HC Deb 12 February 1891 vol 350 cc521-49

Order for Second Reading read.


It will not be necessary to occupy the attention of the House long in explaining the Bill the Second Reading of which I now rise to move. In consequence of the passing of the Local Government Act, the register has been very largely increased by the addition of numbers of electors for the purposes of the County Council elections. Representations have been made to the Local Government Board that the time between the last day for the revision of the register and the day for the completion of the register is not sufficient. The last day for the revision of the register is the 12th of October, and the day for the completion of the register is the 20th of October, leaving, therefore, only eight days for printing and completing the register. The most important representation which was made to the Board on this subject was made by a deputation from the County Councils Association. It was not in any way a representation from any particular Party, as no Party question was involved, and it was introduced by Mr. Hibbert, at one time Secretary of the Local Government Board. It was stated by this deputation that while in every case the expense of preparing the register would be enormously increased if the present limit of time were maintained, in some cases—those of large counties with a great number of electors—it would be absolutely impossible to complete the register in the requisite time. In any case the haste necessitated would lead to a great deal of inaccuracy and incompleteness. The hon. Member for Somerset induced Parliament to pass a Bill in 1889, which was operative for two years, and which remedied the complaint which had been made. But we are now face to face with the election for County Councils on the 1st of November next, and therefore it is essential that if anything is to be done in the direction I have indicated it should be done quickly. It was represented to me by the deputation which waited on me that the difficulties in the way of private Members passing Bills were so great that unless the Government undertook the charge of the present Bill there was exceedingly little chance of its passing, and the consequences would be very serious at the election for County Councils in November. I Could not but acknowledge the force, of this representation. It would be great misfortune, if the registers ware not ready in time, and sufficient time, given to secure that they should be a correct as possible. I have, therefore, introduced this Bill, which make some important alterations in the dates. The main alteration is setting back the end of the qualifying period from July 15th to June 26th. The reason that date has been taken is in order that householders going into occupation on quarter day should not be placed in any less advantageous position than under the present period. Instead of leaving only 12 days between revision and completion the Government propose by an alteration of the dates to give a period of 27 days, which it is said would be ample for the purpose. Under the Bill the revision will be over on September 23rd, and the register will be completed on, October 20th. When I undertook to introduce the present Bill I did so with certain qualifications and reservations, which were assented to by all the Members of the various Political Parties who attended with the deputation which waited on me upon the subject. I said to the deputation that it was quite impossible, in view of the, other engagements of the Government, to introduce a Bill of this kind if it should be made the ground for an attempt to revise the whole registration law and re-open the various important questions which I know many Members desire to see opened upon the question of registration. It is obvious that a revision of the whole Registration Law is a matter of first-class importance, and would require to be very fully discussed in this, House, so that we could hardly expect to get it through without giving up a considerable amount of Government time for that purpose. On the other hand, the proposals in the Bill are of a very simple character, and deal entirely with, machinery. They raise no questions of serious importance in connection with the registration of voters. The Government have undertaken the charge of the Bill with a view of making the register as complete and accurate as they can for the next election, and I hope the House will assist and support the Government in the limitation which they have laid down, and not endeavour to carry the Bill beyond the four corners of these small machinery alterations. There is, however, one alteration, which I think will meet with general acceptance. The register for Parliamentary, and local voters as now practically the same, and if the register is to be brought into operation on November 1st for the purposes of local elections, I see no reason why it should not be brought into operation for all purposes on that date. If the Bill is to be operative for the next register we have no time to lose. I will ask the House, therefore, to assist the Government in passing into law at the earliest possible date the recommendations I have made.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

(7.28.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I think the House will agree that the Bill makes a useful alteration in the law, and will probably be accepted without much contention. I have only two criticisms of a practical character to make upon the Bill. The County Council Register comes into operation on November 1. It is to be deposited with the returning officers on October 20. A week must be allowed for printing. The Government must find some means of trying the appeals, for otherwise the appeals from the decisions of the Revising Barristers must go unheard. The result would be that persons not entitled to vote would be upon the register and persons entitled to vote would not be on the register at the time of the election. I do not see how the Government can meet that difficulty if they adhere to the dates they have given. Another point is, that by changing the date from July 15 to June 26 any person having gone into occupation on July 1 would be disfranchised for a year. I do not think we should ruin the Constitution if, for this year, which is the only year to which it will apply, we made the qualifying period 345 instead of 365 days.

