown. Did it cover the case of an officer and servant, the latter of whom, having a separate bed-room, would have separate quarters in that sense? If so, the clause would give a vote to every man in that position, as well as to the officer. But he did not apprehend that the noble Lord wished to give to men in Her Majesty's Service greater privileges than were given to ordinary civilians. If the clause meant more the Government ob- 593 jected to it, and if it meant less the noble Lord did not want it. He contended that the case was provided for under the Bill already, and that it would be unsafe to give a specific definition to the term "dwelling-house." It had been held by some persons to mean any place where men might dwell; but it had been differently construed under different circumstances. Not only might it be a separate building, but it might be part of a building. In the Representation of the People Act of 1867, it was laid down that the term "dwelling-house" should include any part of a house where that part was separately occupied. A barrack-room would probably come within that definition, if the occupant had separate control, and in that case he would be entitled to vote. A noncommissioned officer might have, for the purposes of his family, part of a common building apportioned to him, into which no one else would have a right to enter as against his occupation. If he had separate control over it, so that it could not be commonly occupied by any other person, it would be part of a dwelling-house, qualifying the occupant for a vote, and it would be much safer to leave the matter in that condition than to accept the term "separate quarters," which might mean, in military phraseology, a man occupying a bed-room or one room. As a matter of fact, he did not know what it meant, and he thought it would be most unwise to accept the term "separate quarters" in the Amendment of the noble Lord. It would be far better to leave soldiers and sailors in the same position as civilians, which was really the intention of the Government.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, the Attorney General had spoken with great clearness and fairness upon the matter; and he could not help thinking that the question itself was involved in considerable doubt. He wished that the attention of the Committee had been drawn to it when the original clause was in Committee. It now appeared that if their attention had been drawn to the particular paragraph of the Bill on which the Attorney General relied, with reference to this point, it might have been discussed with advantage, instead of coming upon the Committee now by surprise. It now appeared, according to the statement of the Attorney Gene- 594 ral, that that clause was framed with the very intention of including the classes aimed at in the Amendment of his noble Friend. Of course, he accepted at once the statement of the Attorney General that the clause was drafted with the intention of including the soldiers and sailors who were included in the Amendment of his noble Friend; but the question was whether the drafting of the Government in that particular paragraph was so clear that they could with safety leave the matter there without seeking, by a supplementary clause or by some Amendment on the Report, to make the matter more clear? This was obviously a most important and interesting question, and it might affect a considerable number of Her Majesty's subjects. Whether the number was large or small, Her Majesty's Government, when they framed the clause for the purpose of including soldiers and sailors, must have made some estimate as to how many were likely to be affected by it. They must have known how many soldiers and sailors would be likely to occupy this class of building, and, as they framed the clause with the express intention of including them, they must have formed some estimate of the number. He should be glad to know what that estimate was. He had read the paragraph in Clause 9 referred to by the Attorney General, and he would at once admit that it did take away the necessity for the rates being paid, and the house being rated. That difficulty was removed, and in future no man occupying Government property could be prevented from placing himself on the Register in consequence of the property not being rated. He thought his hon. Friend behind him had indicated a point in which greater clearness was desirable, and that was whether the words "dwelling-house" were sufficiently full and elastic to include barracks and quarters in the occupation of soldiers and sailors. It was not clear that that was so, and the matter would be left in great doubt if it were allowed to stand as it did. He granted that the Attorney General had pointed out that the term "separate quarters" was open to criticism, and that it was a term that had not hitherto found its way into any Reform Act. He admitted that it was a term that had not hitherto been explained or used; but he thought, also, 595 that the term "dwelling-house" was not a satisfactory term under which to include so many different classes as those which were intended to be grasped in the paragraph relied upon by the Attorney General. On the whole, he was disposed to think that the wisest course to take would be this. If his noble Friend, after having listened to the discussion, could see his way to the framing of an Amendment to this particular clause which would meet the objection of the Attorney General, it would be desirable to do so; and, if not, then it would be better to withdraw the clause, and consider the whole matter on the Report. The sole object was to prevent soldiers and sailors who occupied separate quarters, in the way indicated in the clause, from being disfranchised in the event of the Revising Barrister deciding that such separate barracks or quarters were not covered by the term "dwelling-house."
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, it seemed to him, although there might be a vagueness in the proposal of his noble Friend, that it was absolutely necessary there should be a distinct statement in the Bill that soldiers, sailors, and the Royal Marines would be entitled to have the franchise in respect of premises for which they would, undoubtedly, have a vote if they were civilians. There were many Royal Marines and men of the Royal Marine Artillery who lived at Portsmouth, and he was afraid it would be only those who lived in a separate tenement who would have the franchise conferred upon them. He trusted that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would give some assurance upon the point, in order to encourage the noble Lord to frame an Amendment that would settle the question.
§ MR. CAUSTON
asked if it would be the fact that, in the event of a regiment being stationed in a garrison town for a sufficient length of time, the whole of the regiment would be placed, under this clause, upon the Register of Voters? He would ask this question in order that the matter might be clearly explained. Was it the intention of the clause to enfranchise whole regiments? A considerable amount of ignorance appeared to prevail upon the question; but he imagined that, under the clause as it stood, an entire regiment would be 596 enfranchised, provided that it had been quartered in a borough for two years.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
suggested that the words "or public building" should be added to Clause 9, after the word "dwelling-house." He thought that would meet the difficulty.
§ MR. WARTON
wished to remind the Committee that at a quarter to 7 on Friday afternoon, five minutes before the debate on the Bill must necessarily have ceased, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill requested the noble Lord not to bring forward this Amendment. He thought that if the noble Lord had acceded to the request he would have established a very bad precedent indeed; and it was undignified on the part of the Government to endeavour to hurry through an important measure of this kind in that manner. Although he had the highest opinion of the Attorney General, he was not disposed to accept the ipse dixit of the hon. and learned Gentleman on all occasions, especially where a matter was doubtful. But although he did not always believe in the learned Attorney General, he always implicitly took the hon. and learned Gentleman's word, and he had no doubt that soldiers and sailors were present in the mind of the Attorney General when the 9th clause was drawn up. It was a great pity, however, that it was not so expressed. If his recollection were accurate, Clause 9 was passed with considerable rapidity, and not a single word was said in regard to the paragraph in line 30 in which the words "dwelling-house" were inserted. Not one word was there about soldiers and sailors, and they were now only left to the opinion of a few hon. Members that soldiers and sailors were intended, although they might not have been expressed. He did not think that that was the proper mode of interpreting the clause, and he should like to have everything clearly done in black and white. What he wanted to call attention to now was the statement of the Attorney General, that he did not wish to treat soldiers and sailors worse than civilians. He was glad to hear that announcement, and for this reason, that soldiers and sailors were not exactly in the same position as civilians. They were ordered on service from one place to another, and very often they only remained in a particular place for a very short time. He would suggest, 597 therefore, that the Attorney General should make an exception in favour of soldiers and sailors by reducing the time necessary to obtain a voting qualification. At present an officer who had not occupied a separate dwelling for the whole of the year would lose his qualification, and would not be allowed, for instance, to vote for quarters at Windsor because he happened to have been moved to some other place, and it would be necessary for him to occupy his separate quarters for two years or so before he could acquire a qualification. If the Attorney General was sincere in his wish to treat soldiers and sailors with the same justice as civilians he should take these facts into consideration, and bear in mind the actual position in which soldiers and sailors were placed, whether officers or privates. They were not like other people, but were moved about from place, and therefore had not the same opportunities for acquiring a residential qualification. Therefore, the assertion that provision was already made for them was only giving "a promise to the ear, and breaking it to the hope." He would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether some clause might not be introduced allowing a shorter residence for soldiers and sailors in order to give them the voting qualification? They must have a residence somewhere, and a qualification might be given to them by making a residence in barracks for a shorter period all that was necessary.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he must deny that the idea the Attorney General wished to convey was covered by the paragraph referred to in Clause 9. The provision in Clause 9 was simply to prevent the voter from being disqualified by reason of his not being rated. The qualification was incidental, and the clause certainly did away with any difficulty in regard to the house not being rated. It enabled the Revising Barrister to say that this provision in Clause 9 did away with any difficulty in respect of the non-rating of Government buildings; but it could not be taken to constitute an enfranchisement of any class of persons connected with the Naval or Military Services of Her Majesty. As to the appeal of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton) opposite to know whether it would be possible to enfranchise a regiment of soldiers under the clause, he hoped that 598 the Committee might hear an answer to that question from the Government.
said, that a great deal more had been imputed to the clause than he had intended. There certainly was no ground for the supposition of the hon. Member for Colchester, that the whole of a regiment as well as the officers were to be enfranchised by this clause. He could assure the Committee that that was not the intention of his Amendment, and he certainly did not understand it to be the object of the Bill. As he had said before, he would be very glad to make any alteration in the phraseology of the clause which the Attorney General might, from a legal point of view, consider necessary. If the words "separate quarters" were not a term known to the law he was ready to defer to any suggestion the Attorney General might make. The hon. and learned Gentleman himself admitted the difficulty of defining what a separate dwelling was, and had told the Committee that in one Act of Parliament the definition of a separate dwelling was that it was a dwelling which no one but the occupier had a legal right to enter. In that sense it would be very difficult to say that there were any separate dwellings in barracks, because officers and others had certainly a right to enter all separate quarters and barracks. He should be glad if the Attorney General would enlighten the Committee upon that point, and also upon the point which had been raised by the hon. Member for Colchester. He was quite ready to withdraw the clause now and bring it up at a later stage if the hon. and learned Gentleman would tell him any words that he was willing to accept.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was of opinion that soldiers forming the mass of a regiment would not come in under the Amendment, because they had no such separate quarters as would entitle them to a vote. They all lived together, and he did not think that any difficulty existed in that direction. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) that this legislation was not sufficient because it did not enfranchise a class, all he had to say was that the class was not disfranchised now, and never had been. The reason why they did not vote was simply because they occupied property 599 which, was not rated, and it required legislation to get rid of the disqualification which affected non-rated property by placing it in the some condition as other property. The noble Lord asked him to get rid of a difficulty created by the clause. The noble Lord thought that part of a barracks might be held to be part of a dwelling-house, and place the persons occupying it in the same condition as the occupants of ordinary dwelling-houses who were entitled to a vote. The object of the Government was to put them in that position; but they did not think in regard to these services that the men connected with them should have any further privileges than those enjoyed by ordinary civilians. If the noble Lord asked him to say what might occur in a particular case where no definition was given he was afraid he could not help him out of that difficulty. All that the Government proposed to do was to give soldiers and sailors equal rights in regard to voting power with civilians, but no greater.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he hoped that the Attorney General would consider the question before the Report. It was quite true that an officer occupying separate quarters would escape the penalty of disqualification in regard to the non-rating part of the question by the 9th clause; but what was really behind the question was whether the officer occupying these quarters according to military law was entitled to be placed upon the Register, seeing that he was an occupant only in one sense and not in another. What the noble Lord said was quite true—military men did not occupy these premises like an ordinary householder—that was to say, that nobody could legally enter them except themselves. They occupied them as the officers of a regiment, subject to certain regulations which gave to other persons the right of going through them. The question was whether that was a qualification in regard to occupation which did not put them in a different category from the ordinary tenant of a dwelling-house. He wanted the question to be made quite clear, so that an officer might not find himself disqualified because the Revising Barrister might not consider the words in the Bill gave a vote to an officer in respect of a dwelling in barracks on the ground that he did not occupy it separately.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
wished to point out that the proposed clause must be read in connection with Clause 3, which provided that where a man inhabited a dwelling-house in virtue of any office, service, or employment the vote should not be invalidated. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman that as other persona might have a right to enter for a particular purpose it would not be a separate occupation. Now, he was not of that opinion. He did not think that the right to walk into a man's room at certain times for the purpose of inspection or anything else would disqualify a voter. If a right existed on the part of the Crown to enter an officer's room he did not for a moment suppose that that would be a disqualification. What he meant was that there should be separate occupation by separate people, and not a common occupation, and the right of a man to say to any other person—"You cannot come here because I hold dominion over that room." Bank directors might reserve the right to enter their manager's room; but that would not prevent the manager from giving a vote under the service franchise.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that as the hon. and learned Gentleman had promised to give the subject his consideration, he hoped he would not confine that consideration to the very limited portion of the subject with which he had just dealt. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton) had thrown out a suggestion that under the clause, as proposed, a whole regiment might find themselves in possession of the franchise. To this the Attorney General replied that the Government had no intention of enfranchising soldiers as a class, but that he simply wished to place those serving Her Majesty in her land and sea forces in the same position as any other subject of the Queen. It did not appear to have occurred to the hon. and learned Gentleman that that might have been a fair argument in the days when the franchise was restricted to persons possessing a considerable stake in the country; but when practically the class from which the whole regiment, to use the expression of the hon. Member for Colchester, was drawn—that was to say, that when the franchise was exercised and enjoyed by the very class of Her Majesty's subjects from which the whole 601 regiment was drawn—it was perfectly comprehensible that soldiers would, under ordinary circumstances, enjoy their Constitutional rights but for the fact that they were serving Her Majesty. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to recollect that, owing to the exigencies of the Public Service, and under the conditions in which the land and sea forces of Her Majesty were placed, they were precluded from exercising the rights which they undoubtedly would enjoy if it were not for the accident of their being engaged in the service of Her Majesty. In other words, a class of men who, under ordinary circumstances, would enjoy the rights of citizenship, would forfeit those rights from the accident of being engaged in the service of Her Majesty in her land and sea forces. He would not go the length of the hon. Member for Colchester in saying that the entire regiment would be entitled to give their votes in the same way as in Prance, and, perhaps, in some other countries. He regarded that notion as absurd; but he would suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman whether, considering the peculiar position occupied by Her Majesty's land and sea forces, he would provide that, as the franchise in England was at present enjoyed, to say nothing of the attempt now being made to introduce a very much larger number of persons upon the Register, that the land and sea forces should not be placed in a position of peculiar disadvantage and disqualification. He did not suppose that those who were responsible for the discipline of the Service would undertake to say that any injury would accrue from soldiers and sailors being permitted, under proper conditions, to exercise their Constitutional rights. He did not suppose that that argument would be advanced before the Committee; but he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would interpret the law in a sense favourable to Her Majesty's land and sea forces, because we ought to bear in mind that when we called upon Her Majesty's subjects to engage in the service of the Crown, we ought, as far as possible, to remove from them every stigma and disqualification which it was in our power to remove. As matters now stood, persons serving in the land and sea forces of the Queen were the only persons the right hon. Gentleman 602 the Prime Minister did not allow to be capable citizens. He hoped before the Report was brought up that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be able to place a clause upon the Paper which would enable the House to see for themselves how he proposed to meet the difficulty.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he had heard, with great satisfaction, the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General that he intended to put the land and sea forces on the same footing as civilians with regard to the franchise. He thought it was a very serious matter that that was not already so; and he hoped it really was intended that persons who were serving the country in this way should have the privilege of voting on the same conditions as other people, and that proper provisions would be introduced into the Bill having reference to the conditions of their service. Of course, the question of residence was a very difficult one in the case of this class of voters; and he would suggest that the proper mode of dealing with that incident in the qualification of the land and sea forces would be by substituting an incoming regiment for the one whose place it had taken; so that when a regiment was removed from a barracks, and another regiment placed in it, the officers occupying the place of those removed should be entitled to vote. In that way, an officer, for instance, removed from Windsor would not lose his vote when quartered elsewhere, and vice versê;—those who were removed to Windsor would also retain their votes. He thought that something in that direction might be devised for getting rid of the difficulty. As the case now stood, a Minister for War, having strong political tendencies, might find that in a particular borough the presence of a regiment of soldiers might have the effect of altering the balance of political Parties in that borough, and he might bring about a sudden removal of the regiment with the sole object of disqualifying the members of the Service from voting. He thought it was a matter of satisfaction that the question had not been disposed of in the hurried manner some hon. Members appeared to have desired on Friday night; and he trusted that some provision would be introduced into the clause to enable members of Her Majesty's forces to 603 exercise the right of voting by getting rid of any disqualification which might exist from the nature of the service which they had to perform.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he was satisfied now, after the last statement of the Attorney General, that the Bill could not be allowed to pass the House without some understanding upon this point. The way in which the matter now stood was this—he had followed the statement of the Attorney General all through, and the hon. and learned Gentlemen said it was not necessary to accept the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, because it was covered by the paragraph of Clause 9, which had been referred to. In other words, that the separate portion of a house might be regarded, within the meaning of the Act for the Representation of the People, to constitute a dwelling-house, and that the separate quarters occupied in a barracks might be held to be occupied separately by officers and non-commissioned officers. That was the reasoning they were at first following in the reply of the Attorney General to his noble Friend, and to that reasoning he had naturally applied his mind. It was then pointed out, as the discussion went on, that the principle by which they were to be guided with regard to the meaning of a separate dwelling-house was that that separate part of the house was the man's castle if he occupied it, that he had absolute dominion over it, and that no one could enter it without his sanction. The principle laid down, so far as he was able to interpret it, was that the man who occupied separate quarters was practically lord of his own dwelling-house, had full control over it, and that it was, in fact, his castle. But that could not be applied to soldiers and sailors, because they were subject to a certain amount of interference and supervision, and there was a right of ingress on the part of others which civilians were not subject to. In the next place, the hon. and learned Attorney General, in answer to the noble lord who moved the clause, said that, whatever the amount of interference might be, it was covered by a reference to Section 3, which was the service section of the Bill. That introduced an entirely different element. Up to that time the Committee had been led to believe that under Section 9 was to be found the 604 rights of the soldier. Now they were told it was to be found somewhere or other between Sections 8 and 9. He did not think that that was at all satisfactory. He did not presume to say absolutely that what the Attorney General said in reference to the last paragraph of Clause 9 might not be construed as being its meaning; but he should be sorry to have any right he was relying upon personally so obscure that it had to be eked out by reference to some other section his attention had not previously been drawn to. If the present clause were read a second time he had no doubt that some Amendment could be suggested that would make the meaning clearer, or if the clause was withdrawn, no doubt, on the Report stage, some words might be introduced in connection with the words "barracks and quarters" to show the Revising Barrister that soldiers and sailors were in the express contemplation of the Legislature when the provision was passed.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman went far beyond the claim of the noble Lord, who had never claimed to put the position of soldiers and sailors beyond that of the Service Clause. He was bound, therefore, to refer to the Service Clause—the noble Lord having said that the qualification come under Clause 9. He, on the contrary, called attention to the fact that it came under Clause 3. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had changed his ground.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he had accused the hon. and learned Gentleman not exactly of having changed his ground, but of having enlarged it.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that if he had added to his ground to the extent of changing it he did not see what the difference was. It was the desire of the Government to put these men in the same position as civilians who were rated for a separate dwelling. It had been hitherto necessary that all civilians, before they could possess the right of voting, should be rated. The Government wished in the Service Clause to provide that that should not be necessary in all cases; but that a gamekeeper, for instance, or a coachman, who had control over a house for his own purposes, should be entitled 605 to a vote. The noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy) wished to put soldiers and sailors in the same position; but the noble Lord added that other persons might have the power of entering every portion of a barracks, and the noble Lord raised a question whether the access which their military superiors might have to their dwellings would invalidate the right to the vote. In this respect the masters of gamekeepers and coachmen might in one sense be said have a right to enter the premises their servants occupied, for the purpose of calling them up or saying that their services were required; but that fact would not deprive the man of the vote. It was exactly the same thing here. All he had been trying to do was to endeavour to make out that if it was practicable for a civilian who occupied a separate part of a dwelling-house to be entitled to vote, in the same way a sergeant or non-commissioned officer would be entitled to vote if the quarters he occupied were occupied in such a manner as to entitle him to keep other persons out of his part of the dwelling. The fact that his superior officers might have the right to come in and see that the Regulations of the Service were obeyed would not disqualify him, or take away his right to vote. He should be glad to consider the matter further; but he could not accept the present clause. All he said was, that he could not put these persons in a better position than civilians; but it was his desire to place them in the same position.
remarked that before the Amendment was disposed of, he hoped to have an assurance from the hon. and learned Gentleman that a clause would be brought up on the Report insuring to every sergeant, soldier, and sailor, as described in the Amendment, a vote. It was impossible that these men could be looked upon in the light of civilians, inasmuch as they did not possess the separate residences which civilians ordinarily possessed. Nor could they be looked upon as being in the position of game-keepers, coachmen, gardeners, and similar persons engaged by the year and remaining constantly in one place, if they happened to render good service. The soldiers of the Crown, as everyone knew, were moved from barrack to barrack. Therefore residences must be left out of the question 606 altogether. The Prime Minister told them, when he brought in the Bill, that he had introduced the Service Clause in order to enfranchise, if possible, many men possessing the qualification of education as well as household residence. He contended that the sergeants and non-commissioned officers in the Army were in the same position, and that all of them possessed educational acquirements which fitted them for the enjoyment of the franchise. Then, why was not the right hon. Gentleman willing to go further and extend the principle of educational franchise to soldiers and sailors? He (Colonel Milne-Home) contended that every soldier in the Army was as entitled to the franchise as the persons the Government were enfranchising by this Bill, if not more so. Everyone who was connected with either Service knew to what a high pitch of education soldiers and sailors had now reached. The noble Lord at the head of the War Office had very properly laid down that soldiers and sailors were entitled to enjoy their political predilections as well as any other citizens, and he was sure the Army thanked the noble Lord for that candid admission. It seemed to him that there ought to be no sort of difficulty in enfranchising every soldier and sailor of a year's service. ["Hear, hear!"] He was glad to hear that cheer from below the Gangway. He was sure, from the experience he had gained of our soldiers, that they were as entitled as many now on the Register to enjoy the right of voting—if, indeed, they were not even more entitled. He had therefore heard with satisfaction the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy); and if the noble Lord went to a Division he would vote with him. He would prefer, however, to have a complete assurance from the Government that soldiers would be enfranchised under the Bill. At present the matter was in considerable doubt. Lawyers, like doctors, occasionally differed; and it was, therefore, desirable to have a complete assurance from the Government that this was their intention, and that if the Bill, as it stood, did not accomplish the desired object, it would be amended in that direction.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
said, he had listened to the debate with great atten- 607 tion, and the point for consideration was whether soldiers and sailors, under the Bill, would be damnified or not in the exercise of their rights and privileges. Nobody in that House wished that any rights or privileges should be given to soldiers and sailors that were not possessed by the rest of the community; but, at the same time, after listening to the Attorney General, it seemed to him doubtful whether, in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Bill really gave those rights and privileges to soldiers and sailors which they were entitled to expect. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that was his opinion; but with every respect for the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman—and no man was more qualified to express an opinion—there certainly did appear to exist a certain amount of ambiguity in the matter, and therefore it was desirable to provide that certain words should be inserted in the Bill, by which it should be made clear that soldiers and sailors were not to be in a worse position than other persons. No doubt it would be necessary to maintain military discipline, and there was on wish that soldiers and sailors should be called upon to do that which the discipline of those Services did not admit of. At the same time, if they were to exercise the privileges of the rest of the community, it was clear that certain laws and regulations, which were in force in barracks, might be used against them, and it might be necessary to have the case decided in a Court of Law—as, for instance, whether a soldier, confined to barracks or confined to his own room, could be said to have the right of ingress and egress. He did not know how far that might or might not be held to be an objection by the Revising Barrister. It was a question for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General and for lawyers to decide. He was quite ready to allow that when they came to admit soldiers and sailors, tinder these circumstances, to the privilege of the franchise, a great many anomalies would arise; but in any extension of the franchise that was proposed, a vast number of anomalies must arise, and in listening to the remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), it certainly seemed to him that the difficulties, which his right hon. Friend and 608 other speakers had discovered in regard to the question, led directly to manhood suffrage. It was perfectly clear that, in regard to soldiers abroad, and in France especially, manhood suffrage existed, or otherwise it would be extremely difficult to confer upon them the right of voting. Considering the difference in the position of civilians and that of soldiers and sailors, difficulties of this kind, and constant trouble must arise, and nobody would be satisfied until the whole question was brought into a Court of Law, and a decision obtained from the Judges. He believed this was a very important point. He entertained no doubt that the Attorney General was himself anxious to do what was right and just in the matter; but he really did not see, unless the hon. and learned Gentleman gave the Committee an assurance that he would bring up a clause himself, or that he would consider the matter more closely and intimately than he had already done, that the House would be satisfied with his expression of the law and nothing more. He said this with every desire not to prolong the proceedings of the Committee; but he thought that members of these Services, and especially of the Military Service, in which he had always taken the greatest interest, should certainly not be deprived of any portion of the rights they were entitled to enjoy. After the course the debate had taken they ought to feel that their rights and privileges had just as much weight with the Treasury Bench as they had with the rest of the House. He felt that the assurance and the kind indication given by the Attorney General, that he would carefully consider the matter with the noble Lord before the Report stage of the Bill, in order to render it unnecessary to appeal to a Court of Law for a decision, would be hailed with the greatest satisfaction.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he did not think that the Committee had, as yet, come to a clear understanding as to the course which the Attorney General intended to persue, and it was not desirable to leave the matter undecided. Some of them might and some of them might not give the Government credit for a desire to bring forward a satisfactory clause; but it seemed to him that the Attorney General was of the same opinion as that 609 which he had originally expressed, and he had certainly quite as much confidence in the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) as he had in the Attorney General. On Friday last an endeavour was made to dispose of the question in a few minutes before the time for discontinuing the debate at 10 minutes to 7, on the ground that it was settled by a paragraph in Clause 9. Not a word was then said about Clause 3. Now, however, the Attorney General said that Clause 3 had something to do with it. The Committee had themselves heard what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. It was perfectly true that the Attorney General had entirely changed his ground; and the real fact of the matter was that, at the present moment, the Committee did not know what the Attorney General meant at all. That was his (Mr. Warton's) justification for offering a few remarks now. He thought no answer had been given by the hon. and learned Gentleman to the observations of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson), or to those of the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross). The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be anxious to place soldiers and sailors on a footing of equality with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects; but he gave the go-by altogether to an essential point which had been submitted to his consideration—namely, whether soldiers and sailors, by the very conditions of their service, were not in an inferior position to the rest of the community in regard to residence. That was a point he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider. He thought it was just as well that in dealing with soldiers and sailors there should be words introduced into the Bill which were appropriate to soldiers and sailors, and the words "separate quarters" he thought were appropriate, because they were suitable to both branches of Her Majesty's Service; and, in the next place, they drew a distinction between a dwelling-house and separate quarters. Whatever the hon. and learned Attorney General might say, it was perfectly obvious that the dominion which a subject of Her Majesty had over a dwelling-house, subject only to his paying his rent to the landlord, was very different from the right a soldier had in his separate quarters. He thought if 610 the Prime Minister could have supported the contention of the learned Attorney General he would have done so; but as the right hon. Gentleman had remained silent, he took it for granted that he was unable to do so. They all knew perfectly well that by the conditions of the Service a soldier's occupancy of separate quarters was in a very different position from that of a citizen who occupied a house which was entirely within his own dominion. He wanted to know from the Attorney General, before the Committee parted from the subject, whether he was of the same opinion now as he was before, that this case was met and provided for by the 9th clause, or did he intend to bring forward some Amendment which would do equal justice as between soldiers and sailors and ordinary citizens?
