§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, that he had decided not to move the Instruction to the Committee which stood upon the Paper in his name, inasmuch as he found that it had no chance of obtaining the favourable consideration of the Government.
MR. J. LOWTHER
Sir, I do not rise on this occasion for the purpose of 1388 making a speech, but for the purpose of saving time, and what is of still more importance than the saving of time, of preventing misunderstanding hereafter. I think it right that it should be distinctly placed on record—as far as I am myself concerned, and as I believe many hon. Members on this side of the House are concerned—the fact that we have abstained from placing upon the Paper Amendments to the Bill in the interests of the time of Parliament, and not on account of our being in any shape or form satisfied to accept the Bill as it stands. The reception accorded to the proposals made upon this side of the House, during the last Session, was not such as to encourage those who desire to propose practical Amendments to again bring their views before the House of Commons. I think it also right that some reference should be made to the tone in which some observations from this side of the House during the recent debate have been received by the Party opposite both inside and outside this House. Attempts have been made to interpret the moderate and conciliatory language which has happily characterized recent debate in this House into an abdication on the part of the Conservative Party of those cardinal principles from which it never has receded—principles from which, I venture to say, it never will recede. Those principles are distinctly embodied in the very clear and unmistakable Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley)—an Amendment which I think has very properly been made an exception to the general abstention from moving Amendments on this side of the House to which I have referred. There can, however, be no greater mistake than for any impression to get abroad that any person or persons could, under any circumstances, be authorized to commit the Conservative Party to any abdication of those great fundamental principles which are embodied in the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend, and in those Resolutions and proposals which have already been submitted from this side of the House. I was somewhat amused to see the eagerness with which the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) seized upon an expression which 1389 he evidently had wholly misunderstood, and which he thought had fallen from my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross). The construction which he put upon that expression was that anything would satisfy the contention urged on this side of the House—anything short of a compliance with the proposition which had been formally laid down in Amendments for which the Conservative Party has made itself responsible in both Houses of Parliament. I may say that I entirely repudiate the construction which the President of the Local Government Board placed upon the conciliatory and most statesmanlike remarks of my right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross). That construction totally differs from the true text of the speech of my right hon. Friend. The idea that any Resolution, however unanimously acceded to by this or the other House of Parliament, could in any shape or form remove the objection which has always been persistently and consistently entertained among all Members of the Conservative Party to deal with the question of the franchise without having at the same time placed on the Statute Book an enactment dealing with the redistribution of seats! However, it is not Resolutions unanimously acceded to, it is not schemes of contemplated Bills — whether surreptitiously or formally communicated to the public—which we want. We do not want Resolutions or Bills; what we want is an Act of Parliament. I would venture humbly to throw out this suggestion — that any person or persons who place any reliance upon rumours of backstairs intrigue, or attempts to settle a great question behind the back of Parliament, are reckoning without their host. When certain proposals had been made known to the public, designedly or otherwise, and were generally assumed to embody the views of Her Majesty's Government, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) took the earliest opportunity of intimating that he would not even discuss the proposal unless formulated on the authority of Her Majesty's Government and presented to Parliament. I have thought it right to state my view of this matter—a view which I think will commend itself to the great mass certainly of the 1390 Conservative Party. With regard to the Bill now before the House, I must again express my regret that Her Majesty's Government have impaired the Bill, and have presented it, being apparently prepared to do so, without having in any shape or form taken into consideration the great and fundamental question of representation of minorities. Upon this subject I should have liked to make a proposal to the House, but it would evidently have been open to the charge of uselessly consuming the time of the House. Again placing on record my protest against the Bill on that and on other grounds, I wish to guard myself against any application of the nemine contradicente doctrine.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he also wished to guard himself against any repetition of what took place on the previous occasion. He was present at the celebrated nemine contradicente scene, and, like a good many hon. Members, was rather taken by surprise. He wished to take this opportunity of protesting that the Conservative Party had not in the least withdrawn from the position which they had hitherto taken up, and he could, with the full knowledge of his constituents, say that in their opinion nothing could be more disastrous to the future prospects of Ireland than the application of the Bill to that country. They had the strongest reason for believing that it would only aggravate the existing troubles in Ireland.
said, he also desired to state that he was quite opposed to the inclusion of Ireland in the Bill. And on behalf of a section of Irish Representatives — although they did not put Amendments on the Paper to impede the passing of the measure—it was not to be supposed they approved of the application of the Bill to Ireland.
The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) and of the hon. Gentlemen who followed him represent a sentiment of stern opposition to the principles of the present Bill. I think that the House is indebted to them, and that they have exercised a sound discretion in not renewing debates on matters which have been fairly decided and exhaustively discussed by the House. I thank them for that very Parliamentary and reasonable conclusion. However, I do not quite understand the capacity in which 1391 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) spoke; because, at one time, he appeared modestly to disclaim the character of one who commits others by his declarations, but rather to speak for himself, or, at any rate, for some section of Gentlemen on the other side of the House. He was sustained in that proposition by cheering, which was extremely lively and warm, but what is called very thin, proceeding from a number of Gentlemen who might be counted on the fingers, and on the full complement of the fingers, but who undoubtedly did by zeal make up for want of numerical strength. The right hon. Gentleman went further, and made an apology or an explanation on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who is not now in the House, and said that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had altogether misconstrued a declaration or an expression of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire with respect to proceeding by Resolution. If there was any such declaration, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) entirely disavowed it, and authoritatively retracted it. He did not say, however, that he had received any authority from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to retract it. There was a decided gap in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) upon that point of the case; and I may observe that when that expression was used by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross), it was noticed by my right hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in careful and guarded terms, simply speaking of it as an indication of a friendly and pacific spirit. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was in the House when my right hon. Friend spoke; he listened to my right hon. Friend's observation, and he appeared to be eminently well contented with it. I am puzzled by this very authoritative retraction which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) seems to give, not in consequence of his having been delegated to do so by the right hon. Gentleman who made the declaration, but apparently in consequence of a kind of supreme dominion which overrides all the declarations 1392 of other Members. That is a reserve power like the sacred power of Parliament, which can do anything except change a woman into a man. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to mend the inaccuracies and errors of hon. Members around him; and I take it that, in the exercise of that power, he made the explanation to which we have listened. I beg to thank him for the intention which he has announced, and I think he has arrived at a sound and wise judgment.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for South - West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was not aware that the subject would be raised, or he would have been in his place. I myself distinctly understood that what my right hon. Friend said on the last occasion was somewhat in the nature of an obiter dictum, and it was perhaps taken up by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister with more keenness than perhaps my right hon. Friend supposed would be the case. I do not know, however, that we shall gain very much by a discussion of the point. I am only anxious that no mistake on the subject should be made; and I say again what I have said frequently on this subject, that while we assent to the passing on of this Franchise Bill we do so on the understanding, and as far as we are able to enforce such an understanding, that it must be accompanied by a distinct and clear measure of redistribution.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he was certain that the Franchise Bill would not be passed unless the Prime Minister brought forward his Redistribution Bill and placed it upon the Table. What had they been fighting for through the Recess? [Ministerial cheers.] Yes; and there had been a significant answer from South Warwickshire. He was informed that if there was one thing more than another which turned that election it was whether or not the House of Lords was to be supported in the position it had taken up. Would it not be wise and prudent, if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was anxious that the Franchise Bill should be passed, that he should bring in a Redistribution Bill? By adjourning the House over Christmas he would have up to next June to pass it. If he declined to bring it in, upon his 1393 head and his alone must rest the responsibility.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Short title of Act) agreed to.
§ Extension of the Household and Lodger Franchise.
§ Clause 2 (Uniform household and lodger franchise).
