§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
In obedience to the pledge which I gave the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), I rise, even at this late hour of the night, to explain a Bill which I am about to introduce; but the House will not be surprised if I cut down my remarks to the narrowest limits, and do enough, but not more than enough, to redeem the pledge I gave the hon. Member. I will, therefore, simply content myself with describing to the House the extent to which my Bill agrees, and the extent to which it differs from that brought in by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich. In the first place, it agrees with the Bill brought in by the hon. Member in that it is a Bill to abolish the disqualification of persons from voting for receiving medical relief. It is not an Omnibus Bill dealing with the general question of registration. It is a Bill to deal with a specific grievance, or, at any rate, a specific disqualification; and it will not include any of the questions which were pressed upon us by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke). But while it does all the hon. Gentleman's Bill proposes to do, it does something more. It appeared to the Government that if they were going to abolish the disqualification in the matter of Parliamentary Elections in regard to medical relief, it would be impossible to avoid abolishing it also in the matter of other elections. The Bill, therefore, removes this disqualification not merely at elections for Parliamentary Representatives, but also at elections for burgesses, school board elections, and the like. There is but one exception to that general rule. We have not thought it right to allow a man to vote in Poor Law matters—for men to deal with the funds of the Unions—who receives relief from the funds managed by the Poor Law Guardians. And therefore to the general principle of removing disqualification for all elections on account of this relief we have made the solitary excep- 577 tion that in the case of the election of the Body which had itself to distribute the funds for Poor Law purposes the disqualification shall still exist. Then, Sir, the only other clause which we have added to the provision suggested by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Jesse Collings) is the clause to make the Bill retrospective. If the hon. Gentleman's Bill were carried in the form he proposes, it would only apply after its passage. The injustice of that is manifest to the House, and we have therefore made our Bill retrospective for the past year. No man will be disqualified at the next General Election on account of medical relief received since last July. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminds me of an omission in my statement. There is another great distinction between our Bill and that of the hon. Gentleman's. The hon. Gentleman's Bill was only for one year. It appeared to us that if it be just at all—a question I shall argue on the second reading—to remove this disqualification, it is absurd not to remove it permanently. It must be obvious to everybody that if this House gives the power to vote, it will never be able to take it away. And if you are never able to take it away, why not at once make the provisions of the Bill permanent? These are the principles on which we have drawn our Bill, and we trust they will prove satisfactory to the majority of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent Medical Relief disqualifying a person from voting."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour.)
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had just stated with respect to the permanent character of the removal of the disqualification. Of course, it had always been contemplated that the relief should be permanent; but seeing that a clause to that effect was negatived by this Parliament, he and his hon. Friends were afraid to bring in a Bill having such a provision, lest it should be ruled out of Order. Ho thought that the exception which the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned was somewhat illogical. A man in receipt of medical relief was not to have the power of voting in the election of those who administered the relief. The right 578 hon. Gentleman seemed to forget altogether that there were many cases in which men had paid the poor rates for years; he knew instances in which men had paid poor rates directly or indirectly for the greater part of their lives; and therefore it appeared rather hard that when old age crept upon such men they should not be able to receive some help from the community in the shape of medical relief, if they needed it, without losing their right to vote for the disbursers of the relief. But he did not wish to detain the House on the matter at present. He was very pleased that his Bill had been taken up by hon. Members opposite, for the reason, amongst others, that advances in the direction he desired would be made a great deal easier. He was very glad to find a Conservative Government had gone so far in regard to a reform he had so much at heart. It only remained for him at that time to ask if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) would, for the convenience of the Members of the House who were very much interested in the question, state when he proposed to take the second reading and the subsequent stages of the Bill? He would also like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would consent to put a clause in the Bill instructing the overseers to make out supplementary lists, which lists should contain the whole of the names of the voters who had been left out of the general lists owing to the receipt of medical relief? The overseers were compelled to make out the lists of voters. The lists were being made now very rapidly; they had to be revised, printed, and published by the 1st of August. However rapidly, therefore, this Bill might go through the House, it was evident there was not time to put the men who had received medical relief on the general lists. On that account he was anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should give positive directions to the overseers to make out within a reasonable time—say, by the 14th or 15th of August—lists which should contain all the voters who had been left off the general lists. He named the 14th or 15th of August, because claims could be made up to the 25th of August. If supplementary lists mere made out up to the 15th, 10 days would be left in which anyone who found his name off the general or supple- 579 mentary lists could make a claim within the statutory time. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to answer the two questions he had put. He did not ask them for his own convenience alone, but because he knew there were many Members of the House to whom it would be convenient to know when it was intended to take the subsequent stages of the Bill.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, that before his right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) answered the questions put by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), he should like to express his fear that the Bill was a departure from those sound principles of political economy by which he had hoped his right hon. Friend was imbued. He supposed, however, that the considerations of political exigencies entered into the calculations of both Parties in the House. That was not the time to discuss the principle of the Bill; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give them something like adequate Notice of the second reading of the Bill, and that he would also make sure of its coming on at a time when the Bill could be discussed in a manner proportionate to its importance. Although the Bill was a small one, it contained a principle of far-reaching importance.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he was sorry he was obliged to disagree with his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Talbot). Whenever this relief had been proposed he had always voted for it, and therefore he congratulated his right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) upon the introduction of the Bill. He particularly congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the fact that the Bill was a much broader measure than that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings). In the measure of enfranchisement which Parliament had recently passed he did not see why those persons who happened to have received medical relief should not be included. The measure which the right hon. Gentleman had just explained was one of a very sweeping character; but he thought the Government had acted wisely in introducing it. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the people 580 affected by the Bill were not to be disqualified from voting this year. That intention was one thing, and the registration of the people was another. In his Bill the right hon. Gentleman would have to see that the men who had received medical relief during the present year were not only not disqualified, but that they were put on the Register for the Election which was to take place in November next. He (Mr. Onslow) was speaking with some little experience. For many years he had been a member of a Board of Guardians, and he thought it extremely foolish and unreasonable that the poor creatures who had, unfortunately, had to apply for medical relief should be disfranchised on that account. The Government had said they did not intend to introduce any Bill of a contentious character. He hoped that this Bill would not create any contention. Personally, he believed that with very few exceptions it would be acceptable to both sides of the House; while it would undoubtedly please the vast majority of the people.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he thought some attention should be drawn to the fact that while the Radical Party had made a tremendous fuss recently about the question of medical relief, they never once thought of it until the Irish Party proposed to introduce a clause guarding against the disqualification in the Irish Bill. The Irish Party first raised the question last year on the Representation of the People Bill, but they did not get a tittle of support from the Radical Party. The late Government treated them with scorn, and defeated them on that Bill. Then they raised it on the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill, but got no satisfaction whatever, because the late President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), a Gentleman, no doubt, of very kind words, would make no promise. Thirdly, they agitated the question on the Registration of Voters (Ireland) Bill, and succeeded in inducing the late Government to insert a clause preventing the disqualification. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), or any other Gentleman connected with the Radical Party, did not extend to them the smallest modicum of help or sympathy. But when they got their clause into the Registration Bill, and it passed the Lords, the Radical Party suddenly 581 woke up to the importance of the question; and what happened? When the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Horace Davey) introduced his Amendment in Committee on the Registration of Voters (England) Bill it was defeated by the then Government, and it was only by the votes of the Irish Party, in a small House and a scratch division, that the Amendment was carried on Report. But for the votes of the Irish Members the proposition would never have got to the Lords, and their Lordships would never have been accused of attacking the rights of the working man. Such was the history of the question. The English Radical Party knew nothing of the question of medical relief until it was raised by the Irish Party.
§ MR. PELL
trusted, with his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Talbot), that the second reading of the Bill would not be taken until hon. Members and the country had had some time to consider what would be the effect of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Balfour) told them he would give no arguments in favour of his measure—that he would adduce the arguments on the second reading. Now, if they were to have a statement of the provisions of the Bill to-day, and the arguments on the second reading, he only desired to say, in support of his hope that the measure would not be proceeded with without a proper interval, that what was proposed would prove a most momentous change in the law of England in reference to the relief of the poor. People were misled by the generalities which were indulged in as to medical relief. After all, it was not medical relief, but the relief of destitute persons who asked for medicine. There was another class of destitute persons who wanted bread, and that class he understood was not to be affected by the Bill. Before a person could be granted medical relief he must be destitute. He might be ever so ill, but if he was not destitute the Guardians could not give him relief. The right hon. Gentleman now proposed to remove permanently the disqualification which had always attached to destitution. He (Mr. Pell) maintained that that would be a most 582 momentous change in the law of England; and on that ground he asked that the second reading should not be taken until the Bill had been in the hands of Members and before the country for a time sufficient to admit of its being adequately considered.