said, he should ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment in consequence of what had been said by the hon. and learned Attorney General. He did hope, however, that the point which had been raised would not be dropped by Her Majesty's Government. There was one remark he felt called upon to make in consequence of what had fallen from the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman had compared the right of a master to enter the house of his game-keeper or coachman with the right of an officer to enter the quarters of a non-commissioned officer; and the hon. and learned Gentleman said that as that right in the first case would not deprive the coachman or game-keeper of his vote, so, in the other, it would not invalidate the vote of the non-commissioned officer. But the right of the master to enter into his servant's house was merely a right to enter it for the ordinary purpose of looking after the dwelling, or after the men he employed. It was not the same right as that of an officer who was bound daily to inspect the separate quarters of the non-commissioned officers stationed in barracks. In the one case, the master was not responsible for the conduct of his servant in the dwelling-house; whereas, in the other case, the officer was responsible for the conduct of the non-commissioned officer and his family. He should like to be assured that that difference would not be held by the Registration Courts 611 to deprive a non-commissioned officer from the exercise of the franchise.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
, in moving the following clause:—(Votes in case of constituencies returning two Members.)From and after the passing of this Act, in every constituency returning two Members to Parliament, every elector thereof shall be entitled to give a single vote for one candidate, and for no more,said, he hoped the Prime Minister would be able to accept the clause, because he did not think that it would weight the Bill very much, or be likely to impede its progress in "another place." He certainly thought he ought to have the support of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway who had spoken in the Provinces in favour of the principle of one man one vote. His proposition was that in all constituencies where there were two Members each voter should be restricted to one vote. He very much objected to the entire system of the double vote, and they were not considering as much as they ought the effect which a redistribution of seats would have. Whenever that Bill was passed, there would probably be very few places returning two Members, and he hoped they would come to a system of one vote for one man, or else three votes for three men. What was the system of the double vote? It simply accentuated the influence of a dominant majority. This system of double voting did not apply practically to Scotland and Wales. In Scotland the only seats having two Members were Dundee and Edinburgh, and in Wales the only town was Merthyr. Therefore, practically speaking, Scotland and Wales ought to be left out of his purview in considering this question. In Ireland there were 32 county constituencies and three boroughs which returned two Members each; but, in illustrating the question, he should confine his remarks solely to England. He found that in England there were 75 divisions of counties which returned two Members each, and out of those 75 divisions 64 returned— he was not now considering bye-elections—128 Members of the same politics, and there were only 11 which were what in the North of England were called piebald — returning one yellow 612 and one blue. Therefore, they had in the county constituencies 64 Members returned by the pure vote of a dominant majority. He contended that that was an unfair system of voting. It was quite right that each of those 64 constituencies should return one Member representing the majority; but he could not see why the minority in those 64 constituencies should be unable to return a single Member representing their opinions. In this way, double voting accentuated the opinion of the dominant majority. In the boroughs the case was not so bad. There were 56 borough constituencies returning 112 men of the politics of the dominant majorities, and only 15 which were piebald. These were chiefly small places like Warwick and Weymouth, which a future Parliament would probably reduce to one Member a-piece. Therefore, they had as a fact that, practically speaking, in all the larger constituencies, except under exceptional circumstances, the dominant political Party enjoyed a double representation. The late Lord Boaconsfield said the origin of a system of dual voting of this kind, which allowed the boroughs to return two Representatives, was that, when the Members went to London, they might not be waylaid by highwaymen, and that they might return safe together. If that was really the reason, it did not apply now, and there was no danger that any person representing a single seat would not be as safe as the Members for Scotland and Ireland, who were situated at the extremities of the Kingdom, and had to come up singly by themselves, without being accompanied by a Colleague. When the Reform Bill of 1832 proposed to add a third Member to the counties, Mr. Mackworth Praed, who was at that time a distinguished Member of the House, objected to the proposal on the ground that it would increase the dominant power of the seven counties to which it was proposed to give an additional Member; whereupon Lord Al-thorp said that the House ought not to be afraid upon that ground, because no county constituencies would ever return two Members of the same politics. Any person who would study this subject by perusing the volumes of Vacher would find that that was now merely a lingering tradition, growing out of date. There were no counties, he believed, or di- 613 visions of counties, except North Lincolnshire and the North Biding of Yorkshire, which at the last General Election had returned one and one. He was quite aware that the adoption of his proposal would, in a majority of cases, place the majority and the minority on the same footing. He could not say that that was altogether desirable, and he thought that a single Representative for a single constituency would be still better. Most of the cities returning three Members, such as Leeds, Manchester, and Liverpool, were driven to dual representation; but, if driven into a comer, he contended that of two evils it was the less that the minority should have one Member and a majority one, than that the majority should have two. But what was wanted was a system such as that proposed for the old three-cornered vote. On these grounds he begged to move the clause of which he had given Notice.
New Clause (Votes in case of constituencies returning two Members,)—(Mr. Thomas Collins.)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
The Government cannot accept this clause, because it is an attempt to introduce a perfectly novel and very objectionable mode of voting for the sake of remedying what the hon. Member pleases to call an essential defect in our present Parliamentary system, which, for the most part, depends on dual representation. The hon. Gentleman has said very truly that the whole question of whether we ought to be represented by three, two, or only by a single Member, or in any other way, is a very large question, which ought to be considered in a more regular manner. Therefore, it would be a great mistake, on the hon. Member's own showing, for the House to attempt to cobble, if I may so say, and patch up the system of dual representation, with regard to which we do not yet know what the judgment of the House may be. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is aware that he is proposing to deal with what is really a very small part of the question of redistribution in this measure, which is a Franchise Bill. We should be doing positive mischief if we were to attempt to anticipate that 614 measure of redistribution by a partial and a single portion of the subject, which must be brought before us in a much larger form than it could be in the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. I cannot see for myself how, from any point of view, this clause could be accepted. It involves an innovation which would be received with astonishment, and the discontent it would excite would be so universal that it could never be carried out. I must say that it would require a great deal of argument to convince me that in a constituency having a voting power of 1,500, 501 should be able to elect a Member for themselves.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that, although he was not prepared to go the full length of his hon. Friend, he thought the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would have been far more satisfactory if it had contained some indication that the Government were prepared seriously to consider that most important question of minority representation, which lay at the bottom of his hon. Friend's clause. The other day the right hon. Gentleman took exception to an Amendment moved in Committee, which had been submitted from a very different standpoint, which dealt with the question of minority representation. He referred to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). The right hon. Gentleman met that Amendment by the astonishing assertion that the whole question of the representation of minorities was not a question which ought to be dealt with in any Franchise Bill; but that it ought to be considered in connection with a redistribution of seats. He had never heard a more astounding statement in his life. It was contended by the right hon. Gentleman that the representation of minorities had found its way by accident into the so-called Franchise Clauses of the Reform Act of 1867, and that the Amendment by which it obtained its accidental insertion in that Bill was due to a freak of a clerk of the House of Lords. Now, he (Mr. J. Lowther) asserted that the matter had been carefully weighed in the House of Commons, and that the position it now occupied in the Reform Act of 1867 was due to the initiative of no less a man than the noble and learned Earl who had several times filled the Office of Lord High Chancellor (Earl Cairns), 615 and who was undoubtedly capable of discriminating as to the most appropriate portion of a statute any specific provision ought to be placed in. Therefore, he was not speaking without authority, when he asserted that no measure professing to deal with the question of the franchise could be considered in any way perfect unless the views of the Government on the important question of the representation of minorities had been fully laid before Parliament and embodied in the law of the land. His hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins) was a reasonable man, and would not probably be disposed to push his views to an illogical extreme. He would, therefore, suggest to his hon. Friend that he should consider some modification of his provision, in order to obviate what he must say was a reasonable objection on the part of the Prime Minister. He did not think that his hon. Friend intended to propose that 501 persons should override the opinion of 1,000. That was going further in the direction of the representation of minorities than any hon. Member would seriously advocate. But they had been told that afternoon that the Government, in regard to another clause, would be prepared to consider it, and he hoped they would take the same course with regard to this question. What he wished to call the attention of the Government to was this. No measure dealing oven with one branch only of the subject—namely, the franchise, which they had selected for special treatment—would deserve serious consideration unless this portion of the subject was also practically dealt with. It was of no use to say that it belonged to the question of redistribution. It did nothing of the kind. Whether there were to be two, three, or four Members, or only one accorded to special constituencies, was not the question, but whether minorities were to be absolutely snuffed out as they were now, or whether some means could not be provided for affording proportional representation to local opinion. That, he ventured to say, was a subject which no ingenuity could dissever from the question of the franchise.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, he did not think proportional representation would be best secured by adopting the proposal of the hon. Member for 616 Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins). He wished it to be understood that the proposition now made by his hon. Friend was not made officially on behalf of hon. Members who sat on that side of the House, nor did it accurately represent their views. They had no desire that the power of the electors of the country should be so materially diminished, as it would be if this clause were adopted, and without any palliating circumstances of any kind. There was only one point on which he agreed with his hon. Friend, and that was that the existing system most successfully secured what he might call the misrepresentation of the people.