§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON (Essex, Epping)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the Bill had been some time before the country, and he hoped he might say there was a considerable consensus of opinion in its favour. The recent Reform Act enfran- 357 chised all capable citizens who paid rates and taxes; it even enfranchised many who lived in houses, but did not pay rates and taxes directly. Yet it most unfairly left out a large class of as capable citizens as there were in this country, who had shown by their conduct that they were as fit to be intrusted with the privilege of voting as any other citizens. An attempt was made to remove the grievance of the police at the time of the passing of the Franchise Bill in 1884. A clause was moved for the purpose; but the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) took exception to the introduction of it, though not on the merits of the clause itself, and after a discussion it was withdrawn. In 1885 Mr. Coleridge Kennard, then Member for Salisbury, introduced a measure on the subject, which received the support of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the then Home Secretary the right hon. Member for a division of Lancashire. The second reading was carried without a division, but it was too late in the Session to make any further progress with the Bill. He hoped, however, that the early period at which he had been able to bring on the Bill this Session was a favourable augury of the ultimate success that would attend it. It was said that the opinions of the Force were not unanimously in favour of the Bill. Some chief constables, including those of Macclesfield and Herefordshire, had strongly opposed the extension of the franchise to the police. But an organ which was supposed to express the opinions of the Police Force of the country showed that a vast number of equally competent chief constables had taken an entirely opposite view. They had represented, with a great amount of force and reason, that the police were quite as well qualified to vote as were soldiers, who enjoyed the franchise, and as Revenue officers and Post Office officials. They said that the police regarded it as a slur and as a mark of incapacity that they should be deprived of a privilege which had been given to almost everybody else. The hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) in February last received a deputation to congratulate him upon his return. This deputation spoke on behalf of 151 chief constables of counties or boroughs representing over 10,000 men, and the 358 deputation expressed their confidence that one effect of his return would be an additional guarantee that the grievances of the police, of which disfranchisement was one, would speedily be removed. The hon. Member in his reply said he regarded this as one of the grievances from which the police suffered, and he congratulated them on their unanimity in desiring its removal. This question had already been tested with perfect success in Scotland. The police in 32 counties and in a certain number of the burghs of Scotland created under the Lindsay Act in 1862 were in the same position as their brother constables in England, and were not possessed of the vote; but all cities and Royal burghs in Scotland had ever had the vote for their constables, and they had exercised that vote for many years without the least hitch or hindrance, with perfect advantage to the police as a force, and with no injury or detriment to the general public. Chief Constable M'Call, of Glasgow, who was in command of 1,083 men, said that he entirely agreed with the Chief Constable of Dundee, who had 163 men under him, that he never heard that the voting of the Police Force had been injurious to the Public Service, and that he thought they had always exercised the vote without prejudice to the public interests or their own. This was confirmed by the Chief Constable of Edinburgh, Captain Henderson, who commanded 429 men, and said that he knew no body of men who were more likely to use the privilege with judgment and discretion and for the good of the country. He had been told by one or two chief constables that what was now proposed would be likely to interfere with discipline. But if we could trust our soldiers with the vote, why not trust the police? He thought he was justified in saying that it was time that the disqualification should be removed, and the same privilege which had been conferred upon other classes should be extended to the police. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. JOSEPH COWEN (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
, in seconding the Motion, said, that after the complete and lucid statement of his right hon. Friend there was little left for him to add. The police laboured under unwarrantable disabilities. We gave our soldiers liberty to 359 vote and refused it to the police, although the man who once became a soldier could never divest himself of his military character, whereas a policeman, when off duty, was essentially a citizen. We also gave votes to postmen, as well as to Civil servants and Excise officers. There was no other class in the community, indeed, that was disqualified from exercising political power except the police. And there was really no justification for the exclusion. The police in Scotland had it, and the police in the Colonies and other countries—where they had more onerous duties to perform than they had here—also possessed it, and in no instance did they use it adversely to the State. The late Home Secretary was in favour of the principle of the Bill, so was his Predecessor; and he hoped the present holder of the Office would be a supporter also. There was no body of men in the country to whom Englishmen were more indebted for their security and liberty than to the policemen. They were an ever-present but an almost invisible force for good in our social system. To deprive such men of the primary rights of citizenship which they did so much to protect was a glaring injustice and anomaly. There might have been some justification for withholding this power from them in former times. The right to vote might then possibly have been an injury to the policemen themselves, as when votes were given openly it would have been possible for members of the Watch Committees in boroughs and magistrates in counties to ascertain how the men had voted, and they might have been punished for their political opinions. But that was impossible now. They could exercise their power without supervision or without the chance of injury; and he trusted that the House would unanimously pass a Bill which only sought to do a tardy act of justice to a deserving body of public servants.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