(7.30.) MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E, Rugby)

I think the measure which has been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will be regarded by hon. Members generally, on both sides of the House, as introducing for a special and limited purpose what he considers a necessary change in the present state of things; but at the same time I concur with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury in regard to what he has pointed out as practical objections to the measure. I do not speak so much with regard to the way in. which it will operate with reference to County Councils, of which bodies I know very little, but I understand to some extent the way in which the Bill touches the Parliamentary Register, and it is solely as to the Parliamentary Register that I now wish to speak. I may, however, say one word with regard to the County Councils Register, and that is, that in my belief, if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board were to issue a circular to those who are responsible for the preparation of the register, urging them to proceed with their business with all possible despatch, the work that has to be done might be accomplished in plenty of tithe. If this is not done, I think the most simple way of dealing with the matter would have been not to have brought in this Bill, but simply to have postponed the elections of the County Councils from the 1st of November to the second week in January. I believe the bulk of the people all over the country agree with me that that would be the most practical and popular way of dealing with this question. With regard to the Parliamentary Register I would call attention to four practical objections which seem to me to present themselves on a consideration of this Bill. The revision of the register by the Revising Barrister, under this measure, is to take place between the 20th of August and the 23rd of September. Now, Sir, I venture to think that that will be found to be a most inconvenient period for overseers, especially for those who reside in the rural districts, a large proportion of whom are farmers. It would be highly unsatisfactory to those who have to discharge the duties of overseers to be called upon to go before the Revising Barristers at that particular period of the year. If it is difficult for the farmer I am afraid it will be more difficult for the voters, and as I know, representing an agricultural constituency, in such constituencies voters are to a very large extent agricultural labourers. The period between August 20 and September 23 is not only the time of harvest for grain, it is also their harvest for wages. At this period they earn the highest wages they receive throughout the year. I also know from experience that many of these men have to attend before the Revising Barrister because of objections to their votes. Without making any imputation against anybody or introducing any party feeling, I may say that in my own division I was told that in one year 400 absurdly frivolous objections were taken to votes of men in the labouring class in the hopes that some of them would not be able to attend and defend their claims, and so would be disfranchised. That is a point, however, I will not now deal with; it is a matter that will have to be dealt with some day. That is my first point, that the time proposed for revision will be very inconvenient not only for the overseers, who are generally farmers, but for the agricultural labourers who will have to defend their votes if they are objected to. Then I want to point out a much more serious objection. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) has pointed out there would be some disfranchisement under this Bill, but I do not think the House is aware of the extent to which that disfranchisement will really go. I observe the memorandum attached to the Bill which the President of the Local Government Board has been good enough to distribute for explanation of the contents of the Bill, says in the last line that the Bill "does not in any way propose to alter the franchise." Now, I question the strict accuracy of that statement, because I think I can show that the Bill will disfranchise a large number of the working classes, and therefore it does to that extent alter the franchise. The Bill proposes to alter the period of qualification for occupation voters on the Parliamentary Register from July 15th to July 15th, as it is at present, to the period from June 26th to June 26th; it proposes also to alter the date when the register shall come into force from January 1st to November 1st. Well, of course that is a very excellent provision; we all recognise that, for it to some extent shortens the time of the present ridiculous period for which a man has to live in a place before he can vote; but even that very shortening from January 1st to November 1st, even that, because the Bill is retrospective, in itself causes disfranchisement. I am afraid I may be rather tedious, but these are technical matters, and I will try to make myself clear. Every voter who is now on the present register, that is, the register which came into force on January 1st, 1891, under the present law, can give his vote in any election which takes place between January 1st and December 31st, 1891. Now, what can that man do when this Bill is passed? If he changes, or if he has changed his constituency without receiving any notice of any new legislation, after June 26th, 1890, it is clear he will not be entitled to be on the new register, under the arrangement in the Bill, coming into force on November 1st, 1891. If that is the case, he will not be upon that register, he will not get any qualification for that register, but he will distinctly lose the right he has now to vote in all elections which take place between November 1st, 1891, and January 1st, 1892. If that is so, clearly there is a disfranchisement, I do not know of how many voters, but if it disfranchises only one man surely that is not seriously proposed, and surely the House will not agree to it if it is? And now I am going to point out A disfranchisement which seems to me to be very much more serious and which, so far as I am able to gather the facts, will be a disfranchisement under this Bill of thousands of the working classes. I will try to make this clear. The effect of this Bill will be that every single voter who changes his constituency—I say constituency, for I am not alluding to successive voters—or who has already changed his constituency irrevocably, and without notice of this proposed change, between the 26th June and 16th July, 1890, will be disfranchised under this Bill for a period of 10 months, from January 1st, 1892, to November 1st, 1892, I will give an instance to make that clear.


It is so.


Well, if the right hon. Gentleman admits that, I need not trouble the House with my illustrative instance. All these men, therefore, will be disfranchised for 10 months. Well, then, a Bill which takes away existing rights——


We will make provision for that.