§ MR. CARINGTON
said, he recollected a case in his constituency of a boy working in the fields meeting with an accident. The poor fellow was taken to the parish doctor—[A laugh.] The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pell) might laugh, but what he was saying was perfectly true. The boy was taken to the parish doctor and treated for the injury. In consequence of that the lad's father was struck off the Register of Voters. The man was by no means destitute; but it was presumed he was struck off the Register because he held Liberal opinions.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he did not rise to defend the conversion of the Radical Party, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) had spoken. As a matter of fact, he (Mr. Courtney) was one of those still unconverted; but if any congratulations upon the introduction of the Bill were due, he thought they were due to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) rather than to the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Balfour). He desired now to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the very great importance of not taking the second reading of the Bill at once. The right hon. Gentleman had enlarged the Bill of the hon. Member for Ipswich in two very material directions—he had made the Bill permanent, and he had extended its provisions to all elections except those of Poor Law Guardians. He (Mr. Courtney) was not aware there had been any application from any part of the country for a relaxation of the law in respect to municipal or school board elections. It was perfectly obvious that the relaxation in reference to school board elections would have a most momentous effect on free education. It was right, therefore, that due Notice should be given of the second reading.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
said, that, by the indulgence of the House, he might be permitted to say it was im- 583 portant that the Bill should be pushed on as rapidly as possible. It was not a complicated Bill; on the contrary, a glance at the clauses would give everybody an adequate idea of its contents. The Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow, and he did not imagine there would be any serious objection to the second reading being taken to-morrow evening. ["Oh!" He was afraid that, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), he could not alter the arrangement come to with him. If the right hon. Gentleman were present, he would be able to appreciate the appeal which had been made; but, speaking in his absence, he (Mr. Balfour) could only say it was the present intention of the Government to take the second reading to-morrow evening, not as the first, but as the second Order. Of course, the Committee stage could not yet be fixed. He appreciated the necessity of enabling those affected by the Bill to vote at the ensuing General Election, and he would take care that they should be placed on the Register. He could not state a more definite course than that.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, that this was an important Bill to introduce at 3 o'clock in the morning. They were told by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) that the Government intended to take the second reading in the course of this very evening. Perhaps it would be better to say at once that he (Mr. Clare Bead) and the few Friends present intended to exhaust all the Forms of the House in order to get the Bill properly considered by the House and the country. He, therefore, moved that the debate be now adjourned.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he was very pleased to second the Motion for Adjournment. Though he supported the Bill of his right hon. Friend most cordially—perhaps more strongly than many Members even on the other side of the House—he could not give his sanction to the second reading being taken tomorrow. This was a Bill affecting Boards of Guardians, and therefore they should have time to consider its details. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must see the enormous importance of the Bill. In a few hours they were about to change the whole system of electioneering in the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Clare Read.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMI-RALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON)
pointed out that until the Bill was read a first time, it could not be printed. The only effect of carrying the Motion for Adjournment would be to prevent the printing of the Bill. He was sure his right hon. Friend would be glad to meet the convenience of the House as far as he could; but everybody must see it would be convenient to put the Bill down for to-morrow.
§ An hon. MEMBER said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would stand to his guns. He was afraid some of his hon. Friends objected to the principle of the Bill; but he trusted that, for the sake of a few, they would not, as a body, be convicted of giving the proposed relief with a grudging hand.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
believed his hon. Friends would be quite satisfied if the right hon. Gentleman would consent not to take the second reading before Thursday. What was asked was time for the consideration of this most important Bill. It was not a question of giving the relief with a grudging hand, but it was a question of knowing what they were giving.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
desired to point out to the House the inconvenience of the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Talbot). The Budget was fixed for Thursday. This Bill could not be taken until the debate on the Budget closed, and they were not sure what time that would be. He thought hon. Gentlemen had exaggerated the importance of the Bill; but would it not meet their wishes if the second reading were taken to-morrow, and the principle of the Bill debated on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair? If his hon. Friends would consent to the Bill being read a second time to-morrow, he was confident his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would give ample 585 time before the subsequent stages of the Bill were taken.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, be thought the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman was a very reasonable one, and he had no doubt those who were anxious to pass the Bill would be content that the second reading should be taken to-morrow, and the subsequent stages put down for Thursday or Friday next. It was important that the Bill should be passed with the utmost rapidity, because the time was short within which the overseers had to prepare the Registers.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that the Bill had been extended beyond all conception. This measure, which introduced considerations respecting local government entirely foreign to the principles hitherto approved and adopted by both sides of the House, was brought forward at 3 o'clock in the morning. The country could know nothing of the Bill, for it was now too late for the present proceedings to be reported in to-day's papers, and yet the House were asked to read the Bill a second time to-morrow. He hoped the Motion would be pressed, unless they had a strong assurance that the second reading would not be taken before Thursday.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 5; Noes 33: Majority 28.—(Div. List, No. 224.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH)
said, he did not wish to prolong the debate unnecessarily. If the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) would be content to have the second reading of the Bill taken on Thursday, he would agree to it.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. ARTHUR BALFOUR, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND, and Mr. DALRYMPLE.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 232.]