§ Clause 26 (Adaptation of certain enactments as to disqualification of voters for corrupt practices).
§ MAJOR CURZON
said, that in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Giles), who had an Amendment on the Paper to leave out this clause, he should like to ask the right hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill (Sir Charles W. Dilke) whether the Government would consent to postpone it until the Committee had dealt with Clause 27? There were a number of hon. Members in the House very much interested in several of the corrupt boroughs mentioned in Clause 27. They were not so much interested in the boroughs mentioned in Clause 26; and he was afraid that if Clause 26 were taken now, it would rather prejudice the case of those hon. Members when they came to argue it in connection with the next clause. If the Government could see their way to the postponement of Clause 26 he should be extremely glad. He was not sure that they would be able to do it. He should like to point out that in the case of four boroughs they had been already disfranchised 18 years, and in the case of the four remaining they had been already disfranchised 15 years. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet could consent to postpone the clause.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, who was not now in his place, but who, he hoped, would be in the House in the course of a few minutes, was disposed to make a concession in this matter. In fact, the hon. and learned Gentleman had already said as much. He (Sir Charles W. Dilke) did not know that there was any necessity for postponing Clause 26, as he thought that the Committee was perfectly able to deal with it now. However, to meet the views of hon. Members, he would consent to the postponement until Clause 27 had been disposed of.
§ Clause postponed.1503
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
said, he had not been able to gather what the Government proposed to do with Clause 26.
§ Clause 27 (Disqualification of certain voters for corrupt practices).
§ MR. RAIKES
I rise, Sir, to move an Amendment of which I have given Notice with regard to this clause, and I hope that it will afford an opportunity to the Government for tempering justice with mercy in their dealing with the particular constituencies to which it relates. The Amendment is—Page 10, line 17, leave out 'for ever,' and, after 'incapable,' insert 'during the period of seven years next after the presentation of the said Reports respectively.'The clause, as it stands, proposes to inflict disfranchisement for life upon the persons who have been found guilty, or who have been reported in the Schedules of the Reports of Election Commissioners to have been guilty of bribery, treating, or personation, at elections held in the year 1880 for these respective boroughs—the boroughs being those mentioned in the second part of the 8th Schedule of the Act, and whose names are already sufficiently notorious. Now, I feel that this question is not, by any means, without difficulty—that the Committee will find some difficulty in dealing with it. It would certainly be difficult for the House to assent to the very severe penalty which the Government has proposed to attach to the persons guilty of corrupt practices at these elections. Perhaps, as the case of Chester is likely to be mentioned in the course of the debate, I may say that I am appearing here rather as an apologist for persons who did me very considerable injury at that election than in any other capacity. I cannot help thinking that the Committee will be unwilling to inflict retrospective penalties upon persons who on that occasion were guilty of corrupt practices. The Act of 1883 was not passed when these offences were committed; and the offenders, who rendered themselves liable to the just resentment of this House, exposed themselves, presumably, only to such penalties as the law, in its then form, might bring upon them in regard to their particular cases. The Amendment I have ven- 1504 tured to put upon the Paper is one which proposes to deal with these offenders exactly as they would have been dealt with if the Attorney General had in 1881 followed the precedent of Norwich and Boston, and brought in a Bill proposing to inflict certain political disqualifications upon the persons who had been scheduled by the Commissioners. The various boroughs that had been visited by Commissioners at different times have been dealt with, as we know, in more than one way. In the majority of instances there has been inflicted upon them the penalty of complete extinction. Those boroughs that are mentioned in the first part of the 8th Schedule of this Bill, the well known boroughs of Beverley, Bridgwater, Sligo, and Cashel, and, in former years, the boroughs of Lancaster and Great Yarmouth, were absolutely and totally disfranchised by the action of Parliament after the Commissioners had reported upon them. But in the case of Norwich and Boston a different and more lenient course was adopted. I will not trouble the Committee with the details of the Norwich case, which were rather special. I will only say, in passing, that in this case the Writ for the election to fill the vacancy was suspended, and certain persons—I think freemen—were disfranchised. I would rather rely upon the precedent established in the case of Boston. In the case of Boston the voters scheduled by the Commissioners were subsequently, by Parliamentary enactment, deprived of their electoral rights, with regard to their qualification in boroughs, for seven years. It will be seen that the distinction as between the course proposed in the clause of this Bill, and the course to which I am referring, is a considerable one, and that my proposalleans very much to the side of mercy. On the other hand, it differs, I believe, somewhat widely from the course which has been proposed by the hon. Member for West Cheshire (Mr. H. Tollemache), and the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Giles), who are disposed to dispense with this clause altogether, and to grant to these persons a complete amnesty. I have to put to the Committee this consideration. You are now passing an Act of Parliament by which, in future, it will become practically impossible to disfranchise a constituency, because the 1505 whole country being divided into districts in which the franchise is in the main the same, any disfranchisement which may light upon political offenders will have to be confined to them personally. How are you to set forth on a course of dealing with offenders for corrupt practices personally, if the first step you take in that course is to be one of granting a complete and absolute amnesty for offenders at the last Election? You have passed since that Election an Act which imposes very much more serious penalties for corruption, and on that you propose, for the future, to rely. I would ask you, will you obtain credit for sincerity and earnestness in doing so, if the first thing you do after passing that Act is to remove, absolutely, the penalties that attached to corrupt practices at a period a little before that at which that Act became law? Now, I do not want to dwell upon the details of corrupt practices in these different constituencies, but, at least, I may be permitted to say that you have already dealt out a somewhat severe measure to two out of the six "peccant boroughs," as they were called, by formally stigmatizing Sandwich and Macclesfield as unfit, hereafter, to retain the status of Parliamentary boroughs. Will it not look strange if, having dealt out that severe and uncompromising justice to Sandwich and Macclesfield, this House is afterwards to accept any Amendment for absolutely releasing from all penalty the other boroughs which appear to have offended, if not absolutely in the same degree, at least in the same way? I should be extremely sorry to see this House stretch too hard, too tight, and too fast a line of strict austerity in dealing with this class of boroughs. I should be very reluctant to accept any proposal which would deal with Oxford, with. Canterbury, with Gloucester, and with my own old constituency Chester, in the same way in which we have already dealt with Macclesfield and Sandwich; but I cannot help thinking, at the same time, that this House would put itself in a false position if, in its anxiety to be generous and indulgent, it should altogether remit any penal consequences whatever for offences that only varied in degree from those which have been visited by political annihilation. I feel sure that in dealing with 1506 this question the Government will be anxious to, as I said in the first instance, temper justice with mercy; and I very confidently appeal to the Prime Minister with regard to this particular class of persons. The Prime Minister throughout his long and distinguished career has, I think, always been conspicuous, if I may say so, for the robust common sense with which he has dealt with questions of this sort. He has never used the extravagant language which has sometimes been in favour, first upon one side of the House and then upon the other. He has regarded this evil as more or less inherent in our political system, and when it has been necessary to apply a penalty he has imposed it, but, at the same time, he has not been among those who have allowed themselves to be carried away by sentiment; and thus, I hope, he has considered the matter on the one side or the other, and that we shall hear his views on it before the discussion closes. The Committee will understand, perhaps, that in endeavouring to take the course which I have pointed out by my Amendment tonight, I have been moved entirely by a sense of public duty. It is a difficult thing for me to deal with this matter at all; but I feel that I should be unworthy of a position in this House if I shrank from dealing with a question of this difficulty, because I might be suspected of having some personal feeling in the matter. I have done my duty, I think, in proposing the Amendment that stands in my name. I hope the Committee will deal with it fairly and in a judicious spirit, and will not allow itself to be carried away by passionate appeals ad misericordiam on the one hand, or on the other by a too rigid adherence to the severe penalties of the Act dealing with corruption at elections last placed upon the Statute Book, so far as the elections that took place shortly before that Act was passed are concerned.