Then, upon that understanding, I pass on from that to mention another point. The scope of this Bill and the scope of the Schedule is to put every date forward by 19 days; but there are exceptions for which I do not know the reason, and one exception is the payment of rates. Instead of the payment of rates being put forward by 19 days it is put forward by 35 days. Of course, it is obvious that imposes a liability upon a man to pay his rates in order that he may vote at an earlier date than that to which he is now subject. I do not want to continue discussion; I have prepared Amendments for Committee with a view of remedying these points to which I have taken exception. Of course, if there is a flaw in the view I have taken I shall be the first to admit it if it is pointed out, but if my view is the correct one, then I think these dates ought to be altered. No one ought to be disfranchised under this Bill; no farmer or labourer ought to be taken from harvest operations to attend before the Revising Barrister; and the period for payment of rates ought not to be altered. I must say it is an unfortunate time for us to approach this question. I quite agree that we have in the near future to deal with it, and I know the idea now is to deal with the next County Council election, but there will be plenty of time to deal with it before another County Council election comes on, and for the sole purpose of facilitating one County Council election on November 1st, all these alterations are to be made, and all these difficulties will arise, and there are so many technicalities connected with it that there may be other wrongs and inconveniences done by the Bill which none of us are yet able to see. I cannot understand why the Government, instead of making these changes now, do not make a determined effort and push on the printing. I am sure that if the printers are pushed they can get the work done in the time we have now. I am told by Town Clerks there is no difficulty in pushing on the Municipal Lists, but if there is a difficulty, then a simpler way would be to postpone the County Council elections to the first or second week in January. I have taken the trouble to collect opinions from those interested, and since the deputation waited upon the right hon. Gentleman, when I am not quite sure that the scope of the Bill was understood, and they believe that this postponement would be the better course.

(7.40.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)

I admit difficulties arise in carrying out the object of the Bill, which is that the elections on November 1st shall be on the new rather than on the old register, and to avoid postponing elections until January. The arrangement of the Bill appears to me to be excellent, and I have no doubt that any good suggestion will receive attention at the next stage, and hence it is that I mention one point, and that is the fixing of June 26th as the date from which the qualifying period shall extend back for 12 months. I think the right hon. Gentleman must have intended 12 months prior to June 25th, because Midsummer Day is June 24th, and therefore this date of June 26th appears to me—and I speak from practical experience—just one day too late, because those whose tenancies expire on quarter-day will hold occupation until 12 o'clock on the 24th, but they will not be in possession on the 25th, so if the 26th is the end of the qualifying period they will be a day short. As we come so near quarter-day we might as well make the date coincide, so that the 24th may be the end of the qualifying period, up to the 25th instead of the 26th. I am sure my object will be appreciated, and I conclude that it was forgotten that the Midsummer quarter-day is June 24th, though Christmas and Lady Day fall on the 25th of the months. With regard to hearing householders' objections before the Revising Barristers in the months of August and September, I think, perhaps, the evening sittings which are used for the purpose of listening to lodger qualifications, might be utilised to a certain extent for those householders who cannot attend in the day time, but in regard to appeals it does not strike me how that can be remedied, because the Courts are not sitting. But no doubt some special arrangement might be made for taking appeals in the month of October; there are not many of them. The balance of convenience is very much in favour of the Bill, and I do not think it is beyond the skill of its promoters to make it perfect in Committee. I trust that we shall have a new register for the convenience of the County Council elections, and perhaps of a general election, and that we can thus dispose of our electoral differences before Christmas.

(7.45.) MR. F. ROBINSON (Gloucester)

I quite admit the difficulties attending this question, but I am afraid the proposal of the Government will create new difficulties I should like to see avoided. It seems to me the better plan would be to postpone the elections. I should like to see the elections in counties and boroughs postponed until March 31st, which is the end of the financial year in these local matters. November is one of the worst months in the year for election purposes. It is dark at four o'clock in the afternoon, and when we think of our country friends traversing long cross roads and dark by-ways after attending a County Council election, I am disposed to think their interest in the proceedings will much diminish. They have not had the experience in this matter which we have had in the towns. When November was fixed originally the same objection did not exist as now, because the poll closed at 4 o'clock, but now that the polling time is extended to 8 o'clock, I can assure the House there are very serious inconveniences to contend with in the dark hours of a November afternoon, when the electors are open to all sorts of corrupt influences. It is very objectionable. I cannot conceive how in country districts the people are to be brought to the poll if the polling is fixed for November, and kept open till 8 o'clock. I have had considerable experience in local municipal matters, and I know the difficulties that exist, and I firmly believe that a few years' experience will so convince people of the difficulties and inconvenience that everybody will be glad to have the elections changed from November to March, when the days are longer and brighter, and which is the end of the municipal financial year. The alteration will have to be made eventually, and why not make it now? The President of the Local Government Board pleads shortness of time, but my proposal would not take any longer than the present Bill, and it would, in addition, give plenty of time for the registration to be attended to and also for all registration appeals to be determined in time to be inserted in the new list of electors. No Party question is involved, and I earnestly appeal to the Government to consider my alternative plan.

(7.50.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)