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) in one remark. He did not see why, in Committee upon the present Bill, they might not, with advantage, discuss the large question of proportional representation. Indeed, lie regretted that in deference to the feeling of the House they were confining themselves in the present Bill to the question of the franchise, and that various subjects of much difficulty, as well as importance, had been postponed until the Redistribution Bill. They had now, however, a promise from the Government that the whole question of proportional representation should be fully and fairly considered next Session. His hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough knew very well that he (Sir John Lubbock) was quite as much in favour of proportional representation as he or any other Member of the House was; but it seemed to him that the present proposal would not secure the proportional representation which he desired. When the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) brought forward his Amendment to abolish the present minority vote, he (Sir John Lubbock) was unavoidably absent; but he understood it was the general feeling of the House that the subject should be postponed, on the ground that this was not the proper time for discussing it. He would venture to suggest to the hon. Member for Knaresborough that in deference to the view of the House he should take the same course. He quite sympathized with the general spirit of the remarks made by the hon. Member, but not in the particular manner in which he proposed to deal with the subject. More- 617 over, he felt that in discussing the question of proportional representation in connection with dual seats, the supporters of proportional representation did so at a disadvantage. The argument in its favour was much stronger as regards constituencies returning three or more Members. The proposition of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, whatever its advantages were, did not give them proportional representation. It was when they came to the great constituencies returning more than two Members that their case he-cams so strong. Under these circumstances, he hoped the hon. Member would rest satisfied with the interesting discussion he had elicited, and would now consent to withdraw his clause, leaving the House to consider the whole question when they came to the Redistribution Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not rise to support the somewhat crude proposal of his hon. Friend; but he wished to call attention to the inconvenience of the course the Government were pursuing in putting off until next year the discussion of all large and important questions. Next year they must introduce a Redistribution Bill, which must necessarily be of a complicated and difficult character. They were told that it must absolutely pass next year, or otherwise the next Election would take place with a new franchise and the old constituencies. In addition to all the complicated questions which must arise upon that question next year, the Government were putting off a large number of questions which might be discussed this year. He certainly thought that the question of proportional representation and the question of the female franchise might have been discussed this year. [Cries of "Oh!"] Hon. Members objected to that statement; but he wanted to point out that the Government next year would come down and say that this was an important and interesting question, but, in the interests of passing a Redistribution Bill, they must implore hon. Members not to discuss it. If any attempt were made in the Redistribution Bill to raise a discussion upon the representation of minorities, hon. Members would be told by the Government that they were endangering the passing of the Bill, and that it was absolutely necessary to pass 618 the measure as it stood, in order that the new elections might not take place during the existence of the old constituencies with a new franchise.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he did not know whether his hon. Friend proposed to withdraw the clause or not; but, before it was withdrawn, he wished to say a word or two upon the principle to which it related. He was not aware whether his hon. Friend was a member of the Proportional Representation Society, of which the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) was the President. He hardly imagined that he was, because it appeared to him that the proposal made to-day was so much more simple, practical, and intelligible than any which had yet emanated from that Society. He hardly could have been converted by any of the general propositions of the Proportional Representation Society, who had set themselves to work out so many ingenious puzzles. He had always been strongly in favour of proportional representation; but he thought that the proposition of his hon. Friend, although, perhaps, rough and simple and therefore intelligible, might, without a complete re-adjustment of the existing constituencies, give rather more than a just representation to a minority. At all events, wherever a minority existed of one-third in the case of three Members in any constituency it would enable them to return one Member; but under other conditions it would give rather more than their fair share. If they dealt with the question next year they would have had a sort of preliminary discussion in regard to the principle which he hoped would be serviceable. He had taken notice of the observations of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley), who was anxious to dissociate himself from any proposal so reasonable as this; but in the event of Sheffield returning three Members at the next election the hon. Member might scarcely still remain of the same mind. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins) would feel that he had done good service in bringing the question before the House, and that he would now withdraw the clause rather than press it to a Division. His hon. Friend would see that there were many circumstances, apart from those which were raised by 619 the proposal, which might prejudice the clause on the present occasion.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the proposal of this clause of his hon. Friend and the short discussion which had taken place upon it convinced him more and more of the extreme inconvenience to which the House had been subjected by the determination of Her Majesty's Government to take one isolated portion of a Reform Bill by itself, and press it through Parliament without going through the form of taking Parliament into their confidence on all the other subjects which must come before them on the question of Reform. Nothing could be more clear than the statement of his right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) that this question was essentially a question affecting the franchise. If Her Majesty's Government had done anything at all they had signally failed to convince him that it would be injudicious to show their whole hand in respect of the great scheme of Reform. At least, they might have given to the House an indication of their view upon this question which was essentially connected with the franchise part of the subject. Her Majesty's Government declined to do that, and the result, no doubt, would be that this measure would go from the House of Commons without the slightest indication on the part of Her Majesty's Government as to the way in which they were prepared to deal with the great question of minority or proportional representation. Neither the House nor the country at large would be in possession of the views of the Government on this most important part of the question.
§ MR. WARTON
agreed with the noble Lord who had just sat down as to the extreme inconvenience occasioned by the determination of the Government to refuse to deal with the question of Reform as a whole. They had, however, gained one thing—namely, that although the Government had made no sign it was quite clear that the Prime Minister had a very distinct animus against the representation of minorities. No doubt he had endeavoured to affect impartiality; but it was quite clear, from the observations he had made, that he was against minority representation. The Prime Minister was too honest to disguise his thoughts and all the rest of the Ministers were afraid to state their own thoughts 620 until they knew what it was they would be allowed to say upon the subject. The Committee were, however, able to judge for themselves what course the Government would take next year upon this question. The Prime Minister had indicated what he thought and felt, and it was perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman had a strong animus in his own mind against the principle of proportional representation.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
remarked that he had shown that in the majority of the constituencies there was what in another year he believed the House would consider to be an unfair proportion of voting power in respect of this dual representation. He hoped the prime Minister would take that into his consideration during the course of the next 12 months, and having, as he believed, done some good by moving the Amendment, he was willing to save the Committee the trouble of dividing, and would therefore ask leave to withdraw it.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he was surprised that an hon. Member of such discernment as the hon. Member for Knaresborough should allow himself to be taken in by the assurance of the Government that an opportunity of discussing the question would be given next year. Why, with reference to anything which might then be put forward in the form of an Amendment, they would be told not once, but ten times, what they had been told this Session—namely, that the Government Bill would be imperilled. They were likely to see the Prime Minister imploring his supporters over and over again not to imperil the Bill by introducing their crotchets. When they reached the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), he thought hon. Gentlemen on those Benches would be able to show how curious would be the position of matters if an election took place on the bastard constituencies which might yet be the result of the hon. Member's proposal. They might be assured that the Redistribution Bill put forward by the Government next year would be presented at them for acceptance as a whole, as a pistol might be; hon. Members who supported the Government, and who were in favour of the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, would find themselves 621 with a General Election immediately in front of them, and there would then be far greater reason than there was now for the Government to say that their Bill must be accepted without alteration.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn
§ MR. CLARE READ
, in moving the following clause: —(Non-resident voter for boroughs.)Every man having a qualification in a borough which would, "before the passing of this Act, have entitled him to vote for a county, and who is not qualified as a householder to vote in such "borough, shall he entitled to be registered as a voter and to vote at an election for such borough: Provided, That a man shall not be entitled to be registered as a voter, or to vote at any election for a county, in respect of such qualification,said, the Prime Minister, in the speech with which he introduced the Bill to the House, stated that he was not in favour of electoral districts, and that he intended to preserve the existing distinction between borough and county. With the permission of the Committee he would read the eloquent words of the right hon. Gentleman, who said—The question is, whether there is not in pursuits and associations, and in social circumstances a difference, between town and country, between borough and shire, which it is expedient, becoming, and useful to maintain?"— (3 Hansard,  129.)He (Mr. Clare Read) certainly did think it expedient, becoming, and useful to maintain that distinction; and therefore lie desired to make it more practical and more real. The right hon. Gentleman, it was true, had somewhat qualified his statement since; because, in speaking the other day upon a Motion of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd), he said that the borough and county differed in this; that whereas the county had not much to do with the borough, the borough was comprehended in the county, as an island was surrounded by water. But, so far from the town being a part of the county, as the Prime Minister had stated, some had found in the course of his administration of the old Cattle Diseases Act that there was a decided antagonism between them. He did not think the Committee was aware of the extent to which the borough qualification entered into some county constituencies. In South Leicestershire, for instance, he thought he was right in saying that one-half of the freeholders who lived in the borough of 622 Leicester voted for Leicestershire, and the result was not only that electors of that flourishing town returned two Liberal Members to Parliament; but they also succeeded in returning to the House a Liberal Member to represent the county. His object was to reserve some counties which were more or less agricultural, and when he used the term "agricultural" he did not particularly refer to the owners and occupiers of land. Their case would be certainly hard; but he wished to point out that if something in the nature of the principle embodied in the clause which he was about to ask the Committee to read a second time were not included in the Bill, a large number of agricultural labourers would be overwhelmed by the votes of the freeholders in the boroughs. The old franchise law, as was very well known, distinguished between the borough and the county in this way—that the counties were supposed to represent property, and the boroughs residence. That distinction, however, had passed away, and he contended that when they were assimilating the two franchises the owner of property should be allowed to vote where his heart and his interest lay—that was to say, in the borough, if he had property there. While, as far as he was concerned, he acknowledged and appreciated the difficulties under which the Prime Minister had settled the franchise, he thought it would be well that his proposal should be adopted, and he believed it would help in the matter of registration. The right hon. Gentleman also defended the extension of the franchise to agricultural labourers, by saying that there were already some five or six boroughs in which the agricultural labourer had a vote; and he (Mr. Clare Read) would say in defence of his proposal that there were also five or six boroughs in England in which the borough freeholders voted for the borough. There was the City of Norwich, in which he had the privilege of voting, as well as others in which freeholders voted for the borough, as he believed, with success; and he was not aware of any inconvenience having resulted there-from. The custom, he believed, had existed in Scotland from time immemorial, and he considered that he was entitled to the support of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), who the other day, on the Amendment of the hon. 623 Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd), said he should support the Motion if the principle of dual voting which it contained could be got rid of. But there were two or three hon. Friends around him who were not in favour of his proposal. The hon. Member for South Warwickshire (Sir Eardley Wilmot), for instance, did not like it, because he said it would take from the counties a certain amount of property qualification which he would desire to retain in them. That was so; but that removal he did not think would do them any harm. While men now possessed a double vote in the borough might in course of time come to be disfranchised, his clause would provide for the manufacturer outside the borough having a vote for the borough which he was not now entitled to. The hon. Member for West Suffolk said he did not like the clause, because it was a disfranchising Amendment. He (Mr. Clare Read) understood the Prime Minister, when introducing the Bill, to say that it was not to be a disfranchising Bill at all, and that all voters who were now on the Register should continue to exercise the franchise. If that were correct, he supposed that words might be introduced to give effect to it. He had no wish whatever to disfranchise anybody, and therefore he hoped his hon. Friend would support the clause. He said that his proposal would enfranchise those who lived just outside boroughs, and had property within them, and because he believed that it would be to their interest that they should be admitted, he begged to move the clause which stood in his name.
