§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BURDETT - COUTTS (Westminster)
said, in rising to move the second reading of a Bill for the complete enfranchisement of the Police in Great Britain—the Bill did not extend to Ireland—he could promise the House he would not trespass upon its attention for a very long time. For he hoped to be followed by others possessing a prior interest in this subject, so far at least as the House was concerned, and particularly he might mention his right hon. Friend the Member for the Epping Division of Essex, who for years had taken a legislative interest in the Police Force, and upon whom the privilege of moving the Bill would have rightly devolved had not the chances of the ballot placed it in his hands. Moreover, the Bill was identical with others which had been introduced into the House, in favour of which arguments had been adduced and. repeated, which had twice, at least, prevailed to secure the practical acceptance of the proposals, although, on account of the pressure of other Business, they had never been placed on the Statute Book. It might seem foolhardy in the present and threatening state of Business in the House to hope that they should be more successful in getting the Bill through that Session, were it not a a Bill to which all parties were practically agreed. And he ventured to think that some special effort might be made, because it was a Bill involving an act of. tardy justice—of individual justice—to a body of our fellow citizens, to whose conduct and character we certainly owed any acknowledgments that we could pay; men who had long and patiently endured the deprivation of the first Constitutional right of Englishmen, a deprivation which could not he would attempt to show, bear for one moment the criticism of justice or expediency. The fewest words possible were necessary to demon-state the fitness of the police for the Parliamentary franchise. They were 1305 not only a body of men highly trained to their duties, but those very duties were such as to train their mind to a temperate, a careful, and almost a judicial method. He said this of them at least, in comparison with any other portion of the electorate in the same station of life. By those duties also they were endowed with a knowledge of many subjects which came within the range of politics, particularly with the large class of legislative proposals affecting the daily life of cities. Who, just to give an instance which came to his mind, would be better qualified to pass judgment upon Bills relating to the protection of life and property, or the regulation of places of amusement, or places in which large crowds assemble, than those men whose daily and nightly business it was to look after these things? And with regard to general politics, surely they were as well fitted as soldiers and sailors, and revenue officers and postmen, to all of whom they gave the franchise, while they denied it to the police. In all our Colonies he believed the police possessed the franchise. Again, he presumed, no one would deny that the English police were as well fitted for the franchise as the Scotch police, who in all cities and royal boroughs had exercised it for many years, and had done so, he would remind the House, to the complete satisfaction of the Chief Constables of Scotland. To point the anomalous state of things now existing, he might say that, side by side with these police now possessing the vote, the police of 32 counties, and of a certain number of boroughs in Scotland, did not possess it, an anomaly which that Bill was intended to remove. It might be illustrated still further by pointing out that when those Scotch police, now endowed with the vote, were, as very often happened, drafted into England, they at once lost it. In view of that state of things, and of such numbers of different grades of civil servants possessing the franchise, could they be surprised that the police themselves—he appealed to a deputation to his hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield, representing 10,000 of them—felt seriously slighted at the deprivation, and could not understand why they, in particular, of all classes of Her Majesty's servants, should be singled out for that ignominious mark of incapacity? The case seemed almost strong enough. 1306 for him to leave it here; but to render it complete he would like to answer the only objections which he could find to have been taken against these proposals. It was said that it would not be well to turn policemen into politicians. A line in a Statute Book could not transform a man into a politician. Political sentiments and sympathies were neither created nor obliterated by giving to or withholding from a man the right to record his vote. Rather where they the result of the increased spread of intelligence, the rapidity of communication, the general development of interest in public affairs, and the general demand of all classes of the community to participate in the government of the country. If a man was prevented from having political sympathies by withholding from him the franchise, that was tantamount to saying that each successive class which, in the extensions of the franchise, had obtained the vote, did not obtain it in satisfaction of pre-existing political aspirations. Few reformers would be found to agree with such a theory. By giving them the franchise you did endow these aspirations with a higher and keener sense of responsibility, and that, to every class and to every body of men, was a good and not a bad thing But if you withheld political rights from any class really qualified to exercise them, you did not prevent them from being politicians-—you left them politicians with a grievance, a most undesirable element in the community, particularly where it was unnecessary. The police were men, who, in common with their fellows, took an intelligent and watchful interest in affairs, and who, it must be within the general knowledge of candidates of all Parties, already had their political views and sympathies. You would neither create nor destroy these by giving them the franchise, and therefore he claimed that this objection in the