In page 10, line 17, to leave out the words "forever," and, after the word "incapable," to insert the words "during the period of seven years next after the presentation of the said Reports respectively."—(Mr. Raikes.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. MONK
said, that in the few remarks he desired to address to the 1507 Committee on the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), he desired, in the first place, to express the strong sense which he entertained of the fairness and equity which had been shown by the Government in not including the borough he had the honour to represent (Gloucester) in the Penal Clause No. 3 of this Bill; and though he had been prepared to show the House very good reasons why Gloucester should not meet with the fate which it was originally proposed that it should meet with under the Bill of a previous Session, he, at the same time, was ready to acknowledge, on behalf of that city, the leniency which had been shown to it by the Government in the Bill which was now before the Committee. His right hon. Friend had pointed out, with very great force, that since the Election of 1880 a new Corrupt Practices Act had been passed which inflicted upon those who received bribes a lighter penalty than that which it was proposed to inflict by this clause; but, in moving his Amendment, his right hon. Friend had omitted to point out that the Royal Commissioners who were appointed in 1880 took every moans, and very properly took every means, in their power to ascertain who had given bribes and who had received them. They even went so far, in some cases, as to invite persons to send in lists of suspected bribers or bribees, and at the same time they called the electors before them, and, before examining them as to their complicity in these illegal acts, promised them a certificate of indemnity if they answered freely all questions which were addressed to them. In some instances, to his knowledge—and he was sorry his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General was not present, because he could have brought one of these cases very clearly before his mind—in the city with which he was connected, the Commissioners had had given to them the names of several gentlemen as bribers who certainly had nothing at all to do with bribery. There were as many as 97 electors scheduled in Gloucester, some of whom were absent from the city during the sittings of the Commission, while others had not had an opportunity of being heard before the Commissioners and of stating that they had nothing whatever to do with bribery. 1508 In one case especially, a most respectable man, an employé in the Post Office, attended before the Commissioners, was examined by them, and was exonerated by them from the charge which had been brought against him; yet through inadvertence his name was inserted in the Schedule. This gentleman's name having appeared as having received a bribe, the voter would be disfranchised for life. As he (Mr. Monk) had said, the Commissioners had acknowledged that this gentleman was not guilty; but the case was very difficult to deal with, for, after the Commission was dissolved, the Secretary stated, in reply to representations made to him with regard to this case, that there was no power to remove any name from the Schedule after the Commissioners had presented their Report. And this was no solitary case. There were many cases of the same nature. Another case was that of a highly respectable medical practitioner in the city. This gentleman's name was also returned as that of a person who had received a bribe, and it was needless to say that there was not a word of truth in the statement. There was another point to which he wished to call the attention of the Committee, and that was this—that if the clause passed in its present state, disqualifying voters for life, any one of these voters might come forward at the next General Election as acandidate, and would be perfectly qualified to be returned as the Representative of the borough in which he had been scheduled as a briber. Though that was an improbable case, yet the fact remained the same; and he believed that, in some cases, the fact of a man's name having been scheduled would not be considered as a disqualification for being returned to Parliament. Now, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes) had proposed that, instead of a disqualification for life, these scheduled voters should be disfranchised for seven years, which was the penalty inflicted by the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act of 1883. He wished to point out that the electors who attended before the Commissioners and were subsequently scheduled, had no opportunity of bringing evidence before the Commissioners to show that they had not been guilty of these practices. Under the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, no one could 1509 be convicted who had not been fairly tried; and, on their trial, accused persons could retain counsel, and bring forward evidence to show that they had not been guilty of these practices. He thought there was a strong reason why the same punishment should not be inflicted on those who had been examined before the Commissioners on the faith of a certificate of indemnity being given to them if they spoke the truth. In that case, of course, the voters had. not had the aid of counsel. There was another point in which he was sure he should be confirmed by his hon. and. learned Friend the Attorney General when he rose to reply, and that was that in the case of some of these boroughs the inquiry on the part of the Commissioners had been of a most exhaustive nature; and he was sorry to say that they would find that as many as 1,500 or 2,000, and even more, voters had in consequence been scheduled. But in the case of more than one borough the inquiry was of a most perfunctory character. He was sorry to have to mention names, but he must mention the name of one borough, and that was the City of Oxford. The Commissioners said on page 16 of their Report—
It is unnecessary to observe that Schedules II. and IV. do not by any means purport to contain the names of all who, under colour of payment for employment, received money for their votes.So far as the employer is concerned, it is comparatively easy to detect bribery under colour of payment for services; but when the inquiry is directed to the motives and knowledge of a voter who has been employed, it is difficult to decide whether he has accepted the employment with a corrupt intent. We, therefore, did not pursue this inquiry further than was necessary for verifying the accounts laid before us by the several district agents, for testing the particulars filed in support of the Petition, and for forming an approximate estimate of the number of persons employed.Would the Committee bear with him when he told them the result? The result was that the Oxford Commissioners scheduled. 84 persons as bribers. How many were scheduled as bribees? In the Report it was intimated that more than 1,000 voters had received payment for their votes, but only 55 were scheduled as having been bribed. Of course, in those cases where they found 1,200, 1,500, or even 1,900 persons scheduled as having been bribed, the Commissioners had gone down into 1510 the borough for several weeks and had made a most full and careful inquiry into all the circumstances of the case. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes) had, he thought, alluded to the case of Norwich—the election of 1875. In 1876 the Commissioners presented their Report in regard to that election. On page 29 the Commissioners said—When we had ascertained, from the evidence of numerous witnesses whose examination extended over a considerable period, that a corrupt, systematic, and extensive employment of a large number of voters had been resorted to at the last two elections (1874 and 1875) by the various agents of both Parties, it became necessary to consider to what further extent, if any, it was our duty to prosecute the inquiry. Upon this subject we regretted not to have the concurrence of our late colleague, Mr. M'Mahon. He thought, notwithstanding the extent and cogency of the evidence already obtained (as to the effect of which, and the political responsibility of the constituency in respect of it, he fully agreed with us), that the Statute was peremptory, and left us no discretion in the matter; that it was, therefore, obligatory upon us to examine without exception all the persons employed at the said election, and to report to Your Majesty their names, if we should find them guilty of a violation of the law.In this view, however, after full consideration, we were not able to concur. It was our opinion that under Your Majesty's commission we were at liberty to direct the course and scope of the inquiry, and that the Statute did not imperatively require us in any event, and contrary to our judgment of the expediency of the case, to submit to examination 4,000 or 5,000 additional witnesses for the purpose of ascertaining their individual responsibility.Having regard, therefore, to these considerations; to the serious difficulties and objections that existed to the examination of a few, only, as a sample of so large a body; to the extent and importance of the information before us; and believing that no benefit could be obtained, commensurate with the vast expenditure of time and money which would be involved in the course proposed by our learned colleague; we concluded that it was our duty to dispense with the proposed examinations, and to present this Report without such evidence.The consequence was, that although 4,000 or 5,000 voters might have been bribed, there were only 56 bribers and 29 bribees scheduled in 1875. Now, no doubt his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, whether he considered it was the duty of the Commissioners to make an exhaustive inquiry or not,o knew that there were other cases in which the inquiry was, as he had said, of a perfunctory nature; and therefore the point which he wished to bring particularly before the attention of the Committee and the Government 1511 was this—that in the cases where there was an exhaustive inquiry they had the names in the Schedules of every person who had received a bribe; whereas, in other cases, they had only the names of some 29 or 55. After that, he thought it would be a very great hardship if the persons who were induced to give this evidence, admitting their complicity in illegal acts, were for ever deprived of their votes; whereas, a much larger number who were equally guilty, were allowed to go free. There was a further reason why he could not offer his support to the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes). He thought this was a case in which, after the passing of so stringent a measure as the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, the two Houses of Parliament might very well over look the offences committed in 1880 in boroughs which had already suffered a certain amount of punishment. With two exceptions, all the towns where corrupt practices had occurred had been deprived of their representation during the present Parliament; and on behalf of his own and other constituencies he would urge that this was a case in which Parliament might well afford to exhibit its leniency.
§ MR. H. TOLLEMACHE
said, he thought it would be generally admitted that the Bill, as drawn by the Government, was so monstrously unjust that that House would not for a moment consent to pass it. He did not for a moment think it would he contended that the punishment of disfranchisement for life of scheduled voters ought to be adhered to. But, if that was so, then came the question as to what ought to be the punishment in these cases. For his own part, he considered that half a loaf was better than no bread; and therefore he was prepared to accept the Amendment prescribing seven years' disfranchisement, unless the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would tell them that the Government would consent to abandon the clause altogether. In his opinion, a great many people had been unnecessarily scheduled. He understood that treating was not a corrupt practice at all, under any Act which existed at that time; and therefore the Commissioners ought not to have scheduled those persons who had merely been guilty of treating. There were 1512 many reasons also why some of the persons who were scheduled should be let off altogether, and the first was that they had not had an opportunity of being heard in their own defence; and it was laid down by the Act of 1854, and re-enacted in the Act of 1883, that persons should only be found guilty of corrupt practices after they had had an opportunity of being heard. Lord Blackburn had laid it down in the Bewdley Election Petition Inquiry—That a person giving evidence upon the hearing of an Election Petition has not had an opportunity of being heard in a legal sense, and, therefore, unless he was tried and convicted before a jury, disqualification did not attach.And he would venture to suggest to the Committee that those individuals who had been brought up before the Election Commissioners had not had an opportunity of being heard in the sense laid down by Lord Blackburn. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) had pointed out that in the case of Norwich that House did disqualify those persons who had been scheduled by a special measure, although it was not necessary by the law at that time; but, for his part, he considered that the decision of Lord Blackburn was a much wiser one than that of that House, But he would give a higher authority than even Lord Blackburn. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, speaking on April 5, 1881, of the Taunton Election Petition, said—There are certain disqualifications attaching to candidates in consequence of being reported personally guilty of bribery by an Election Judge. These disqualifications are imposed by 31 & 32 Vict. c. 125, s. 43; but no disqualification of any kind attaches to any person so reported other than a candidate except the prohibition of his employment as an election agent during seven years. The reason for this is to be found in the wording of the 45th section of the Act I have mentioned, which says: ' Any person other than a candidate found guilty in any proceeding in which, after notice of the charge, he has had an opportunity of being heard,' shall be subjected to certain disqualifications. It has been determined by Lord Blackburn, in the decision given by him in the Bewdley Petition case —and it seems to me quite correctly determined —that a person giving evidence upon the hearing of an Election Petition has not had ' an opportunity of being heard' in the legal sense, and that, therefore, unless tried and convicted before a jury, the disqualifications do not attach. The same rule applies with greater force in relation to the Reports of Commissioners, for even candidates are subjected to no penalties or disqualifications in consequence of being reported by Commis- 1513 sioners as personally guilty of bribery. The result is that unless persons be prosecuted and convicted, which they cannot be in the face of a certificate of indemnity, no consequences of any kind result directly to anyone from being reported guilty of corrupt practices by Election Commissioners."—(3 Hansard, [26o] 760.)The hon. and learned Gentleman laid down there that no consequences of any kind resulted to anyone from being reported guilty of corrupt practices by Election Commissioners.