New Clause (Non-resident voters for boroughs,)—(Mr. Clare Read,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
Sir, I am sorry to be obliged to oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Norfolk. In the first place, it involves a very great innovation in the system of county voting for boroughs in respect of property in boroughs which the hon. Gentleman proposes to change, and the proposal is not encouraged by the fate which has attended similar proposals on former occasions, for Parliament has always shown itself unwilling to entertain them. 624 The hon. Gentleman stated that I have observed that the town was part of the county, but that the county was not part of the town. That is a principle which is recognized by the Constitution and by long practice, and I know no reason for the innovation which the clause of the hon. Gentleman would introduce. The hon. Gentleman may say that in certain cases the clause would enfranchise persons who otherwise would have no vote for the borough. I admit that proposisition; but it is subject, first, to the observation that the case would be exceedingly rare in which it would enfranchise anyone; and, secondly, that the clause was in its main features a large disfranchising clause. Of that there could be no question whatever. Another innovation which the clause would bring about would be to make the freehold franchise in boroughs independent of residence. To the extension proposed by the hon. Gentleman we are not prepared to assent. I cannot conceive that any proposal would be received with more universal unpopularity in the towns of the country.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he was somewhat surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have opposed the clause of his hon. Friend (Mr. Glare Read) on the ground that it was an innovating and disfranchising clause. Surely there never was a greater innovation than the Bill they were considering, and he thought it hard that the Committee should be called upon to reject the clause of his hon. Friend simply on the ground that it was an innovation. The right hon. Gentleman objected that this was a disfranchising clause; but what had the right hon. Gentleman done with regard to the owners of property whom the clause proposed to deal with? He admitted that he did not disfranchise them; but he had done his best to swamp their influence in the constituencies. He could not, however, support the proposal of his hon. Friend, because it appeared to him that if any class of borough freeholders ought to be transferred from the counties to the boroughs, it was the residents, who were precisely those whom the hon. Gentleman did not propose to transfer. Under the circumstances, although he sympathized with the intention of his hon. Friend, he trusted he would not press the clause to a Division.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he knew it was quite useless to say anything in defence of the Amendment of his hon. Friend opposite. He advised him to follow the example of his Predecessors, and not press his clause to a Division. He was bound to say, however, that having had occasion to look very carefully into this matter several years ago, he saw no reason why there should be this permanent distinction between counties and boroughs which it was sought to perpetuate. Some hon. Members entertained a great horror of electoral districts. After all, what was an electoral district? What was a county but an electoral district? What was a borough but an electoral district? On what grounds could any reasonable man contend that persons ought to vote in one electoral district in respect of property lying in another electoral district? It was not the case, as some supposed, that a borough consisted merely of houses. There were some 60 Parliamentary boroughs which contained a very large area of agricultural land; and he would give an example to the Committee of what seemed to him to constitute the absurd state of things which resulted from the present system. Take the case of the borough of East Retford. It contained 200,000 acres of land, being about half the size of the county of Berkshire. It included the whole of the magnificent properties known as the "Dukeries." It seemed to him a very absurd state of things that the owners of those properties should vote for that portion of the county of Nottingham not included in the borough of East Retford, but that their tenants should all vote for the borough of East Retford. It seemed to him that the continuance of this anomaly was absolutely indefensible. They must either make a borough very different from what it really was—at least, something very different from the popular notion of it—or else they would be compelled to act on the principle—a sound and Constitutional one as he believed it to be—that a man should vote for that district in which his property lay. It was useless to speak of this Bill as being a measure for assimilating the county and the borough franchise. The Bill did nothing of the kind. The borough franchise was thrown into the county; but the county franchise was not taken into the boroughs. 626 He did not advise his hon. Friend to press the matter to a Division now. He did not think that the Committee really took in the meaning of the term "Parliamentary borough;" but he hoped that when this matter came before them again—and it was possible it would do so next year—it would be thoroughly looked into.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he hoped the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) would not misunderstand the position he intended to take with reference to his proposal. The Prime Minister had divided this subject very properly under two heads. The hon. Gentleman proposed, first of all, that the qualification in a borough which would entitle a man to vote for the county should confer upon him a borough vote. So far as that went he agreed with his hon. Friend; and if he went to a Division he should vote for the clause with the object of amending it afterwards. He thought they should say that property in a borough should give a vote for the borough, however small that property might be; but his hon. Friend went further than that, and in an almost totally opposite direction. He went on, to say—Provided that a man shall not be entitled to be registered as a voter, or to vote at any election for a county in respect of such qualification.That amounted to a disfranchisement of the freeholder so far as the county was concerned; and it was, therefore, a proposal which he was not prepared to support. He had thrown out a suggestion the other day which he feared he should be too sanguine if he were to expect the right hon. Gentleman to accept, but which expressed his view that a person, who was a freeholder in a borough should be entitled to vote for the borough as a freeholder, and also that he should be entitled to vote as a freeholder for the county. The right hon. Gentleman objected to the clause of the hon. Member on the ground that it was a disfranchising proposal; but he could not say that the proposal which he (Mr. J. Lowther) made came within that category. On the contrary, it would allow a voter to give a vote for the Parliamentary Division in which his property was situated, and would, at the same time, enable him to have what the Prime Minister attached so much im- 627 portance to—namely, his Constitutional rights as well.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, he should not have thought of bringing this clause forward unless the county and borough franchise had been made practically identical. If they abolished the real distinction between the property qualification in counties and the residential qualification in boroughs, then he said the owner of property might be allowed to vote where that property was situated. The Act of 1869, he believed, disfranchised a great number of those freeholders, because, as he thought he was right in saying, a man who occupied property in a borough must vote for the borough and not for the county, and it was only when a man had a separate property qualification for a county that if he lived in a borough he could vote for the county. He thanked the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) for the support he had given to the principle contained in the clause, which showed that, although hon. Gentlemen, near him had not felt able to support it, it was a legitimate corollary to a Bill which would introduce a great innovation into the electoral system of the country. He would ask leave to withdraw the clause.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
, in moving the following clause: —(Commencement of Act.)This Act shall commence) and come into operation on the first day of January one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five,said, the clause he was about to ask the Committee to read a second time had been already so fully discussed in advance that, under ordinary circumstances, he should have contented himself with formally moving it only. Having regard, however, to what had been said on both sides of the House as to the value and worthlessness of the Amendment, he hoped the Committee would indulge him for a few minutes while he explained its meaning and intention. The effect of the clause would be to postpone the operation of the Act until the 1st of January, 1885. The practical effect of that would be that county householders and artizans would after that date be in the same position as the enfranchised borough householder, and, subject to the provisions of the law with regard to the 628 payment of rates, would be put on the Register in the summer, and would be subject to the revision of the Revising Barrister in the autumn, and at the end of the year would be duly qualified as a voter to exercise the franchise on the 1st of January, 1886. It was said that the clause added nothing to the Bill. That was not correct, and he would ask any hon. Member to say what would be the position of the Bill if the clause were not introduced. Without the clause the Act would come into force immediately after it had received the Royal Assent; and the House before it parted with a Bill had no knowledge as to when the Royal Assent would be given to it. Assuming that to take place before the 31st of July, the new franchise could come into force immediately, and produce a state of things which would cause difficulty and embarrassment to all persons administering the electoral law. If the Bill received the Royal Assent after the 31st July, it was clear that the proposal he now made would simply be the expression of the normal state of the law. He asked the Committee to accept the clause, because he attached some meaning to it on either hypothesis. He thought the Bill should not leave the House of Commons without any indication as to when it was to come into force, and that it should not depend upon accident of time with regard to the Royal Assent. He thought the House of Commons should say what it meant in this respect, and he was asking the Committee to say that the Bill should not come into force until the 1st of January next year. He knew that in making that proposal he was not in harmony with other hon. Gentlemen who wished the Bill to come into force at once. The scheme of the Government all through had been that the Bill should not come into force until Parliament had had an opportunity of dealing with the question of redistribution. The statements of the Government had been unmistakable and clear upon that subject. The present Parliament must come to an end after the Session of 1885 had closed; and therefore, if they were to have an opportunity of dealing with redistribution as part of the same measure of enfranchisement, it was necessary that they should make provision for a scheme of redistribution to be submitted to Parliament next year. It was said that his proposal 629 did not secure that a measure of redistribution should be passed before the Franchise Bill came into operation. No; he did not propose that it should; that was not his object in moving the clause. He could not find better words than those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who said on the second reading of the Bill that what the Conservative Party really wanted was some guarantee that the same body which dealt with the franchise should be in a position also to deal with the question of redistribution, and that both of those subjects might be dealt with in one Parliament, but certainly not in two. That was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman summed up the requirement of the Conservative Party. And that was their requirement up to the last two or three days—namely, that this Parliament, after having disposed of the Franchise Bill, should also deal with redistribution. But, supposing that next year Parliament did not deal with redistribution—either could not or would not deal with it, then in that case he protested against 2,000,000 people being any longer kept out of their rights. If next year the Government brought in a scheme of redistribution which the House disapproved, the House would be in a position to give effect to its disapproval; and if the Government entered into a conflict with the House it would not be the House of Commons that would go to the wall. The House would settle for itself whether next year it would deal with redistribution, and the newly-enfranchised voters would probably wait until the House had an opportunity of doing so; but if the present House of Commons declined to deal with that question, it had no right permanently to hang up the rights of the new voters, and a new election must take place in what he admitted would be very disadvantageous circumstances. But the fault of that would not rest with the constituencies; it would be the fault of the House, and that would be a lesser evil than the permanent postponement of the measure. He begged to move the clause which stood in his name.
New Clause (Commencement of Act,) —(Mr. H. H. Fowler,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
I think I am within the bounds of truth in saying that the substance of this Amendment has been dealt with by the process of exhaustion. As originally framed, the Bill would have taken effect after the passing of the Act; but that proposal the Government agreed to give up, and I think, in so doing, they acted in conformity with the general sense of the House. A proposal was then made which provided for what is called hanging up the operation of the activity of the new constituencies until a Redistribution Bill should have passed, and that without any limit of time being fixed. That alternative was fully considered, and the House disposed of it by decisively refusing to adopt it. Then another proposal was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey), which lay between those two, but which contemplated going to the very furthest point— as we thought to too remote a point— for the purpose of giving not a single but a double opportunity to the House to deal with redistribution during the present Parliament. That proposal, after being considered, was withdrawn, and evidently its withdrawal was agreeable to the general sense of the House. Therefore, Sir, I think I am right in saying that all possible alternatives to this clause have been disposed of, and they had been disposed of after very full consideration of all the interesting matters of argument that are capable of being raised, and that have been raised in connection with the several proposals. At last my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) suggests to us what is the only remaining method, consistent with what we have heretofore done — namely, the adoption of a plan which shall enable the present House to deal with redistribution; but which shall not absolutely make the operation of the new constituencies contingent upon the passing of a measure of redistribution. I think I am justified in saying that that is substantially, though not technically or formally, the conclusion which the House has already sanctioned by large majorities. I will not go over the topics which 631 are embraced by the clause, but only say that the clause is heartily accepted by the Government, and that I hope it will be accepted by the Committee.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not deny that the Amendment proposed by his hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was an improvement of the Bill; but he maintained that the improvement was so small, so microscopic, as hardly to be capable of detection by the most careful observation. In fact, the only advantage he saw which would accrue to the Bill was in the event of the Royal Assent being given to the measure before the 31st of July; if that were to take place, the Amendment of his hon. Friend would undoubtedly prevent a confused registration. But if he looked at the question from a very much larger point of view, he could not see that the slightest benefit was gained by the change which the hon. Member (Mr. H. H. Fowler) proposed. In the first place, the Government were sincere or they were not sincere in saying that they meant to bring in a Redistribution Bill next year. He believed that they were sincere; he fully and absolutely accepted the repeated assurances of the Government as to their intentions in this matter. But if the Government were sincere in what they had said as to redistribution nothing whatever was gained by his hon. Friend's clause; if they were not sincere what security did it give them? For the sake of argument, if they could accept the hypothesis that the Government were deceiving the House and the country, did the hon. Gentleman really think that his clause would have the effect of binding the Government not only to bring in, but to pass a Redistribution Bill? If the Government were to bring in a Bill which the House did not like there would be an end of it. His hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had said—"Oh! but in a conflict between the House and the country the Government, of course, will go to the wall." He did not think the hon. Gentleman had considered what would really take place. If the Prime Minister proposed redistribution which was decidedly antagonistic to the feelings of the House what would occur would be this. At some stage of the Bill the House would declare its antagonism, and show in a very marked manner its 632 dissent to the Government proposal. The Prime Minister would then get up and say—"Under these circumstances I withdraw my Bill;" and he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) asked his hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) what protection the House would have in such a state of things? What possibility would there be of the House passing a Redistribution Bill? The hypothesis was only to be suggested to be shown to be absurd. Even if the security was greater than it was, the gain which would result from the proposal would in no way destroy the objection he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and his hon. Friends felt to the separation of the franchise and redistribution questions. It did not destroy that objection for this reason—that the action of the Government hampered the liberty of the House and of the Grown. The action of the Government in separating the two questions hampered the freedom of the Crown in this manner—that a Minister who might otherwise advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament would hesitate to do so unless Parliament had settled the question of redistribution. He had said it also hampered the discretion of the House. How could they possibly discuss freely the Government measure of redistribution when they knew that the alternative of that measure was not a better measure, but no measure at all? That was the alternative put before them by the Government, and that state of things was in no way remedied by the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. If the Government came down to the House with a Redistribution Bill which was highly unpalatable to the majority of the House, the majority would hesitate, and must hesitate, before they endangered the passing of the Bill, because they would say to themselves—"It may be better that we should accept this exceedingly bad Redistribution Bill rather than go to the country upon the old constituencies and anew franchise." With that alternative before them the House would have no freedom of action next Session; and it was because of that that he could not regard the proposal of his hon. Friend as in any way palliating or mitigating the evils forced upon them by the course the Government had chosen to take.