said, that as he took a somewhat conspicuous part in the last Parliament in opposition to a similar proposal, he hoped the House would allow him to state the course which he intended to take in reference to this Bill. His hon. Friend who had last spoken had said 360 that they had enfranchised the soldier, therefore they ought to enfranchise the police. The fact was soldiers never were disfranchised, but had always had the right to vote; whereas the police had been disfranchised from the very time of their creation as a force under the Municipal Act of 1835, and every other Act under which bodies of constabulary had been formed. Under these Acts not only were the police rendered incapable of voting, but they were not allowed to affect the vote of any other person; and the reason for this provision—which, might at first sight appear strange—was that the Legislature intended that the policemen who had to appear at political meetings, and whose duty it was to keep the peace between the political parties, should be perfectly independent, and never regarded as a political partizan. It was considered desirable that the police should be removed from even the suspicion of showing favour to political allies and disfavour to political opponents. Therefore, the analogy which his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle relied on was not well founded. Soldiers had never interfered at elections; they were not present at political meetings to keep the peace, and they did not appear in public while elections were being held. It was therefore immaterial whether they were political partizans or not. In the case of policemen, however, it had been thought, at least in past times, that they should be removed from all suspicion of being partizans. It was under circumstances of this kind, in consequence of legislation by the Government of Sir Robert Peel, passed with the full and unanimous occurrence of both political Parties, that this matter was raised in 1885. In the last Parliament, when the Franchise Bill was before the House, and Mr. Coleridge Kennard moved an Amendment with a view to conferring the franchise on the police, he stated his reasons for opposing it. What had taken place on that occasion was impressed upon his memory by the fact that he had received support from an unexpected quarter. Mr. Warton sprung up, and said that the happiest day of his life had been reached because he found himself able to agree with every word the Attorney General had said. Mr. Kennard withdrew his Amendment, and so the matter rested until 1885, when the ques- 361 tion was again mooted and an attempt was made to reverse the previous decision. What he asked for then, being at the time in Opposition, was that an opportunity should be afforded the House to reflect upon the question. He was glad he had done so, for the subject was now approached with fuller information. The matter had been discussed at the General Election, and he had to confess that he believed there were a majority of Members within the House, and a consensus of opinion outside, in favour of giving the vote to the police. It had not been unreasonable to entertain the opinion he had formerly held; and he still thought that if they looked at the matter in an abstract light, the weight of authority would be against the proposal; but they had to deal with it as a practical question, and he thought it would be inadvisable to have it made a subject of discussion at future elections and a burning question. Therefore, though he did not go back from the opinion he had previously expressed, now that the question had been brought into the position which it occupied, he would not be disposed to oppose the second reading of the Bill. There were a few more subjects he wished to refer to. A question arose whether they were going to make the policeman a whole citizen. They retained by the Bill the disqualification of the policeman with regard to his appearing at any public meeting when off duty, and therefore with regard to his standing on the platform and expressing his political views. Neither must he attempt to persuade a voter or to canvass any man. Therefore, they had to consider whether they would leave the policeman in this peculiar position, or give him the full rights of citizenship. There was one other matter. They were not by this Bill conferring the municipal franchise on the policeman, and therefore were not trusting him with the full duties of citizenship. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to admit that he was afraid to give to policemen the municipal franchise lest they should come into contact with the Watch Committees of boroughs. The House would have to consider whether this disqualification ought to prevail. An enormous power was given to the heads of the Police Force. At county elections especially they had the sole control of the force, and men could be removed 362 out of their own polling district into another if their political views were opposed to those of their superior officers. He was not going to suggest that the heads of the police would act intentionally in that way; on the contrary he believed they would act with strict impartiality; but they would have to give orders which would create a suspicion against them and which would at the same time disfranchise the police. All this showed that the subject was not quite so narrow as some had supposed it to be. As, however, the objections he had urged would probably not be deemed sufficient to justify the rejection of the Bill, he would cheerfully consent to the second reading, reserving to himself the right of again raising his objections in Committee.
§ MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
I rise in support of the second reading of the Bill which has been moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson). It is, as he has said, no Party measure. It may, I hope, receive the unanimous assent of the House. There is no one who has a greater knowledge of the Police Service than the right hon. Baronet. It was a matter of general regret when he resigned the Under Secretaryship of State at the Home Office, which brought him for many years into close contact with the police of the whole country. That which he now seeks at the hands of Parliament on behalf of the Army of Order in England and Wales is an act of simple justice, and one which he knows well, and I know, will not be abused. With the recent extension of the franchise it is, I submit, impossible longer to deprive 34,000 of the most intelligent men in the whole country of the Parliamentary vote. Hon. Members on this side of the House have nothing assuredly to fear from the extension of the franchise among the educated, the discerning, the far-seeing, and the intelligent. Have hon. Members opposite any scruple upon this head? It may be that in the course of the debate doubts may be thrown upon the wisdom of this step from a disciplinary or a social point of view. They are, however, I submit, devoid of solid foundation. Can it be doubted that political feeling is constantly—and I, for one, say unfortunately—imported into elections for the school boards and 363 for guardians of the poor? The police have long had a voice in the election of persons to seats on these bodies. But there is no hon. Member who will aver that the privilege has been in any way unduly exercised. No hon. Member can, I am sure, cite one single instance in which the public interest has been in the slightest degree prejudiced thereby. I go further. The police in Scotch boroughs number 2,317 men. They have long enjoyed the Parliamentary franchise, and I shall be much surprised if there is any hon. Member for a Scotch borough who will rise in his place and say that the privilege has been improperly exercised by the Scotch police, or who will say that the public interest in Scotland has been prejudicially affected. I hold in my hand letters from 24 chief constables of Scotland, whose uniform experience is that no evil consequences whatever have ensued, either to the public or to the police themselves, and they one and all claim its extension to their English brethren. The Chief Constable of Edinburgh writes—I have never heard that the possession of the franchise has been attended with any unsatisfactory results.The Chief Constable of Glasgow, Mr. M'Call, one of the ablest officers in the Kingdom, says—The men have always exercised their voting powers without prejudice either to the public interest or their own.The Chief Constable of Aberdeen declares that the police have enjoyed and exercised both the Parliamentary and municipal franchise for many years without any unsatisfactory result. This, I submit to the House, is overwhelming evidence that no evil result is likely to follow the enactment of the measure proposed by my right hon. Friend. He has excluded—and wisely, in my humble opinion—the municipal franchise. It is, I freely admit, open to question whether advantage is to be gained by the police joining in the election of the Municipal Councillors, by whom, they are to be controlled, who are often the arbiters of punishment, reward, and pension. It is true that no great inconvenience is found in this system in Scotland; but, none the less, I think the right hon. Baronet has wisely excluded the municipal franchise from this measure. His opinion 364 wholly coincides with that of a representation I recently had the honour to receive from 150 chief and head constables in England and Wales. They were not in favour of the police receiving the municipal franchise; but they one and all placed reliance upon the justice of Parliament to allow to those who did such good work for the country at least a silent voice in the choice of those by whom its affairs of Empire are administered. No one, Sir, would advocate or in the remotest degree recommend that the police should take any active part in electioneering, or that they should be strong partizans. But on behalf of those with whom I stood shoulder to shoulder for many years, on behalf of those whose comradeship any man might with reason be proud, I beg leave to join my right hon. Friend in seeking this act of justice at the hands of Parliament. I beg to support the second reading of the Bill, which will secure for the police of England and Wales the privileges enjoyed by police beyond the Tweed, privileges from which neither the soldier nor the sailor are debarred, privileges—nay, Sir, the rights in this age of education, of intelligence, of honesty, of uprightness, such as are exhibited every day and every hour of the day by the guardians of public safety in this country.