§ MR. H. TOLLEMACHE
could not say what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant by the word "directly;" but it certainly seemed to him to be "direct" punishment to disfranchise those people for life. If those persons had had an opportunity of explaining their conduct by counsel, he believed that hundreds and hundreds of them would not have been scheduled. They in that House had had an opportunity of clearing their characters by the Act of 1883. They had, so to speak, held themselves up as paragons of electoral purity; they had called heaven and earth to witness that they were not as other men were; and he thought that now they could extend to those innocent persons that measure of generosity which they had claimed for themselves. He admitted that there were many people who would not have been unfairly treated by the punishment which appeared in the Government Bill; but, after this lapse of time, he did not think it was possible to discriminate between the different offences of which these people had been guilty; and it would be well that the first principle of the English law should be applied to this case—namely, that it was better that the few guilty should get off than that the many who were innocent should suffer. What was their crime after all? It was not a serious one. Their real crime was that of being found out. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had left the House; but he remembered that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who spoke with great authority on all these subjects, distinctly told the House that all boroughs were more or less corrupt. He had told them, in regard to the case of Knaresborough, that he believed that if inquiries were made in all oases, no borough would come out 1514 purer than Knaresborough. Well, there were about 10 per cent of the electors of Knaresborough scheduled; and if Knaresborough was, comparatively speaking, so pure, he did not think he was going too far in saying that it was not a very serious offence which had been committed. Those individuals had been hardly dealt with by being disfranchised for life; and he put it to the Committee, as a matter of justice, that those people who had not had an opportunity of explaining their conduct should be replaced on the Register. He would like to support a proposal for striking out this clause altogether; but, failing that, he should certainly support the Amendment before the Committee to limit the disfranchisement to seven years.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
would tell the Committee, in one word, what made him place a similar Amendment to the one under discussion on the Paper. When the words " for ever " came up in the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill, he had willlingly joined some of his hon. Friends in endeavouring to get them struck out, because he held very strongly indeed that those words ought not to find a place in any Act of Parliament. He did not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), or the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for West Cheshire (Mr. H. Tollemache), that this was an occasion to make light of those offences. He could only say that if the prayer which had been addressed to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General were listened to, the electors of other places would have very good reason to complain. He thought, for example, that there would be inequality of treatment in the case of places like Totnes, where the scheduled electors had been disfranchised by the Act of 1867, and had remained so for 18 years, and whom by another clause it was proposed to disfranchise perpetually. He had refrained from placing on the Paper any suggestion of his own as to the punishment which ought to be awarded; but he did hope that the Committee would not take any course which might lead to the conclusion that they regarded this matter lightly.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
pointed out that the Government had already stated that this clause had been arrived at after consideration; but they desired to know what was the feeling of the Committee on the subject. and to leave the decision of the matter in their hands. The Government had no desire to act with any undue harshness or with any undue severity, and wished to know what was the general feeling of the Committee. Perhaps the Committee would allow him to remind them of what was the usual course in these matters. The hon. Member for West Cheshire (Mr. H. Tollemache) had stated very clearly that until the passing of the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, no penal consequences attached to a person found guilty by admission of corruption, and therefore the Legislature had always dealt with each case individually. Hitherto legislation had never been tempered by those considerations which had been urged on the Committee that night by his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), and which had never been urged in the House before, although the considerations urged had existed before all the Reports were made by the Commissioners. The legislation which had been passed on this question had always had a certain stated purpose, and that was to check the continuance of corrupt practices. Two rules had been invariably followed, notwithstanding what had been said against that mode of procedure. Persons so scheduled had either been prevented from voting in the particular constituency in which they had their qualification, for life, or from voting anywhere, wherever they might move to, for seven years. There was one notable example of this. That was contained in the Representation of the People Act, 1867, which was not, as some of these measures were, an Act for the particular purpose of dealing with these persons. Full attention had been called to the question of corrupt practices. There were four boroughs dealt with. The electors in those boroughs would have been entitled to vote in the counties ii which the boroughs were; but, under the Act of 1867, they were disfranchised for life from voting in the county dis- 1516 tricts in which the boroughs had been merged. He thought that, at the time, that was the legislation of general acquiescence. Under these circumstances, he hoped it would not be attributed to the Government that in drawing up this Bill they adopted a severe course. They had thought that it would be better to follow the precedents, and then to deal with the matter as the Committee might think fit. Inasmuch as they reframed the old Act of 1867 in this Bill, it occurred to them that it would be inconsistent if they made any other rule than the one they had done. They had to approach the question that night, no doubt, with some different considerations. For instance, he was sorry to say that they had to deal with a far different number of offenders than they had to deal with formerly. They had to deal with upwards of 9,000 persons who had been scheduled. It might be argued, in consequence of the large number of persons scheduled, that a greater amount of leniency should be show them than if they were few; but he thought it might also be said that the greater the amount of the offence the less the punishment on the constituency. From all the Reports which had been received, and judging from the proceedings at recent bye-elections, there seemed to be amongst those who had hitherto had the conduct of electoral contests an earnest desire to produce, if they could, a different and a better state of things. Under such circumstances, the question arose whether the Committee would give effect to the hopes thus created, and impose a mitigated penalty? If it should seem right to the Committee to accept the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), and thus limit the punishment to seven years, the Government would offer no objection.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
rose for one moment to express his personal satisfaction at the statement that had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. It appeared to him that they had to consider the character of those who were now about to be admitted to the franchise. Considering what a very large addition had been made to the electoral roll, and considering that many of the new voters had not been trained to look upon the possession of the right or privi- 1517 lege of voting as a matter of trust, it was very important that at the outset of the new state of things the new electors should have before them the distinct warning that the corrupt practices of old times were at an end, and it would be impolitic to make them believe that all the sentences of the past were entirely wiped out. On the other hand, he thought the general feeling of the Committee was that it was not desirable, if they could avoid it, of keeping up perpetual punishment. Useful warning had been given as to the future, and he thought by accepting the moderate proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) the Government really met the exigencies of the ease.
§ MR. CLARE READ
called the attention of the Attorney General to the fact that there were some Acts still in operation for the disfranchisement of voters. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would introduce words to embrace the repeal of those Acts. His hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Colman) would bear him out when he said that in 1870 there was a special Act passed for the disfranchisement of certain voters in that city. An Act for the disfranchisement of voters was also passed in 1871. Now, those Acts disfranchised voters for life, whereas the Act passed in 1876 only disfranchised voters for seven years. He hoped the Attorney General would take care that these Acts were repealed.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. RAIKES
moved to insert, after the word " incapable," in line 17, "during the period of seven years after the presentation of."
§ Amendment proposed, in page 10, line 17, after the word " incapable," to insert the words " during the period of seven years after the presentation of." —(Mr. Raikes.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
MR. THOROLD ROGERS
proposed, in page 10, line 25, after sub-section (b.), to insert the words—(c.) Of being a candidate for any borough or division of a county in the United Kingdom.The hon. Member said, he hoped that all the expressions of sympathy and kindly feeling for the illiterate voter, for the poor man, who was bribed by 1518 a pint of beer, or by a sum of money up to three sovereigns—that being the range of bribery as far as experience went—had not been thrown away, and that the Committee had exercised a generous consideration for parties who had been more tempted than tempters. But he thought that to include the name of a person who had been proved to be guilty of bribing a constituency in the list of scheduled voters, and then to enable the man to sit in Parliament for any constituency, was as great a farce as the House could be capable of enacting. In the case of one constituency completely disfranchised, it was perfectly clear that one person was guilty of the most widespread, deliberate, and elaborate bribery. The borough to which he referred was, he was persuaded, well known to the Committee. The gentleman to whom he referred had been described as " an agent of great experience and success;" he had recently succeeded, it was said, in returning certain Conservatives for one borough and certain Conservative Members for another borough. Hon. Members knew what the success of the man meant with regard to one of the constituencies—a constituency which had been described as the centre of the wealth of England. In the second constituency there was a large body of poor voters, and matters were so manipulated that, apparently through the agency of this person, all the electors who were susceptible to bribes received them. What was the course the man adopted? He first of all declared that he had nothing to do with bribery; next, he instructed his sub-agents to declare or swear that they were not guilty of bribery; and then he went before the Commissioners and attempted to adopt the same plan. At last he got alarmed, went into the witness-box, declared he had bribed wholesale, and then, of course, as before, snapped his fingers in the face of the Commissioners. Why the Commissioners allowed the man to get into the box and make a clear breast of his doings, he (Mr. Thorold Rogers) could not understand. It would have been quite possible for them to have got evidence against him, and then to have brought him to book. It seemed to him (Mr. Thorold Rogers) that if they were to punish persons who were guilty of accepting bribes, they should a fortiori punish the persons who had 1519 been guilty of bribing. He believed that hitherto the practice had been to disqualify a candidate from sitting during the existence of the then Parliament for the constituency in which he was convicted; but at present there seemed to be no means of punishing an agent except by declaring that for seven years after the presentation of the Report of the Commissioners an agent guilty of malpractices should be debarred from sitting in the House. He confessed that in a case so flagrant, so obvious, and so scandalous as the one he had referred to—and there were others of a like nature—a punishment such as even what he proposed was wholly inadequate. The Committee were aware that if legal perjury was proved against a Member, and there had been such instances in the history of the House of Commons—he did not recollect the number of cases, but there was an instance in 1787—the Member was immediately expelled. He thought that the common sense of the House ought to be strong enough to declare that if a person had not been legally convicted of perjury, but morally convicted, he should be prevented from sitting in their midst. The man to whom he had referred was practically exempted from the consequences of his own admissions, because the practice of giving an indemnity relieved him from those consequences; but he (Mr. Thorold Rogers) did not think the House as a Court—if he might say so, as a Court of Honour—ought to ignore such practices committed by agents at elections, but should visit them with very severe punishment. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ Amendment proposed,
§ In page 10, line 25, after sub-section (b.), to insert the words,—" (c.) Of being a candidate for any borough or division of a county in the United Kingdom. "—(Mr. Thorold Rogers.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was sorry the Amendment had been defended by the hon. Member who proposed it simply by a reference to one individual case. The hon. Gentleman had used one word, at all events, with reference to that case which would scarcely be justified if the matter were fully gone into. He (Mr. E. Clarke) did 1520 not think there was any question of perjury in the case to which the hon. Member referred, or anything approaching perjury; but he, at the same time, cordially agreed with the hon. Gentleman in the Amendment he had moved. He should be very happy to vote with the hon. Gentleman if he pressed the Amendment to a division. He could not imagine they were justified in saying that voters should be precluded for seven years from the power of voting for Members of Parliament in consequence of having been scheduled, and that one of the persons who had been guilty of bribing should have the right to stand as a candidate for Parliamentary honours. He hoped the Amendment would be accepted by the Committee.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he did not wish to dwell too much upon the particular case which had been cited, though he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) that it was one of the worst cases it was possible to conceive in the annals of their electoral system. The person hinted at bribed 1,100 persons, then went before the Judges who tried the Election Petition and swore there was no bribery, allowed other persons to make the same statement, and then went into the witness-box, and, under cover of the indemnity, disclosed the whole system of bribery that had been employed and the names of his confederates, against whom he subsequently appeared to give evidence. But, after all, he (the Attorney General) did not think Parliament ought to be guided in legislation by one particular case. This Parliament had imposed new penalties for corrupt practices at elections. The facts of this case occurred in 1881, and they were known to everybody who took part in the discussions on the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, and, whilst the case was mentioned, the House did not then by general legislation dare to make the penalties retrospective. He thought it would be unjust to do so now. Much as he sympathized with his hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers), much as he should regret to see Parliamentary honours bestowed upon a person who had acted as the person to whom reference had been made acted, he thought the safer course to pursue, both as a matter of precedent and as a matter of 1521 justice, was not to introduce legislation of a retrospective character. Such a precedent might lead to great evil. To his mind, it would be a very evil precedent to impose one day a retrospective penalty for a crime committed the previous clay. Although he was in sympathy with the object of his hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers), he must look at the matter in a broad spirit. When he did that, he did not think any good purpose would be served by making the penalty retrospective.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 77; Noes 90: Majority 13.—(Div. List, No. 60.)
§ MR. WARTON
proposed to insert, at end of line 28, page 10—As if the disqualification of such person had arisen after the commencement of the said Act.He pointed out that in the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act there were the words—By reason of having after the commencement of this Act been found guilty,and so on. They had already disqualified certain persons by the Amendment just carried; but they had not disqualified them for ever, but for a period of seven years from the Report of the Judges or Commissioners in 1880. It was perfectly clear that when the corrupt practices took place in 1880, they did not take place after the commencement of the Act of 1883, and he was inclined to think that some of the guilty might escape unless steps were now taken to guard against their escape. It was to guard against that that he moved this Amendment. He would call the attention of the Attorney General to an effect which might be produced by the application of this section. If they looked at all to the machinery they would find that the persons who were to be included in this proposal would have the same right of being heard and of showing cause. Had they a right to be heard as to the particulars of the case?