main fell to the ground. He need hardly point out that these disabilities were imposed upon the police as early as the reign of George IV., long before the Ballot Act had been passed or oven thought of, and of course the ballot made all the difference to the significance of this objection about turning them into politicians. But there was a practical point in it which had been raised with regard to policemen endowed with the franchise appearing at political 1307 meetings either as participators or in the exercise of their duty to keep the peace. As to the first, he did not think it necessary that any regulations now existing should be relaxed. He could not see the harm in a policeman, when off duty, and in plain clothes like any other civilian, attending a political meeting. But, on the other hand, he did not think they would suffer very much if they were forbidden to attend. He did not think they would suffer in the soundness, correctness, and impartiality of their political views if they were deprived of the opportunities of coming directly under the blandishments of a Parliamentary candidate. Not one third of the voters in a constituency ever went near a political meeting. Therefore, in this respect, the police would be no worse off than the majority of the voters. In any case, it was a matter that might be safely left to the authorities. But with reference to their appearing at these meetings in the exercise of their duty, he would remind hon. Members that, in London at least, it was only in the last resort, in cases of actual serious assault, that the police were called in to political meetings at all; that when there they were the most prominent persons, their conduct could be seen and taken note of by every one present, and even if self-restraint and fairness were not of the essence of their training, the danger of their displaying the contrary, and the certainty that they would be brought to book for it, would prevent them from showing partiality. But the best answer to all such trivial suspicions was the fact that three successive Home Secretaries, the Ministers whose first duty it was to preserve the efficiency of the police, had emphatically approved the principle of this Bill. In conclusion, he would venture to address himself for a moment to a more general argument and one of more far-reaching importance. The Police Force of this country is essentially a civil force. Except so far as concerned their discipline when under orders, they did not partake in any way of the military character which attached to the police of many foreign countries. It was not only a source of pride to our people, but a cause of general content and of pacification—if he might say so—to the more turbulent elements of the population, that order did not have to be maintained as in 1308 other countries by a plentiful display of military uniforms and by the domineering officialism of a military caste, but by the restraining influence of a body of men who were far removed from such a discipline and from the spirit and temperament which it would involve. They were drawn from the people; they were of the people; and to the people in the hours when they put off their uniforms they returned. He had seen them himself, for many of them lived in the model lodging houses which were scattered over this City, living in their quiet homes, which were generally examples of neatness and order, at peace and in sympathy with their neighbours, to whom they often had to trust to give an eye to the sick wife or little children during their long eight hours of exposed and dangerous duty, leading the lives of intelligent, companionable citizens, with no prejudice of caste, with no affectation of superiority or power. On a hundred occasions in the exercise of their duty the consciousness of these civil characteristics had its weight among those whom they had to control, and people—he was not speaking of the downright criminal classes, but of those persons who from one cause or another were inclined to turbulence and disorder, and who formed the actual majority of the cases with which the police had to deal—people of this sort, who would wildly rebel against anything like military interference, were made amenable to the influence of social order, and were easily controlled by men who had no organized class feeling out of harmony with the general body of citizens. It was impossible to exaggerate the value of this characteristic of the police. If it did not exist, if it were not recognized, every petty squabble in the streets would bring the victims of momentary passion into the Police Courts, and every mob would become a riot. The police, therefore, were—and he trusted always would be—in this country a civil force. By what right then—by what reason of justice or expediency—did we deprive them of the first civil right of Englishmen, the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise? We claimed that they should be civilians, but we ostracized them from the pale of civil rights. We robbed them of the most important and the only means which we had of recognizing their civil position. It was not only in the interests of the police themselves but of the community 1309 of populations whom they had to control, that he asked for a redress of this manifest grievance.
§ MR. O. V. MORGAN (Battersea), in seconding the Motion, said, that he voted against the Bill last year because it extended to the Irish police, and he should vote against it this year if the Irish police were included. He did not know why in England, in parts of Scotland, and in Wales, the police, because they were police, should be disfranchised. We had no more orderly citizens in the United Kingdom than the police, who were selected from the cream of the working classes. In England the people looked to them as their natural friends, and women and children ran to them in case of difficulty. He was acquainted with all the large cities of the world, and he thought he might say that there was hardly a Police Force in any of those cities which would compare favourably with the Metropolitan Police. He had much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Burdett-Coutts.)
