HC Deb 11 May 1885 vol 298 cc278-91

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he wished to explain to the House the extreme urgency of this Bill, to which he made allusion at Question time tonight. He thought he was quite justified in using the words "extreme urgency." The House of Lords would sit to-morrow; they did not sit on Wednesday or on Thursday of this week, Thursday being Ascension Day, on which day the House of Lords never sat. If the Bill was read a third time to-night, the House of Lords would be able to read the Bill a first time tomorrow, and to take the second reading on Friday next. Now, the urgency of the Bill being read a second time in the House of Lords on Friday next was very great. The passing of the Bill without delay was just as necessary as the passing of the three Registration Bills. Until this Bill had become law merged boroughs would exist, and exist for registration purposes; the new boroughs would not come into existence; the altered boundaries of old boroughs would have no force; the new divisions of counties and boroughs would not exist. The result of that was to produce a state of utter confusion with regard to the duties of Clerks of the Peace, Town Clerks, and overseers. The town clerks of the merged boroughs had to issue precepts which would be of no effect. The different conditions under which the ownership vote and the occupation vote now existed in the boroughs to be merged, and under which they would hereafter exist, would cause the precepts to be inapplicable. Similar difficulties would arise with respect to the precepts issued by Clerks of the Peace in districts now parts of counties, but which were hereafter to form new boroughs, or to be included in boroughs. The precepts to be issued by Town Clerks and Clerks of the Peace ought to be issued not later than the 10th of June, and before that time eight days were required for the drawing out and the printing of the precepts. The Act itself was not likely to be in the hands of the Town Clerks until about eight days after it had passed through Parliament and received, the Royal Assent. Should the Bill be delayed in the other House, owing, for instance, to the Whitsuntide holidays, a great practical difficulty would arise, as to the formation of the polling districts. All polling districts which divided parishes had to be formed before the 1st of July, before which the magistrates must meet. The three Registration Bills should pass on as early a date as possible; but they were so drawn that they must pass after this Bill. For instance, "divided boroughs" and "Parliamentary counties," about which there was a great deal to be found in the three Registration Bills, were, of course, expressions which had no meaning until this Bill was passed. If, therefore, Parliament were to pass the Registration Bills in advance of the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill, they would legislate in regard to matters which did not exist. Now, he thought he had established a case of urgency for the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), judging from what he said at Question time to-day, was of opinion that very large changes were made in the Bill on the Report stage. Having gone very carefully through the Bill, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that that was not the case. The changes made were almost entirely changes of name. There were four changes in borough names, and of 339 county names only 36 were altered on Report. The changes included the adoption of points of the compass, and the striking out in certain cases and the adding in an equal number of cases of alternative names. Under all the circumstances, therefore, he felt bound, in the public interest, to press on the House the importance of reading the Bill a third time to-night. It was suggested on Friday night, when Report was finished, that the Bill should be read a third time. He had reason to believe, from inquiry he had made, that such a proposal would have been well received by the House; but he knew, from an announcement made by the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), that although that hon. and learned Gentleman would not have objected to take the third reading then, he would have divided against it. Under the circumstances he did not think it right to take the third reading immediately after Report. There was a very thin House, and therefore, in all probability, some Members would have objected to that course being adopted. He regretted that he was obliged to ask the House to read the Bill a third time at that late hour (2.15).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Charles W. Dike.)