§ Amendment proposed,
§ In page 10, at end of line 28, to insert the words " As if the disqualification of such person had arisen after the commencement of the said Act."—(Mr. Warton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."1522
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was sorry that he had very imperfectly heard the observations which had fallen from the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Warton). It appeared to him, however, that the point raised was of a very technical nature, and as the Amendment was not on the Paper he was unable to express any opinion upon it. If the hon. and learned Member would be good enough to send it to him in writing, as he had described it as one of the greatest importance and which ought to be accepted, he (the Attorney General) would bestow upon it that attention which it deserved.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That Clause 27, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. H. TOLLEMACHE
said, he wished to make one more appeal to the right hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill. He regretted that several hon. Members, who unquestionably would have given their support to the change he wished to bring about in the Bill, had they been present, and who ought to have been in their places, were not now in attendance. He would not go into all the questions he had raised in his speech a while ago; but he would draw the attention of the Attorney General to just one question which he had omitted to answer. He wished to know whether the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire as to the existence or prevalence of corrupt practices at elections in 1880, had power to inquire into practices which were not corrupt until 1883? Scores of people had been found guilty of treating and of being treated during the General Election of 1880; but in that year these things were not corrupt practices. He should like also to draw attention to another point. He did not wish to argue this question from a local point of view; but, in the case of Chester alone, there were a great many individuals scheduled for being treated. He thought he was right in saying that all the Commissioners, except those who inquired into the Chester case, had not mentioned in their Reports cases of individuals being treated. In the case of 1523 Macclesfield, the Commissioners stated at the head of their Report that no person who had been treated had been scheduled. He would ask, therefore, whether it was fair for the few hundred people in Chester who had been scheduled for having been treated to be disqualified for even seven years, when other people in similar cases had not been so treated? There was just one other point which he had forgotten to mention—namely, that all the Commissioners in holding their Courts of Inquiry had stated that no further proceedings, either criminal or civil, would be taken against any person who made a clean breast of the matter; and on the faith of that assurance very many persons had come forward and confessed to electoral offences. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would answer his case about the scheduling of the people who had been treated in Chester, and nowhere else. If he got any support, he should ask the Committee to divide upon the question of expunging this clause.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he could hardly think the hon. Member was in earnest in asking the Committee to expunge this clause, seeing that the Amendment which he moved just now had been taken as a settlement of the question. [" No, no!"] Well, then, why did not the hon. Member divide against his Amendment? As to treating and being treated, there(could be no doubt that they were corrupt practices even prior to 1880. The hon Member was quite mistaken in supposing that a person guilty of either of them offences escaped all punishment. Ho lost his vote thereby. If some of the Commissioners had performed their duty zealously, had made an exhaustive in quiry, and had scheduled all person guilty of treating or of having bee; treated, it was not a fair plea to say that because other Commissioners had not don so, therefore the persons scheduled, in the first instance, should escape the consequences of their illegal action. That would be a very dangerous principle to lay down.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 26 (Adaptation of certain enactments as to disqualification of voters for corrupt practices).1524
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was necessary for him now to draw the attention of the Committee to the position in which they stood with regard to this clause. He presumed that in the opinion of hon. Members this section would now require some alteration. He presumed it would apply to the boroughs of Bridgwater and Beverley, and the other four boroughs he had already mentioned, and, to be consistent, the Committee would not desire to re-enact a light punishment for these. It only affected six boroughs, because the framers of the Bill had only to deal with the boroughs which were in the counties, and which were now in the divisions of the counties. There were other boroughs which would have to be dealt with—for instance, Norwich —which did not require to be dealt with in this clause. A clause should, he thought, be brought up in respect to Norwich on the Report. So as to make the Bill consistent, this clause should be reframed, and be therefore hoped the Committee would allow it to be struck out.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that before any of the new clauses were introduced at the suggestion of private Members, he would ask the Government to bring up the Notes to the Schedules in the form of a new clause. Taking the form of the Bill as it stood, it seemed to him that this mode of drawing up an Act of Parliament was perfectly novel. He could not help thinking it wrong, and, with all due respect to the draftsmen, he was confident that it would be more consonant with previous legislation if what were called " Notes to the Schedules" were introduced as a new clause, in order that they could be properly enacted, and would not stand as a hybrid subject, so that no one would understand what they were. He appealed to the Government to accept the suggestion he made, and bring up these Notes as a new clause. No doubt, some of the wording would have to be altered b if that were done.
SIR CHARLES W. DILKF
said, he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee should be allowed to go through private Members' clauses. When they were disposed of—and he was very doubtful whether any of them would be added to the Bill—he should then be happy to follow the 1525 advice tendered to him, and to move that the Notes to the Schedules be formed into a new clause. He might say that personally he had favoured the course now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, but that he had been overruled by the draftsmen, who informed him that the manner in which the Notes were inserted was the best form to adopt. The draftsmen, at the same time, had assured him that there were many precedents for the course pursued.
§ MR. WARTON
said, they had already passed, in Clause 22, words to the effect that the Notes should be construed as part of the Act. If the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) were adopted, it was obvious that Clause 22 would have to be altered.
§ MR. AGNEW
said, he wished, in page 3, after Clause 9, to move the insertion of a clause declaring that—At a general parliamentary election the polls (if any) for the divisions in a divided county shall be taken on the same day, such day to be fixed by the returning officer of the county.The Committee was, no doubt, aware that already provision had been made in the case of divided boroughs that the Returning Officer should be required to order the elections to take place on the same day. The object of the clause for which he now respectfully ventured to ask the favour of the Committee for was to apply the same principle to divided counties. It appeared to him that if the principle was good in the one case it must be good in the other. They had passed a Corrupt Practices Act within the life of the present Parliament, for one purpose, at least, that they might get a full, free, and an honest expression of the people's will at the poll; and he contended that if a system of one-day elections were so partially adopted as was involved within the terms of the clause he now proposed, the Committee would have done much to promote the orderly conduct of elections, and to prevent the improper conduct which was so frequently seen in the constituencies all over the country at election times. It might be said that there were difficulties in the way of carrying out the plan he advocated. He ventured to 1526 anticipate one objection which might be made. Probably it would be said that it would be difficult for the Returning Officer—the High Sheriff of the county — to find a staff of officials sufficiently numerous to conduct the elections in all county divisions on one day. Well, he would remind the Committee, and those Members especially who sat for large boroughs and constituencies, that in some towns in this country—in one 18, in another 19, and in another, he believed, 20—ward elections were contested, or might be contested, on a given day—on the 1st of November. He could not for a moment suppose that there would be any more difficulty on the part of the Sheriff or the Returning Officer of a county in providing facilities for General Elections, than it was for those provided by a High Bailiff or the Mayor of a borough for taking municipal elections on the 1st of November. He was certainly of opinion, in the interests of order and of general good conduct, which, unhappily, had not always been apparent at Parliamentary elections, that if elections were conducted all over the country on one and the same day, it would be a very good thing for the public; and he had placed an Amendment on the Paper with the object of asking the Committee to consider that larger portion of the question. He did not, however, intend on this occasion to move that Amendment, because he knew that practically it would be impossible to obtain for it that acceptance which he thought it deserved; but he did hope that there were in the Committee those who would join with him in supporting the Motion which he now made—namely, that this new clause should be added to the Bill; and, certainly, if he had any support at all, he should take a division upon the point. Many hon. Members knew that he was a thoroughly loyal Party man; but he, nevertheless, felt himself considerably inconvenienced by what was popularly known as "The Compact." Yet the Motion he now made, he ventured to assert, favoured neither Party. It was just as much to the interests of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to support it. [" No, no! "] At any rate, while he believed those Gentleman to be just as honest as he claimed to be himself, he believed it to be in their interests, as it was in the 1527 interests of hon. Members who sat on his side of the House, that the elections in divided counties should take place on one and the same day. It was within his experience—no; he withdrew that word, because he had no practical or personal knowledge of such things, but he had heard of a case in a borough in his own county. In a certain town, an election took place in 1880. On the following day an election took place in another town, and to that town from the town in which the first election had taken place, 200 men were drafted to take part in the electoral business—that was to say, 200 men were drafted from A to help the citizens of B to record their votes. Again, he knew a case where a political committee in a borough, which he would call C, had not scrupled to get from B, where an election had taken place on the previous day, from 80 to 100 carriages to help the free and independent electors to record their votes. These were practices that the House had in effect condemned when it passed the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal) Practices Act. If the Committee would agree to the clause he took the liberty of proposing, he be lieved they would be still further endorsing the expression they had give in that Act of their determination, so far as possible, to minimize and limit then extraneous and corrupting influences He trusted that the Committee would pardon him—a Member who did not to frequently, or indeed, very frequently intrude himself on their attention—for having brought this subject forward; an he hoped that, however seldom they heard him speak, they would none the less accord to the proposal which he ventured to make at least a careful attention. He begged to move the clause which stood in his name.
§ New Clause:—
§ (Polls in divided counties.)