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, in supporting the Motion, he was speaking for a large number of his constituents, who were anxious that the same privileges they enjoyed should be extended to a class of their countrymen which had hitherto been excluded from them. The police felt it as a great grievance that they had all the disadvantages of conducting an election without being able to participate in it. He was sure the privilege of voting would not be abused by the police, but used for the advantage of the State. It might be argued that there might be some fear on the part of citizens unless they followed the example given with regard to voting by a police officer; but if such an argument had ever applied, he contended that it was entirely removed by the provisions of the Ballot Act. Formerly electoral disabilities attached to employés in various branches of the Civil Service, including the Post Office and the Customs. The reason was, he suggested, the same as that for which the police were now disfranchised, and which he had indicated—namely, the possession of power and the fear which this might involve, and as the disability in the case of those officials had been 1310 removed, it had become an anachronism in the case of the police. One very distinct grievance of the present system was that a person who had been a police officer might be disqualified from voting for considerably longer than the prescribed six months after he had resigned. By the provisions of the Registration Acts, the Revising Barrister was bound to strike off the names of those incapacitated from voting, and that would include the case of a police officer. The lists were made out in June or July, and if a police officer retired soon after the registration he would be disqualified for 12 months—that was, until the next revision—although the Police Acts limited the incapacity to six months, and every possible cause of disqualification had ceased. That seemed to be an incidental result which almost demanded the passing of a Bill of this nature.
§ MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he opposed the Bill, not because he believed that the police were not well qualified and entitled to have a vote, but because he considered that the question ought not to be considered before the greater question of the removal of the disqualification of sex. There was one strong reason for enfranchising the police. It was desirable to prevent them becoming a military force; they should become citizens, and, so far as possible, they should have the same interests and form the same ideas as other citizens. He regretted to see that, year by year, there was a growing tendency in the opposite direction. Year by year the police of this country were becoming more of a military force; they were becoming a kind of standing army under the control of the Home Secretary. That was the case in London, and it was becoming, year by year, more and more so in the Provinces. He believed that nothing would do more to counteract that tendency, and make the police full and free citizens in every sense of the word, than entrusting them with the franchise. The Scotch burgh police had the vote already, and his own experience obtained in contesting a Scotch Burgh constituency was that they were intelligent and well qualified to discuss and decide questions of polities. He (Mr. McLaren) might be asked why he opposed this Bill, and he admitted that 1311 the question was a pertinent one; but if hon. Members would look upon the Notice Paper, they would see that he had give a Notice of an Amendment, which, however, he understood it would not be in Order for him to move, or he would have proposed—That this House, without expressing any opinion against the enfranchisement of the police fore a, declines to remove the electoral disability of persons employed in or in connection with the police until it has dealt with the electoral disability of sex.He was not going to discuss the question of women's suffrage. It would not be in order to go into the reasons why the suffrage should be granted to women; but he desired to state, as briefly as possible, the reasons which induced him to take the course he proposed to do. He should like to state merely one or two of the leading points relating to the history of this question during the past few years.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understood the hon. Gentleman was going to make a general reference to the fact that one of his reasons for objecting to the enfranchisement of the police is that the enfranchisement of women should precede or accompany it. I do not think a discussion on the past history of the women's suffrage question would be in Order.