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, that one of the reasons why he complained of the last Reform Bill was that it did not accomplish the object aimed at in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to amend the Franchise Act by including within its operation 34,000 policemen; but it should be remembered that there were still 3,326,000 men in the country, most of whom, he believed, paid their fair share of taxes, who were not enfranchised. As far as the police were concerned, he had never been able to understand why they were excluded from the franchise. It had been considered that law-abiding people, who were otherwise qualified, ought to have a Parliamentary vote, and if there was a body of men more law-abiding than any other it was the police. He hailed with satisfaction the fact that this measure came from a Conservative Member. Time was when every extension of the franchise was bitterly opposed by hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite; but the Conser- 365 vative Members were, it seemed, anxious to do tardy justice to even a small class of people. He hoped the time would come when Parliament would extend to all intelligent men who lived in houses, whether as occupiers, lodgers, or employés, the right of voting for Members of Parliament. He heartily approved of this piece of Conservative liberality, and trusted that hereafter those hon. Members opposite would bear in mind their own act when it was sought to extend the franchise still further.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
said, the House should not, in considering this subject, overlook the important diference that existed as between the constitution of the police in England and Scotland and that of Ireland. In the former cases the police were a local force, who were not liable to be sent outside the county to which they properly belonged. But in Ireland the contrary was the fact. The Constabulary there were liable to be removed from one end of the Island to the other; and he might add that the force was always a Tory force, so far as the officers were concerned. Officers could, if they chose, send 200 or 300 men to reside in any constituency they chose, and thereby succeed, it might be, in turning the scale against the Government then in Office. This circumstance, taken in conjunction with a proposal to reduce the qualifying period of residence for a voter from 12 months to one month, opened up a dangerous prospect in Ireland. There was nothing, indeed, to prevent the practical disfranchisement of men by transferring them from one division of a county to another to suit the exigencies of the occasion. He would, under all the circumstances, and having regard to the peculiar constitution and mode of administration of the force in Ireland, give his most strenuous opposition to this Bill as far as its extension to Ireland was concerned, and he hoped that an assurance would be given that this extension was not to be persevered in.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Edinburgh, Central)
said, he desired to bear his testimony regarding the operation of police enfranchisement in Scotland. There the police had all along enjoyed the franchise, both municipal and Parliamentary, and until he became a Member of this House he did not know that the police of England were denied 366 it. In this they had another little illustration that, in some respects, England was behind Scotland. He said so because he was prepared to state, and to state emphatically, that police officers in Scotland had never to his knowledge shown themselves unworthy of using this qualification. On the contrary, they had invariably brought to bear on election business the ordinary intelligence and good sense of citizens. No doubt, during his candidature, he had been asked whether he would look favourably on the Bill to create retiring allowances for the police; but he could excuse that, because all hon. Members knew that in Parliamentary contests every class in the community spoke up for their own interests; and if they were to disqualify any class because they spoke out on subjects which specially affected them he was inclined to think that they would have to cut off two-thirds or three-fourths of the whole electorate of the country. In Scotland it had not been found that police enfranchisement had worked in the least degree unsatisfactorily. The police had not interfered with their meetings, nor had they shown Party bias; and he held that on this point their experience in Scotland was a proof of the adage, that "one ounce of fact was worth a pound of fancy." Considerable numbers of the Scotch police were drafted into England, and it was an anomaly that that which was regarded as a compliment and a preferment should be accompanied by a degradation in the loss of the vote. He did not believe that the police in England would be less intelligent or less patriotic in the exercise of the franchise than their brethren in Scotland, and he appealed to the House most heartily and cheerfully to agree to the second reading of this Bill.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS) (Edinburgh, S.)