, in moving, as an Amendment, in page 1, line 11, after the word "and," to insert—After the passing of this Act, and of an Act to be passed for amending the Acts which settle and describe the divisions of counties, and the limits of cities and boroughs of the United Kingdom, for the purpose of the election of Members to serve in Parliament,said: In rising for the purpose of moving the same Amendment which it was my duty to propose last Session, I need hardly assure the Committee that I do not propose it any obstructive spirit. I think there is a desire on all sides of the House—and it was even evinced just now by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther)—that the debate upon the Bill should not be any longer protracted here. I need also hardly say that I propose this Amendment not in a hostile spirit, but with a two - fold object. First of all, that we may place on record, in the most formal manner, that which is our opinion; and, at the same time, in order that we should see whether, in Committee, by an interchange of views—which is, perhaps, easier and less hampered by forms in Committee than at any other stage of the Bill—means may not be found for bringing this question nearer to some final adjustment. I ask pardon if I speak plainly to the Committee. I ask leave also to put aside many references which I should like to have made, under any other circumstances, to speeches which have been delivered in the Recess; but I think that at this period, standing as we do, it is far better that we should entirely put aside reference to all extreme statements of opinion, which otherwise might form an obstacle to steady and quiet proceedings, and that we should, as far as possible, look carefully and judicially 1394 at the position in which this House and Parliament find themselves placed at the present moment. The main question which I venture to ask, and which I think the country asks, is—"Are the differences between the two sides of the House, upon this great question, now insurmountable?" In proposing this Amendment, I need hardly say that I wish to anticipate at once the very fair objection which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister took when I proposed this Amendment last year. I take his actual words, and I have no right to complain that the right hon. Gentleman made use of them. He said, truly enough, that this Amendment, if carried, would completely hang up the Franchise Bill, and make it dependent entirely upon the passing of the Redistribution Bill, and it would follow that if no Redistribution Bill were ever passed, the Franchise Bill would be for ever suspended. Of course, I make the right hon. Gentleman a present of that argument. If I could have been able, I should have been glad to find words that would express the meaning of hon. Members on this side of the House which would not be open to that objection; but, however logical that argument may be, I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman really believes, or whether anyone in this House or in the country really believes, that, at the present moment, such a proceeding as the right hon. Gentleman indicates is possible? I venture to sum up, briefly, the differences which it seems to me exist between the two sides of the House, and in doing so it is with an earnest desire, by examining them, to make those differences smaller, and to bring them to a vanishing point. But there is a certain point, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, up to which we have a right to retain our opinion, if possible, although, on the other hand, there is nothing we have said which we desire to conceal, and in regard to which we are not open to discussion, and, if necessary, to conviction. Where there seems to be a fundamental difference is that the Government—as shown by the opinions expressed by the Prime Minister—seem to think that the conferring of the vote is that which has the greatest value—that the attaching and giving of the vote to the individual is that which is the most important part of this measure. 1395 We, on the other hand—and I will ask the Committee to follow the distinction—rather look at the giving of the vote to the individual as enabling that individual to do his duty to the constituency, and to the country of which the constituency forms part, in forming the opinion of the constituency, and in recording, in his opinion, that which is best for the constituency and the country. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman goes only to the conferring of the franchise, giving the right to the individual to vote, and leaves untouched the more important part of the question—namely, whether that individual shall exercise the franchise as one of 10,000, of 40,000, or of 100,000? That, in the view of the right hon. Gentleman, seems to be altogether immaterial. We, on the other hand, say that we are fully aware, and think it right both for the country and for the persons exercising the franchise, that they should know where they are to exercise the vote, in what proportion, and with what general reference to the vote of the constituency and the representation of the country of which the constituency forms part. Then there comes this other difficulty. We say that if you dissociate the Franchise Bill and the Redistribution Bill—however honourable the intentions of the Government may be, however fairly they may wish to carry them out—and I, for one, do not doubt their sincerity—there can be no guarantee that circumstances may not prevent you from getting the second part of the question dealt with either by this Parliament or by the next Parliament, but by a hybrid Parliament which would neither represent the old constituencies nor the new. One of the Colleagues of the Government has left on record a speech which will be read even now with some admiration as to its logic and the clear common sense which it contains. As the question is one of controversy, I only want to show very briefly where the differences lie between us. The Government say that they are anxious that redistribution should follow closely on the franchise; we, on the other hand, say that it should be part of one measure, or that it should be simultaneous. The Government say that they are anxious, to have the measure dealt with in one Parliament; we say that it is not only advisable, but essential. In the discussions which have 1396 taken place within the last few days, of which I, for one, have been glad to see the conciliatory tone, I do not suppose there is, as to all the other points—the question of population, the simplicity of the Bill, its equity towards the four divisions of the country, and the general justice which it does to the community — the slightest difference in principle on either side of the House. Then, what is the argument of the Government? We think we have a strong argument, we think we have shown a just ground, looking at its effects on future constituencies, and next as to the possible miscarriage between the passing of the one Bill and the passing of the other—we think we have shown good reason why those two Bills should be closely associated. The one answer of the Government is, that if they were to introduce a Redistribution Bill, they might jeopardize the Franchise Bill. The reply I will humbly make to that is, that they jeopardize far more the fate of their Bill by keeping back the information which the House desires, and upon which, I honestly believe, the majority of the House would very gladly act. It is my own opinion—it may be a very simple one, but I cannot help expressing it—that a fair Bill would receive fair treatment, and that distrust, or what appears to be distrust, of this House, is sure, on the other hand, to bring distrust in its turn. I have endeavoured, as I said before, to see in what form I could possibly cast this Amendment, so that it should be in a form, I will not say palatable, but the least obnoxious to the criticisms which it is likely to meet with from the Government; but I frankly confess I have failed to do so, and I have been unable to put it in any other form than that in which it stands. I am all the more convinced, if we have to record our view, that it is best we should do so in the simplest and broadest form, rather than accompany it with a reference to any date, or to hang up the Bill for a certain time in a manner which, however well meant, might, in the event of certain contingencies, form a source of serious misunderstanding between the two sides of the House. As to the fate of the Amendment, I freely confess that I have hardly a parental interest. But I may say this—that the Amendment is framed with an honest desire to facilitate, and 1397 not to obstruct, the passage of the Bill. There is only one quotation which I will venture to make, and it is one which the right hon. Gentleman will hardly dissent from, seeing that the words fell from himself a very short time ago. It is his belief that there is a feeling in many parts of the House that all our efforts in all quarters should be directed to the safe and fair adjustment of redistribution. I believe there is a general feeling that it is not for the credit of the House, nor for the credit of Her Majesty's Government, nor for the credit of Parliament, that things should be hung up in this way any longer. The right hon. Gentleman thinks there would be danger to this Bill by introducing the subject of redistribution. But surely he underrates the general feeling of the country; he underrates his own abilities; and more than all, perhaps, he underrates the merits of this question in entertaining that opinion. The people ask whether, all this time that we are debating about procedure, we could not have passed a Redistribution Bill? My belief is that if the Government, even now, were able to add to the information which they can give to the House, and to indicate clearly the general lines and principles upon which their scheme is to be founded, so far from creating any obstacles to themselves, they would have done that which will facilitate the passage not only of this, but of both Bills, during the present Session. I do not think the other side of the House is blind to the possible circumstances which may arise from our present want of information. With a little more confidence on one side, and perhaps a little less fear on the other, there ought not to be, even in the present Parliament, any obstacles or difficulties in the way. I do not venture to speak on all these points as though I were the mouthpiece of others; but I have ventured to put before the House what I myself feel with regard to this question. I do most earnestly appeal to the Government, in the sense in which they have met us within the last few days, to amplify what we have sketched out in words by giving us further information, so far as may be, of a tangible character; and if they do that, they, I think, will have done more than all to place this great question in the position in which we wish to see it—on the surest foundations. I beg to move 1398 the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper.
In page 1, line 11, after the word "and," to insert the words "after the passing of this Act, and of an Act to be passed for amending the Acts which settle and describe the divisions of counties, and the limits of cities and boroughs of the United Kingdom, for the purpose of the election of Members to serve in Parliament."—(Colonel Stanley.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that he does not make this Motion in any obstructive spirit, and I fully agree that it would be highly irrational in me to describe, as obstructive, the renewal in a temperate form of any proposition which he may have thought it necessary to make on a previous occasion with reference to the present Bill. Undoubtedly, though I am not able in any way to accede to his Motion, but, on the contrary, regard it now as more objectionable even than it was when made at the former period, I fully admit that it is a Motion he is entitled to make, and he has brought it forward in a temperate and conciliatory manner, with no larger demand upon the time of the Committee than he was justified in making. There were words at the conclusion of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman which, if they stood alone, I should have heard without dissatisfaction, when he said his desire was that information of a tangible character—of course, it must be of a somewhat sufficiently definite character—should be communicated to the House, as the only means of allowing the Franchise Bill to go forward here and "elsewhere." Well, Sir, that demand is one which it was stated by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) and my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) we had no indisposition to listen to; but I am afraid the demand must be taken as being liable to be construed with another portion of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in which he said that nothing would satisfy him except the enactment of the franchise and redistribution in one and the same measure, or simultaneously in two measures. Then he appeals to the Government to accede 1399 to the moderate demand which he makes. But that moderate demand is the extreme demand he has ever made, or that has at any time been urged on the part of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Our opinion, on this side of the House, is that the most decisive indications have been given, in the course of the last three months, as to the opinion of the country on this subject. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman appeals to us to do certain things which we refused before, now that these indications—which we deem to be exceeding clear—have been given, it greatly diminishes the force of his appeal, for, as we think, judgment has been informally, but very emphatically, pronounced by those who are most interested in the matter, and a clear indication—I do not say of the feeling of every constituency—but a clear indication of the general sentiment of the nation has been given. These considerations, therefore, weaken, and do not strengthen, the appeal which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman now makes. But he asks us for further information. Now, I wish to point out to him the position in which we stand upon these two points. He admits that the object and effect of his Motion is to hang up the Franchise Bill until the Redistribution Bill has been passed. Then again he says, in distinct terms, that Gentlemen opposite—and a large portion of Gentlemen opposite—say that they are willing to grant the franchise. This means that they are willing to grant it upon conditions. Redistribution is the condition, without which they refuse to grant the franchise. It is material that it should be understood how much this compulsory friendship for the franchise, which has been so largely expressed, means. It is a willingness to grant the franchise, provided that it be accompanied by another measure, without which, in the judgment of the most moderate and favourable of the Party opposite, it is not a good measure. And yet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman calls this a most moderate demand. Then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman assures us that, although he wishes to pass an enactment which will hang up the Enfranchisement Bill until the Redistribution of Seats Bill has been passed, yet that there is no reason why we should regard a proposition of that nature with any kind of apprehension, because it is 1400 ridiculous to suppose that the Franchise Bill can now be postponed. Yes, Sir; but when we assure him of our disposition to go forward with redistribution, then he does not think it ridiculous to argue that the Redistribution Bill may be postponed. On the contrary, he says that there are all sorts of contingencies which may interfere to postpone it. Then what reason is there that I am to be so very sanguine as to the passing of a Redistribution Bill, provided we let go the hold I believe we have by the present constitution of the measure? What may happen? A Redistribution Bill we could not hope to pass very rapidly; there is no doubt about that. I am not speaking of Obstruction or anything of that kind. Putting that out of view altogether, the time, measuring from the present date, for the introduction of the measure could not occur till some fortnight or throe weeks hence, when the Redistribution Bill might be proceeded with. We should then have the intervention of Christmas, and there would be an absolute necessity for some Recess—some considerable Recess, too. Then it is plain that the passing of a Redistribution Bill upon a reasonable calculation, and without assuming any resort to Obstruction, could not be hoped for until the spring was somewhat advanced. But how would it be with the actual passing of the Redistribution Bill? We are encouraged to contemplate a state of things in which the franchise is to be hung up until that interval has elapsed, and until the Redistribution Bill has passed. What may happen to the Government during that period? It is the desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Government should receive its deathblow from one or more of the questions which have been raised concerning the policy of this country in other countries, independently of its policy with regard to the Redistribution Bill; and we are urged to push forward the Redistribution Bill, in order to prevent the substitution of those measures which would be fatal to it. Very well; see what is to happen. The Franchise Bill is to be hung up; we are to introduce a Redistribution Bill, and, according to the declarations of hon. Gentlemen who desire to hang up the Franchise Bill, we are to be dismissed from our Offices on account of our sins of commission and 1401 of omission in other respects. Then what is to become of the Franchise Bill? It is to be given over to the tutelage and care and guardianship of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is that a prospect very satisfactory to us? Have their declarations on behalf of the Franchise Bill been declarations of a character to fill us with confidence? As the poet says—Vows made in pain case will recantAs violent and void.And I must say that most of the vows in favour of the Franchise Bill have, in the strictest sense, been vows made in pain—vows which were made because hon. Gentlemen could not help making them. And under those circumstances, we are not very ready to hand over to your tutelage the future fortunes of the Franchise Bill. But, now, hon. Gentlemen want information. What sort of information do they want? I have said, and others of my Colleagues have said, that we are most anxious, if it were possible, that a Redistribution Bill should be founded on ideas that are generally acceptable to the House. We have said that explicitly, and we are ready to repeat it. We have said—and I think we know enough of the advantage of conciliatory steps—that we are disposed, in regard to redistribution, to sacrifice any extreme and particular predilections on this side of the House. We know, or we think we do, enough to give us no great difficulty as to the kind of Redistribution Bill we should introduce, so far as to make us confident of its receiving a favourable support on this side of the House; and, of course, if we did not carry it, we should be bound to resort to the alternative which is always looked upon as the Constitutional and only alternative course in such circumstances. There is, therefore, no difficulty as far as the majority of the House is concerned. But we are told that we ought to consult the wishes of the minority. We want to consult the wishes of the minority to the utmost degree which our principles will permit; and as far as I know we have no reason to say that we shall be precluded from consulting their views. But what are the wishes of the minority? It is not that we ask the minority to develop every particular on which they desire this or that; but we ask the minority not to stand in contradiction to itself; 1402 and we respectfully submit that at this moment, from the indications it has given on the subject of redistribution, it does stand in palpable contradiction to itself. [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: How?] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) asks me how. Does he think that the speech which he made on Friday night—and I heard it in many respects with satisfaction—gave the same indications of opinion in regard to redistribution as were given a few hours before by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)? The right hon. Gentleman asks "How?" and I have answered him. I do not assume, for a moment, that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock, whatever his abilities may be, has a position equivalent to that of the right hon. Gentleman; but the speech of the noble Lord was in strict conformity with many other indications which have come forward in various forms, and notably with the declarations which have proceeded, or which have been reported as proceeding, and which in some cases have absolutely proceeded, from Lord Salisbury. Indeed, is there any doubt about this? The speech of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock—I do not find fault with it—as far as I could understand it, was an able and an extremely clever speech, and it was a speech which gave me the idea that the speaker was desirous, from his point of view, to arrive at a settlement of the question; but, undoubtedly, as far as I could comprehend, the drift of the speech of the noble Lord was to recommend that electoral areas should be recast on the single basis of population, qualified only by one consideration, and that one consideration was to be the ripping asunder, if I may so say, of rural and urban constituencies, and rural and urban pursuits. I desire to avoid exaggeration. That was my construction of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) spoke later in the evening with distinct reference to the clear and forcible speech which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had just before delivered. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon has referred to various other principles to which it seemed that he wished considerable 1403 scope to be allowed, such as regard to prescription and possession, where privilege had not been abused, regard to the principle of community and municipal life and principles of that kind, which would cross and traverse the simple principle of population. And the right hon. Gentleman opposite, if I understand him rightly, distinctly accepted the view of the right hon. Member for Ripon, and was anxious that all that diversity of considerations should be introduced in the construction of a sound Reform Bill. That is what I mean when I say that, at this moment, the minority stands in contradiction with itself. And I do not hesitate to affirm that, at this moment, there is no imaginable Bill for the redistribution of seats that we could introduce into this House with a reasonable confidence that it would not be made the subject of a fierce Party conflict. And, Sir, it is under these circumstances that this pressure for information comes. But that pressure for information would not be a matter of difficulty for us if we were to introduce a Bill that we believed would suit the views of the majority of the House. But you are calling upon us to meet your views, and at the same time presenting your views in a form in which they are absolutely incompatible with each other. And what does the introduction of a Redistribution Bill mean if it is to be made the subject of a Party contest? It means the introduction of a Bill that it would be impossible to pass in the present state of Parliamentary practice against the will of the House—it means the handing over of the whole question from the majority to the minority. The entire settlement of the question of redistribution would not rest with us, but with hon. Gentlemen opposite, if there were a disposition to use the means which Parliamentary Rules permit for resisting a Redistribution Bill. All this time, according to their proposal, the Franchise Bill is to be what is called "hung up," and its chances are to be mixed up with all those general accidents of political vicissitude from which we are determined, if we can, to keep it separate. Now, does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his own mind, really think it possible for us, under these circumstances, to agree to what he proposes? Do not let it be supposed that I am now finding fault. At 1404 this moment I am not finding fault either with the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock, or still less with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. Speaking for myself, individually, I am not ashamed to say that my desire is to have an agreement on this subject if we can. I do not say that we are willing to agree with either; but I will say this, that it is quite impossible to agree with both. If you hold the contrary, and say that it is possible to agree with both, I must beg, in condescension to our obtuse understanding, that you will develop a little the ideas that you entertain, and show us what it is that you want. I believe I have been long enough in dealing with the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and there is no necessity for me to detain the Committee longer. We have, I think, on the whole, by the speeches made on this Bench, explained with tolerable clearness what our disposition is. I recede from nothing that I have said. I am sure that I may say the same for my right hon. Friends near me, and for my noble Friend (the Marquess of Harrington), not now in his place, in regard to what has fallen from them which tends towards harmony and a speedy settlement. But the demand for indefinite postponement, and, in fact, for giving over the whole of our contention, supported as we are by the great majority of the House—a majority which apparently has no tendency to diminish—the demand to give over the whole of our contention to the minority opposite, is really making a proposal to us which might almost be received with silence, so absolutely impossible must it be for us, in that form, to make any approximation towards meeting the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I must confess that I rather gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that his idea is that the Opposition should draw a Bill for him. Now, I think that is not reasonable, and that it would rather invert the position which the two sides respectively hold in the House of Commons. We are desirous honestly and fairly to discuss the principle and details of a Redistribution Bill; but we think that the Government ought to take the responsibility of introducing the measure. I do not raise 1405 a question as to whether it is fair to us to