As I had the duty of introducing a similar Bill to this on behalf of the County Council Association, I may be allowed to say a few words. As has been pointed out this is a practical measure, it has no political import, and there is no attempt to drift into it important questions of registration in which much interest is taken. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby there are practical necessities for the Bill. He seems to think that by putting sufficient pressure upon printers and Revising Barristers the lists might be got through in time, but I can assure my hon. Friend that in a large county where there may be 100,000 names to put on the register under the present law it will simply be an impossible task without waste of money and danger of inaccuracy. That is the opinion of all the Clerks of the Peace, and no class of men have so intimate an acquaintance with the subject. The object of the Bill is twofold—to save Clerks of the Peace this almost impossible task and the money of the ratepayers at the same time. The proposal is to put forward the date by 19 days, and an alternative has been indicated—the alteration of the date of election, and there have been several expressions of opinion in favour of this alternative course. I must say, however, the suggestions made have been somewhat discordant. The hon. Member for Rugby proposes to alter the date of election to January 1st; but the ton. Member who has just spoken (Mr. Robinson) thinks March a better time. No doubt we all have our private preferences; but I may point out that at a large meeting of County Council representatives, held in November last, the alternatives to the Bill were fully discussed, and only one Gentleman present was in favour of postponing the day of the county council elections. Those of us who are familiar with these matters must strongly object to having the date of election put more into the middle of winter. The 1st of November may not be a perfect day, but certainty it is better than the 1st of January. It would be a mistake to postpone the day of election, already fixed for November, to the following spring, and thus compel many County Councillors, who have other duties to attend to at that time of the year, to begin their County Council duties at an inconvenient season of the year. There is one clause in the Bill which was not included in the Bill promoted by the County Council Association last year; that which affects the Parliamentary Register. We thought that was outside our functions, but the House will see it is only sensible and practical when you have a register complete, to bring it into operation without delay. The defects which have been pointed out will no doubt be considered by the Government. As to disfranchisement, which the hon. Member for Rugby has so clearly explained, I am sure that there is no disposition, either on the part of the Government or of the parties interested in the Bill, to refuse to insert any necessary safeguards for the protection of any elector who may be affected by the change. It was considered by the original framers that the number of electors who would be thus affected would be almost inappreciable. As to the selection of the 26th of June, that date is chosen because in certain years the 24th might fall on a Sunday, and as in that case the tenant would go out on the 25th the qualification period would remain as under the existing law. If we put back the period to 12 months preceding the 24th that would alter materially the franchise as it stands at present, and a principle in the Bill is to affect the franchise as little as possible.


In no way.


I am in no way responsible for the memorandum; I am speaking of the view of the promoters of the Bill introduced last year, and I believe the Government in this Bill have the same intention. It may be that the memorandum, a little over or under, states the effect of this Bill, but I believe the intention in the Bill is to affect the franchise as little as possible, while making a change in machinery to save inconvenience and expense to all the ratepayers in the country. I trust a way may be found of meeting the objections raised and I hope there will be no unnecessary delay in the passage of what I am sure will be a very useful measure.

(7.56.) MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

Those who endeavour to substitute for the Bill an alteration in the date of the County Council elections may be doing a very good thing so far as County Council elections are concerned, but they lose one of the great points gained by the Bill. The principal point gained is that you get a County Council election upon a brand new register, and we have all the more probability of getting a general election for Parliamentary purposes on a brand new register, or at any rate on a newer register than it would otherwise be. Not only is the register to be a new one for the County Council elections, but it will bring the voter to the poll at a period nearer to the beginning of his occupation than now. It will shorten the period between the commencement of his occupation and the end of his qualifying period. That I consider is a great advantage in the Bill. Whether County Council elections should be held at a later or earlier period of the year than at present is another question. I think, for the reason I have given, most sections in the House will welcome the principle of the Bill. There is no doubt that the Bill does bear traces of a want of full consideration in its preparation, and it is unnecessary to add a word to the extremely lucid explanation given by the hon. Member for Rugby, to show that on the points he indicated the Bill needs amendment. There is another point which the right hon. Gentleman will, I believe, be ready to correct, the opportunity for new lodgers under the present Bill is less for the signing of these clauses—I do not mean for the presentation of them—by something like three weeks. That I believe will also be put right. We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for putting various points of disfranchisement straight. There are two points of difficulty to which I desire to call attention. One is with regard to the date on which poor-rates are to be paid, and the other is a more permanent disfranchisement caused by the date of a change of residence from one borough to another. With regard to the first, I admit that it is an excellent thing for the rate-collecting authorities that they should have an opportunity of getting their rates in sooner, but I do not see why there should be any alteration in the number of days allowed under the present system. The hon. Member for Woolwich has suggested that the qualifying period should be from term-day to term-day. The very fact that the suggestion came from the hon. Gentleman shows how entirely out of the region of party politics is the suggestion. For three weeks ago the London Liberal Members, in a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman, brought this very matter before him. I cannot admit that by putting back the date from the 26th of June to the 24th of June, there is any alteration in the franchise. Suppose, for instance, the term-day were to be altered from the 24th of June to the 15th of July, there would be no substantial alteration in the character of the franchise, but there would be prevented that disfranchisement which takes place at present because of the non-coincidence of the quarter day with the termination of the qualifying period, I cannot see how the franchise would be affected by putting back the date which the right hon. Gentleman has now put back by 18 days, two days more. At the present every man who changes his occupation from one borough to another on quarter day loses his vote for a year and the disfranchisement will continue under the new arrangement. It does seems very hard that if a man occupying a house on one side of a street, which is in the Bethnal Green Division, crosses over on quarter-day to the other side of the street, which is in Shore ditch Division, he should lose his vote.