said, it might be convenient if he stated at once the intentions of the Government. He should endeavour to separate the Bill altogether from considerations which had been urged on both sides with reference to the possibility of some amendment of the General Law under which a residence of a month would give a qualification for the Parliamentary franchise. When that proposal came on the Government would know how to deal with 367 it; but it need not be mixed up with the present discussion. He regarded the Bill as one not to enfranchise a certain class of the constituency, but to remove a penalty now imposed on policemen for voting. A policeman had as much right, primâ facie, to vote as any other citizen, but he was debarred by certain Statutes from voting through the fear of the heavy penalty which he would have to pay if he did vote. He believed it was once ascertained in a trial that 20 policemen had voted, and a question arose as to who paid the fines. The question was whether we should retain a special disqualification for a particular class of persons in a certain employment, or whether they should be put upon the same footing as all others. He was bound to say that for a long time past—certainly since the passing of the Ballot Act—he had been strongly opposed to these special exemptions, which in other cases had been removed years ago. Mainly by the efforts of Mr. Monk, the disqualification of Revenue officers was removed, and in large numbers they were admitted to the franchise. He was not aware that any harm had resulted; and, although they could approach Parliament with respect to their emoluments, speaking generally, they had shown themselves to be as capable and as reasonable as any other class of citizens. In these circumstances, and holding strongly that any exclusion on the ground of the office one might hold was bad in itself, and ought to be maintained only on the clearest proof that the exclusion was necessary, he could not vote against the Bill; but, on the contrary, he should cordially support it. In saying this he was only repeating what was said in the last Parliament upon a similar Bill by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. If other classes of persons were left out, unless there was some special reason for their exclusion, their case ought to be considered; and, no doubt, in Committee any necessary amendment would be entertained. Police magistrates were given the franchise by an Act passed in 1874. As to the disciplinary question, he did not think there would be more difficulty in dealing with the police than there had been in dealing with the Revenue officers and with soldiers. For a very long time every soldier or sailor who had a qualification 368 had been always allowed to vote, and to go to the poll wherever the polling place might be situated, without asking his superior officer. All he had to do was to intimate that it was his intention to go to the poll, and on giving that intimation he might go to wherever the place was to exercise the franchise, only under the reservation that the time he took for the purpose should be reasonable and proper. Other disqualifications having been removed, he could not conceive there was any reason for maintaining that of the police, and he should, therefore, vote for the Bill.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
said, he hoped the House would read the Bill a second time, for everything appeared to be in favour of it and nothing against it. A policeman certainly should have the same rights as a soldier or a sailor. It would be possible for the commanding officer of a ship to say that a man had misbehaved himself, and that he should not be allowed to go on shore and vote; but he did not think such a thing would be likely to occur, any more than he believed that a chief constable or superior officer would send men away just before an election so as to deprive them of their votes. We all owed a great deal to the police, no matter to what class we belonged, and it was very hard upon the police that they should have their votes taken away. We were indebted to them for our comfort and safety, and still they were disfranchised. Some years ago he was intimately connected with the police, once or twice, and, while he found that they had a very strict sense of discipline and duty, at the same time they displayed a great deal of kindness and courtesy. He did not think that the police would be unfair partizans in any way whatever, no matter what their political feelings might be. If they were to show any partiality or committed themselves in any way, of course they could be punished as others were for similar offences.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
said, he regretted that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) had not given an assurance that an Amendment would be proposed which would have the effect of causing this measure not to be extended to Ireland. It had been stated during the debate that it was all imagination to say that the police would act against 369 the interests of the people. There might be no such fear in England or Scotland; but in Ireland the contrary was the case. Last year, when the Registration Bill was being discussed, objection was taken to placing University students on the Register, because they were in statupupillari. It was argued on that occasion that, as they performed none of the ordinary duties of citizenship, they were not entitled to exercise the franchise. That argument applied with even greater force to the Royal Irish Constabulary, who were known to be greatly under the influence of their officers, and to have attacked the people with alacrity and pleasure whenever they had been ordered to do so. They were known to be out of sympathy with the people, and if they were so ready to assault them on all occasions, of course they would be ready to perform the much easier duty of voting as their officers told them. They were at present a military force, and so long as they remained a military force, thoroughly imbued with all the hostile feelings of their officers, and inimical to the best interests of the people, it was the duty of the Irish Members to interpose their voice and to protest against the Constabulary being endowed with the franchise. The noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) said they all owed the police a great deal. In Ireland they owed the police nothing but the memory of hard knocks; and until the time had arrived when the people of Ireland would have control over the police of Ireland—until they had been reduced to the position of a civil force—the Irish Members must protest against their being endowed with the rights of freemen, which in their hands would enable them, at the bidding of their officers, to outvote the people in Ireland who represented the popular interests of the country.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, he would remind the House that those Members who sat on the Front Opposition Bench had always been in favour of this principle. He was glad to find that there was no contention on the part of the House with regard to the principle of the Bill. If he might venture to address a word of advice to his right hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) in charge of the Bill, he would say to him that, though they would not be prepared 370 for an instant to admit that the dangers existed which Members for Irish constituencies appeared to apprehend, still, in the interest of the measure and its early passage through the House, it might perhaps be wise that the case of the Irish Police, which was certainly different in its constitution, should not be mixed up in this matter with the case of the Police of England and Wales. The Metropolitan Police was to some extent an Imperial Force like that of the Irish Police; but it had also to be remembered that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was responsible to the House of Commons for the control of that body, and could be closely questioned when anything occurred calling for examination and inquiry. He did not believe in the dangers which were feared regarding the possible removal of a polite force from one part of the country to the other. This, however, was a risk which in all cases they must run in extending the franchise to this and similar bodies of public servants. The same power of removal might just as well be exercised at election times in a greater or less degree by cab proprietors and other employers of labour. It was a risk they must be prepared to take; but to all objections regarding a risk of that kind, to the infringement of discipline and the possible partiality of the Police Force, there was the absolute and conclusive answer afforded by the satisfactory experience gained in Scotch burghs. He hoped, therefore, the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill.