ask us to lay down principles; but I ask whether it is altogether fair to the House—whether it is the quickest way of proceeding, to take the lowest ground—that we should be called upon, in the first place, to formulate the basis on which the discussion is to be carried on? That is a matter which the Government and the majority ought to undertake, and which distinctly rests with them. All that we can promise them is a fair and full consideration. [Laughter.] That statement seems very much to amuse the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). I know not whether he thinks a fair consideration is something that ought to be despised or not. Or does he think we ought to accept, in the same spirit as the followers of the right hon. Gentleman, whatever proceeds from his mouth without any discussion at all? I do not think that that is really the manner in which legislation of this importance has ever been conducted, or ever will be. What has often been remarked in regard to the legislation of this country, and what is probably true and of very great importance is, that we have had measures of the largest character brought forward from time to time which have occasioned warm contests between the two Parties in the State, and, after all, one settlement has been arrived at after another, and the result of the final settlement has generally been accepted by the whole country, let alone, and not subsequently disturbed. Why is that? It is because these measures have been made the subject of fair discussion on each side of the House. Each Party has had the opportunity of saying its own say, and when the decision has been come to, like Englishmen we have agreed to abide by the result of the decision. That is all we ask now. I sometimes think, from the indications I see on the opposite side, and certainly from the Benches immediately fronting me, that hon. Members opposite have some kind of suspicious fear that we have some terrible design in the background, and that we intend, when they have brought forward their measure, to take some insidious step which will destroy the settlement of the question. I can assure them that this is entirely a delusion. I assure them that we are prepared to discuss this matter in perfectly good 1406 faith. As the Government have seen fit to bring this question before the country and before Parliament in the serious manner they have done, we are prepared to meet them, and to endeavour to give effect to their desires in the direction of enlarging the franchise. But what we do say is this—that it is necessary that such a step as that should be accompanied by a proper redistribution of political power. We say that if you are going to bring in this large quantity of new wine, it should not be put into old bottles; but it should be new wine and new bottles. You are not treating the two measures as in point of fact being one measure, and you are running the risk of doing what the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has indicated may possibly happen — namely, that after passing one measure, the other may be sacrificed by Party considerations. We have often been told, when we have said that we want to be assured that the two measures will be passed—"Why cannot you accept the assurances of the Government? Why cannot you take the word of the Prime Minister and all those securities which are offered to you in regard to the two measures?" We have always said that we do not doubt the word of the Prime Minister, or any assurances that may have been given by the Government, as far as they are able to give effect to them; but we see, as well as the right hon. Gentleman sees, that there is a possibility of circumstances entirely extraneous to this question, rendering something necessary which may prevent the Government from doing that which they say they are all desirous of aiming at. What I hope and trust is that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this matter in a more practical spirit. I cannot altogether accept his views that the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) is less appropriate now than it was when he brought it forward last Session. I do not altogether endorse the view the right hon. Gentleman has expressed, nor the view of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the strong expression of opinion which he says has been given in the country. I do not myself see were the proof of it is. True, we have had some indication. Not only within the last three months, but even within the 1407 last three days, events have happened which would lead us to consider that, at all events, there are two opinions on the matter, whatever may be the relative strength of those two opinions in the country; and it is by no means too certain that those who wish to see this question treated as a whole are so very much weaker, or so much more in a minority, than they were before. I am quite certain, Sir, that when any Question is to be put from the Chair, you will take the voice of the House, "Aye" or "No," and that you will pronounce your decision according to the best of your judgment as to which appears to be the larger voice. But, Sir, with all respect to you, that will not be taken as conclusive, and you will, I think, if your decision is challenged, at once direct that the Ayes and the Noes should separate into different Lobbies, so that it may be seen which is really the larger Party. What we say, when we dispute the inferences the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are in the habit of drawing from the discussion in the autumn is, that we do not accept the statement that these discussions have proved their case, and show that the country is in their favour. The natural thing, we should have thought, was that they should propose that the Ayes and the Noes should go into opposite Lobbies, and really ascertain what the state of the case is. But I do not wish to prolong this discussion. What I am anxious to do is to support the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend, on the ground that it is entirely consistent with the position which we have all along taken up. The position which we have all along taken up, and which we hold now is, that, if this measure is to become the law of the land, it is most desirable that there should be some security that the other measure should pass also. I see the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) in his place. I took the liberty of referring to him the other day in some observations which I made in his absence; but I said in his absence nothing which I would not say when he is present. I claimed the right hon. Gentleman as an authority upon the very great importance of a redistribution of seats accompanying any measure for the extension of the franchise. The question whether 1408 they are to be in one Bill or two is not the question I raise. The right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly explained his statements with a view to show that there is no inconsistency in advocating the present separation of the two measures; but the right hon. Gentleman can hardly deny that he has stated, in the strongest terms, that a measure for the redistribution of seats was at least as important, or even more important, than the mere question of the extension of the franchise. He, himself, has said something to this effect—"Reduce your franchise as you please, and if you will give me the distribution of seats, I will undertake to alter the whole effect of giving the franchise." That is what we hold to be the case. We hold that if in this matter the now Parliament is to give proper expression to the feelings and wants of the country, it must be carefully provided, in the settlement of this question, that Parliament shall really represent the different interests of the country. How that should be done is a matter for very serious consideration, and we say that the country has a right to ask the Government to undertake the consideration. We say that any Government, especially a Government which is as strong as hon. Members opposite represent—and which believes itself to much stronger than it looks—ought to give whatever consideration is necessary, and ought to produce its measure. We, on our part, promise the fairest possible consideration and discussion of that measure, and I trust that we shall not have it thrown in our teeth that we are obstructing it practically by asking that we shall have an opportunity for the full and reasonable consideration of it.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I think it was not necessary for the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) to insist upon the importance of redistribution. That is one of the propositions which has not been denied, as far as I understand, in this controversy at all, nor is it one of the issues raised by the Amendment. The question is, how we are to proceed with regard to the question of franchise and the question of redistribution. I will ask the House to consider what is the light in which this matter is put before us in the present Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Why are you so suspicious; why do you think 1409 that if the franchise is postponed until redistribution is settled, that it will endanger franchise? I can assure you on the other side of the House that we have every desire to forward and secure the Franchise Bill." I am quite willing to accept that assurance on the part of the right hon. Gentleman; but how does he accept our corresponding assurances? When we say—"Do not distrust us; do not think that because we pass a Franchise Bill, that, therefore, we desire to give the go-bye to redistribution." Does he accept our assurances? Is he willing to act upon them? Is he willing to say—"We trust you, and therefore we will pass the Franchise Bill?" No; not at all. I venture to say that in this demand for controversy there ought to be some reciprocity; but I do not observe the smallest particle of reciprocity on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, although it did not appear to be very germane to the present discussion, referred to a recent election. Well, I remember very well the winter of 1879, and the early months of 1880, when there were some very promising elections for those who then sat upon these Benches; but when they came to reap the harvest, the ears did not prove to be as full of grain as they had expected. I would not advise them, even now, in that matter, to count their chickens before they are hatched. But what is the practical proposition offered to us by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Stanley) in his Amendment? It amounts to this, and it can be put in one sentence—it means that no Franchise Bill shall be passed until a Redistribution Bill is passed, which is agreeable to the majority of the House of Lords. [Loud cheers.] You may turn and twist the matter how you like; but that is what it means. And when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman talks of the verdict of the constituencies, he may take it for granted that, ultimately and at the proper time, we shall not be afraid to take the verdict of the constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) has talked a great deal about discussion in this House. In this House the opinion of the majority does not always, but ought, at all events, to prevail. I think it was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech that, after full discussion, the opinion of the 1410 majority prevails and is accepted. That may be true of the House of Commons; but when the Bill goes to "another place" it is the majority of the House of Lords, which represents the minority of the House of Commons, which is ultimately to prevail on this question. And, therefore, this Amendment means nothing else—for it is, of course, the Amendment which is to guide the action of the House of Lords—the meaning of the Amendment is, that these 2,000,000 of people shall not enjoy the franchise, except upon this one condition—that the majority of the House of Lords shall dictate how they shall enjoy it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Home Department regarded the Amendment as a reductio ad absurdum; but the arguments they had adduced in support of that contention were not of a very convincing character. The Prime Minister had drawn a dreadful picture. He said—"If you pass this Amendment the Franchise Bill will be hung up until the Redistribution Bill is passed, and we may be turned out of Office for our numerous misdeeds at home and abroad; and then," the right hon. Gentleman went on to say, "the conduct of this great question will fall into your hands." So monstrous did he regard such a possibility, that he seemed to think it absolutely disposed of the whole question. And why, in his view, was it impossible that the Conservative Party could deal fairly with the Franchise Question? The Prime Minister told them, in the plainest manner, that he could not rely on their professions as to desiring Reform. And he said that, if they were not absolutely false, at all events they were of such a character, and made under such circumstances, that they could not be expected to adhere to them. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) believed the Conservative Party, one and all, repudiated that assertion. What he wanted to point out was this. If the Government were justified in throwing doubt on the repeated promises made, in the most formal manner, by every leading Conservative statesman with regard to the franchise, on what possible ground did they come down to the House and expect the Conservative Party to put confidence in the pledges of the Government as to their desire to pass a Redistribution Bill? As the Secretary 1411 of State for the Home Department said just now, confidence should be reciprocal; and if hon. Members opposite thought so ill of the honesty of the Conservative Party as to believe they were false in their profession of a desire to pass a Franchise Bill, on what ground could they ask the Conservative Party to put the slightest confidence in their desire for the passing of a Redistribution Bill? The Secretary of State for the Home Department seemed to think that very little confidence was to be placed in auguries resting upon bye-elections. Now, he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) did not himself place any great amount of confidence in the result of a bye-election; but although he did not place much more confidence in that than he did upon the mere fact, if it were a fact, which he greatly doubted, that hon. Gentlemen had been able to collect a larger and noisier crowd to hear their speeches during the Recess—if that were a fact, it was not a fact of such a kind as to afford any solid augury of the opinions of the people. Although he did not, in the least degree, wish to rest more upon the Warwickshire Election than it ought to be rested upon, yet he must say that it was the clearest, the most Constitutional, and the most certain indication of what the country thought. It had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that the Conservative Party had no intention of using the Redistribution Bill as a means of destroying the Franchise Bill; and he felt certain that that was the opinion held in every quarter of the House, and held also, as far as he could judge of these things, by the majority in "another place." There was not the slightest desire either to prolong unduly the discussion upon the Redistribution Bill, or in any way to use that Redistribution Bill as a means for giving a secret stab to the Franchise Bill. He failed to see upon what grounds the Government were justified in throwing a doubt upon that statement. Had there been the slightest indication that the Opposition desired to destroy the Franchise Bill in that way? Could it be possibly shown that they had any motive in destroying the Franchise Bill? If the Government could not give them credit for common honesty, would they not, at all events, give them credit for common souse? The Secretary of State for the Home 1412 Department, in the speech he had just delivered, drew a parallel between the confidence which the Government asked the Opposition to place in them, and the confidence which the Government was asked to place in the Opposition; but the truth was that there was no parallel between the two things, and he would explain why. The confidence the Opposition asked the Government to place in them was a mere confidence in the honesty of their intentions with regard to the Franchise Bill; and they were perfectly ready to repose precisely the same kind of confidence in the Government, so far as the matter rested in the honesty of their intentions with regard to the Redistribution Bill. They were prepared to give the Government full credit for the honesty of their intentions; but the difference was this—that where all the contingencies the Opposition had to deal with rested with themselves, all the contingencies the Government had to deal with did not rest with themselves, but depended upon considerations absolutely outside their own control. It rested with the Opposition whether they would obstruct the Redistribution Bill, or use it as a means of destroying the Franchise Bill. They disclaimed all such intention, and asked the Government to believe them. They, in return, were quite ready to believe that the Government sincerely meant to bring in a Redistribution Bill, and to make it a fair Bill; but what they said was that the intentions of the Government did not exhaust the possibilities of the case. What the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench had stated and pointed out, as he had often done before, was that there might be circumstances over which the Government could have no control, whatever the honesty of their intentions might be, but which might, practically, compel a Dissolution before they could pass their Redistribution Bill. Therefore, it was not sufficient that they should place mutual confidence in each other because the position of the Government and that of the Opposition did not, in reality, balance. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had made a great deal of the difference he had found in the speeches of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) and of his noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), as to 1413 what the nature of the Redistribution Bill should be. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) altogether failed to see any wide difference or inconsistency between the two statements. He had listened very attentively to his noble Friend's speech, and he certainly had not put upon it the interpretation which was given to it by the Prime Minister. His noble Friend undoubtedly did lay down the proposition that population ought to be one of the chief considerations.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not think the word "sole" was used. The Prime Minister, in his speech that night, said that the redistribution sketched out by his noble Friend was made to depend on electoral areas, with due regard to the interests and pursuits of the agricultural population.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the second proposition entirely destroyed the first. They could not have a Redistribution Bill which was solely a measure for constituting electoral areas, and a Redistribution Bill which would divide the rural and town population. He was sorry that his noble Friend was not present to explain his speech. As far as he had understood his noble Friend, all he desired the House to undertake was that population should be very largely indeed taken into account in deciding how they were to frame a Redistribution Bill; and he did not see anything inconsistent in the speech of his noble Friend and the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon. The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir William Harcourt) had brought down tremendous cheers from all his Friends below the Gangway when he stated that, putting the Amendment into one sentence, it practically amounted to a proposition that no Franchise Bill should become law until a Redistribution Bill was approved by the majority of the House of Lords. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) thought that was a correct representation of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman; and the right hon. Gentleman therefore regarded as a reductio ad ahsurdum the statement of his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire 1414 (Colonel Stanley). Now, he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) wanted to know whether any Bill had ever yet been presented to the House of Commons which did not require the sanction of the majority of the House of Lords before it became law? Was there anything, then, so novel and so monstrous in the proposition that the House of Lords must pass the Bill before it became law that the mere statement of that fact should condemn the Amendment proposed by his right hon. and gallant Friend? The Government were making rapid strides. They now thought that the fundamental and original laws of the country were so absurd that it was only necessary to state them in order to make them appear ridiculous in the eyes of their followers. He was sure that no speech had been made in the course of these prolonged debates on the subject of the Franchise Bill which would be received in the country with more disappointment than the speech of the Prime Minister. Those hon. Gentlemen who, like himself (Mr. A. J. Balfour), had listened silently to the debate on the second reading, had been struck with one peculiarity more forcibly than another—namely, that the Front Benches had been largely occupied in complimenting each other on their moderation of speech. He thought that moderation was admirable. He thought that a spirit of conciliation was admirable; but, so long as it was merely confined to words and phrases, of what possible use was it? What was gained, in the cause of peace, by the Prime Minister coming down on the second reading, and making the softest, the mildest, and the most conciliatory speech that could be conceived if, directly any proposition was made that would have the effect of solving at once all their difficulties, he came down to the House and rejected it as absolutely impossible, and as a thing which he could not even take seriously into consideration? The only interpretation which could be put in the country upon speeches of that kind was that the Government, or that certain Members of the Government, at all events, were very much more anxious to get political capital by fastening a quarrel on the House of Lords than they were of passing a Franchise Bill; because he was perfectly certain that there was not a 1415 single man sitting on those Benches who did not, in his heart, know that if his real and primary object was to enfranchise 2,000,000 of people as soon as he could, the best way, the most certain way, and the quickest way, was to adopt the Amendment of his right hon. and gallant Friend.
§ MR. ALBERT GREY
said, that, personally, he very much regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) had not seen his way to meet the challenge of the Prime Minister, and to make a declaration as to what the views of the Opposition were in regard to redistribution. The right hon. Gentleman seemed actually indignant at the very thought that an Opposition should have any opinions at all; and it appeared to him to be monstrous that the Opposition should give those opinions, if they had any, to the world. He (Mr. Albert Grey) thought the circumstances which had occurred during the last few days rendered it very desirable that the Leader of the Opposition should say what the views of the Front Opposition Bench were on this question of redistribution. His hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) told the Committee that there was no divergence and no inconsistency between the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. If that was the case, they must search for the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman in the speeches of the noble Lord; and he (Mr. Albert Grey) happened to have an extract from a speech of the noble Lord, which, with the permission of the Committee, he would read. The noble Lord said, on Friday evening last—For my own part, I believe that a redistribution which is based upon the population principle will be more likely to unite the two Parties.That declaration must be taken in conjunction with the former declaration of the noble Lord at Carlisle, when he said—I believe myself that the scheme of redistribution most likely to secure the assent of Parliament, and the approval of the country, is one which approximates most nearly to representation, based solely upon numbers, and which, whilst preserving the distinction between the manufacturing and agricultural districts, 1416 establishes, as a general rule, single-Member electoral areas.He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon whether he assented to those views? The right hon. Gentleman had given the House a perfect right to believe that he did assent to them, because the Prime Minister had distinctly challenged him on the point. The Prime Minister had pointed to the fact that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock had given expression to this doctrine in his speech on Friday night, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had thus an opportunity of disowning and disavowing that view; but the right hon. Gentleman had taken very great care not to take advantage of it. He had carefully refused to accept the challenge of the Prime Minister, and had, by his silence, given the Committee the right to believe that he gave his assent to the view of the noble Lord. ["No!"] They had a perfect right on that side of the House to suppose that hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side had views in regard to redistribution which went in the direction of representation based upon numbers, and based, also, on a system of single-Member electoral districts. He wished to put to the right hon. Gentleman the difficulty in which he (Mr. Albert Grey), as an independent Member, was placed, owing to his silence on the subject. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was one of those Members on the Liberal side of the House who had from the first attached great importance to the connection between the extension of the franchise and redistribution—not such a connection as would insist upon including both subjects in one Bill, or upon the simultaneous treatment of the two Bills; but such a connection as would be provided by the insertion in the Franchise Bill of a provision which would give Parliament a full and ample opportunity of carrying a fair and just Redistribution Bill before the Franchise Bill came into full and active operation. His reasons for wishing to have such a provision inserted in the Franchise Bill were these. He recognized that the existing system, which carefully maintained a broad distinction between the town and county franchise, afforded the country ample security for that variety in the representation which 1417 was regarded as so essential to the composition of a good House of Commons; and he also recognized that as soon as, by a uniform franchise, they swept away that security, they were bound to provide another security as vital but less objectionable than the old security they had decided to remove. Now, the only other security which he believed could be put up was that which was provided by a wide and vigorous application of the principle of proportional representation to our electoral system. It was because he had believed that there was a greater chance of obtaining support for the principle of proportional representation from the present Parliament than from a Parliament elected by the new and unredistributed constituencies that he had been anxious to provide for the settlement of redistribution before the Franchise Bill came into force. But now, if he was to understand that the views of the noble Lord were those of the Conservative Party—and the silence of the Leader of the Opposition left him no other choice—then he saw great danger in the settlement by this Parliament of the question of redistribution. The danger of the passage of a Redistribution Bill based on the principle of single-Member districts, which, at its worst, was only probable in the event of redistribution being settled by the new electorate, became almost certain in the event of redistribution being settled by the present Parliament. What, therefore, he had wished for most yesterday he wished for least to-day. After what had taken place, he was no longer anxious for a close connection between the two Bills. It rested with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) to set him right if he was wrong; but, unless he repudiated the view of the noble Lord, he believed that they had a better chance of obtaining a wide and vigorous application of the principle of proportional representation in the coming Redistribution Bill if they dissolved on the extended franchise before the passing of a Redistribution Bill than they had if they proceeded to settle the Redistribution Bill now. The strides that the Conservative Party were taking were very rapid. It looked very much as if the game of 1867 were to be played over again; and he thought it would be well if those on both sides of the House who had pinned 1418 their faith to the principle of proportional representation were to look carefully to the declarations of the Conservative Leaders during the last few days, otherwise they might be left in the lurch as much as they were before.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey), who had just sat down, no doubt, thought he had cast a most ingenious fly for his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to jump at. He (Mr. Chaplin) sincerely hoped, however, that hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House would decline altogether to enter into a discussion of the details of a Redistribution Bill which was not before the House, and which ought not to be before the House at all, until it was introduced by Her Majesty's Government. What was the position in which the Committee were placed? He really thought the proposals of the hon. Member for South Northumberland were the most unprecedented he had ever heard put forward in that House. A Government, supported by an immense majority, after due deliberation, after holding conferences in all parts of England, had come to the decision that it was their duty to introduce a Reform Bill into Parliament. They had told the House that both parts of the question must be dealt with, and that, although they proposed to introduce the franchise first, they felt themselves bound to deal with redistribution as well. That being so, the hon. Member for South Northumberland got up in his place, and coolly proposed that the Opposition should introduce the Redistribution Bill, instead of Her Majesty's Government, whose duty it was. The hon. Member could not, surely, be serious in his proposition. What he proposed to the House was absolutely without precedent, and preposterous in the highest degree. He (Mr. Chaplin) did not understand why a complaint was made of the conduct of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House in regard to the representation of proportional majorities. He was not aware that that question had ever yet come on for discussion; and it would be time enough for the hon. Gentleman to make a charge against the Opposition when they had expressed some decided view upon the question. As to their views upon redistribution, the hon. Member ought to know that it would be useless 1419 for the Opposition to formulate them after what the Prime Minister had told them that night. The right hon. Gentleman wound up his statement by a declaration to the Committee that no imaginable Bill could be introduced on the subject of redistribution which would not give rise to Party contention; and, therefore, it was impossible for the Government, under those circumstances, to take the course of introducing a Bill. He should like to know why? He did not agree with the Prime Minister, although he presumed that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Grey) did. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said the Opposition were disagreed on the question. How did the right hon. Gentleman know they were disagreed? There had been no discussion upon it, and they were not called upon to state their views until the Government did that which was their duty, and placed their Bill before the House. He shared the regret which had been expressed by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) at the attitude which had been taken by the Prime Minister upon this question. He was quite sure that hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House must acknowledge and admit that the Opposition had gone as far in the direction of conciliation as it was possible for Gentlemen to do; and they had been met by a declaration from the Prime Minister that night, which he (Mr. Chaplin) could only regard as the death-warrant of his Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman alluded to vows on the question of Reform being made in pain, he should like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman limited those vows to that side of the House alone? It was not so very long ago that the Prime Minister himself either voted against, or refused to vote for, a Motion of precisely the same character as this, when it was brought forward in that House by the right hon. Gentleman who was now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan). He (Mr. Chaplin) would like to ask the Prime Minister whether the vows he had made on the subject since then were vows made in pain? What was the case of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington)? It was only in the last Parliament that the noble Marquess, on two or three different 1420 occasions, found it necessary to walk out of the House on this question of Reform. He (Mr. Chaplin) would like to know what sort of vows the noble Marquess had made since then; and whether they were made in pain or in ease? He only noticed this matter because, he thought, taunts of that sort were totally out of place; and, if they were to be indulged in at all, they applied to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House quite as much as to hon. Gentlemen upon that. The Amendment of his right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) raised the whole question which was at issue between the two sides of the House; and personally he was glad that his right hon. and gallant Friend had moved the Amendment that night, because a sort of idea, somehow or other, seemed to have spread abroad that hon. Members on that side of the House had decided, to some extent, to abandon the attitude they had formerly assumed. There could not be a greater mistake as to the present intentions of the Conservative Party as a whole. They had not departed, and they did not intend to depart, in the slightest degree from the position they had taken up from the first. Why should they? Nothing had occurred during the Recess to induce them in the least to alter their opinion. The Prime Minister said they had had a clear indication of the feelings of the country, alluding, he supposed, to the Division they had the other night. It was quite true that there was a great majority; but he (Mr. Chaplin) was not in the least concerned at that majority. It did not follow in the least that a large majority of the House of Commons at the close of a Parliament necessarily represented the feeling of the nation. Past experience taught them exactly the reverse. He remembered the large majorities in that House which supported the foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield—a much larger majority than that now enjoyed by the Government. He remembered when the noble Lord in that House commanded double, treble, and quadruple his normal majority, time after time, on questions of supreme importance to the welfare of the Empire, yet, if he could judge from what followed in that case, he could only reckon upon the comparatively small majority of the right hon. Gentleman disappearing and being swept away altogether 1421 when he made his appeal to the country. Some stress had been laid upon the fact that Conservative Members were now heartily adopting views to which they had formerly been in opposition upon this question; but he thought that Conservatives were entitled to lay some stress upon the majority which the hon. Member for South Warwickshire (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) had obtained at the recent election. It was desirable that they should remember that South Warwickshire was the county in which the movement on behalf of the agricultural labourers originated. It was the home of Mr. Arch. The labourers had had the advantage of hearing the views of the Conservative Party during the contest; and it was remarkable that, although it had been perfectly possible for the agricultural labourers in that county to make their feelings known, and to show that they disapproved the course taken by the Opposition, not only had there not been any striking manifestations in that direction, but they had shown their approval by returning the hon. Gentleman by a very large majority. His right hon. and gallant Friend had, at the commencement of his speech, asked if these difficulties were insurmountable, and he (Mr. Chaplin) would repeat that question. He was unable to see why they should be so; but this he knew—that if the Prime Minister maintained the attitude he had taken up, there would be no possibility of settling this question in a satisfactory manner; and the responsibility would, therefore, rest upon the right hon. Gentleman and his Party.
§ MR. WADDY
said, in consequence of the remarks of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Chaplin) he desired to say but a very few words. They had been told that the Conservative Party had not changed their minds, and that they did not mean to change them. It was clear, therefore, that the conciliation which hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted was expected to come from one side alone. Now, the Liberal Party had a sincere desire for conciliation; they had tried it with the Opposition earnestly during last Session, and it did them no good. Since then both Parties had been before the country. The Conservatives were not pleased with the result; the Liberals were, and they had seen the clearest indication that the one point 1422 that was settled last Session in that House was a settled point in the country. To that point they must hold, and the only fear of hon. Members on those Benches was that there might be too much conciliation. They wished to press upon their Leaders that they should not be too ready to conciliate in a quarrel of which they well knew the result, and of which result they were not in the slightest degree afraid.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 194: Majority 85.—(Div. List, No. 10.)
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Tenure of house by office or service not to invalidate vote).
§ MR. MACFARLANE
asked whether the Bill, as it stood, would give the franchise to workmen in factories, quarries, and similar places, whose rent was deducted by their employers from the weekly wages paid to them?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that if rent were deducted from wages in the way described by the hon. Gentleman, such deduction would be equivalent to payment which would entitle the individual to vote.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Prohibition of Multiplication of Votes.
§ Clause 4 (Restriction on fagot votes) agreed to.
§ Assimilation of Occupation Qualification.
§ Clause 5 (Assimilation of occupation qualification) agreed to.
§ Supplemental Provisions.
§ Clause 6 (Voter not to vote for county in respect of occupation of property in borough); Clause 7 (Definition of household and lodger qualification, and other franchises, and application of enactments relating thereto); and Clause 8 (Definition of "Representation of the People Acts" and "Registration Acts") severally agreed to.
§ Clause 9 (Definition and application of Rating Acts).