(8.5.) LORD H. BRUCE (Wilts, Chippenham)

I am quite sure the Government are actuated with the best intentions in asking the House to read this Bill a second time, but I regret for all that, that it is not a more comprehensive measure or far-reaching one. No measure of registration will ever be a just one until every qualified elector is placed on the Register by some recognised official without any trouble or difficulty to the voter. The onus of the objection could still remain, as at present, on either political parties for the ultimate decision of the Revising Barrister.

(8.7.) MR. LAWSON (St. pancras, W.)

I wish, to emphasise the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hoxton (Mr. Stuart) to the President of the Local Government Board that he should, now that he is tinkering with the law, change the date from the 26th to the 24th of June. If he did so, he would rectify an anomaly which is felt very grievously in the Metropolis by both Political Parties equally. I can quite understand the right hon. Gentleman wishing to avoid large questions of registration, but I assure him he would do a great deal for us in London in regard to the mere business work of registration if he consented to the alteration in the dates we suggest. It is really a very small matter. He will have our support in any case, but he would do a great deal more to merit the gratitude both of the London Members and the London County Council if he acceded to our wishes in this respect. I do not think there is any advantage gained by introducing the question of what month is best suited for the elections. That has nothing to do with the Bill. We merely ask for a very small reform of machinery; and if the right hon. Gentleman is able to make the concession we seek, I am quite certain none of my colleagues in the representation of the Metropolis would try to introduce any Amendments in Committee inconsistent with the purpose he has said animates him and the Government. (8.11.)

(8.43.) MR. MALLOCK (Devon, Torquay)

Sir, with reference to the remarks made by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, I wish to ask the Attorney General if he will explain whether the Midsummer tenant going out on the 24th June would be put on the register. If a tenant came on the 24th June, 1890, for instance, and his tenancy terminated on the 24th June, 1891, and if again the Bill were altered from the 20th June to the 24th June, would that tenant be put on the register? I have letters from the representatives of all parties suggesting the 24th June might be the date adopted. There is one inconvenience which must occur from this Bill. At present the overseers have 37 days from the 24th June to the 31st July to watch the changes and to make out their lists, and that time in many cases is hardly sufficient. Under the Bill the 37 days would be reduced to 18. If I understood the President of the Board of Trade aright he is going to accept the suggestion of the right hon. the Member for Bury, and that he will take care that those who come into residence between the 26th June last year and the 15th July should not lose their votes. I had intended to draft an Amendment to that effect, but now it will not be necessary.

(8.45.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

Sir, several hon. Members have made suggestions about the qualifying period. For my part, if we cannot have the qualifying period the 24th June, I would much rather, under present circumstances, continue the present qualifying period the 15th July. Of course, we are all in favour of the acceleration of registration, but I think it is quite possible, if a little pressure were put on the Revising Barristers, or if an addition were made to their number, that the registration work could be completed by the 30th September. I think the revision might be commenced on September 1st, and still be completed by the 30th, which would get over the harvest objection of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby. So many objections have been pointed out to the details of this Bill that it would be much simpler if the Government adopted the suggestion I make to keep the qualifying period for the present at the 15th July, and to see that the Revising Barristers do their work between the 1st and 30th September. The President of the Local Government Board said he had no intention of dealing with the general subject of the franchise and registration. I suppose he made that statement on behalf of the Government as a whole. Yet we have on the Paper to-night a Bill which deals with the ordinary Registration Law and later on we shall have something to say about it. With regard to the present Bill, several inconveniences have been pointed out, especially those indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby, and, therefore, the Government must expect that when the Bill reaches Committee they will have to deal with several Amendments.

(8.48.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)

The hon. Members who have discussed this Bill have pointed out several matters of detail and principle. First, with regard to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury as to the best way of dealing with the possible contingency of appeals for Revising Barristers. If this is felt to be a serious difficulty we shall have to consider before the Bill leaves the House how far it is possible to include in the measure some alteration with regard to appeals. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Rugby that that is a matter for inquiry and consideration. We quite recognise that. Assuming that the House has determined that the operation of the register should be accelerated in the case of the Parliamentary Register, there is one way it appears to me of meeting this difficulty. At present, owing to the old rule, appeals from the Revising Barristers cannot be heard until the 6th of November. It is a relic of the old term, called the October Sitting. The Revision Court is always a strong Court of three Judges; and it occurs to me, should it be ultimately determined to retain the provision that the Parliamentary Register should come into force on the 1st November, that some arrangement might be made whereby the Revising Barrister would put stars against the printed names, or print them in italics, thus indicating that certain questions were raised. Then arrangement might be made for appeals to be heard at the very commencement of the sittings, so that the register would be in effect, even so far as the starred names are concerned, if not by the 1st of November, within a very few days after. So far as the Parliamentary Register is concerned, no serious inconvenience, if any at all, would occur. [The hon. Member for Rugby dissented.] The hon. Member is quite right; I say it is impossible altogether to avoid the difficulty. With reference to the suggested alteration of the date for County Council elections, it will be remembered that all municipal elections take place at the beginning of November, and it would involve various disturbance and dislocation of business if those elections were put forward to January or March. The next matter which requires mention is the possible disqualification, not in future years, but in the year 1891, for the fact that persons have not occupied for the qualifying period, the 12 months, in consequence of having removed between the 25th June and the 15th July. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has intimated that that can be cured by a provision in the Bill. So far as that temporary disqualification is concerned there would be no difficulty in meeting it. The hon. Member for Rugby objected to the Bill on the ground that the revision would take place during the harvest months. I do not see that there would be much difference between the existing period of revision and the proposed period, as affecting the harvest months. I do not think it will turn out that there will be any serious inconvenience in that respect. I would remind the hon. Member that his objection also applies to the County Council elections, and if the objection be insisted upon we shall have to consider whether the Bill is to be pressed forward, because it is an objection which strikes at the position of the whole matter. It is not possible to discuss it unless the hon. Member moves the rejection of the Bill. One or two hon. Members have fallen into a little error, not unnaturally, with regard to the first line in the Schedule, as to the payment of rates on the 15th May and the 1st June. The word should really be "notice" instead of "payment." The rates in question are the rates payable on the 5th January. As a matter of fact, the earlier we put the notice as to the payment of rates, the better it would be for the voter, because he would have a longer notice that he would be disqualified if his rates were not paid. But lower down the Schedule there is an alteration from the 20th July to the 15th June. The hon. Member referred to the 1st June and the 15th May.