§ " At a general parliamentary election the polls (if any) for the divisions in a divided county shall be taken on the same day, such day to be fixed by the returning officer of t county,"—(Mr. Agnew,)
§ brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question propose " That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he thought it was very possible that, sooner 1528 or later, some action would have to be taken in the direction indicated by the clause; but at the present moment, when Parliament was throwing on the Sheriffs of counties considerably increased duties, he very much doubted whether it would be wise for the Committee to run the risk which they would run if, as in the case of Lancashire, the conduct of two or three elections would rest upon the shoulders of one Sheriff by the acceptance of this proposal. He thought the acceptance of the clause would strain the powers of the Local Authorities almost as greatly as the acceptance of the proposal which was in the name of the hon. Member lower down on the Paper, to the effect that all elections at every General Election in the United Kingdom should be held on one and the same day. Looking at the great difficulties in the way of the working of the new Franchise Act and of the new Registration Act in every case, he was afraid of doing anything which would add to those difficulties, and which might possibly lead to a breakdown. It was on this ground, more than on general grounds of principle, that he would appeal to the Committee not to accept the clause.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said, that if he might be allowed to make a few remarks on this subject, he would say that he thought the objection taken by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board was really hardly sufficient, because, after all, by the very Bill which they were now about to pass, by Clauses 11 and 12, the Returning Officer had power to depute his duties in several parts of the divisions to his Deputies, who were to be paid according 1 to a certain scale, and were practically to be responsible for the election. Though it might be said that the Sheriff was to be responsible for them, they would each, in their own part of the county, have to carry out the duties of the election itself, and undertake all the responsibilities. Therefore, he thought that, so far as the Sheriff was concerned, the adoption of the proposal would not throw additional work on his shoulders, or, at any rate, would not throw responsibilities upon him which a he could not undertake. If that objection did not hold, he thought there were some very strong advantages which would spring from the adoption of this 1529 proposal. In the first place, it appeared to him to be too much lost sight of that the Returning Officer was an official, and that it ought to be absolutely out of his power in any way to influence the election. It was notorious, however, that the dates of elections at present were constantly fixed by Returning Officers in a manner and on a day that they believed would tend to the advantage of the Party to which they belonged, and put to disadvantage the Party to which they did not belong. If anyone would take the trouble to look at the dates on which the different elections in the different portions of the counties took place in 1880, he would see that it must have been largely personal influence which had caused particular dates to be chosen, and that such a system could not possess the confidence of the electors themselves. To give an instance of the evil to which he alluded, he found that in 1880, in the county of Cheshire, in which there were three divisions, in one division the Returning Officer fixed the nomination day on the 2nd of April, and the polling day on the 3rd. In another division he fixed the nomination day on the 5th of April, and the polling to take place on the 9th, which was a difference of four days; and in the third division he fixed the nomination day on the 6th, and the polling to take place on the 13th, or a difference of seven days. It must have been some personal influence which caused that enormous discrepancy between the nomination day and the day of polling, and he did not think it could be said that the arrangement had been quite legitimate, and without bias or influence. Then, again, they had now passed the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, which had fixed a maximum scale of expenditure for elections; and a fixed amount should surely involve a definite time for the period of election. In some cases, by the action of the Returning Officer, the election might be spread, as occurred in some cases in 1880, over a period of a fortnight; while in other cases only a single day might be allowed in which it could take place. He thought that Parliament having passed the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act was a very strong argument for fixing—he would not say the poll to take place on 1530 the same day throughout the country, though he should be in favour of such an arrangement as that—but the poll to take place on the same day in the various divisions of a county. There were several matters in regard to conveyance, bribery, &c., which were arguments in favour of the proposal; but he did not wish to detain the Committee, and, therefore, would allow them to pass. It seemed to him that the only possible objection which could be taken to this proposal was that the Returning Officers would have too much to do; but, as he had suggested, that difficulty could be got over by appointing an efficient Returning Officer for each division, and seeing that they did their duties.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, he was afraid that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken knew very little of the practical effect of the Amendment he proposed. He had said that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board could take no practical objection to the clause; but, as a matter of fact, the difficulty would be in working out the principle of the clause in practice. Those who knew anything about the working of county elections must know that it was almost impossible for the various County Sheriffs at present to carry out the duties which Parliament had imposed upon them, without being considerably out of pocket by so doing. The hon. Gentleman had forgotten that, in all these cases, the Sheriff did not know until the day of the nomination whether there was to be a contest or not. This difficulty existed in many counties. In some cases, no doubt, it was known whether or not contests were to take place; but in others it was not known until the certain period allowed by Parliament had passed; and it was, therefore, impossible for the Sheriff to make his arrangements within a day or two of the election, when all at once a contest was sprung upon him. The right hon. Baronet who had the management of the Bill knew the difficulty there was at the present time in the way of Sheriffs obtaining their Deputies. They were named in the Act of Parliament as if it were easy to get them; but he would remind the hon. Member that they were only allowed three guineas, and that for this remuneration they had to give up sometimes two days and three nights to the work. The proposal was 1531 an impracticable one, and he was quite sure the Committee would do right in refusing to read it a second time.
§ MR. LEAKE
said, he did not understand the objection of the hon. and learned Member for East Surrey (Mr. Grantham), because it was well known that the Sheriff, or other Returning Officer, could find as many Deputy Returning Officers as were required. At present, under the redistribution scheme of the Government, it would be necessary for the Returning Officer to find several Deputies in a place like Manchester. He admitted the difficulty pointed out by the Government. They were on the eve of a very great change, and no doubt it was as well that the difficulties which would have to be faced in connection with the extended franchise and the redistribution scheme should be minimized as much as possible; but he failed to see what greater difficulty there could be than this—that was to say, to have in such a place as the South-Eastern Division of Lancashire, eight consecutive elections on eight consecutive days. Anyone who knew the excitement of electioneering could well understand what a rush there would be of the electors from one division in which the work of polling had just finished to another in which it was just commencing. Anyone who had had practical experience of elections, and who understood what this difficulty was and was likely to be under the new Bill, would without doubt do all in his power to endeavour to remove it. Formerly, there was a 14 days' poll, which, however, gave way, for the convenience of electors, first, to a two days' poll, and then from a two days' poll to a one day's poll. The tendency of legislation had been to simplify all proceedings connected with elections, and throughout the United Kingdom there would be very little difficulty in appointing the polling for the borough on one day, and that for the counties on another day. He certainly thought the proposition of his hon. Friend (Mr. Agnew) was well worth the consideration of those who occupied the two Front Benches, who had already done so much towards securing a settlement of these matters.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Sidney Buxton) had quoted a case of a division of the county of Cheshire, in which, as he had stated, 1532 the Returning Officer had fixed the 2nd of April as the nomination day, and the polling day on the 3rd. If the hon. Gentleman were accurate in his statement, he (Mr. Northcote) maintained that such a procedure was entirely contrary to the law, and he should like to ask the hon. Member whether he would state which division of the county of Cheshire he referred to?
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
replied, that he was sorry he had not taken down the particular division to which he had referred; but he had obtained the information in the Library, and he should be very glad to supply it to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Northcote) afterwards.
§ SIR JOSEPH BAILEY
opposed the clause, and said, that if the same Returning Officer were called upon to manage several elections on the same day, he could not see how, in some cases, especially in his own, it was possible that this could be done. He thought that such a consideration ought to decide the Committee against the adoption of the proposal contained in the Amendment.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, there was one point to which he desired very briefly to call the attention of the Committee. At a General Election there were all sorts of local circumstances, of which the Sheriffs of counties were cognizant, that would render it exceedingly difficult to carry out the proposal involved in the Amendment. For instance, markets in different parts of the county were generally held on particular days, and if the Committee were to draw a hard-and-fast line, by fixing the election for the different divisions on the same day, it would be found that this would seriously interfere with the convenience of the electors by clashing very much with their market arrangements.
§ MR. ECROYD
said, the hon. Members for South-East Lancashire, who had proposed and supported the Amendment, did not appear to appreciate the difference that existed between the two cases—of voting for boroughs, and voting for the divisions of counties. But the right of those who possessed property in different divisions to vote for that property had been recognized by the measure, and any attempt to hold the elections for all the divisions of such a county as Lancashire on the same day must necessarily disqualify a 1533 large proportion of those who were thus entitled to vote. He would not take up the time of the Committee further; but it was important that they should understand what was the real meaning and motive of the Amendment before them. For his own part, he should certainly vote against the proposal of his hon. Friend.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 155: Majority 93.—(Div. List, No. 61.)
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
, in rising to move the following Clause:—The number of 3lembers of the House of Commons shall be fixed at six hundred and fifty-eight.said, in proposing the clause of which he had given Notice, he desired briefly to state the reasons upon which he founded it.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
rose to a point of Order, upon which he desired the ruling of the Chair. The House, he said, at an earlier stage of the measure, had negatived a Motion involving a similar proposition that had been brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), although in other words—namely, "It is inexpedient that the numbers of this House should be increased." He (Mr. Buchanan) wished to ask whether, after the House had negatived that proposition, it was competent for the hon. Baronet (Sir Eardley Wilmot) to raise the same question in a new clause in Committee?
asked whether the Chairman did not consider that the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) had just referred, did not materially differ from the clause now proposed by the hon. Baronet (Sir Eardley Wilmot), inasmuch as it was expressly intended to diminish the representation of Ireland and Wales, whereas the clause now before the Committee need not, if adopted, have any effect in such a direction? He therefore submitted, as a point worthy the consideration of the Chair, whether there was not a very material difference between the Amendment negatived on the proposal to go into Committee, and the clause now moved?
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he remembered the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), with the view of preventing an increase in the numbers of the House. That Amendment was negatived.