§ MR. MCLAREN
said, that perhaps he had put it too widely. What he wished to show was this—that again and again, when the question of the enfranchisement of women came up, its advocates had been told that they must wait until those questions for the enfranchisement of men then before the House should be disposed of, because to mix up the question of the enfranchisement of women in these discussions would be detrimental to the interests of men. He thought the time had arrived when the validity of that argument should no longer be acknowledged. Therefore, he was strongly of opinion that the House should not proceed to deal with a removal of any other disqualification until it had dealt with the disqualification of sex. If they dealt with the question of enfranchisement at all, they ought to take that which was most important first. It might be said that the enfranchisement of the police and the enfranchisement of women were not alternatives. It might also be 1312 said that they would have a Bill before them on the 20th of July dealing with the enfranchisement of women. He admitted that there was a certain amount of force in the latter argument, and he desired to state, in connection with it, that in raising the present issue he was acting upon his own responsibility, and was not acting on behalf of what was called the Women's Suffrage Society. He had not consulted the leaders of that society in any way, and they were not responsible for his action. The position he had taken up might be illustrated by an incident which he believed occurred recently at a railway station. A burly Scotchman appeared upon the platform as a train was moving out, and when the guard prevented him getting into a carriage, he seized the guard, and said, "If I canna, ye shall na'." The result was that the train was stopped for a short time and both got in. He thought that was the position the advocates of women's suffrage were justified in now taking up. They should insist that the enfranchisement of women comes next in order in the matter of enfranchisement, and they should take every opportunity of fixing that subject upon the attention of the House. He observed that of the hon. Members whose names were on the back of this Bill five were in favour of Women's Suffrage. He appealed to them to support this position.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he thought the hon. Member had been allowed sufficient latitude. The enfranchisement of women was a separate question, regarding which there was already a Bill before the House.
§ MR. MCLAREN
begged pardon for having trespassed. Nothing could be further from his mind than to contravene the Speaker's ruling. He should not, therefore, pursue the subject further, but, while he was strongly in favour of the enfranchisement of the police, he was of opinion that the enfranchisement of women should come first. For those reasons he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ [The Amendment, not being seconded, was not put.]
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said, he had not the least wish to pro- 1313 long the debate; but as one who had had to administer the law in Scotland, and who had also had an opportunity, for 20 years, of observing the conduct of the police ill that country, he must be allowed to add his testimony to what had been said as to the character of the police. As a Scotch County Representative, he desired to protest against the very unfair disability that rested upon the counties of Scotland in contrast with the Royal Burghs in that respect, and he desired to give his cordial and hearty support to the Bill now before the House, because it took away that very unnecessary, arbitrary distinction, which cast a very unjustifiable and cruel disparagement upon the county police. What we wanted was to have confidence in our policemen, that they were men of character and men to be trusted; and he thought that nothing could be worse for the administration of justice thane to have a low class of policemen. Everything that could be done to add to their comfort, and to the respect in which they ought to be entertained by all parts of the community and by themselves, ought to be done. Therefore, he hoped that the second reading of the Bill, giving this wise and opportune extension of the franchise, would be adopted without amendment; for, when the proper time came, the object which the hon. Member who moved the Amendment (Mr. M'Laren) had close to his heart, would receive none the less consideration because they had done justice to a class of men who deserved, in the performance of their duty, the respect and the best treatment of this House and the country.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON (Essex, Epping)
, in supporting the Bill, said, that he considered the hon. Member (Mr. M'Laren) was one of the strongest supporters of the Bill, though he would reject this Bill until women were enfranchised. He (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) had upon more than one occasion advocated the claims of the police to have the electoral disabilities which now lay upon them, and which applied to no other class of her Majesty's subjects, removed. Last year he had introduced a Bill, practically identical with that now before the House, which had for its object the removal of those disabilities from those whom he considered to be one of the most intelligent among the many different bodies of Her 1314 Majesty's subjects, and who wore quite as intelligent citizens, and took as much, interest in politics, as the other public servants whoso disabilities had been already removed. He believed his Bill would then have passed, had he not made the mistake, which he frankly admitted it to be, of extending its operation to the Irish Police; but he was now so convinced that it was un-advisable to include the Irish Police in such a measure that in the present Bill they were excluded, and he should be one of the first to offer his most strenuous opposition to the introduction, into this Bill, of any clause which would extend its operation to Ireland. He did not think that there was any danger that the discipline of the police would be interfered with by permitting them to exercise the franchise. He hoped that nobody would adopt the dog-in-the-manger policy recommended by the hon. Member who had just spoken, and that the Bill would be read a second time, for he regarded it as a simple act of justice to an excellent class of men.