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he should vote against this clause, because he was per- 633 suaded that if he supported it, and the proposed arrangement were not upset, his mouth would be stopped upon the question of redistribution. He was surprised that a Gentleman of the practical experience and knowledge of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had not appreciated the whole of the registration difficulty. It was now the 17th of June, and it was conceded on all hands that this Bill could not possibly pass in time for the registration this year. It was perfectly obvious that that was so, because the first step in registration had to be taken on the 10th of June. Even if the progress of the Bill were accelerated to the utmost, it was impossible that the Bill could become law in time for the registration machinery to be put in motion respecting it this year. He was afraid that the Committee generally did not appreciate the fact that they would be in exactly in the same position next year in regard to the Redistribution Bill, unless it should happen that that Bill disfranchised no constituency, and did not enfranchise any new constituency; if, in point of fact, the Redistribution Bill made no new constituencies whatsoever, or did not take away the rights of any present constituencies, they would be exactly in the same position next year as regards the registration difficulty as they were in now. He would like to make the position clear to the Commit tee. He would suppose a new borough to be created; he would assume that West Ham, a suburb of London, containing a vast population, was made a borough constituency. What would be the result? The county Register for the parish of West Ham would be enormously reduced—in other words, hundreds and thousands of persons now on the county Register for West Ham, and next year entitled to be on the county Register for West Ham, would be struck off that Register. An entirely new borough Register would have to be made out. All occupiers and all occupying owners within the borough would be disfranchised for the county, and all occupiers who might be owners in the county entitled to register both for county and borough would only be allowed to register for the county. So that in the case of West Ham, a district which was very likely to be made a borough by the Redistribution Bill, an 634 entirely new Register would have to be prepared. The disfranchising and enfranchising operation would have to begin on the 10th of June. Did the Committee appreciate what an enormous amount of labour would be involved in respect to this very case? Perhaps they would do so when he said that there were as many as 19,800 houses in the parish of West Ham. The result of the operation would be this—that 3,000 or 4,000 per sons, entitled under the present system to be county voters, would be disfranchised as county voters and registered as borough voters. Let them take a converse case. What would be the case of a constituency now a borough which was disfranchised? The result would be that the separate borough Register now existing would have to be done away with, and the county Register would have to be largely increased; occupiers in a borough and owners in a county now separately registered for borough and county would only been titled to be registered for the county. This being the result of the operation of registration in the two cases, the consequence would, in all probability, be that House would be landed in the same difficulty at the commencement of the month of June of next year as they were in now; and, in spite of all their protests and petition, they would have a hybrid election— that was, an election upon the old constituencies but new electors. It could be said—"Oh, you can take the same course which was adopted in 1868—namely, expedite the registration." But the expediting of the registration which took place in 1868 had no reference whatever to any of the matters to which he had referred, and it simply amounted to the appointment of an additional number of Revising Barristers, in order that the increased work of registration might be completed by the month of October. The appointment of an additional number of Revising Barristers in the present instance would not enable the House to surmount the difficulties he had pointed out. It had been said that the Government, under the pressure of circumstances, might, instead of passing a special Act of Parliament, and instead of beginning the registration period in the month of June, begin the work of registration in September; but the result would be that in attempting to avoid 635 one great difficulty they would involve themselves in a greater one, because there would be such a confused registration that there would, in reality, be no Register at all. This, after all, was only one of those practical commentaries upon the absurd and illogical and unconstitutional way in which the Government had proceeded from the beginning. What he had shown was one of the natural and ordinary results from insisting to deal with the franchise question apart from the redistribution question; and he should be delighted to hear what was the explanation of the Government as to the practical way in which they proposed to avoid the difficulties he had pointed out. He did not think this matter had been considered by the Government; indeed, they would not now be discussing the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) if the matter had been considered by the Government when they introduced their Bill. It could not be supposed for one moment, considering the period of the Session at which they introduced the Bill, that the Bill would pass through this House and the other branch of the Legislature, and receive the Royal Assent before the 10th of June, the date at which the registration period commenced, inasmuch as notices were served on the Clerks of the Peace and the Overseers. On the second reading he endeavoured to get an opportunity of pointing out this registration difficulty; but he was unable to catch the Speaker's eye. It was pointed out on the Committee stage by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, and he (Mr. Lewis) also referred to it. The Government never seemed to have contemplated that there was this difficulty; they pitched the Bill on the floor of the House of Commons, and trusted to "another place" putting all matters right or rejecting the measure altogether. What the Committee had to determine was what course they were to pursue under the circumstances. To support the clause of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton would be to admit that it was a sufficient remedy for the blunder which the Government had committed. It was perfectly charming to hear the hon. Member for Wolverhampton let out the truth as to what he was looking forward 636 to, and as to what he hoped would happen. What was it the hon. Gentleman was hoping would happen? Why, that if next year a redistribution scheme was not passed there would be an appeal to the country on the old constituencies, but the new franchise. Did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton refer to the prospect as one which was worthy of any regret? The hon. Member for Wolverhampton evidently thought he had got the Tories in a fix, and that when the Redistribution Bill was brought in the probability was, they would be bound to submit as the Liberal Party below the Gangway had been bound to submit. Not a note of independence had been elicited from those hon. Gentlemen; they had been bound hand and foot, and been prevented from pushing forward any Amendment, on the ground that it would very likely shipwreck or forfeit the Bill. Next year the Opposition would have a turn. They would be told—Oh, you want redistribution, do you; you had better take this or you will get nothing." Practically they had been told so this Session, and he had no doubt they would be told so in a still more pointed manner next year. The Opposition could not take any part in aiding the passing of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey), because they did not believe it would be effectual for the purpose intended; they could with still less consistency have anything to do with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). It was only the other day that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) told them, that his hon. Friend's (Mr. H. H. Fowler's) Amendment freed them from that Registration Bill which the Government at one time had contemplated introducing this year as a supplement to this Reform Bill. Considering that the Registration Bill was heard of then for the first time, and that its introduction would be rather inconsistent with what had been said by the Government several times to the effect that they never intended to catch the House by the ears and get the newly enfranchised electors on the Register this year, he did not think they had much to thank the Government for in that respect. 637 This was a vital question, and the House would find it out next year when they came to deal with the Redistribution Bill. Next year would be a rather serious year for any Government, because the Irish difficulty would crop up again. Seeing that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who sat below the Gangway had found that they had only to squeeze enough this squeezable Government to get what they wanted, it would be found that, so far from the Redistribution Bill being likely to have an easy time of it, it would have a very difficult one. But what position would the House be in with reference to the extreme section of the Irish Party in the House if this measure passed? The hon. Gentlemen forming the section to which he referred would say—"We have got our Franchise Bill — that is secure; we do not care how long you discuss the question of redistribution with all its complicated details; but the sooner you bring us to that period of Elysium when we shall be relegated to the constituencies the better." The "one man one vote principle" and all the other nostrums which were aired at the Leeds Conference, and which hon. Members opposite had put in their pockets at the entreaty of the Prime Minister, would be brought forward again, and it would be the new Parliament that would be called upon to settle the question of redistribution. He hoped his hon. Friends would not be so foolish as to be caught in this trap with their eyes open. They might go into the Lobby and be beaten by a large majority; but they would make a practical protest against the attempt of the Government to hoodwink the House of Commons and place them in a position of inextricable difficulty. He felt satisfied that the Members of the Committee would agree with him that this matter had not been by any means so much discussed as it ought to have been. He was of opinion that the matter should be turned inside out, and that they should ascertain from the Government what was their policy with regard to the registration difficulty under the Redistribution Bill. Unless the Government gave them the details of their scheme it would only intensify the opinion which was very largely held, that they meant to have a General Election before redistribution. He hoped that this clause 638 would not pass its second reading, if it did pass, he should propose to omit the word "five" and substitute "six," in order that there might be the whole of next year in which to deal with redistribution and registration matters.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he objected to the insertion of this clause, but for reasons precisely opposite to those which induced the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lewis) to oppose it. From his point of view, the hon. Gentleman was to be congratulated upon his political insight. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) did not conceal his satisfaction at this clause, and he accepted it. ["No!"] Well, he did what was tantamount to accepting it, for he expressed the opinion that it was about the best substitute for the proposal of the right hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley) that was likely to be obtained; and in that he was, from his standpoint, very wise. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) could only characterize this as a change of front on the part of the Government at the expense of the 2,000,000 agricultural labourers it was now proposed to enfranchise; and although he had no doubt the clause would be carried, he wanted to make his protest against it, in order that he might have a satisfactory answer to give any of the 2,000,000 labourers, if, in the event of an Election next year, he were asked whether he supported the proposal to hang up their enfranchisement until 1886. This was a change of front on the part of the Government, because there was no doubt that when they introduced this Bill they contemplated the natural accompaniment of all Reform Bills, a special Registration Act. It was understood so in the country; but when the Amendment of the hon. Member for Portsmouth was accepted, he (Mr. Jesse Collings) had his suspicions as to what was being arranged as a compromise with regard to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey). It was said it was only for the convenience of debate that the Amendment he referred to was withdrawn; but they saw now that it was preparatory to the hanging up of this matter until 1886. What was the meaning of the clause of his hon. Friend the Mem- 639 ber for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler)? If the Bill should pass before the 31st of July—and they could not deny the possibility—they said to the 2,000,000 agricultural labourers—"You shall not have the right to the franchise as soon as you might have it." But suppose the Bill did not pass by the 31st of July. They all knew that, in the natural course of events, the voters would be put on the list during the year 1885; and, therefore, this clause must be read in the light of the interpretation put upon it by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James), who, when speaking about it the other day, said that if the clause were carried he, on behalf of the Government, promised that no special Registration Bill should be introduced. Unless read in the light of the Attorney General's interpretation the clause of his hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) could have no effect whatever; and, therefore, he (Mr. Jesse Collings) maintained that this was a change of intention on the part of the Government. He did not think it was likely; but suppose the Government went out of Office next spring upon some point of their policy, or suppose they resigned upon the Redistribution Bill itself, what would happen? The Opposition would come in, and have the whole manipulation of the redistribution. That was not a nice look-out for the 2,000,000 labourers, who were in future to enjoy the franchise; because, although the possession of the franchise was a good thing in itself, its value, from his point of view, very much depended on the nature of the redistribution. He had no fear us to the kind of Redistribution Bill which would be passed, because it could not be supposed for a moment that the 2,000,000 agricultural labourers would allow those already possessing the franchise to finally settle what the value of their votes should be. Any unfair Redistribution Bill would not be allowed to stand any considerable time after the 2,000,000 were admitted to power. He did not attach much importance to that; but what he did attach importance to was, that it should not be said that the Liberal Party, by their action, deprived these men of the exercise of the franchise until a certain date. If the exercise of electoral power by these men was to be postponed, let 640 it be postponed by the Opposition, or in "another place." If a General Election took place, as it might in 1885, do not let it be said that men who were considered by Parliament fit to have the vote were not allowed to use it. If the clause stood by itself, it was valueless; if it stood by the light of the interpretation of the Attorney General, which interpretation amounted to a promise that no special Registration Bill should be brought in, it was a retrograde step on the part of the Government, which he regretted. He would like the Government to fall back upon their original intention of introducing a special Registration Bill, or else leave the matter open, so that in the coming year those in power might be free to take what course they thought fit.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, it was impossible not to feel a sense of refreshment at the ingenuous candour of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings). He only wished other hon. Members opposite would place themselves so frankly in correspondence with the House as the hon. Gentleman had just done. At the same time, he (Mr. Raikes) rose to say that he, for one, did not think so badly of Her Majesty's Government as the hon. Member for Ipswich appeared to think of them. He did not believe that when the Bill was introduced it was the intention of the Government to pass a Registration Bill immediately on the heels of this measure, and so, practically, to exemplify that they were not in earnest in their promise to bring in a redistribution scheme. He believed the Government had intended to introduce a Redistribution Bill next year; and, so far as he could judge, there had been no change of position on their part in accepting the clause of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton. He very much regretted, however, that his hon. Friend should have been the Member to propose this particular new clause; because it appeared to him that, although very effective speeches had been made, both by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) with regard to this question, there had been no speech which had more completely demonstrated the hollowness of the clause than the speech made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton himself; it appeared to 641 him that the clause merely amounted, as it were, to crossing "t's" and dotting "i's." By it they would not make the slightest difference; but they would run a great risk of attaching value to that which really had no value. He dismissed it altogether as having no real or appreciable bearing on the merits of the case. In the event of the Bill obtaining the Royal Assent before the 31st of July, the clause would have some value, inasmuch as it would tend to prevent the confusion which would arise; but he was certain that such an event was not only in the highest degree improbable, but that if it seemed to be within the bounds of possibility, it would be possible, either in this House or the other House, to take some step which would prevent the confusion contemplated. Although a good deal had been said as to what would be their position in the event of a Redistribution Bill not being passed, and as to how extremely worthless this provision would be to protect them against the inconvenience which would then arise, he wanted to ask the House to consider what effect the clause would have upon the future registration of the constituencies in the event of a Redistribution Bill passing? As he had said, he regarded it as extremely improbable that this Bill would receive the Royal Assent before the 31st of July next. What probability was there of a Redistribution Bill, even if it should pass next year, receiving the Royal Assent by the 31st of July? He did not believe, however sincere the Government might be as to passing a Redistribution Bill next year, that they would ever get it through; and though he did not believe this contingency would arise, those who supported a Government who indicated their sincerity in this matter ought to consider what would be the result if the Government policy was successful next year. Suppose there was a Redistribution Bill which was satisfactory to both Houses of Parliament, and it received the Royal Assent, what must be the first consequence? There must then be a Boundary Commission, and that Commission must examine the limits of every constituency probably in the whole of the United Kingdom. They must then report, and their Report must be considered by Parliament, and legislation must ensue upon that Report; 642 and when that Boundary Commission had been appointed, and had sat and reported, and when legislation had taken place, they would then have to pass a Registration Bill, in order to deal with the new constituencies created under that Boundary Commission; and, therefore, anybody who could suppose that the work of redistribution could come into operation next year must lay himself open to the charge of not having fairly or fully considered this question. Then, what would be the position after they had passed a Redistribution Bill, even if the Boundary Commission should report in time for a Winter Session in 1885, and a Bill should be passed in November or December, in order to enable the Registers to be made up for the new constituencies as delimited by the Commission? What a state of confusion they would be in in getting the Registers in readiness by January! He thought it extremely probable that there would be no Registers. He attached very little value to the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Albert Grey), though he thought that, in view of all these difficulties, even the 1st of January, 1887, would be the earliest date when the Registers would be ready; and he considered the present Amendment worth a good deal less than that of the hon. Member opposite. He hoped the House and the country would take note that if this clause was added to the Bill, at all events, it was added to the Bill in defiance of the protests of those who were really anxious to see this scheme properly supplemented by a scheme of redistribution, and which without that would only lead to confusion and unnecessary trouble, because all through 1885 the registration authorities would be hard at work providing a Register which was never to come into operation if the Government were in earnest; and after they had devoted the greater part of 1885 to making this factitious Register, at the end of the year they would be called upon to undo the whole of the work. These considerations, he thought, were worthy of attention by the Committee; and he should have been sorry to have sat through this discussion without contributing a humble opinion that, however plausible the arguments in favour of this clause might be, they were of extremely little substantial value.