said, he was very willing to go a great way to meet the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman, because he thought hon. Members owed him a debt of gratitude for the admirable manner in which he had conducted the Bill through the House. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was with no wish to diminish the credit which attached to him that he felt obliged to take exception to the course he had now recommended. Admitting the force of all that had been said, ho thought a case had not been made out for pressing the Bill to a third reading that night. The right hon. Baronet told them the House of Lords would not sit on Wednesday or Thursday this week, and that the Bill must be sent up to them at once, otherwise they would not receive it before Friday, in which case it could not be read a second time before the Whitsuntide Recess. He (Mr. Raikes), however, would point out that, in the event of this House disposing of the Bill to-morrow, it could reach the House of Lords in time for second reading on Friday; for in that House there was a custom when, on an emergency, an important Bill was to come up from the House of Commons, to adjourn during pleasure to await the arrival of such Bill, in order when it came, later in the evening, to read it a first time. He thought that, in regard to a Bill of such importance as this—perhaps the most important Bill that had been brought forward during the last half century—Her Majesty's Government should allow hon. Members every opportunity for consideration. The measure closely affected their own privileges; it had reference to the seats they occupied in the House. There had been alterations made in the Bill on the Report stage—alterations in its nomenclature in a great number of places. The measure, as finally passed, should be reprinted, so that Members of the House of Commons would not have to go to the other House in order to obtain a copy of the Bill as introduced there, so as to find out its contents when it left the House of Commons. Surely this House should have a complete record of its own work—of its work on a subject fundamentally connected with its own privileges. He could not help thinking it was a most reasonable claim to make that they should have the Bill in their hands in the precise form in which it was reported and read a third time. It was a very common thing in connection with Bills of much less importance than this to have them reprinted after they had been amended on Report. He was familiar with cases in which this course had been adopted in regard to Bills of a most trumpery description; and he maintained that in dealing with a Bill which affected so materially the position of hon. Members in the House—which affected hon. Members even more largely than their constituencies—it was not an unreasonable thing to request that the third reading might be delayed a sufficient length of time to enable the Bill to be reprinted and submitted in its complete form. As he had said, if the House of Lords received the Bill at even a late hour to-morrow, it would be quite competent for them to read it a second time on Friday. Having regard to all those considerations, he hoped the House would insist upon such delay as was necessary for the reprinting of the Bill. He begged to move the adjournment of the debate.


said, he desired to second the Motion. He felt as strongly impressed as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) with the admirable manner in which the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had conducted the Bill through the House. He ventured to say, indeed, that no one else sitting on the Treasury Bench would have managed the Bill so well as the right hon. Baronet had done; but, at the same time, he must point out that unless they had the measure reprinted before it went up to the House of Lords they would not possess a correct record of what had been done in this Chamber, and would not be able to put right several matters which required alteration. For instance, it had been decided that the Pembroke Division should be called "Pembroke or Haverfordwest;" but the alteration had not been made by the right hon. Baronet in the stereo. There were alterations also required in the Bill in the matter of the numbering of certain provisions; in fact, he was quite sure there were several points in regard to which it was necessary that the Bill should be amended before it left this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Raikes.)


wished to say one word in support of the view of the President of the Local Government Board. He thought the right hon. Baronet had clearly shown to the House that it was most important that the measure should be read a third time here and sent to the House of Lords. There was one point on which, he thought, they were all agreed; and that was that they all wished that the Bill should, as soon as might be, become law, because both sides of the House were anxious to appeal to the country. That appeal could not be made until the Bill had become law. On those grounds he hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a third time.


said, the Government were of opinion that there was force in the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) when he complained that no record of the Bill would be kept if it were not reprinted before it was sent up to the other House. The suggestion was a reasonable one, and the Government were disposed to meet that view; and, if the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the arrangement, a copy of the Bill as it had now passed would be deposited in the Vote Office clearly showing the Amendments. That would form a practical record of what had been done in this House. The right hon. Gentleman had proposed the adjournment of the debate until tomorrow. If the debate were adjourned the Government would not be able to deal with the Bill to-morrow, or, at any rate, they would be in the same position with regard to it as they were now, because the Registration Bill would stand before it. The question was not one touching the duty or convenience of the Government, or even of Members of the House; but it was one principally affecting Clerks of the Peace, Town Clerks, and other election agents. The settlement of the point before the House would decide the question whether the Bill should pass the House of Lords before or after the Whitsuntide Vacation. If it was not passed before the Recess the result would be to throw a burden on the Clerks of the Peace and Town Clerks which they could not properly bear, and which they ought not to be asked to bear. Some of the duties which were necessary to be performed commenced ordinarily on the 10th of June, but could not be entered upon this year before the passing of this Bill. It was useless for them to go on with the Registration Bills unless they could obtain the passing of the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill through the House of Lords. This was not only the view of the Government. Their attention had been called to it by the Clerks of the Peace and Town Clerks, upon whom the burden would fall, and the House would not be fulfilling its duty to those officers if it did not allow them sufficient time to do what was expected of them. He trusted hon. Gentlemen would allow them to proceed to read the Bill a third time.


said, that, after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member, he should be happy to withdraw the Motion he had made. He had attained the object at which he had aimed, for, as he understood the promise of the Government, it was that the Bill, as amended, would be in the hands of hon. Members before long.


asked whether hon. Members would have an opportunity of protesting against the third reading before the final vote?