said, he would point out to the Committee that they were now in a different stage to that in which the decision referred to had been given. He must say, however, that he had had great doubt as to whether he could accept the Amendment submitted by the hon. Baronet (Sir Eardley Wilmot), as it appeared to him to be much more in the form of an abstract Resolution than of a new clause, and, to a certain extent, it seemed to be in contradiction of some of the decisions to which the Committee had already arrived. The hon. Baronet, in moving this as a new clause, ought to have stated the Schedule by which effect was to be given to it, and how he proposed to dispose of the number of Members so as to reduce them to 658. He (the Chairman) had not thought proper to stop the hon. Baronet, nor should he do so, if the hon. Baronet chose to go on after hearing this expression of his opinion.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
said, after the ruling just given by the Chairman of Committees, he would state the reasons that had induced him to propose the clause. He was quite aware of what had been done on a former occasion by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), and he remembered that that proposal, being one that had a double effect involving two distinct propositions, he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had been prevented from giving his vote for it, as he could not vote for both proposals. Therefore, he had thought he should be in Order in moving the clause he had put upon the Paper. As he was allowed to proceed with his proposition, he would take the opportunity of offering a few observations in explanation of why he had brought it forward. He was not aware exactly how far he was acting in opposition to what they all understood to be the compact between the two Front Benches of that House in moving this new clause. He should be sorry to do anything that would appear to violate the solemn compact which had 1535 hitherto bound hon. Members on that side of the House in a hard-and-fast bond in regard to this Redistribution Bill. He also begged to say that, in moving his new clause, he had no wish to say anything in opposition to what he considered to be the just claims of the Scotch Members to an addition of 12 Members to the present representation of Scotland. It was not his object in any way to prevent such an addition being made to the representation of North Britain. He would, therefore, state as briefly as possible what his object really was. He considered that the present constitution of the House, which had consisted of 658 Members throughout the whole of the present century, was quite sufficient to meet the requirements of the country. Last week, he had ventured, in addressing the House, to give it as his opinion that if they could have reduced the number of Members of that House to 600, they would have done much better than in accepting the proposal to increase their number to 670. At the beginning of the present century the number of Members of the House of Commons was, as he had already indicated, 658—namely, 513 for England and Wales, 45 for Scotland, and 100 for Ireland. Previous to that period the number had been 558; but at the time of the Act of Union an addition of 100 Members was made. When, in 1832, a new Reform Act was passed, they found that no alteration whatever was made in the number of Member, constituting that assembly. Lord Grey added five Members to the Irish constituencies, and also increased the number of Scotch Members; but he retained the total number of 658—namely, 500 for England and Wales, 53 for Scotland and 105 for Ireland. Proceeding further in the direction of Reform—and he only wished that, in the present Bill Her Majesty's Government had followed the memorable Acts to which he had referred, as closely as the Conservative, Government had followed the precedents before them—he found that under the Act passed during the Government of Mr. Disraeli, afterwards Lord Beaconsfield , the number of Members which had, up to that time, composed the House—namely, 658, was still retained. The number returned by Ireland was allowed to remain—105—as it had previously been; but 15 Members were 1536 added to Scotland, by which the number of Representatives for that portion of the United Kingdom was raised from 45 to 60, that addition being obtained by the sacrifice of a corresponding number of seats in England and Wales, the total number of English and Welsh seats being thereby reduced from 513 to 493, thus making a total for the Three Kingdoms of 658. The proposal of the present Bill went, however, on a totally different principle. It was now proposed that Ireland should have 103 Representatives, that the number in Scotland should be increased to 72, and that England and Wales should have 495, making, together, a total of 670. In order to arrive at a just appreciation of this question, he would ask the Committee to take into consideration the way in which the various other Representative Chambers in Europe and America were constituted. It would be found that, comparing the number of Representatives with the population, as well as with the number of registered electors, the amount of representation in the different European countries and in the United States was very much less than in the United Kingdom. He would, first of all, take the German Chamber. He found that in Germany there was a population of 45,324,161, and a total of upwards of 9,000,000 of electors, of whom, at the last General Election, upwards of 5,000,000 voted, while the number of Representatives returned to the Reichstag was 432, the number having been increased from 397 at the time the different States of Germany became united. Turning from Germany to France, he found the result of the comparison with this country pretty much the same. The French Chamber of Deputies, at which he had been present during some of the debates, was composed of only 537 Members, the population of the entire country amounting to 37,405,290, and the number of electors at the last General Election to upwards of 10,000,000. So that, with this enormous population, E and under the system of universal suffrage which prevailed there under so large an electorate, the French people were content with 537 Representatives, as against 658—or, as was now proposed, 670—in the United Kingdom. The next example he would take was s that of the United States, which, to the 1537 present occupants of the Treasury Bench, would appear to present such a wonderful model for imitation in the present measure. Up to the year 1870, there were only 293 Representatives in the Lower Chamber of the United States; but it was then increased to 395, at which number it now remained, which gave one Representative to every 104,325 of the population, which, in 1880, was nearly 50,000,000, while the number of electors who voted at the last Election of President was 10,500,000. At the Census of 1880 the population had actually increased in 30 years by 37,118,743. He quoted these examples for the purpose of showing that in all the other Chambers of Representatives, both in Europe and America—and he had with him, and could quote if necessary, similar statistics to those he had already given, for Belgium and Italy—the representation of the people was much smaller in proportion to population than it was in this country. This might not go for very much; but he had still another argument which, he thought, would weigh with hon. Members of that Committee; and it was that, whether as affecting the opportunities for speaking and transacting the general Business of that Assembly, or the question of finding places in a Chamber which was already too small to accommodate all its Members, the proposed addition to the number of Members would not add to the difficulties already experienced. It was true that 12 was not, in itself, a large number to add to the existing total; but if the principle of increasing the numerical composition of the House were once admitted, it would be very difficult on any future occasion to resist the appeals that might be anticipated from different boroughs in which the population increased, as no doubt it would, for an increase in the number of Representatives sent to that Chamber. Therefore, he submitted, the number of Members of that House ought not to be increased. He based his proposal on the various reasons he had urged with regard to the practice pursued in other countries, and especially with reference to the fact that in no other Reform Bill since the beginning of the century had any attempt been made to increase the number of Members constituting that House. In view of all these examples, he con- 1538 tended that they would not be justified, even for the purpose of adding to the present number of Scotch Representatives, which he freely admitted was a desirable procedure, in adding to the total number of the House. It was not for him, an humble individual, to point out how the additional Members were to be obtained for the purpose of giving extra representation to Scotland. The examples he had quoted showed that great statesmen who, on former occasions, had introduced and carried Reform Bills, found opportunities for increasing the representation of Scotland. He acknowledged that Scotland was entitled to a larger representation than it had at present; but it ought not to obtain it at the expense of an addition to the numbers of the House. Therefore, with great confidence in the justice and reasonableness of his suggestion, he begged to move the new clause which stood in his name.
§ Clause (Number of Members of the House of Commons,)—(Sir Eardley Wilmot,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
The hon. Baronet says it is not for him, a humble individual, to show how the additional Members for Scotland ought to be obtained without increasing the number of the Members of the House.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
I said I would not take it upon myself to do so, as I considered that incumbent upon the Government.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I am quoting the hon. Baronet's words. He said he, as a humble individual, would not say how the extra Members to be given to Scotland should be found. Now, it is an essential part of the hon. Gentleman's case—for not only on this occasion, but on former occasions, he has announced it—that there should be no diminution in the representation of Ireland.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
On former occasions framers of Reform Bills 1539 have found means of adding to the representation of Scotland. I think it would be quite within your power to do that now.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
The only effect of the hon. Gentleman's proposal would be that seats should be taken from England and Wales and given to Scotland. I do not think the Committee generally would desire to take that course, for I am bound to say that on the two former occasions on which this matter was discussed—namely, on the Motion of the right hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), and also on the Motion of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold)—there did not appear to be any general feeling in the House against the proposal that is made in the Bill. The practical result of the proposal of the hon. Gentleman (Sir Eardley Wilmot), if adopted, would be that we should have to do exactly what he strongly protests against—that is to say, to take three Members from Ireland. The hon. Baronet has argued that if we now fix the number of Members at 670, we shall probably, at some future time, go further, and increase the number still more. That is not my opinion. I venture to think that if you look at the framework of this Bill, you will find that it is unlikely that in the future any proposal to increase the number of the House will be made. All that it wit ever be likely to do in the future wit simply be to increase the quota of the population.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he was not at all disappointed to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill (Sir Charles W. Dilke), because the right hon. Baronet was unable to vote in support of the Amendment which was moved when the Motion was made that " The Speaker do leave the Chair." With regard to taking a certain number of Members from Irelan1 and a certain number from Wales, he (Mr. Raikes) wished to explain why he thought the proposal which his hon. Friend (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had made now deserved the serious consideration of the Committee. It seemed to him was a proposal which, apart from political exigencies, would probably command the adhesion of every Member of the Committee; he did not suppose that 1540 even the Members of the Treasury Bench, or of the Front Opposition Bench, would dissent from this proposition, if it were not for special and particular circumstances which had led hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to a different conclusion. But they were told that it would be impossible to deal with this Amendment so as to incorporate it in the Bill, without altering the scale in a way which would be distasteful to the Committee. He, however, differed from that view. He quite accepted the necessity that it would entail the taking of three Members from Ireland. He had always felt that it would be extremely undesirable—if not, indeed, unjust—to reduce Ireland to a representation below the Act of Union number of 100; but he believed that between 100 and 103 it was open to the Committee to consider whether they should not find an opportunity—if they could do so in accordance with the scale—of reducing the representation of Ireland to the amount prescribed by the Act of Union. He ventured to point out that, in dealing with Ireland, the scale had been departed from. There were several of the Irish counties which received from this Bill representation to which they would not have been entitled had they been English counties. There were two or three Irish counties which obtained four Members, but which, had they been in England, would only have obtained three Members; and there was at least one county in Ireland which received three Members, but which, if it had been in England, would only have received two—he referred to the county of Armagh. Now, that county contained only 162,000 inhabitants, and it was, therefore, below the limit of 165,000 entitling to three Members.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
remarked I that, in order to keep up the balance between boroughs and counties, large counties were better treated than large boroughs.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he had no doubt that the statement just made by the right hon. Baronet was perfectly consistent with the rest of his argument but he (Mr. Raikes) did not see that it bound the Committee. He understood that no constituency under 165,000 inhabitants was entitled to three Members—that was to say, that there should be a Member for a little over every 50,000 1541 people. He could not see why Leicester, for instance, was to be content with two Members, while some Irish counties, scarcely exceeding it in population, and immeasurably inferior to it in wealth and every other ingredient which went to make up an important town, should have three and four Members. There were one or two Irish counties which were now to return four Members to which the same argument applied. There were Tipperary and Tyrone for example. Both these counties were over-represented as compared with English constituencies of the same population. He did not think it would be very unjust, therefore, if three Members were taken from the Irish counties he had named, and by that means the Irish representation would be brought down to 100, as prescribed by the Act of Union. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) received very little encouragement when he proposed to raise the limit of disfranchisement above 15,000 as regarded single boroughs. He (Mr. Raikes) observed, however, that most of the proposals made in that House by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford received very little encouragement, and he did not think, therefore, that they ought to argue too far on that particular case; but, at the same time, the particular question was settled by a very decided and overwhelming vote so far as the representation of the small towns was concerned. He (Mr. Raikes) wished to ask whether there was not another way of dealing with the towns containing 15,000 inhabitants otherwise that by disfranchising them; was it not possible that some arrangement should 13 made by which the small constituencies should be grouped together and enjoy representation conjointly with each other, but in such a manner as to create constituencies which would still fall short of the quota for a single Member? Peterborough, for example, had no particular claim that he knew of on the House to return any excessive number of Members. It contained some 22,001 inhabitants, and it was within half-an-hour, by the Great Northern Railway of the town of Grantham, which had a population of 15,000. He could not see why these towns could not be grouped together; in that way one Member would be gained. He thought other 1542 constituencies might very easily be found capable of being grouped. He did not know whether grouping was objected to by the present Government, although it was invented by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister; he knew that the Government disliked the phrase, but he did not see why they should not accept the fact. They might well combine a certain number of constituencies containing populations which, in the aggregate, would amount to somewhere about 55,000, and thereby obtain three or four Members more. He was speaking now both of England and Wales. Then there came another part of the question which had not yet been raised in the Committee, but which was deserving consideration, and that was the question of the boroughs above 50,000 which still retained two Members. He had put down upon the Paper an Amendment, which he should not at all attempt to discuss now, dealing with the smallest of these boroughs—he meant the town of Ipswich. He put that Amendment down, having special regard to the fact that if the quota of representation of one Member was fixed at 54,000 or 55,000 there could not be any shadow of a reason for giving two Members to any constituency which was not, by population, even entitled to one Member. There were one or two other boroughs to be found in the same category—for instance, Stockport and Northampton. No doubt, hon. Members would be sorry to deprive the House of the ornaments which those boroughs contributed to their Assembly; but still it might be possible, with the view of public necessity, even to make a sacrifice of that description. He certainly could not see why this proposition, which was based on experience of foreign countries and supported by the experience of this Assembly, should be put aside as wholly unworthy of consideration when the materials were at hand for giving it immediate effect. Of course they heard a great deal about the compact, and he would quite admit that the scheme, as a whole, was a fairly reasonable one. He also readily admitted that the compact was an arrangement which, of course, afforded the only opportunity of passing through this House any Redistribution Bill which would have any approximation to justice; but even the best of rules admitted of exceptions, and he could not c see why it should not be possible so far 1543 to infringe on this scheme in the direction proposed. He could not for the life of him understand why they should not be allowed to alter the scheme in any one single particular. He hoped the Committee would pause before rejecting the new clause which his hon. Friend (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had proposed. He believed that if the Committee was free from those bugbears which were constantly paraded before it, there would be very little difference of opinion as to the desirability of accepting this clause. He appealed to the judgment of the Committee as to whether, before they started upon the Schedules, it was not proper to deal with this question, and retain, if possible, that number of Members which had been found to work so well throughout the whole of the present century.