MR. FITZGERALD (Cambridge)
said, he was heartily in favour of the Bill so far as it applied to the English and Welsh Police, and also to the Dublin Metropolitan Police. But with regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary, he confessed, that after what had fallen from the hon. Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance), there was a great deal of weight in the objection which had been urged. He did not see in his place at present the Chief Secretary for Ireland, but if he had been he would have asked him whether the Bill would apply to the county police at all. His own opinion was that they would not come within scope of the measure, because the members of this force lived in barracks and not in houses, and were not ratepayers according to the law. If any Member of the Government present was ac- 371 quainted with the Royal Irish Constabulary, perhaps he would give an opinion as to whether they came under the Bill.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)
said, he had no abstract objection to a policeman having a vote. So far as the Irish Police were concerned he held that they were just as well entitled to exercise the franchise as any other class of the community, if they would fairly be allowed to do so. He had still less objection to the Metropolitan Police in Dublin being admitted to the benefit of the Bill. They lived in houses in many cases, and did not live in barracks, and he believed it would be a very hard thing to deprive such men of the franchise when they paid for their houses or lodgings. He thought the case of the Constabulary was very different indeed from that of the ordinary Police Force. He saw no objection to the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary having votes if they would be all allowed to record their votes. He saw not the smallest objection to the Bill if the officers and men of the force acted according to their opinions, and were allowed freely to exercise the franchise. He, for his part, believed that as good Irishmen were to be found amongst the Constabulary as amongst any other class in the community, and he certainly differed from those who believed they would all vote Tory. The House should, however, take into consideration the fact that in passing this Bill they would be only passing it for the benefit of the Tory section of the force. He believed that at elections only the men who would vote for the Government would be allowed to exercise the franchise, and the others would be appointed to such duties as would take them as far away from the polls as possible, so that the Nationalist constables would really never get to vote at all. As he had already said, so far as he was concerned, he had not the smallest objection to the Bill if the police could exorcise the franchise freely. There was another point to which he wished to draw attention. While he thought it was very doubtful if many of the men would get a vote at all if this Bill passed, as there were so many requirements for them to fulfil that very few of them would really enjoy the franchise, he was bound to say that they had in Ireland very extraordinary decisions occasionally regarding election matters. Soldiers in Ireland 372 had voted in circumstances which were not permissible in England and Scotland. In Kildare, at the last elections, they had whole platoons of soldiers sent up from the Curragh Camp to vote, and no one could stop them. He could quite conceive that if the period of residence were shortened that in tight constituencies like Derry, where the present Member only won the seat by a majority of 29, that the Government would be able to send down some time before the election a number of men to vote against the Nationalist candidate. In the Derry Election 20 soldiers voted at the last election, of course for the Tory, and against his hon. Friend the Member for North Longford, and it was thus that he was defeated in Derry. Let them fancy the author of The History of Our Own Times defeated by a regiment of soldiers in this way! This was the danger which he feared in military and police cases if the period of qualification were shortened. In Ulster constituencies, for example, the Government might be open to the suspicion of drafting policemen and soldiers into divisions of the Province with the object of swamping the real constituency. In order to avoid suspicion of any intention of this kind he believed that no risk or temptation should be either left in the hands of the Government or the landlord class; he believed it would be wise to exclude a movable force like the Constabulary from this Bill. At the same time, he wished again to say that he did not desire to cast the least slur upon the force as a body. He could not follow those who seemed of opinion that they would if they got their vote go against the people. He believed that as a body if they were allowed to exercise the franchise freely and untrammelled it would be exercised with prudence and fairness. When the police were under the control of the Local Authorities in Ireland the matter would be entirely different.