Yes; now.


said, there were many hon. Members not now present who were anxious to express an opinion upon the measure as it now stood before it passed to the House of Lords. On a former occasion, because there was no formal protest made in the House, the Prime Minister had put on the Minutes after the passing of a Bill "nemine contradicente." In order to prevent that on the present occasion he (Mr. Macartney), when the Question was put, should say "No!"


Is it your pleasure that the Motion be withdrawn?


said, he wished to protest in the strongest manner against the way in which his constituents had been treated in this Bill.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks will be more pertinent when I put the Question, "That this Bill be read a third time." The Question now before the House is that the Motion for the adjournment of the debate be withdrawn.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.


said, he wished in the strongest manner to protest against the gross injustice with which his constituents had been treated by the provisions of the Bill. It seemed excessively hard that he should have foisted upon him a population of no less than 90,000, which was larger by 20,000 than any constituency in England. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had said that his own constituency of Chelsea was nearly as large; but the right hon. Gentleman must be perfectly aware that a rural constituency of 90,000 was very different to a borough constituency of that number. But as the Bill was the joint production of both political Parties, he was bound to say that the managers of the Conservative Party—he did not know who they were—had grossly mismanaged, or rather had entirely neglected, their duty in respect to Scotland. As far as he was able to understand—and he had it on very good authority—they had made no stipulation at all with regard to Scotland; therefore, he (General Alexander) had no hesitation in saying that the managers of the Conservative Party had neglected their duty towards Scotland. They would have taken very good care that no constituency in England had a constitu- ency of anything like 90,000; but it seemed to have been perfectly immaterial to them whether such a constituency was formed for Scotland. It might be said that they did not know that the population of South Ayrshire would be 90,000; but if they did not know it they should have known it. They would regret too late—when Conservatism was entirely stamped out of Scotland—the Conservative Party would regret that they had shown this base ingratitude towards the county which, even in the great crash of 1880, returned two Conservative Members to the House. The time had passed for a division against the measure; but when the Question was put that the Bill be read a third time, he should say "No!" as a protest against the manner in which his constituency had been treated by both political Parties in the House.