§ MR. J. A. BLAKE (Carlow)
said, that on behalf of the Irish Nationalists, he felt bound to say that he was extremely anxious that the right of voting at Parliamentary Elections should be exercised by the Police of Great Britain, in whom they had every confidence it would be rightly and independently exercised; but they did not think that would be the case in Ireland. He trusted, however, that he should receive a satisfactory assurance that those who supported this Bill would not only themselves not introduce any clause extending the operation of the measure to Ireland, but would oppose, to their utmost, any attempt to insert such a clause in Committee. He must press for an answer upon that point; for whether the Nationalists opposed or supported the Bill would depend upon the nature of the assurances which might be given to them upon that point. There was very good reason for apprehending that the attempt he had referred to would be made.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
, with the permission of the House, explained that it was only by accident that a clause limiting the operation of the Bill to Great Britain had been omitted from the Bill. He begged to give the hon. Member opposite (Mr. J. A. Blake) the 1315 strongest, the most formal, and the most emphatic assurance that not only would no attempt be made by himself and his Friends to include the Irish Constabulary within the operation of the Bill, but that they would give any attempt to introduce such a clause their most strenuous opposition. He felt that if they wore to take any other course they would be guilty of a breach of faith towards many hon. Members.
§ MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said, that as one of the promoters of the Bill, he would resist every attempt to include the Royal Irish Constabulary within its scope. This arose from no want of respect to that splendid body of men, who most admirably discharged the most trying duties. They must all admit the sterling qualities of the Royal Irish Constabulary; but there were, unfortunately, circumstances which made their case in regard to the franchise at the present time different to that of the English police. Some reference had been made to the growing military character of the police force; but he felt sure that it was the desire of the Chief Constables throughout England to maintain the purely civil character of the force. The police, at the present time, voted at School Board elections and for Poor Law Guardians, and no objection whatever had been found to their so voting. There would be no inconvenience in their also voting at Parliamentary elections, and he hoped that, before the close of the Session, this measure of justice would be placed upon the Statute Book. During the period that this measure had been before the country, the feeling in favour of it had increased rather than diminished. No single objection had been put forward to its provisions, or to the principle of enfranchising the police, and the experience of the Chief Constables of boroughs in Scotland, from whom he had received several letters, including one which he would read to the House from the Chief Constable of Edinburgh, who had long police experience both in England and Scotland, was all against the idea that any inconvenience would arise from the admission of the police to the vote. He trusted that the House would agree without a Division to the second reading of this Bill, and so mete out tardy justice to a body of men with whom he had the 1316 honour of being closely connected for many years.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, that though entirely in favour of the enfranchisement of women, he did not think that question should delay police enfranchisement. The duty of citizenship should carry with it the right to the suffrage, the only incapacity being imprisonment for crime or the receipt of parochial relief.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
said, he wished to say a few words, rather as the expression of his own views than that of the views of the Government. He thought there was really no valid argument against this Bill, the course of the debate having shown that whether the franchise was a right, as some persons said, or a trust, as he was inclined to regard it, the police appeared equally entitled to possess and exercise it. If it was regarded as a trust, the condition of obtaining it was the possession of the legal qualifications in regard to rating and residence, and also political capacity. It was, he thought, abundantly clear that the police in regard to political capacity and information, and moral qualifications, had a far better claim than most persons in their class of life, and he, therefore, thought that the franchise might be confided to them with the utmost safety. The hon. Member for the Crewe Division of Cheshire (Mr. McLaren) had suggested that the police force was somewhat of a military character. He (Mr. Matthews) agreed with the hon. Gentleman that the spirit of military discipline was not consistent with the fair and frank exercise of political privileges; but he did not believe that the police were tainted with a military spirit. So long as he held his present position he certainly should do his utmost to prevent that. No doubt, in a large city like London, it was necessary to have for the large Police Force what, in some respects, might resemble military organization; but every effort was made to prevent the Police Force