§ SIR. STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I consider that the question whether the number of Members of the House should be increased is a question which the Committee itself must deal with and decide upon; but my opinion is that undoubtedly the easiest and simplest way of dealing with the difficulty which presents itself is by making an addition to the number of the Members of the House. If you enter upon a business like that of recasting the representation of the people in this House, recasting it as far as you can upon the principle of equalization, you will find that you have to go into very difficult and complicated questions; and, undoubtedly, if you had to begin with reducing the number of Members allotted to any particular part of the United Kingdom, you raise the question of equalization in a much more difficult form than you would if you add to the number of the House. Undoubtedly, the criticisms that would have been applied to your scheme would have been very great if the scheme were one involving the taking away Members from England and Wales for the sake of adding to the representation of Scotland; they would have been of such a very difficult and complicated character, that I think the Government have acted wisely, and that we are right in agreeing with them. I myself feel perfectly at one with the Government in the proposal they make with regard to the mode of dealing with the increase in the representation of 'Scotland.. It has been said that what is 1544 to be now done will establish a precedent for further increasing the number of the House if at any future time an occasion arises; but we must bear in mind the particular circumstances under which this increase is proposed. We have just admitted no less than 2,000,000 voters to the electorate, which has thereby been raised from 3,000,000 to 5,000,000. The large addition of 2,000,000 voters does supply a reason for the addition to the number of the Members of the House. Upon the whole, it is the easiest method of dealing with this question, and it is one which is most likely to produce a satisfactory result. I think the Committee may well be content with the proposal of the Government.
SIR CHARLES W. DILRE
After the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), perhaps I may be allowed to make one observation. The right hon. Gentleman says that the scheme is undoubtedly favourable to the Irish counties; but that is not the case. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the scheme after the adjustment of boundaries which took place after the Bill was first introduced, he will see that the only two counties which are out of their place in the scale, so far as population is concerned, are two English counties—namely, Worcestershire and Wiltshire. The right hon. Gentleman mentions two counties—namely, Tipperary and Tyrone, from each of which a Member might very properly be taken. Now, the populations of these counties are 197,000 and 199,000 respectively; while Dorsetshire, with a population of 191,000, has the same number of Members allotted. The other case the right hon. Gentleman mentioned was the county of Armagh. Now, it has 157,000 of a population, and is to have three Members; while the East Riding of Yorkshire has 145,000 of a population, and also three Members. I have not mentioned the cases where we have left counties with a certain number of Members; but I have specially confined my remarks to where additional Members have been given.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I am anxious to say a few words on this question, because I regret to find myself in entire disagreement with what has just fallen from my right hon. Friend 1545 (Sir Stafford Northcote). My right hon. Friend argued in favour of the proposal to increase the number of the Members of the House by 12, on the ground that it was the easiest way of dealing with the necessity of giving 12 Members to Scotland. I am quite ready to admit that Scotland ought to have 12 additional Members, and in nothing I should say or do in the Committee would I seek to deprive Scotland of the proposed additional representation. But I entirely demur to my right hon. Friend's argument that we ought to adopt the course of adding 12 Members to the House, merely because it is the easiest way of getting over the difficulty. I must say, with all respect to my right hon. Friend and the Government, that it appears to me to be a piece of timidity which this House ought not to sanction. It appears to me that in making this addition to the House we are establishing a vicious, because a totally unnecessary, precedent. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Warwickshire (Sir Eardley Wilmot) has stated to the Committee that this is the first occasion since the Act of Union, at the commencement of the century, on which an addition has been made to the Members of this House. Of course, the Act of Union was a very great measure, which dealt with exceptional circumstances, requiring exceptional provisions. Sir, it cannot be necessary to add to the numbers of the House for the better transaction of the Business of the country. Why, the vice of this House is too much talk, and the more Members you add to the House, the more certain it is that the talk will be increased. It may be said that the addition of 12 Members will make no material difference; but if you once, make this increase, because you have to, meet the claims of Scotland to additional representation, another occasion may arise 10 or 20 years hence, when some other part of the United Kingdom may make a similar claim; and the you will have this precedent established —that the only way to meet the claim is to add to the number of Members. The addition of 2,000,000 voters to the const tuencies of the United Kingdom is, to my mind, no reason for making this addition of 12 Members to the House. It cannot be argued that 658 Members are not sufficient to represent the constituencies 1546 of this Kingdom, however numerous the voters in the constituencies may be. Well, then, the simple and sole reason for this addition of 12 Members is, that it is the easiest way of meeting the claims of Scotland. Well, but have the claims of Scotland never had to be met before? They were met in the Act for which my right hon. Friend himself was responsible in 1867. Scotland then received an addition of seven Members, and those Members were taken from English constituencies. What have you now to do? The Committee are aware that there are at present six vacant seats, owing to constituencies in England and Ireland having been disfranchised for corruption. Cannot Scotland have those six seats? Then there would only be six more to provide, towards which we might take the three from Ireland, to which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes) refers. Why should Ireland have more Members than was fixed by the Act of Union? I can see no reason at all. And surely the remaining three might be found out of the excess of Members which you propose to lavish on the Metropolis and great towns; or out of the constituencies between 50,000 and 55,000 inhabitants, who certainly have no right whatever to two Members, when larger towns than they are only to have one. These are propositions which I say, if Her Majesty's Government and the Committee are willing to deal with this question courageously, might meet the difficulty. By the means I have shown, it would be perfectly possible to find the increase for the representation of Scotland without any addition to the number of the Members of the House. I hope that my hon. Friend) (Sir Eardley Wilmot) will press his Motion to a division, and that, if unsuccessful, he will raise the question again; because, by so doing, he will do his best to free the House from the establishment of a precedent which, in my opinion, may lead to great mischief in the future, and which ought not to be sanctioned now, because there is not the slightest necessity for it.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I am perfectly amazed at the speech we have y just heard. The right hon. Gentleman a raises objection to the quota of 50,000, which is au essential portion of the agreement that was made. I cannot s understand how he can have made that 1547 speech, if he recollects what the agreement was. He has spoken of six seats which are at present vacant as if they were permanently vacant. By this Bill they are filled up; and, therefore, he would have to find nine seats, even if the Committee consented to take away three seats from Ireland—from Tyrone, Tipperary, and Belfast—which, I presume, they would not do. The nine seats would have to be taken away England—would have to be taken, as the right hon. Gentleman says, from the Metropolis and the larger towns of the country. The first county on the list which would necessarily suffer or lose a seat would be the county of Wiltshire, in which the right hon. Gentleman is a very large landowner. I do not know whether the inhabitants of Wiltshire would be satisfied with the decrease of their number of seats; anyhow, that would be the first consequence of the adoption of the Amendment. Worcestershire and Wiltshire would be the two English counties which would stand first on the list to lose seats. The Amendment before the Committee has been seconded by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) Now, that right hon. Gentleman complained the other night that we only allowed two seats to the City of London; and that, generally speaking, the Metro. polis was badly treated by the Bill; and now we have the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) supporting this proposition, and telling us that seats ought to be taken away from the Metropolis.
said, he wished to say word or two in support of the compact which had been arrived at by the nigh hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) and Her Majesty's Government, which appeared to him to be receiving a great deal of undeserved censure in this matter; undeserved, because they were followings precisely the precedent set in 1867 by the late Mr. Disraeli. On that occasion: it was necessary to increase the representation of Scotland. The representation of England was settled by the Bill of that year; but no Members were provided in the scheme for the increase in the representation of Scotland. He (Mr Gorst) remembered very well that when Mr. Disraeli was pressed as to where he was going to get the additional Members 1548 for Scotland, he said he had no doubt the wisdom of Parliament would provide. In 1868 the Representation of the People Bill for Scotland was brought in, and by the operation of that Bill the number of Members of this House was greatly increased, and the Bill was read a second time and was proceeding in the House with an increase of the number of Members of the House. The increase, however, was so repugnant to the sense of Parliament, that the wisdom of Parliament did provide for the emergency, for by the 43rd section of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act there were no less than seven English boroughs disfranchised for the purpose of providing seats for Scotland. Therefore, it appeared to him (Mr. Gorst) that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) and Her Majesty's Government, in putting before the House this scheme for increasing the number of seats, were following the precedents of 1867 and 1868 and if Parliament was desirous of limiting the number of Members of the House to the magic number of 658, it must be for the wisdom of Parliament to discover where the 12 seats could be saved. There were a good many proposals made for the taking away of seats from different persons and places. There were some small boroughs even yet returning Members; and he had no doubt that if an Amendment were proposed to take away from these the 12 Members which were required for Scotland, Parliament would desire to accept such a proposal if it were before the Committee. No doubt the Government and the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) would act as Mr. Disraeli acted in 1868, and recognize the wisdom of Parliament by accepting a very rea1sonable proposal.
§ Dr. LYONS
protested against any proposal for the reduction of the number of Representatives for Ireland. The representation of Ireland was fully and carefully considered at the time of the Union, and the opinion of such great statesmen as Lord Castlereagh in this matter should have attached to it the weight it deserved.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said that, for his own part, he could not support the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) on this occasion. He could not but regret to 1549 See such an instance of absolute pusillanimity as that, when the Leaders of the two Parties had come together, an obvious measure of justice, based on population with regard to the Three Kingdoms, had. not been carried out from the fear of offending a Party in the Committee. He regretted to see that the Government should have entered on the task in such a spirit and taken this step, not on grounds of absolute justice, but on the ground that hon. Members forming that section of the Committee might consider themselves aggrieved. There was not an hon. Member in the House who bad ventured, during the whole course of these discussions' to assume for one moment that it would be possible to carry on Public Business in the next Parliament with the large and preponderating influence which would be given to one class of Irish Members in the House. If, with their present numbers, the fear of them was so great as to induce the Government to depart in their interest from the lines on which the measure was framed, what did the House suppose would be the state of affairs in the next Parliament? The whole power of dictating the course of Business would be placed in the hands of that section _of Members by the action the Government had taken; and, for his own part, he felt it necessary to vote against an increase of the number of Members of the House. He could not help feeling that the opportunity of cluing justice to all parts of the United Kingdom had been missed, and that the attempt which had been made to give extra representation to Scotland, at the expense of the numbers of the House, was one which would still leave Scotland at a disadvantage in view of the preponderating influence giver to Ireland, and that the proposition before the Committee might have beer avoided if justice had been done with out fear or favour to all parties in the country.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
said, he had voted in favour of the reduction of the number of Irish Representatives; but it appeared to him that if the Amendment were carried, the only effect would be that England would lose a number o Members, while Scotland would get he increase. He could not support the principle of giving Scotland that increase at the expense of the English 1550 constituencies. In refusing to vote for the proposal, he was simply refusing to vote for the reduction of English Members by nine.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 149: Majority 102.—(Div. List, No. 62.)