I did not name any date at all. I said that the payment of the rates was put forward, instead of 19 days, 35 days.


I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; it was some other hon. Member who made that observation. As a matter of fact, if he looks at the history of this matter he will find that it ought to have been put at an earlier date in the original Act. It is, however, a matter of no substantial importance, because the notice is to be given on the way 15th may, and on the 15th June the man has to pay his rates. We think that a proper date, having regard to the scheme of the Act. It is a matter for the House to decide whether an earlier or a later date should be fixed. I think it will turn out for the proper working of the Bill that it ought to be the 15th June. It has been suggested that the matter could be brought right by bringing greater pressure to bear on the printers; bat from communications I have had with Clerks of the Peace, I find that the necessity of one or more revisions of the list, and, in some counties, the distances to be traversed before the printer can be reached, constitute serious difficulties in the way of satisfying the objections of the hon. Member for Rugby. The hon. Member for Southwark suggested that we should increase the number of Revising Barristers. Well, I should be glad if a larger number of deserving members of my profession could receive the small emoluments which are given for the very hard work of registration, but, after all, we have to consider the necessities of the case, and it does not seem to me requisite to increase the number of Revising Barristers. We should not have more of these gentlemen than necessary to perform the work of revision efficiently. We might get over the difficulty of revision by having a larger number of Revising Barristers, but it would not get us over the difficulty of printing, which is one of the principal difficulties.


I suggested that the 30th September should be the date fixed upon, which would give time for printing.


That date, as compared with the 23rd September, has been very carefully considered by the Clerks of the Peace in the counties with the idea of getting the two or three days that they think necessary. The date we have adopted has not been selected haphazard, 'but after very careful consideration. The hon. Member for St. Pancras and one other Member suggested that we Should make the qualifying period end on the 24th June, so as not to disfranchise anyone, but, as was pointed out by an hon. Member behind me, that would disqualify people very seriously. I need not remind the House that the qualification is for "on and for 12 months preceding" the qualifying day, so that if you fix the 24th June it would be a positive disqualification to many voters who would not be able to prove that they were in occupation of their new premises on the 24th and 12 months preceding, and they would remain on the register for a long time in respect of an old occupation, and would not be able to qualify for the new register. That would effect an alteration in the law which ought not to be made in this Bill. It would be unwise to incur the risk of disfranchisement in a large number of cases for the sake of the simplification of the process by taking the earlier day. Why the 26th is taken is this: No difference of qualification in any year except the first can arise as compared with the existing law. Any question of the occupation not having been long enough in the year 1890–91, can be met by a special clause. The disqualification arises by the fact that on no other date would the occupier have been long enough on the register; but when you have to shift from the 15th July back to an earlier date all that you have to do is to take the earliest possible date that would not disqualify, and the earliest possible date is the 26th June. The 25th June would have given rise to some legal questions, therefore, to be absolutely safe the 26th is taken instead of the 25th. It is immaterial for the purpose of this Bill which date is taken. It would only be material if we were going to make such an alteration as is proposed by the hon. Member for Hoxton and the hon. Member for St. Pancras. That we have said we cannot do, but we have gone back as far as we could to give as much time as possible for the registration. I have only to say, in conclusion, that whilst the Government are anxious to further registration, and to effect, if possible, that the registration shall be got into operation for the municipal elections by the 1st of November, with sufficient time for good revision—for the work of the overseers being properly done, and for the ministerial work of printing being efficiently carried out—if the objections which have been raised are felt by the majority of the House to be such as to out weigh the good we have thought the Bill would effect, the only alternative will be not to proceed with the measure.