obtaining in any way a military tone, and to allow the police when off duty to resume their civic character the only argument that could be used against the franchise being accorded to them was that it would interfere with the discharge of their duties. But experience 1317 had shown that the alarm on this head was not well founded. Some English Chief Constables were opposed to this proposal, but the Chief Constables of Scotland, who had had under them, for many years, men who possessed the franchise, stated that they found no objection to it. Indeed, the Inspector General of Constabulary for Scotland had given him the opinion that there was no reason whatever why the privilege of the vote, which had long been enjoyed by the police in the Royal Burghs of Scotland,' should not be extended to the police of the counties. But this he must say, that when the police had the vote, which he trusted they would have by the unanimous assent of the House, they must distinctly understand that discipline) must come first, and have the first consideration, and that any breach of their duties at election time, whether in safeguarding the peace at political meetings by keeping order impartially, or of protecting individual voters when exercising the franchise, would be severely punished. With that fact before their eyes, he thought—indeed, he was quite sure—that the police would discharge their duties as faithfully when allowed to exercise the franchise as they did now. He also hoped that nothing that occurred during election meetings would embitter or aggravate the political feelings of the police. It must also be well understood that if this Bill became law, no objection must be raised on behalf of the police to their being removed from the electoral divisions in which they were registered to other divisions. Such removals must be accepted as being incident to their profession; but at the same time, there would equally be an understanding that they would not be wantonly removed out of those divisions for political purposes. It might be worth the while of the advocates of the interests of the police in this matter, to consider whether it would not be better to repeal those clauses in the existing Acts which prohibited the police from canvassing or from taking any other active part in the conduct of elections. With regard to the Irish police, it might be only prudent that he should say a word to guard against its being supposed that, by the course they were taking in connection with this Bill the Government were conceding the point that, in their opinion, the Irish police 1318 stood upon such a distinctly different footing from the English and Scotch police that, at no time, could they propose that the Irish police should be permitted to exercise the franchise. He had no authority to speak on behalf of the Irish Government in the matter; but as he was expressing his personal view rather than that of the Government, he could not pledge the latter on the subject. He might, however, say that he did not apprehend that the Irish Government would think it necessary to deal with this subject in connection with this particular Bill.
§ MR. S. WILLIAMSON (Kilmarnock, &c.)
said, he was desirous to add his tribute to the character of the Police Force of the country, and to express his hope that the second reading of this Bill would be passed nomine contradicente. He regretted exceedingly the discordant note of his hon. Friend the Member for the Crewe Division of Chester (Mr. McLaren), who, he was afraid, would damage his case by the course he was pursuing. He appealed to him to withdraw his opposition to the Bill. With respect to Ireland, it was a melancholy thing that the necessities of the situation should be such that the Irish Police Force, who were men of high qualities—physical, moral, and mental—should be excluded from the advantages of the Bill; but they must be looked upon as infected by what the Home Secretary called the taint of militarism. He, therefore, sympathized with the proposal that they should be excluded from the scope of the present Bill. But when this House had come to its senses, and had given a better government to Ireland, he sincerely hoped that the Police Force in the Sister Isle would be placed on the same footing as our admirable Police Force in this country.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
said, speaking also as a private Member, he had had the honour of standing on two occasions for his native city—Edinburgh—where the police had the franchise; and he was in a position to say that their exercise of the franchise on both of these occasions had certainly not caused any public inconvenience. There had not been the slightest suggestion of any abuse of their privilege on the part of the police. On another occasion he had 1319 had the honour of standing for a group of burghs situated in counties. None of these burghs had a Police Force of their own, and the consequence was that the police who served in these burghs, being county police, had no votes. In that particular group of burghs there was a complaint made against one policeman, who had not a vote, of interfering improperly with the election. Probably there was little in it; but it was a remarkable thing that that should have happened while nothing of the sort had taken place in the larger burgh, where all the police had the vote. Speaking entirely as a private Member, he sincerely hoped the Bill would be read a second time, and would pass into law.