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that in consequence of a communication which had been sent across the Table to him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to move the notes to the Schedules as a new clause he had given an undertaking to do so, and he now wished to give effect to that undertaking. He merely wished to say that he had been quite right in his assertion that many Bills had contained notes to the Schedules in the form in which they had appeared in this Bill. The Artizans' Dwellings Act was a case in point, and a similar form had been adopted in connection with other measures, although, so far as he was personally concerned, he preferred to have the notes in the form of a clause.
§ New Clause (Notes to the Schedules,)—(Sir Charles W. Dilke,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Question, " That the Clause be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, to leave out the words " Notes to the."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ Question, " That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word " Schedules," to insert the words " to this Act."
§ Question, " That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that in line 6 of the Schedule the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Charles W. Dilke) appeared to him to define obscurum per obscurius. He said " the word county means county at large." What did that mean?
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he had thought that surely the right hon. Gentleman would have been capable of understanding that the phrase " county at large " was a phrase commonly used 1551 to describe the whole Parliamentary county.
In page 12, line 29, after " eighty-five," insert "for the purposes of municipal elections."—(Sir Charles W. Mice.)
Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, it seemed to him very absurd to put in as a definition of a Parliamentary polling district those which existed on the 1st of January, 1885, seeing that they were going to alter the Parliamentary districts in this Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, it had been impossible to leave to Local Authorities the power of altering the dates of elections. It was necessary to fix them by law, and it was necessary also to have some past date. They could not take some future day. It would, of course, be very easy to alter the date on some future occasion.
§ Question put, and agreed to; words inserted accordingly.
§ MR. CAUSTON
said, he wished to move a new clause to the effect that at any General Election the elections in all cities and boroughs of the United Kingdom should be held on one and the same day. The same objection could not be raised to this clause that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross); and he might say that he moved this Amendment in the interests of the electors, candidates, and Returning Officers. Such an arrangement as he proposed would be fair to all parties. No uncertainty as to the day of election could possibly prevail; no pressure could be put on the Returning Officer to fix a day; and the Party opposed to the political views of the Returning Officer could not be damnified by that person's choice of date for the election. He was sure that it would be much more agreeable to the feelings of the Returning Officer himself to have the day fixed in this way, and also that it would be greatly to the interest of commerce throughout the United King- 1552 dom to have all these contests taking place simultaneously. He could see no possible objection to adopting this course. He could see that in the case of the counties there might be some difficulty in carrying out a similar proposal; but in the case of the boroughs he maintained that the clause would be found to work to the interests of Returning Officers, and would avoid pressure or Party feeling being brought to bear on the Returning Officer by either side. As to who was to fix the day for a General Election, that would have to be made the subject of another clause. There would be no difficulty in adopting a plan for fixing that day. It might be made a certain number of days succeeding the issue of the Writ, or they might say that if Parliament dissolved on such and such a day the election in all boroughs should take place on such and such a day. He could not see any serious obstacle in the way of carrying out this proposal. He, therefore, hoped that the Committee would give its careful and favourable consideration to his plan. He moved the clause in no Party spirit. He thought it was a fair and reasonable proposal, as he had said before, in the interests of the electors, candidates, and Returning Officers.
§ New Clause (General Elections,)—(Mr. Causton,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the said Clause .be now read a second time."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that this Amendment seemed to him to be a little wide of the object of the Bill. It was a mere declaration of principle also, and did not provide any machinery for carrying out the principle it laid down, and it would require a considerable amendment of the law in order to carry it out. The Rules were issued to the Returning Officers, but there was an Act which allowed elasticity with regard to distance and so forth; and provision would have to be made to enable places at a distance from London, such as those in the North of Scotland, and in the extreme West of Ireland, to receive the Writs and to arrange the elections. The Writs took much longer time to reach some places than others. But his main objection to the proposal was that it was wide of the object of the Bill.
§ MR. CROPPER
said, that, in spite of the remarks of his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke), he could not help thinking that it would be of very great value at the present time to assert the principle of the Amendment. It seemed to him that, in addition to other advantages which would be given, the Amendment would obviate the great inconvenience which arose from the dislocation of business, the excitement, and the troubles to a candidate resulting from the present want of uniformity in the dates of elections. They should have this very important fact before them—that in a General Election the losing Party lost a great deal more through this want of uniformity for the reason that when a few elections went against a Party the electors at subsequent elections were influenced by what had already taken place. The losing Party in 1874, and also in 1880, lost more than they otherwise would have done by reason of the effect of one borough election upon another. The result of winning some seats resulted in a considerable number of other victories being gained. There were many men who had so little political principle that they would seem to allow their opinions to be decided by the success which one or other of the Parties was obtaining around them. It seemed to him that by fixing one date for all elections they would get over all the trouble, all the excitement, and all the causes that at present existed. They themselves as candidates would be immensely benefited, and as electors they would also feel it a great blessing. He could not conceive how anyone could object to the proposal, except the newspapers, which reaped a great harvest from recording false and true reports as to the results of various elections which were going on for a considerable period. It seemed to him that the difficulty as to counties would not hold in regard to cities and boroughs. There could be no objection on the score of the Returning Officer having the work to do, because that official would not be called upon to do any more work than he would have to perform at present. As to the difficulty assumed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in regard to the distance and the difficulty of communication, it seemed to him that in the days of quick posts and telegraphs 1554 the difficulty was reduced to almost nothing. He was convinced that if it could be stated that on the "Wednesday or the Thursday after the Dissolution of Parliament a new Election should take place, quite sufficient time would be granted, and it would be possible in all boroughs to carry out the arrangement. It seemed to him that the amount of trouble that was caused by persons who went from one borough to another—by platform orators, men in the moon, and the various other notorious persons who exercised some influence on election days being unable to carry on their operations in various districts at various times—would be done away with, and that they would have a much more simple, a much less expensive, and a much less exciting method of carrying on a contest at the time of a General Election than they had at present. He hoped the hon. Member (Mr. Causton) would go into the Lobby, because he believed he would see that there were a great many hon. Members in the Committee who had found from their own experience the immense difficulties which attached to not having all the elections on one day.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he wished to point out what an enormous inconvenience would follow from the adoption of this clause, because the same day would have to be appointed for elections, not only in all the boroughs of England, but throughout the Kingdom, iucluding the far distant Wick Burghs. Not a single borough election could take place in England until the day appointed for the election in the Wick Burghs arrived. That would involve an enormous inconvenience; and, certainly, there was nothing that could add more to the turmoil of an election contest.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he thought there were certainly some strong reasons in favour of the proposed clause. It had always seemed to him—and the last two General Elections had greatly supported the view—that an undue amount of weight was attached to those elections which took place on the first day of the contest; and when the result of the first day's elections, in what he might call a few petty boroughs was in favour of one particular Party, that Party gained an undue advantage in the contests still pending in the more important consti- 1555 tuencies. However, circumstances had occurred since the last General Election which materially affected the matter, and greatly modified that view. In the first place, these small boroughs had been got rid of—the Parliamentary boroughs of the country would now be of a much larger size than those he had referred to. In the second place, he did not think that the subsequent elections would, for the future, be affected to so great an extent by those which were decided at the very beginning of the contest. Therefore, although there might formerly have been good reason for the adoption of such a course as was now proposed, there would not be the same necessity for it now, especially as the larger boroughs were now to be divided into divisions.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
thought the drawback of the proposal would outweigh its advantages. One day might be more convenient than another for election in one particular borough; but it might be just the opposite in the case of another borough.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, he wished to say one word. This question appeared to him to contain a balance of inconveniences. It was inconvenient, no doubt, for any gentleman, who had five, six, seven, or eight votes in different constituencies, and who wished to utilize them all. He could quite understand why the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton) should not be likely to be received with very much gratification by hon. Gentlemen who were placed in that position. But if the Committee would look at the matter fairly, they ought to consider, not alone the inconveniences of those who were surfeited with votes, but the convenience of those hon. Gentlemen who had one constituency to stand for. He spoke as an Irish Member, who would not be at all sorry if hon. Gentlemen opposite, who spoke with a power of language to which he never could pretend, and who followed the Leadership of the hon. Member for the City of Cork—(Mr. Parnell)—could be concentrated together in some small bailliewick. He had heard it said to-night, in reply to the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie), who moved the first Amendment, that the essence of this Bill was the representation of diversity of interests and of local feeling, so that the people of a locality should be al- 1556 lowed to express their opinions fairly and freely without interference. It appeared to him (Sir Patrick O'Brien) that a system such as had been proposed by the hon. Member for Colchester would be of advantage in Ireland. Although on other occasions he would be delighted to hear those hon. Gentlemen opposite, to whom he had already referred, and who had made their names famous all over Europe by their oratory, still, for his own part, and notwithstanding the fact that he himself in his humble person had the honour of having five votes in Ireland, he would be very willing to sacrifice four of them for the purpose of obtaining the absence of those hon. Gentlemen during his election. He did not think, in saying that, that he was pursuing a course which was very different from that of many hon. Gentlemen—he would, not of course, call them professional politicians—who believed that they occupied a status in society, which numbers of people might give to them, but which the whole community might not; and who, if they lost a seat in one place, had a chance of what he might call "trying back" in three or four others. Under these circumstances, he would be disposed to support the Motion of the hon. Gentleman; but there was one consideration which, perhaps, might remove the difficulty, and that was that there were such gentlemen as Returning Officers and Sheriffs, who looked after the returns; and it was a question for the consideration of the Committee whether, instead of laying down a hard-and-fast rule, such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Colchester, they should not leave the matter to the discretion of these Returning Officers and Sheriffs. It would, no doubt, be a good thing in Ireland to have all the oratory in one day—one orator in Mayo, another in Galway, another in Cork, another in King's County, and others in other places—and then the people in the morning who read all these efforts, which were to be admired or deplored as people might think fit, would, have the advantage of getting all these orations in one morning's journal, which would be a great gratification, instead of having them spread over four or five weeks.
§ MR. CAUSTON
said, he would not trouble the Committee to divide, as the Government did not find it possible to 1557 fall in with the suggestion he had made.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ First Schedule.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that hardly any Amendments had been made to the Bill; and certainly none had been made that were of the slightest importance. There would, therefore, be nothing to reprint.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.