said, that as he had stated the other night that he should divide against the Bill he fully intended to do so. As to the observations of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down, to the effect that the interests of the Conservative Party in Scotland had been neglected, it appeared to him (Mr. Healy) that there was a very feasible explanation of that—namely, that the energies of the Tory Party were entirely concentrated upon the North of Ireland. That would explain why they had not been able to give that attention to South Ayrshire which the exigencies of the case might have demanded. He (Mr. Healy) had been greatly entertained by the protests of the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney); but, unfortunately, this Bill would go down to posterity with the record that the Irish Tory Party from the North of Ireland failed to move a single Amendment in the discussions of the boundaries of the Bill, and that the only occasions on which those Gentlemen interfered were with regard to the preservation of the names of Lisburn and Carrickfergus. On every other occasion that great and glorious body of gladiators failed to do their duty to their constituents. Strongly as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had opposed the Nationalist Members, ho (Mr. Healy) wished to pay a tribute of respectful admiration to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he had conducted the Bill in his charge through the House. On every occasion the right hon. Gentleman had opposed the Nationalist Party. He had not made them a single concession whatever on any material point. He had allowed them to have two or three names changed; but on every material point he had not yielded in the slightest degree. But if the right hon. Gentleman had opposed them he had done so with a grace and good temper which no one could fail to admire. Whatever were the record of the Tory Party as to the compromise on this Bill one reputation would stand higher than it ever did before—namely, the reputation of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board. He (Mr. Healy) had regarded the single seat system introduced by the Bill as a soap boilers' provision, and had, therefore, opposed it. He was told that Ireland gained something even in getting 103 Representatives instead of 105, seeing that the number allotted to her by the Act of Union was only 100; but the English Members now numbered considerably more. So far as the Boundary Commission was concerned, he believed it would remain a monument of the fraud and baseness of the Irish Government. Indeed, the Bill, in every possible shape and form, had been a cheat upon the Irish people. In the Province of Ulster, in Donegal, Armagh, South Derry, Tyrone, and Down, the Commissioners had converted what was a popular majority into an anti-popular majority. The Conservatives might complain of the Bill, but they had woke up too late. Their protest ought to have been made six months ago, when the Representation of the People Bill passed. This Bill protected them in every possible way, and he challenged any hon. Gentleman who looked into the facts to say that it did not. The county divisions, as first designed by the Commissioners, would have secured, a popular majority in all the divisions of Tyrone, Donegal, Dublin, South Derry, and Armagh; and as no change could be brought about except by jerrymandering the constituencies, everything that could possibly be done in that direction had been done by the Commission. The Marquess of Salisbury distinctly told the Conservatives—"Your future depends upon the spirit in which the Bill is worked." It was a distinct instruction to the Com- missioners, and they had acted upon it. In every single instance where the original scheme of the Commissioners had been changed—in Down, in Derry, in Donegal, in Armagh, in Dublin, and in Wicklow, those Gentlemen had cheated the popular Party. The Bill was the result of a compromise, and on that account he hoped that he would not be using an un-Parliamentary expression when he said that it was the illegitimate offspring of unfortunate parents. The House of Commons had had the House of Lords at their mercy, and they failed to take advantage of the fact. The Upper House had always obstructed and defied popular ideas; and when the Lords were at the mercy of the Commons, for the sake of bringing about a compromise, they entered into a treaty with their worst enemies, which gave the House of Lords a new lease of life. He (Mr. Healy) was not surprised at that result when he found himself face to face with a Cabinet, one-half of whom were Lords or expected to be Lords. This was the state of things which had been brought about because a number of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, who were supposed to exercise considerable influence over the Ministry and the Liberal Party, refrained from giving expression to their real opinions, and allowed themselves to be choked. [Cries of"Question!" and "Order!"] Whenever he said anything unpleasant he always found that he was out of Order. He would only say, in conclusion, that the Radical Party would live to regret the compromise they had made—a compromise not founded upon good faith, good sense, or, in his opinion, upon good policy. This Bill, which was to have been the charter of democratic liberties in future, would in the end be torn to fragments by the true Democratic Party.


wished to say a few words to supplement the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (General Alexander). He did not agree with his hon. and gallant Friend in the depressed view he took of the fortunes of the Conservative Party in Scotland. Nor would he describe the few words he intended to say as a protest, for that sounded like a futile attempt. He wished deliberately to put on record the efforts which had been made on that side of the House to re- medy the gross injustice of the Bill as it was originally placed before the House in Committee. It was well known that although 12 seats were given by the Bill to Scotland the details of the measure, so far as Scotland was concerned, had been entirely neglected. He had often heard it said in the House of Commons that Governments paid but indifferent attention to the effect which an Imperial measure would have on Scotland; and it would appear as if the Leaders of Parties had entered upon no details of the Scotch case. It was no doubt on this account that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had placed before the House a scheme of his own. That scheme, however, was ultra vires and inconsistent with the compact between the two Front Benches, and accordingly it was ultimately abandoned. The consequence was that, as the Bill now stood, the arrangements in regard to population between the counties and boroughs were grossly unfair; and although the Scotch Conservative Members had endeavoured in the course of the Bill to remedy that defect, to some extent, their efforts had been attended with no success. He believed that the right hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had fully recognized the force of their claims. The right hon. Gentleman had so expressed himself in many cases; but, as the right hon. Gentleman found it more important to conciliate his own Friends than to concede the just claims of his opponents, nothing was done. The Bill, when it passed, would introduce this unsatisfactory state of things, that the population of the counties would be enormously in excess of those of the boroughs. In the case of the county represented by his hon. and gallant Friend (General Alexander)—Ayrshire—there would be an enormous county population with one Member, while a group of burghs in the same county, with a much smaller population, would also return a Member. The Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Trevelyan) said that the object of the Bill was to secure that the opinion of the country should be fully represented. That was what was desired by all; but it was impossible to say that it had been obtained by the present measure. In point of fact, the rural voters would be absolutely overwhelmed by the enormous numerical strength of the town popula- tions thrown into the divisions. He and his hon. Friends had desired by adding to the existing groups of burghs to remedy the inequality, but they had entirely failed. He would not charge the Government with having been animated by a desire to cut up the constituencies so as to suit the convenience of any political Party; but he was bound to say, seeing how stubbornly the Party opposite had stuck to what had been done, that the arrangement must have been favourable to themselves. He had no wish to arouse Party feeling; but the inequalities between the two sets of constituencies were so gross and so unfair that he regretted the matter had not received more consideration at the hands of the Government and of the House. He had felt that he ought not to allow the final stage of the Bill to pass without placing those opinions upon record.