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT
wished to know whether provisions could not be inserted in the Bill making it come into operation in Scotland at the same time as in other parts of the United Kingdom?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was unable to agree with the right hon. Member (Mr. Raikes) as to the value of this clause, which was now moved by a supporter of the Government. Before any date was suggested nine-tenths of the House were open in mind as to whether redistribution should form a part of the scheme of Reform or not. That matter was left entirely open; but the Committee would remember that on Friday last the Prime Minister made a very precise, and, indeed, a very solemn declaration, in addition to what had previously fallen from him, to the effect that it was the intention of the Government to make "a strong and resolute effort to deal with the question of redistribution next year." Although he was not one who could be supposed to hold a very high opinion of any declaration by the Government, still this was a declaration in which the Committee might be prepared to place confidence. But, in addition to that declaration, the Government decided to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He put these two things together, and he noticed that, with the exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), there had not been a word of objection to the course which the Prime Minister had adopted from any part of the House on the other side. Therefore, they ought to take precautions to insure a reasonable and proper allowance of time for the settlement of redistribution before the new enfranchisement took effect. He did not think he put the matter too high, and he could not say that he looked upon the declaration of the Prime Minister as a concession of great value. In connection with this point, he could not help recalling the plan that was adopted by Mr. Disraeli in 1867. Having passed a Reform Bill, in which no date was mentioned, and having been beaten on the Irish Church Bill, what course did Mr. Disraeli take? He came down and announced that he had advised Her Majesty that a Dissolution should take place, and that an appeal should be made to the new constituencies. That was assented to unani- 644 mously by the House of Commons, and he thought that formed a very strong precedent in the event of a Dissolution taking place, and the Government should appeal to the new constituencies rather than to the old. But what he wanted to point out was that, if the Prime Minister adopted such a course as that, he would be only following the precedent set by Mr. Disraeli. But he thought they were completely guaranteed against anything of that sort; for, by inserting this date in the Bill, together with the declaration of the Prime Minister, they declared that so far as they could provide, no matter what might happen to the present Government, the Bill should not come into operation until 1886. This was, therefore, a guarantee of some value, if not a complete guarantee, and one which ought not to be refused. He should be glad to know from the Prime Minister, if that was possible, whether, considering the fact that the scheme of redistribution would probably be much larger than any former scheme, and considering that the time of Parliament was now much more occupied than it used to be when Reform was formerly before the House, he should be glad to know whether the Prime Minister thought the ordinary length of the Session, taking into account the other matters which Parliament must deal with, would be sufficient to deal with the question of redistribution? He thought it possible that great doubt might arise on that point, unless precautions were taken against the Session proving too short for that purpose. Then there was another matter which might be taken into consideration, and which would strengthen confidence in the declaration as to the intentions and the earnestness of the Government. He imagined that the question of boundaries need not be deferred till next year. He saw no reason why that should not be provided for in the course of the coming autumn; but on that point he was only asking for information; and if he was in error he would apologize to the Committee and to those who had made up their minds that on any pretext whatever the extension of the franchise was too large, and was altogether opposed to Constitutional safety. He could understand those who held that opinion opposing this Amendment, and declining to consider it as a concession or anything of any 645 value; but there were many others who thought that the extension of the franchise was not in itself an evil, or a measure which they should be afraid to deal with; and as they were unable to compel the Government to adopt what he thought would have been the right and proper course—namely, dealing with the two subjects at once, he thought they might consider the concession as to which a certain value did attach.
Considering the points which the noble Lord has raised, in conjunction with the general spirit of his remarks, I may answer at once. One of the noble Lord's questions relates to the possibility of an ordinary Session not being long enough for a Redistribution Bill; and the noble Lord asks me whether it would be the duty of the Government to consider the adoption of special means for pushing the measure forward. First of all, let me say that I consider the pledge, which, undoubtedly, we intend to stamp and seal by assenting to this clause, as a pledge which we give not so much as to the present Administration as a pledge representing that which will always be the Executive Government of the country. Our desire is to enable the present Government, as well as a future Government, to deal with redistribution next year. Certain things may occur to defeat that object; but that is what we consider will be the duty of the present Government, and of any that may take its place. Speaking in that sense, we think it would be the duty of the Government, having taken that pledge, to take every secondary or subsidiary measure that would give it effect. I do not like to entertain such subjects as that of lengthening any ordinary Session which is felt in our time to have reached the limits of physical or mental strength. It is a question in what way time may be saved. There are many ways of doing that. There is one case I may mention. In 1872 there was a measure dealing with redistribution; but I should like to say that it would be our duty to adopt every measure which would increase, so far as necessity demanded, the available time for dealing with redistribution next year. That, I think, probably gives an answer, as far as it is possible to do so. Then the noble Lord asks whether it might not be possible to relieve next Session, and prevent that 646 block of Business which some have anticipated as likely to impede the arrangements with regard to Reform, by issuing a Boundary Commission in the present year. That ought not to be a subject entirely neglected; and though I cannot say that we have actually arrived at a conclusion upon that point, give an opinion—though not a final yet it is a very proper subject for consideration, and so far as I am able to opinion—there is reason to hope that considerable economy of time and work might, perhaps, be effected by the adoption of that course in the present year.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
The last observation of the right hon. Gentleman opens up a very serious question. I own I do not understand how it is proposed that a Boundary Commission should be appointed until we know what are to be the boroughs whose boundaries are to be investigated; and if we are to know which are to be the boroughs whose boundaries are to be investigated, we must know something of the scheme of redistribution. In point of fact, the further we go in the discussion of this Bill, the more do we see reason to feel the inconvenience of the course which the Government have adopted. I must say that the opinions which I held, and which I endeavoured to express at the beginning of the discussions on this Bill, have been confirmed and strengthened by what has taken place; and I feel more strongly now than I did at the beginning of the discussion that redistribution ought to have been made part of the measure, or, if not actually made a part of the same Bill, it ought to have been proposed in such a form as to give a clear understanding as to what it was to be. When that was refused, and we were told we must go on and pass this Bill before seeing what redistribution was to be, the next position we endeavoured to take up, was, at all events, to secure for us and for Parliament an opportunity of seeing the redistribution scheme before this Bill should become law; and, therefore, my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) brought forward his Amendment with a view to secure that the enormous alteration of the franchise now to take place until the redistribution had been settled. The House did not agree to that, and we were then 647 left to discuss the Franchise Bill by itself as well as we could. The other day the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) brought forward a Motion, to which reference has been made. That was not a Motion which, in itself, secured the object we have in view, or which was expressed in the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend. We listened to the discussion that was raised by the hon. Member for South Northumberland; but it certainly seemed to us that there was very little to be gained, if there was anything at all to be gained, by putting in any date into the Bill, unless, indeed, you put in such a date as to carry the Bill over the necessary effects of redistribution, which, I suppose, nobody would propose or anybody would accept. That would be fixing a date which would have some reason about it, because we should have been sure there would be no appeal to the newly enfranchised voters until some other measure had been passed, or until redistribution had taken place. Now, with regard to what passed on the occasion when the hon. Member for South Northumberland brought forward his Motion. It is said I expressed some approval of the course which the hon. Member adopted in withdrawing his Motion, and that I had done so because I was satisfied with the approval of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. That was not at all the case. What I said was that, looking at the Motion of the hon. Member for South Northumberland, it did not seem to me to have in it any security whatever for effecting the object we had in view, and that the only security we had was the word and the pledge of the Ministry. I do not undervalue the word and the pledge of the Ministry; on the contrary, I said I was quite sure that these pledges were given honestly, and that the intention of the Government was to redeem them, either then, or on some other occasion. I made the remark which I now repeat, that it is not altogether what may be the intentions of the Government, but what may be in the power of the Government; and it is extremely doubtful whether circumstances may not arise which, with all the good-will of the Government, may prevent their bringing forward, or at least passing, a redistribution scheme next Session. Then there is the 648 consideration that they may bring forward a scheme which may indeed be a redistribution scheme, but which will make matters worse than ever. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) has given us to understand that what he and his Friends want is the manipulation of the constituencies. If they cannot gain that, they may say—"Very well; then we decline to allow any Bill whatever to be passed. You will then be thrown over to a new Parliament which will be elected by the new constituencies, and when we get the new Parliament to work then we shall see what we shall see." There is no concealment about it. The hon. Member for Ipswich is perfectly honest and frank, as he always is, in making his statements. He does not conceal anything. With regard to another point to which reference has been made once or twice—the idea of passing a Registration. Bill to give effect to this Bill at an earlier date than would naturally be the case. If no such Registration Bill is passed it seems almost certain that the words of this Amendment will be mere surplusage; because whether they are in or not, unless this Bill passes into law by the 31st of July, they will be of no effect. We are told that such a Bill was passed by Mr. Disraeli's Government in 1868. It is true there was such Bill for the purpose of carrying out registration in order that an appeal might be made to the new constituency rather than to the old. But that was in very different circumstances, and meant a very different thing to that now suggested. That was not to make an imperfect scheme take effect. It was to make a perfect scheme take effect. The Dissolution was caused by circumstances which had nothing whatever to do with the question of Reform, and the effect of the vote was to render it necessary or desirable that there should be a Dissolution and an appeal to the people, and then the Government of the day and the Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli, thought it right to provide that the appeal should be made to the new constituency which had been established by the Act of 1867–8, their scheme of Reform having been perfected and completed. But that was a wholly different thing from any new registration to meet an incomplete scheme of Reform, and giving it where the franchise has been extended and the redistribution of seats 649 has not been settled. Therefore, I am thrown back on the consideration that it is impossible to suppose that a new Registration Bill could be passed under the circumstances of the present time, and that if it is not passed the words of this Amendment are mere surplusage and not worthy of high, consideration. We are told that if the Amendment is mere surplusage we may as well have it as a sort of record. Yes; but we are also told that by accepting it we are implying that we are satisfied with it. That is not the case, and we should be deceiving the House and the country. We are not in the least satisfied. My right hon. and gallant Friend made a proposal which did satisfy us; but this does not.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, that if he went into the Lobby alone he should be glad of the opportunity of doing so against this clause, for it seemed to him to be not worth the paper upon which it was written. As a matter of fact, this clause would have no operation whatever, because there was no chance of this Bill passing through all its stages by July 31. Registration would begin on the 10th of June, which had now been a week passed; and long before the Bill could receive the Royal Assent the facts which went to make up registration would have become known, and, therefore, this clause was really worth nothing. It was an attempt to deceive the country as to the concession made by the Government. It would be better to divide on the clause, and not encumber the Bill with this Amendment.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
wished to make a few remarks, not in repetition of any of the arguments which had been advanced, but in reference to the important statement which the Prime Minister had just made. The Committee might recollect that on the Motion to go into Committee on this Bill he had called attention to the question of boundaries, and he had put on the Paper an Instruction to the Committee giving them power to insert clauses for the purpose of appointing a Boundaries Commission. On that proposal he obtained the best Division yet given on this Bill; and, therefore, he wished to express his satisfaction in finding that the Prime Minister had come round to his view. On the occasion he referred to the right 650 hon. Gentleman had said that the Government did not think the question of boundaries belonged to a Bill dealing solely with the franchise; but that it belonged to the delimitation of areas. He ventured to think that a Commission might be set to work at once on some of the boroughs which no possible scheme of redistribution would deprive of Members. He did not know whether that was what the right hon. Gentleman intended; but he understood him to state it to be the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to appoint a Boundaries Commission this Sesssion. [Interruption.] What he was now asking was that the Prime Minister having now made this declaration, they should have some further information as to how he meant to deal with the subject. [Continued interruptions.] As these interruptions continued, he begged to move that Progress be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." — (Mr. Tomlinson.)