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, he believed the wording of the part of this clause which he proposed to 1423 amend was purely the result of inadvertence in drafting the Bill. He would not dwell upon that point further than to express a hope that the matter would be rectified. The Amendment he was about to move did not touch the merits of the Bill, as far as it went; but, unless it were adopted, the Bill would have the effect of inflicting great injury upon a large class of tenants who were about to be enfranchised—that was to say, the small tenants of under £4 valuation would have to be inserted in the Valuation Roll, and would, therefore, become liable to assessment. Now, the custom in Scotland was not to put such tenants on the Valuation Roll; the proprietor paid the rates, and got the amount back from the tenant if he thought proper. In the three or four pages of the Valuation Roll of his own county, which he held in his hand, there were several entries of the kind he was alluding to—first, of 12 tenants of under £4 valuation, and 10 of a total valuation of £2 6s. 11d., for whom the proprietor was rated and paid the amount in one sum. But if the Bill remained as it now stood, these tenants could be assessed by the Local Authority and the School Board. Further on in the Valuation Roll, there were entries of three tenants of under £3, and four of under £4 valuation, and on the next page he observed in one entry no less than 44 tenants of under £4 valuation. As he had already pointed out, the tax-gatherer received the rates on this property, not from the tenant, but from the proprietor; but, as the Bill stood, the whole of these small tenants would become liable to pay, a result which would make the measure very unpopular amongst the class who were now asking that it might be passed. The Bill provided that a separate column should be added to the Valuation Roll, for the purpose of including these tenants. He asked that a separate list might be used instead of a separate column. Another effect of this Bill, as it stood, would be that the size of the Rate Book, already very large, would be enormously increased; and this would have to be constantly altered on account of the large number of labourers who, in Scotland, changed their residences about every 18 months. The book would, in fact, have to be altered every year. There were in the Valuation Roll of his county no less than 23,000 entries at the present 1424 time; but if the Bill passed in its present form there would be no less than about 40,000 entries. In Aberdeenshire alone there were 49,800 inhabited houses, and, deducting females, there would be probably 40,000 voters. Another difficulty was that the one column which the Bill provided for would not be sufficient to give the information necessary to make up the Electoral Roll. The very form which the Bill called upon proprietors to fill up had three columns in it, and the information contained in it must be inserted in the Valuation Roll if it was to be of any use. He therefore ventured to say that unless the alteration he proposed were made in the Bill, instead of benefiting the tenants in question it would be a very great inconvenience to them. Then there was another result that would follow from the Valuation Roll being encumbered with the names of these tenants. In some villages of Scotland the same name constantly repeated itself. For instance, in one village of his own constituency, under the present franchise, there were 16 men of the name of Stephens; in another village, 18 of the name of Stephens; in another, 24 men of the name of Noble; and in one village there had not long ago been only two names amongst the inhabitants. This recurrence of the same name would necessarily cause great difficulty in identifying the individuals when they came to be put on the Roll as voters in large numbers. It was difficult to identify them under the present arrangement, and that difficulty would be enormously increased by the vast augmentation of the list required by the Bill. He also held in his hand the Electoral Roll of his Division; and hon. Members who had studied the subject would know how difficult it was to get a correct Electoral Roll with a small number of columns. There were in the Roll six columns to each name for the purpose of preventing fraud; and it was easy to perceive how careful it would be necessary to be, when there were upon the Roll four times the present number of names, in order to prevent imposition and wrong. Then there was another very important change introduced in this paragraph — namely, that proprietors of holdings were required to give a list of persons residing on their property who were entitled to be registered 1425 as voters. Now, those words were not in the Bill when it went through Committee last Session; they were put in on the Report; and the effect of them was that the proprietor would have to state, under a penalty, whether a man was entitled to be registered as a voter or not. But how could he state that; could he guarantee the age and qualifications of every one out of, say, 44 tenants, which, as he had pointed out, were on the property of one proprietor in his county? It was next to an impossibility that he should do so; and yet, if he did not, the Bill proposed to fine him for a pure inadvertence. The object of his Amendment was that, so far as related to Scotland, a separate list, to be attached to the Roll, might be substituted for the additional column required by the Bill. The Valuation Roll was prepared under statute, obviously and purely for rating, and not for electoral purposes, the Commissioners and persons who prepared that Roll not being responsible for the Electoral Roll. Again, the proposed change would open the door to a good deal of trickery. Proprietors might, for instance, put down the names of tenants whom they believed to be favourable to their views, excluding others for the opposite reason, and in that way great injustice might be done. There was only one other matter to which he wished to call attention. The Bill provided an alternative mode of collecting rates. The assessors, or rating authority, might apply to the tenant, or the landlord, as they thought fit. Now, that would result in there being three different systems of collecting rates. The clause as it stood would cause very great inconvenience, both to those who had to prepare the Roll and also to the small tenants; and, therefore, he hoped the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) would agree to the Amendment, an Amendment which did not in the least interfere with the principle of the Bill as it stood. The Amendment simply amounted to an addition, which would give great facility for carrying on the business of rating, and also for preparing the Electoral Roll. He begged to move that the words which stood in his name be added to the clause.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he did not wish to detain the Committee; but, as he moved an Amendment of this character in the Spring, he was very anxious to support the proposition of his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Alexander Gordon). He would not go into the details the hon. and gallant Gentleman had gone into; but merely point out the difficulties which would arise under the service franchise, if it were necessary that the names of those entitled under that franchise should be inserted in the Valuation Roll of the counties. In the two counties with which he had to do, he had heard, both from the assessors and other authorities, that if the names of electors under the service franchise were to be added every year—and, of course, there would be great changes every year—the expense of reprinting the Valuation Roll would be very great indeed. It seemed to him that the proposition of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was a very wise one—namely, that the Valuation Roll for rating purposes should continue as at present, and that a subsidiary list of those persons who would vote under the service franchise, and who were not rated, should be printed and circulated for the purposes of registration. The great cost to the counties of printing the Valuation Roll in each year, and added thereto twice the number of names of persons, none of whom would be necessarily on the Valuation Roll for the purposes of assessment, seemed to be a charge on the counties of Scotland it was unnecessary they should incur. He trusted the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) would, by the acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, or some similar Amendment, save the counties of Scotland the unnecessary expense they would be obliged to incur under the Bill as it now stood.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
said, he hoped that a very few words of explanation would lead his hon. and gallant Friends (Sir Alexander Gordon and Sir John Hay) to see that the reasons which had led them to support this Amendment were not valid. 1427 There were two classes of persons whom the provisions of the Bill, to which the Amendment had reference, affected, and of whom it would, therefore, be necessary to say a word. These classes were, firstly, the small tenants with holdings under £4; and, secondly, those persons who would come on the Roll under the service franchise. The cases were distinct; and he would, therefore, explain in a few sentences how they respectively stood. As regarded the first class of persons, the general scheme of the Valuation Act of 1854 was to make every holding or every occupancy appear on the Roll; but there was a Proviso at the end of Section 2 which enacted that it should be in the power of the Commissioners of Supply,—the authorities who made up the Roll—if they thought fit, not to insert in any Valuation Roll under the Act the names of the tenants or occupiers of any lands or heritages let for a shorter period than one year, or let for a rent not amounting to £4 per annum. The leading idea of the Act was that all holdings, whether under or over £4, should appear on the Roll; but the fact was that in Scotland the practice varied very much. In some counties the authorities put on, and in other counties they omitted from the Roll all holdings under £4. The Valuation Roll in Scotland was the basis of the Voters' Roll; and, accordingly, inasmuch as this was not a Registration Bill, and as they had to take the existing machinery and work upon it, the problem came to be what should be done with respect to the Proviso to which he had referred. They had not only very good reason in principle, but they had precedent in the Burgh Reform Act of 1868, which, in substance, wiped out the Proviso, and made it compulsory to put on the Roll the names of all those occupying holdings under £4. The effect of the provisions of the Bill, as they stood, was simply to make the Roll in all the counties the same as in the burghs, and the same as it was then in very many counties. So far, therefore, they were simply adopting and carrying out the scheme of legislation which existed down to 1868. It was seen that if, in doing away with that Proviso, it would still be competent to rate as previously, there would be a defect. Accordingly, by Sub-section 6, provision was made to the effect that in every county in Scotland the Commissioners of Supply, or the Parochial Board of every parish, or any 1428 rating authority entitled to impose assessments according to the Valuation Roll, might, if they thought fit, levy such assessment in respect of lands and heritages held for a shorter term than one year, or let for less than £4, in the same manner, and for the same purposes, as if the names of the tenants or occupiers were not in the Valuation Roll. The combined effect, therefore, of the various provisions of the Bill as it stood was, that while it was compulsory to put tenants under £4 on the Roll—and if they did not appear on the Roll they would not get the vote—there was a Proviso which made them not rateable on that account. These provisions were the result of careful consideration, not only with the assessors, but with the representatives interested in small holdings under £4, and the persons consulted were perfectly satisfied with the suggested provisions. He was persuaded that when his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Alexander Gordon) perceived the effect of the provisions of the Bill as they at present stood, he would not press his Amendment, which he could not help thinking the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made under some misapprehension. Then, again, in regard to the service franchise, his hon. and gallant Friend had said that the duty of making up the Returns was not a duty which ought to be laid on the overseers. Now, if this objection were a valid one, it was common to England, Scotland, and Ireland alike. He apprehended that, when the matter was looked into, it would be found it was quite as essential in regard to the service franchise as it was with regard to the tenants under £4 that they should get the names on the Valuation Roll, which was the only basis there was for the Voters' Roll. Then, again, it would have been a defect if they had not taken care that the persons coming on under the service franchise were not rendered liable for rates. They had provided for that. His hon. and gallant Friend could not have read the Bill, or else he would have found that by Sub-section 5 it was provided that, if a man was entered on the Valuation Roll by virtue of any office, service, or employment, the entry should not make him liable to be rated. Anyone who read the Bill would see that his hon. and gallant Friend was under a total misapprehension when he imagined that it would be possible to rate servants. 