§ MAJOR SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, he believed that a great injustice would be inflicted on the Royal Constabulary if they were excluded and the other portions of the Police Force throughout the country were admitted to the franchise. He was not surprised that hon. Members from Ireland should feel a little sore on the subject of the Irish Constabulary. They had had a large experience of that force at various times, and probably they would have again. 373 He protested, however, against the assumption of hon. Members below the Gangway when they said that if a few constables were enfranchised by this Bill—and they would be very few—they would be absolutely under the direction of their superior officers as to how then-votes should be recorded. Hon. Members from Ireland were so accustomed to the manipulation of the Irish electorate that they could not conceive a person in the position of an Irish constable giving a vote according to his conscience. His own experience of the Constabulary was that they were a very conscientious body of men. They were mostly Roman Catholic in their religious views, and were always law-abiding and loyal. He had no doubt that if they received a vote they would probably record it in favour of the candidate who wished to uphold the supremacy of the Crown and the maintenance of law and order. Hon. Members might think that was good reason for refusing them the vote; but, of course, he held a contrary opinion. One hon. Gentleman had said they would wait until they themselves got control of the police; but perhaps that day might never come. At a recent period it seemed probable it might; but he thought the matter had now receded into a dim future. However, he hoped the House would not consent to place a slur upon a most deserving and loyal body of men who had been always faithful in the maintenance of law and order in Ireland.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
said, it could not be pointed out too strongly by Members of the Nationalist Party that if they offered an objection to the Constabulary being included it was not by any means that they thought them incapable or unwilling to act as citizens. It was because the Constabulary were not an impartial force in Ireland—they had always been arrayed against the National Party—and if they had the vote it was well known they would be as partial as could be to one Party, and as hostile as could be to another. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh naturally championed the Constabulary, because he represented the landlords for whose behalf the Constabulary existed. In the North of Ireland when an election occurred large numbers of Constabulary were sent up to support and look after and generally wet nurse the hon. and 374 gallant Member and his brother magistrates who liked to have the police about at election times. Numbers of police were drafted up where the issues of the election were somewhat uncertain. In the constituency he represented the Nationalists and the Tories stood pretty equal on the Register, and loads of police were brought up. It was quite conceivable and possible that the landlords of that county, having control of the police, and being friendly and intimate with them, might draft up a hundred or two a month or so before the election, and so by the voice of those servants of the State turn the election and nullify the voice of the real inhabitants. That would be an altogether unfair thing; and it was upon those grounds alone—upon the ground that the Constabulary was not a civil but a military force—that the Irish Members objected. A number of the constables were better men than the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, who tried to suggest that a slur was being cast upon them. He said in his jocose and rather idiotic style—["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not justified in applying such an expression to another hon. Mamber of this House, and I therefore call upon him at once to withdraw it.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said, he would withdraw it unreservedly, and he was sorry he used the expression, because it was unnecessary to do so. He would only add that no Member of the National Body would for a moment think of casting a slur upon the Constabulary as a whole. Although some of them were bad enough, he believed the great bulk of them, if left to their own discretion, would vote fairly for the country. With regard to the Dublin Metropolitan Police he did not think anybody would object to their being included in the Bill.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he was willing to admit there was some force in what had been stated with regard to the movable character of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and that that body was not in the same position as the Dublin Metropolitan Police, or any other force of ordinary local police. Therefore, 375 he was willing to consider in Committee the withdrawal of the Royal Irish Constabulary from the operation of the Bill; but he thought it would be generally conceded that the Dublin Metropolitan Police should be included within its scope.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.