I trust that that Motion is not intended to be pressed, and I rise to answer the question of the hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I made no reference to the introduction of a Bill to appoint a Boundaries Commission this Session. We entertain no such idea; nor did I understand the question of the noble Lord to refer to such an idea. The point in my mind was this—I said it was quite evident that the work of such a Commission could not be completed; but the question was whether a Royal Commission should be appointed by the authority of the Crown. That was the course taken in 1831, before the passing, or even the introduction, of the Reform Bill.
§ MR. PELL
said, he regarded the Motion to report Progress as justified by the noisy interruptions of his hon. Friend's remarks. The answer of the Prime Minister had no meaning whatever for him, because he was unable to hear the remarks of his hon. Friend, and such a Motion as this was the only means that Members had of insuring freedom of debate. The hon. Member was perfectly justified in making the Motion; but Liberal Members were not justified in their interruptions.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he thought that at times it was desirable to have a moral clôture; but that was not so on the present occasion. The hon. Member was not endeavouring to obstruct Business, and therefore he thought the Committee might tolerate the hon. Member.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he understood the Prime Minister now to state that a Boundary Commission could be issued by the Crown without coming to Parliament for authority to do so. He thought he was right in saying that in the Act of 1868 there was a special clause inserted for the appointment of a Royal Commission; and as the Assistant Commissioners who would be required to work out the details did not, he believed, work gratuitously, it would, he thought, be necessary to come to Parliament to authorize their appointment. He wished to impress upon the Committee that this was no trivial matter. It was dealt with as a serious matter on going into Committee, and the Prime Minister had brought it forward now to meet a suggestion that Parliament would have great difficulty in dealing with this subject next Session. He thought the Committee had a right to know something more as to the intentions of the Government with reference to this matter.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he was sure the Committee would like to know something more about this Boundary Commission. This matter was like that of the Registration Bill the other day—it crept out by degrees. Looking at the matter practically, if the Boundary Commission was to be appointed by the authority of the Crown, and not by Act of Parliament, then what were they to inquire into? The boundaries of all the boroughs that might be created? A question had been asked as to what were the intentions of the Government, and the Prime Minister had replied that the Government had not yet decided; but they appeared to entertain the idea of issuing a Boundary Commission, in order to take a step ahead of redistribution. He did not think it was possible to have a Boundary Commission, unless the Government had previously defined the constituencies; but the Prime Minister had stated that the Redistribution Bill 652 had not been practically considered; that the Government had only got to certain lines, and yet it now appeared that they had been considering whether they should issue a Royal Commission to determine the boundaries of constituencies, about which they had not yet made up their minds. That seemed to him to be simply trifling with the question, and he held that the Committee had a right to be dealt with more considerately. He assumed that the Attorney General had no answer to the objections and the suggestions he (Mr. Lewis) had made with regard to registration; and he was justified in assuming that, because the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to him on Friday as one who was experienced in the subject. It was clear neither the Attorney General nor the Government had attempted to make any answer to his objection, and next year the House and country would find themselves in the same difficulty as now with regard to registration.
LORD JOHN MANNEES
said, he wished to say one word, and one word only, in regard to what had fallen from, the Prime Minister—that they were to have a Royal Commission to make inquiries and advise Her Majesty's Government in regard to the boundary question. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the same thing had occurred in 1831; but, as a matter of fact, something more than that had occurred in 1831, and he (Lord John Manners) ventured to say that there was no part of the Reform Bill that gave rise to so much angry disputation, and so much accusation of unjust and partizan action, as the mode in which the boroughs to be disfranchised and enfranchised under the recommendation of that very Royal Commission were to be dealt with. He would point out that in 1867, in order to avoid any imputation of any kind, it was determined to have a Boundary Commission, and that Commission was not only settled by Act of Parliament, but the name of every one of the Commissioners was inserted in the Act and submitted beforehand to the judgment of the House. This was done so that there might be no imputation as to the fairness and impartiality of the advice and recommendation which the Boundary Commissioners might give to the Government and Parliament. But now it seemed that they were to revert 653 to the less satisfactory system of 1831, and were to have this immense redistribution of political power virtually settled by a Commission, in the nomination of which Parliament would not be consulted, but the Members of which would be virtually the nominees of Her Majesty's Government. He ventured to say that a settlement of that kind would go no way whatever to reconcile the feeling of the country to the measure, in regard to which the Government were now imposing this fragment of a Reform Bill upon the House of Commons.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
The Committee seems to me to be in such a state of excitement that it is hardly possible to discuss a matter of such great importance at this very late hour of the afternoon. I could have hoped that this discussion would have lasted not only to-day, but would have gone into a considerable part of a subsequent day. The statement of the Prime Minister with regard to the Boundary Commission he contemplated, when he told us himself that he had not made up his mind as to what should be the programme of redistribution, is one of a most startling nature, and one which should engage the attention of the Committee for a much longer period than seems now to be allotted to it. I should like to make an observation as to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich was, no doubt, of a very candid character; but it was so candid that I have great apprehension that the Government will not deal with this question of redistribution in a fair and complete spirit. What he said was this. He wanted to avoid the possibility of the Conservative Party having the manipulation of the redistribution of seats. Well, we know that perfectly well. It is very true that the Prime Minister told us some time ago that he was anxious to deal with this question of redistribution in a fair and just spirit, and I believed the Prime Minister. But we heard also from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) that this question of redistribution was not one of principle, but one of Parliamentary tactics. That is exactly what we feel, and it is upon that ground that in the few observations 654 I made upon the second reading of the Bill I pointed out to the House how important it was that we should have, as in 1832, and as in 1867, a complete scheme before us, when we should be able to deal with the subject in a practical manner. And what is the proposal of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton? This afternoon he says—"Fix the date when you can pass your Redistribution Bill next year, and then; if you do not pass that Bill, you will be able to go to the country upon the extended Franchise Bill of the present year." Sir, I do not think the House of Commons is desirous of proceeding upon those lines. Quite the contrary. The Government have told us that they wish to introduce a Redistribution Bill; but it certainly appears to me that it would be unconstitutional to tie the hands of Parliament as to when the fragment of a Bill should come into operation if the remaining fragment is not passed by the House of Commons. I look with the greatest suspicion on the conduct of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. I have the highest opinion of their integrity when they are able to exercise their integrity free and unfettered; and I say now that I do not know that I ever saw a Party sitting below the Gangway such, as is now sitting there. They do not even allow a measure to be discussed. When an hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Tomlinson) got up to make an observation as to the most important statement of the Prime Minister, he was, I may say, hooted down in his place, and not allowed to make the remarks which he fully intended to make. Certainly, he moved the adjournment of the debate, and the Committee got into a more temperate spirit and allowed him to proceed in his remarks, and they were supplemented subsequently by observations from the Prime Minister even more startling than those we had heard from him before—namely, that he contemplated a Boundary Commission; but that that Commission would proceed on lines that were not to be submitted to Parliament before the close of this Session. I think I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that. I must say that I do not see how it is possible for a Boundary Commission to deal with this question, unless we have a scheme before Parliament. We ought to have the entire scheme before us, arid I cannot accept the 655 Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, tying the hands of Parliament to a particular course, if they do not think fit to pass a complete measure, whatever my hon. Friend may say about the earnestness of the Government to pass a Redistribution Bill. My opinion is that unless the Conservative Party take very great care they will have this Redistribution Bill thrown in their faces next year, and that if they do not feel disposed to accept it the Election will then go on the Franchise Bill passed this year, giving an extended franchise to 2,000,000 of voters; but not the complete scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed to the House. I am sorry to have trespassed upon the time of the House in this matter; but I do feel it to be of primary importance that we should not tie our hands. I consider that it would be most unconstitutional if we were to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and allow a fragment of a Bill to come into operation before the remaining portions which are promised in another Session are before us.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he had a point to urge which he did not think had been sufficiently considered by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had referred to a declaration made by a conspicuous Member of the Government, who had said that that question of redistribution was not one of principle, but one of Parliamentary tactics. That was perfectly true. The Conservative side of the House was quite able to see the position in which it was put; they quite understood the alternative offered to them, to have this Franchise Bill passed without redistribution, so that when redistribution was proposed it could be handed to them, as it were, with a pistol at their heads. That was a question of tactics, and to his mind he must say there was only one method of meeting such tactics. They held one trump card; and, with all respect to "another place," he trusted that that card would be played. He hoped the House of Lords would reject the Bill.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 256; Noes 130: Majority 126.—(Div. List, No. 121.)656
I now move to report Progress, and in doing so I wish to make an explanation. In answering the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson), I am not sure whether I used the words "Royal Commission" or not; but if I did I wish to say that they were, perhaps, not quite accurate, because a Royal Commission has, perhaps, too much the semblance of authority. If the Government should arrive at a conclusion, which I have said it has not, on the subject, we should follow the precedent of 1831, when certain Gentlemen were requested by the Government to undertake certain duties and obtain certain information, but the direct authority of Her Majesty was not put in requisition.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
thought the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was not satisfactory, and wished to point out that in 1831 the course taken was afterwards lamented and condemned by Lord Althorp himself.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that in 1831 there was a Schedule to the Bill setting forth those boroughs which were to be disfranchised. There was a scheme before Parliament of which information could be readily obtained; but there was no scheme before Parliament at the present time.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman's statement with regard to the Commission was misunderstood in some parts of the House. He understood it to be a Commission, whether Royal or otherwise—["Order, order!"]—he was perfectly in Order—whether it were a Royal Commission or otherwise that was to be appointed to inquire into the Boundary Question, he wished to point out that if the right hon. Gentleman appointed his Commission before he communicated his redistribution scheme to Parliament, that Commission would have to inquire into the boundaries of non-existent constituencies, as to the calling into existence 657 of which there was no proposal before the country.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, no one could doubt that after the extraordinary revelations now made by the Prime Minister it was a matter of great importance that they should report Progress. It was only fair that notice should be given to the Prime Minister that if no one else when the Committee was resumed asked what his intention was as to whether the Commission should be Royal or otherwise, on Thursday night, at all events, he (Mr. Lewis) would ask him whether the Government had made up their minds on the subject.
We have no intention whatever of making up our minds on the subject. It is a question which we have to examine carefully, whether we can obtain information which we think will be useful without authority—whether we can or cannot obtain information which would be worth having as a preliminary measure.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to say, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), that the Government had already been considering the desirability of appointing a Royal Commission. Does the right hon. Gentleman adhere to that assertion? It is impossible for us to deal with it at the present moment.
§ Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.