1429 The next point of complaint of his hon. and gallant Friend was that it was not reasonable to ask the holder of a large estate to give a return. There was no difficulty in giving a return. It was necessary to get a return from someone; and who would the hon. and gallant Gentleman ask to furnish it, if not the proprietor in whose employment the servants were? He now came to the question whether the persons entitled under the service franchise should go on a separate list. As a matter of fact, a separate list would not be consistent with the scheme of a Valuation Roll. The only advantage of a separate list that his hon. and gallant Friend and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir John Hay) had pointed out was that there would be a great saving in printing. That matter was considered when the Bill was passing through the House last Session. There were two modes in which the Valuation Roll or the Electors' Roll might be dealt with. The one which had previously prevailed in boroughs was that the list should be reprinted annually, and the one which previously prevailed in counties was that only the alterations in the list were printed annually. Hitherto, no doubt, the changes in counties were few; but when the franchise was extended to householders in counties the changes would be manifold; in short, the County Rolls would then assume very much the character of the Town Rolls, and the reasons which led to the Town Rolls being printed annually would come to obtain in the case of the County Rolls. It was after consultation, not only with hon. Members representing counties, who aided the Government with many suggestions, but after personal consultation with the assessors, who were accustomed to make up the Valuation Rolls of the most populous counties in Scotland, that the provisions of the Bill, as they now stood, were introduced. The Government saw no reason for doubting that they were the best provisions. He could not think that the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend would improve matters. In the first place, he thought it was moved under a misapprehension; and, in the second place, it would tend to complexity, and would not have the advantages which the hon. and gallant Gentleman held out. He had omitted to 1430 notice what his hon. and gallant Friend said with reference to the similarity in names. No doubt, in Scotland there were in the one village many men of the same name. In Sub-section 3, however, the overseers were required, besides giving the name, to describe the situation, or give a description of the dwelling-house, in respect of which the man was entitled. There might be three Charles Smiths in the same street; but to meet a case of that kind the overseer was required to specify which Charles Smith was intended.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, the Amendment which he had to bring to the attention of the Committee was one which he sincerely hoped would meet with the acceptance of the Government, because some such provision as was therein embodied was very much needed in the case of Ireland. The object of his Amendment was to provide against the disqualification of a man who accepted medical relief under the Poor Law. The Amendment might, with very good effect, be applied to Great Britain as well as to Ireland; but he should be quite content that its operation were limited to Ireland. It would be extremely hard on the new voters if the majority of them found themselves disqualified—it would be very hard, for instance, if 15,000 men in his county were made new voters by the action of the Prime Minister, and that, for the want of a little Amendment like his, 10,000 of them were disqualified under the Dispensary Act in force in Ireland. If the Bill did not provide that men should hold the franchise although they received dispensary or medical relief, the effect would be very serious. The system of medical relief in Ireland was this—the Poor Law Authorities appointed a certain number of doctors, and these doctors were supposed to attend everybody in the districts to which they were appointed, unless the patients were well-to-do farmers, or persons in a comparatively affluent position. The system had got such a hold on the country parts of Ireland that the people never thought of employing an independent practitioner. Now, a man might be very well able to exercise the franchise, although he did accept medical relief. In his opinion, it would be very hard if a man 1431 who accepted dispensary relief, or consulted the Poor Law doctor about a toothache, or if his wife had a cold and saw the doctor at the dispensary, were to be, in consequence, disfranchised. What would it lead to? In the first place, a large number of men would be disfranchised without knowing it; and, in the second place, many would say—"We do not want to be disfranchised, and therefore we will not go to the doctor." They would not pay for an independent doctor, so that it was not at all unlikely that people would die, owing to the want of attention. The dispensary system had so grown in Ireland that everybody, except tolerably affluent men, availed themselves of it. Everyone considered himself entitled to go to the dispensary doctor, and get a ticket for medical assistance. It was, therefore, highly desirable that the Government should let it be clearly understood that application for medical assistance would not disenfranchise a man. When the question came to be thoroughly understood in Ireland, it would become a most important one; and, therefore, he hoped the Committee would consent to his Amendment, which was to add to the clause—Provided, That the right to vote established or conferred under this Act shall not be annulled or in abeyance from the fact of a voter or householder having applied for or received for himself or his family any medical assistance, relief, or comfort, or sanitary assistance from the poor law authorities.The Committee would notice that he had used the words "sanitary assistance." He was the Chairman of a large Union, and was, consequently, well versed in these details. Sometimes the authorities ordered that a man's house should be whitewashed, possibly without the man's consent. They certainly tried to make the man pay for it; but if he did not, it would never do that the man should lose his vote on account of the course pursued by the authorities in the interest of the public health.
In page 6, line 11, at end, to add, "Provided, That the right to vote established or conferred under this Act shall not be annulled or in abeyance from the fact of a voter or householder having applied for or received for himself or his family any medical assistance, relief, or comfort, or sanitary assistance from the poor law authorities."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."1432
§ MR. WARTON
rose to Order. In his opinion, this point could not be raised on this clause at all. He took the liberty of suggesting to his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan) the propriety of withdrawing his Amendment, and of proposing it, possibly, on the next clause.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he was obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) for laying down the law on this matter. He (Colonel Nolan) was tolerably well acquainted with the Poor Law system, and with the system under which men acquired their votes. He was quite certain that this was the exact place in which to introduce his Amendment. The clause provided that the overseers should put certain names on the list; and if a man was disqualified by reason of his having accepted medical relief his name would be kept off the list. He (Colonel Nolan) wished to provide against any such disqualification.
On the point of Order raised by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Warton), I am bound to say I cannot see how the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Nolan) is out of Order.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he had a great deal of sympathy with much that had fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan); but he was sorry that he could not, on the part of the Government, accept the Amendment. This matter was discussed at great length when the Bill was in Committee last Session. A similar Amendment to the present was then moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon (Mr. Commins), and the same arguments were then advanced. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who unfortunately was not now present, made a statement which was received with unanimous approval, and in consequence of which the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Mr. Commins) withdrew his Amendment. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman stated that this was a broad question, inasmuch as the I Amendment included all medical relief—not only dispensary relief, but all medical relief granted by Poor Law Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman 1433 further pointed out, very properly, that if the Amendment were adopted, the inducement to many persons who were not absolutely paupers, but who were very poor, to belong to friendly and provident societies would be removed. Men, unquestionably, did join provident associations in order that they should not lose their votes, by having recourse to medical assistance. It was clear that if the Amendment were adopted, the inducement to join friendly and provident societies would be taken away; besides which, a great blow would be struck at those societies, and also at the cultivation of those provident habits which he was sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself (Colonel Nolan) wished to see encouraged. Last Session the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), who took a great interest in our Poor Law system, asked the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon not to press his Amendment, especially after the satisfactory statement then made by the President of the Local Government Board. He (the Attorney General) did not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention was called to the debate on the subject which took place during the last Session of Parliament; if it was, the hon. and gallant Gentleman would recollect that the President of the Local Government Board made a statement as to the course the Government proposed to pursue. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the compulsory removal to hospitals of persons suffering from infectious diseases; and he also referred to vaccination, and said that if the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Commins) thought fit to introduce a Bill dealing with such instances of relief, the Government would be willing to co-operate with him in passing it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) pointed out that this was a (question which must be considered from a sanitary point of view, and that the Government were willing to deal with the question so far as they thought it could be safely dealt with, and give medical relief where it was required in the public interest without its affecting a man's right to vote. But now the hon. and gallant Gentleman made the broad proposition that medical relief under all circumstances should not prevent a person 1434 from voting. That was further than the Government were prepared to go. They must, therefore, oppose the Amendment; but he hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not think he had treated the Amendment in a hostile manner.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he was quite aware that there were these provident societies in England, and that they extended to large towns in Ireland—to Dublin, for instance, where, proportionately to its size, they existed probably as extensively as they did in London. In the country districts of Ireland, however, they were not heard of. In his own county of Galway, and in Mayo—in fact, throughout the Provinces of Connaught and Munster—such things were unknown. What the Government were proposing to do was, in reality, to give men a vote with one hand, and to take it away with the other. He, however, had been advised not to divide the Committee on the matter, and he was inclined to follow the advice. Still, he thought the subject was one of great importance; and believed that this was an example of the manner in which English Members, legislating for Ireland, fell into grievous mistakes through their endeavour to adapt the circumstances of England to Ireland. The explanation they had had of the way in which these societies worked showed that England was pointed to. In Ireland the societies were, practically, non-existent. The dispensary method worked through the whole social system, and it would be a most serious thing to interfere with it. He believed the resolution of the Government would cause a great deal of trouble in Ireland. He ought to force his Amendment to a Division; but he would not do so, as he had no hope of support from the English Members. No doubt, all the Irish Members would be ready to support him; but, with their votes alone, he would not be able to carry his Amendment. He, therefore, should not press it.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he did not wish to lay down the law, or dispute the decision arrived at. He wished to point out, however, that the 2nd sub-section was one dealing only with a certain class of voters—namely, those who were other than the owners or holders, and that the words proposed by the hon. and gallant Member would include persons 1435 who were actually owners. The 2nd sub-section was limited to a particular class of voters other than those rated, or liable for rating.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he wished to move, in page 6, line 11, after "book," to insert—Provided, That no right to vote established or confirmed under this Act shall be annulled or impaired from the fact of a voter being in arrear of any payment under the Seed Act (Ireland).When the Seeds Act was originally brought in, it was expressly provided that the acceptance of relief under it should not affect a man's vote; but some of the Poor Law Unions connected this Seed Rate with the other rates, and the consequence was that some of the people in difficulties had got into arrear. Looking at the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, he did not think it would be right to deprive a man of his vote—to disqualify him—through being in arrear under the Seeds Act. The object of the Seeds Act was not so much to relieve the people—although, of course, that was an object indirectly—but to change the seed in Ireland; and that, he was glad to say, had been effectually done. He would submit to the Government that they should insert in the Act a provision declaring that the fact of being in arrears under the Statute in question should not disfranchise a man. The provision should, of course, apply to England.
In page 6, line 11, after "book," to insert "Provided, that no right to vote established or confirmed under this Act shall be annulled or impaired from the fact of a voter being in arrear of any payment under the Seed Act (Ireland)."—(Colonel Nolan)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the reason the Government could not accept the Amendment was a very simple one. Under the Act of 1880, a contribution was to be 1436 levied for seed as part of the poor rate; and before a man could vote he must have paid his poor rate. If the course proposed were adopted, they would, by omitting the necessity of payment of these arrears to qualify for the exercise of the franchise, be conferring an advantage on one person, whilst they withheld it from another. The Seed Rate now was at an end; but it might be necessary to renew it. He hoped the hon. and gallant Member would not press the Amendment.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he wished to point out that the form of the Amendment was peculiar. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of voters being "disqualified" and "disfranchised." He presumed the hon. and gallant Member referred to disqualifying and disfranchising persons having a right to vote. At present the persons in question had no such right.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Remaining Clauses agreed to.
§ Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.
said, he was not quite sure that they would be able to turn Wednesday to account for Supply, because the House must have some little Notice.