§ MR. PULESTON (Devonport)
, in rising to support the Bill, said, he hoped that the Government would show their approval of this measure by consenting to afford special facilities to enable it to become law this Session. He was unwilling that the second reading should be taken upon the basis alone of the fact that the police were a civil force, because, although that was a very good reason, hon. Gentlemen did not seem to be aware that the soldiers, sailors, and Marines have now a vote. The Marine Corps always voted, and a regiment when stationed in a constituency had a right to the suffrage just as anybody else, and so had also the sailors. He appreciated the suggestion of the Home Secretary that they should guard against giving the public any reason for supposing the police were acting in a partizan manner by guarding against their having a right to canvass; and the police would readily recognize that when they wore obliged to be removed from one district to another. The hon. Member for the Crewe Division of Cheshire (Mr. M'Laren) had suggested that the Bill should not be allowed to pass unless they gave women the franchise. Why should they be asked to ignore and throw out a Bill of that kind when they were all in favour of it, merely because they had not passed another Bill which some of them were opposed to? The Women's Franchise Bill had been lost not through the action of the Conservative Party, but in consequence of the non-fulfilment of the pledges which had been given by a large body of Liberal Members. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. 1320 Stephen Williamson would recollect that when the Women's Suffrage Bill was before the House, he (Mr. Puleston) and a great many others on that side of the House were in favour of it, but hon. Gentlemen opposite ran away from their pledges, and the Bill was thrown out.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, he had opposed this Bill last year on the ground that the Irish police were included, but he should give this Bill his hearty support. He believed that the police would exercise the vote with great advantage to all parties. With the sentiment which fell from the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) he quite concurred, and that was, that if the Police Force were to exercise the vote we must take all the consequences, and allow them to take part in public meetings. There was no reason why, if police were entitled to vote, they should not attend political meetings. At the same time, he should be opposed to the extension of the franchise to the Irish police, because they were really a military body. He wished the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. M'Laren) would withdraw the Amendment of which he had given Notice. He (Mr. Handel Cossham) desired that the Police Force should be dealt with upon their own merits. He had many opportunities, some years ago, of receiving some very remarkable testimony in favour of the principle of this Bill.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
said, that as the Irish Members had reason to look with suspicion upon this Bill, and as it would be in the power of any hon. Member to move that it should be extended to Ireland, they should ask an assurance from some Member of the Government that no attempt would be made in this House or elsewhere to extend this Bill to Ireland. He could conceive nothing more improper than to extend this Bill to Ireland, because the position which the police occupied in Ireland was very different from that which they occupied in England and Scotland. In England and Scotland the police were local men, who had an interest in a certain locality, and were not liable to be shifted from one end of the country to the other. He might say that, as a whole, the men were not violent politicians. But in Ireland they had the franchise, under the provisions of which the compulsory removal of a 1321 man for a single fortnight from one locality to another would deprive him of his vote. The police were officered by men hostile to the people, and the police were liable to be shifted about from place to place at a moment's notice. If they gave policemen votes they must go further and give them the right to nominate or second a candidate; and if a policeman were to nominate or second one of the Nationalist Members he would be hunted out of the force.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, he was surprised that the Government had not given the assurance mentioned. It was not too much to expect from the Government an assurance that the principles of this Bill should not be extended to Ireland without giving them an opportunity of discussing the matter. He did not admit that there was any reason to fear that if the franchise were given to the policemen in Ireland they would use it in a manner unfavourable to the Nationalist Members. He believed that there was no unanimity on this subject to be found in either of the two sections of the Irish Representatives. The attitude of the Government showed that they considered it invariably incumbent upon them to do exactly the reverse of that which the Nationalist Members desired.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he was desirous of saying that he was not prepared to inflict any disabilities upon the Irish police. If the English and Scotch police were enfranchised, he hoped the Government would not consent to exclude the Irish police from the Bill, but would give them the like privileges.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA (Monaghan, S.)
said, he thought that the Government should give an assurance that if they intended to extend the franchise to the police in Ireland this Session, they should do so by a separate Bill. He had no fear of any kind about the Irish police, and he thought that if the subject came on for discussion it would be discussed in a manly and proper way. He thought they were entitled, at all events, to an assurance that if it was intended to extend the franchise to the Irish police, that intention should be given effect to by the introduction of a separate Bill, which he by no means promised to oppose.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, he could assure hon. Members from Ireland that 1322 their opinions were listened to with as much consideration as those of any other section of the House. The Government had no desire to oppose their wishes; but it was not their fault that their opinions were unhappily so much at variance with those ordinarily expressed by hon. Members opposite. If he abstained from pledging the Government on this matter, it was simply because he did not know the views entertained by the Irish Executive. They had not considered this Bill, and, therefore, it was simply as a matter of courtesy to his Colleagues, who were not in the House, that he abstained from giving the pledge.
§ MR. CHANCE
said, he wished to ask whether he understood the Home Secretary to give his pledge that the Government would not permit this Bill to be used as a vehicle for extending the franchise to the Irish police?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, he could not promise for private Members of the House; but he thought, however, he could give the assurance asked for by the hon. Member—that if it was thought desirable to extend the franchise to the Irish Constabulary the Government would not attempt to do so by means of this Bill, but in a separate Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.