(9.7.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)

I am glad the Attorney General has spoken to the House, as we were waiting with anxiety for a further statement from the Government in response to the criticisms addressed to them from this side of the House—and addressed to them in no unfriendly spirit. There is no disposition on this side of the House to defeat the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite might put his foot down, and refuse to accept Amendments, but I hope he will take a wiser and more tactical view of the situation. I think it would be possible to modify the Bill so as to meet objections raised on this side of the House; and I gather from what has occurred that the Governments will be ready to give every consideration to our proposals, though reserving to themselves the right not to persevere with the Bill. As to the risk which would be involved in putting the date back from July 15 to June 26th, as at present advised, I think it could be done, not by naming the 24th specifically, but by adopting such phraseology as "up to the 25th" without saying "included," which would give the 24th both to the incoming and the outgoing tenant. I do not think it necessary or desirable to multiply discussions on the details of the Bill, or even on the various inportant points of criticism which have been suggested to the Government and the House. What we were anxious to ascertain was whether the Government would receive, and not repudiate, suggestions in the form of Amendments in Committee coming from this side of the House. I think I do not incorrectly interpret what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman and from the Attorney General when I say that they are perfectly prepared to go into Committee on the Bill, and then exercise their judgment as to how they should deal with Amendments. Still I think it would be rather premature for the Government to announce what Amendments they will and will mot accept. It will be for hon. Members and the Government to exercise their judgment on the different Amendments when they are moved in Committee The objections to the Bill seem to these As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury has pointed out this Bill will unless amended, certainly disfranchise certain persons, and the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to move Amendments in Committee to rectify that effect.


We shall be willing, if possible, to insert some clause in the Bill which will prevent the disfranchisement pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury. It has occurred to me, however, that there will be some difficulty in the matter.


The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in intimating that if possible he will do it, and that if he finds it impossible he will not do it. It is intended to prevent disfranchisement in the Bill if it can be done in the drafting, and we shall be entitled to criticise any Amendment which may be proposed from that point of view. We, of course, reserve our rights as the Government reserve their rights. The next question raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury was the question of accelerating appeals. I do not understand the Attorney General to speak positively on that matter, but he is inclined to the opinion, or hope, that a way may be found of meeting that difficulty.


The Courts sit before the 24th October on account of the Long Vacation, but it seems to me that the register could be printed provisionally so as to be completed by the 1st November.


That seems to me satisfactory as a Second Reading statement, and we shall be within our right in discussing any solution of the difficulty the Government may propose. Another objection taken by the hon. Member for Rugby was as to the revision going into the harvest time. I do not feel myself a competent judge on that subject. I have not at my finger-ends the beginnings and endings of the harvest time, but the matter might be dealt with to suit the seasons of the different counties. I ask the Government to consider all these points in a fair spirit, as we on this side are disposed to do. I do not know whether they will propose to recommit the Bill—




They will table all their Amendments at once?




If that is done we shall be able to look on the Amendments on the hypothesis that they are all to be inserted in the Bill, and shall be able to form an opinion as to whether they are reasonable and satisfactory. I feel quite sure we shall come to agreement, and that the right hon. Gentleman is not inclined to be too severe.