merely wished to say that he had listened to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) with much astonishment. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think that blessings of an extraordinary kind were conferred by the Bill upon the Conservative Party. He failed to see how the Conservative Party would derive the great advantages which the hon. and learned Member seemed to expect. So far as the single-Member constituencies were concerned, he was as hostile to them as the hon. and learned Member. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member in very few matters; but that evening a very remarkable occurrence had taken place, seeing that on two occasions he had found himself in the same Division Lobby as the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, he could not allow the Bill to be read a third time without repeating an expression of his deep conviction that the effect of the Bill would be extremely derogatory to the character of the House of Commons. He joined in the regret which had been expressed at the introduction of the single-Member system. He thought, himself, that it would be the introduction of the greatest possible element of chance into the representation of the people in that Assembly. He feared that the judgment of the country might find expression in the House of Com- mons in a different direction from that which was the judgment of the country at large, and as a necessary consequence the force of public opinion would run a risk of being entirely miscalculated. Although that was a considerable danger, a matter still more to be deplored was the prospect of the absence of that element of independence which had characterized the House of Commons in the past, and which with a better system might have been still further developed in the future. [A laugh.] His right hon. Friend the Postmaster General (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) appeared to laugh at those auguries. He (Mr. Courtney) should be glad indeed if they were falsified. At all events, the matter was too serious to be lightly regarded or scoffed at. He was speaking not only on a matter of a priori reasoning, but from the experience afforded by practice in other countries, where it had been found that the character of the representation decided by single-Member constituencies was much more narrow and restricted than it would have been under the double-Member system which had existed in this country so long. Personally, he would have preferred to run the risk of a Serutin de Liste than to be compelled to accept the single-Member system. It was a somewhat extraordinary fact that while the House of Commons was adapting its constitution to that of the Chamber of Deputies in France, that country was getting rid of the system which had now been tried for some years, and the result of which had been found to be the introduction of an inferior character into the French Legislative Assembly. It had been abundantly established that the representation had been degraded, and that the character of the Deputies who found their way into the Chamber was much inferior to that of the old Representatives. All the fears which were originally expressed had been realized, and respectable people had been debarred from the privilege of entering that Assembly. He feared that a similar state of things might be brought about in this country by the adoption of the single-Member system, and that they would not obtain that representation of independent popular thought which was expected when the franchise was extended, to the result of the further enfranchisement of the people. He could not say that he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) in the remarks he had made as to the jerrymandering of the Irish constituencies. He confessed that he was a sceptic upon that point, and believed that the Commissioners had conducted their operations with perfect honesty. The evil, however, was already upon them in the very fact that such a suspicion should be entertained and so freely expressed. He was afraid that it was impossible to have single-Member constituencies without running greatrisk of imputations as to the justice with which the old constituencies had been cut up. Already they had heard direct accusations in connection with the Irish constituencies, and there had been suggestions of the same thing elsewhere. He would express once more his deep regret that it had been felt necessary to establish single-Member constituencies as one of the principles of the Bill.


said, that in Ireland Her Majesty's Government had delegated to obscure officials work which they were ashamed to do themselves. They professed to be guided by a desire to secure the public good, whereas they had been actuated throughout by a desire to give a greater share of power to the minority in Ireland. Probably the effect upon the House of Commons collectively would not be much worse than the existing arrangement. Indeed, the present state of things was so bad that any change must bring about something better.

Original Question put, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

The House divided;—Ayes 116; Noes 33: Majority 83.—(Div. List, No. 178.)