(9.18.) MR.T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I wish to enter a protest against the Bill, on the ground that it will not operate fairly in the case of Ireland. Under this measure, if there is a dissolution on the 1st or 2nd of November, the English people will have the advantage of a new register, whilst the Irish people will have a register ten months stale. Of all the remarkable pieces of forgetfulness that it is possible to imagine on the part of the Government in drawing up a Bill of this kind dealing with "integral" parts of the United Kingdom, this is the worst. In the event of a dissolution taking place in the early part of November, Ireland is be left out in the cold. How are you going to mend this? Of course you will time your dissolution to fill your own sails. You will naturally think of your own people. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there are two other partners to this firm, but you have been good enough to forget us. It was all very well before the franchise was extended to treat the two countries, England and Ireland, as not on a parity. Even when the narrow franchise of former days was in force you took good care that the register should start in the month of January in Ireland. With that beautiful Imperial symmetry which you are so fond of talking about and so ready to depart from when it suits your purpose, you have made our Irish Register to synchronise with yours. Now, without rhyme or reason, but simply because it suits your County Councils—we having no County Councils at all—you declare that we may take our chance of a dissolution whenever, for ought I know, it suits the policy of the British East Africa Association and the dukes thereupon. I object in toto to this proposal on behalf of both Ireland and Scotland. The Scotch Members do not seem to have roused themselves on this point. The matter is one of very great importance. The General Election of 1886 took place in January and February, and it was, I presume, determined to have it at the time because the registers were fresh. The question of freshness or staleness of a register becomes of enormous importance when dealing with a franchise so extended as is that at present in force. What happens is practically this: in order to have a vote in this present year, a man must have been in occupation since the 20th of July, 1889. consequently all the removable classes are deprived of the franchise and you have all through the country a mass of people whom it is impossible to find at any General Election. We are now nearing General Election, and it is natural, after having for five years had a Tory Government in office, that we should be some what anxious to rid ourselves of such an incubus, and it is equally obvious that Gentlemen opposite should be anxious to retain their salaries as long as they can. The Government bring in this Bill with the most reckless disregard of all the other component parts of the Kingdom to which it will apply. I have put an Amendment on the Paper, the reasonableness anybody but a Tory or a Liberal Unionist would admit. If you are going to appeal to the people they ought to have notice that the appeal is to be made. Why should this House any longer tolerate such dissolutions? The constitution of this Parliament for five or seven years is a matter of sufficient gravity to justify giving the people the advantage of being registered in advance. Why is the House of Commons to be left at the mercy of a Minister who has perhaps just returned from Berlin bringing peace with honour, or has just made a light railway in Ireland, or passed a Special Commission Act, to make a snap appeal to the people upon side issues of that kind? I say solemnly that in this country where you have a seven years' Parliament the least you can do is to have an enumeration of the people beforehand. My Amendment is in this sense. What will be the argument of those who oppose it? Will it be that it will be too much trouble to carry it out? You cannot expect to get your seats without trouble or to get your places without trouble, and I do not think the people will tolerate the notion that they are to be choused out of their right to settle the composition of the House of Commons for want of a better system of registration. The present system is a disgrace to civilization. We hear about the rings in New York, and yet will it be believed that in the United States every citizen has to come up every October or November and swear he is a citizen and entitied to vote? What you insist upon in this country is that a man shall be in possession of his premises practically for two years before he is entitled to vote, and you offer no facilities to the subjects of Her Majesty to assert their rights as citizens, and to make their voices heard. If you have faith in the people, as you say you have, why are you always so anxious that the people should not be registered? It is one thing to tolerate the present system in regard to chance bye-elections, but when you have 670 elections taking place at once, surely the people should have an opportunity of making an examination of conscience before hand, and of getting upon the register. In bringing in this Bill, simply in order I suppose to save a few pounds, you are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. If you are so anxious to save a few pounds to the County Council or to the taxpayers, why are you not anxious to expend a few pounds in securing the proper registration of Her Majesty's subjects. What ought your object to be on this question of registration? Ought it not to be to get as many people as possible on the register, to get the proper people on the register, and to see that the voters cast their votes at the proper time. From whom does this proposition come? From the Liberal Unionist Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Hobhouse) who brought on this Bill last year, and had it promptly blocked. I ask what good can come out of Nazareth? Does anyone believe that the hon. Member for Somerset wants to get people put upon the register? That he wants more voters in his constituency? If so, will he vote for my Amendment? My object is to put people upon the register, and I say that before you have a general making up of the minds of the people, such an opportunity as I ask for should be afforded them. That was done by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1885. We were about to have a dissolution, and we all knew it, because the Redistribution Act had been passed. Well, what was the provision then made? A provision was made to secure that, before the people were asked to vote under the new arrangement, they should have the opportunity of being enumerated and registered. If that was done in 1885, why should it not be done in 1891 or 1892? Is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to be the only Minister who is prepared to give the people before they vote the opportunity of registration and enumeration? Why do not the Tory Party do it? I am told that my Amendment will limit the power of dissolution. I do not care whether it will have that effect or not. It provides that if you dissolve in any months except the months of January, February, and March, you must give the people the opportunity of being registered so that you may not shut them out. Why is any person to be shut out who has paid his rents and rates and lived in the constituency long enough to qualify him for a vote? Why is he to be shut out at an important crisis in his country's history, because he was not in occupation on the 20th June or the 1st of July? Is there any magic in the dog-days, because it would seem to be the suggestion of the Tories that you must have a dog-days' date for your registration? What magic is there in the month of July? [Laughter.] Oh, I withdraw. An hon. Gentleman opposite reminds me of the battle of the Boyne, though I believe it was the battle of Aughrim that was fought in the month of July, but, barring those eventful dates of Aughrim and Boyne, I see nothing at all magical in the month of July. After all this is a practical question, one on which the fate of the Empire might depend for years to come. You who sit opposite declare that the people are opposed to Home Rule. The Liberal Party say, on the contrary, the people are in favour of Home Rule; but, at any rate, everyone admits that the Home Rule policy is a question of vast importance. I say that full opportunity should be afforded for registration, and that the people of Ireland and Scotland ought not to be left to the chance of a dissolution in November or December, before means had been taken to secure a proper system of registration. I therefore beg to move my Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Bill dealing with the subject of Registration can be satisfactory which does not provide for a special registration of voters prior to a General Election where Parliament is dissolved at a time when the existing Register is more than three months in force,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I am sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman, in making his remarks, has not shown a nearer approach to the tone in which the debate up to this time has been carried on.


It was too low.

(9.40.) MR. RITCHIE

The hon. and learned Gentleman says it was too low, but at any rate he knew that the change as regarded England had been caused by the large number of voters added to the Municipal Roll for 1888. For my part I confess that I share the idea that amendment is required in the machinery of registration generally, and we should not have touched this question at all without dealing with it in a much more comprehensive way, had it not been that the matter was one of pressing importance, on account of the County Council elections. The circumstances are not the same in Ireland, where there are no County Council elections, as in England. It is not that Ireland is forgotten, but the circumstances are altogether different. The hon. and learned Gentleman finds fault with us for not making some alteration in the time at which the Parliamentary Register in Ireland should come into force. He called attention to this matter the other day, and we promised to consider it, but after all it is a small matter. As I understand, the difference is all a question of a month. I am informed that a serious difficulty might arise in Ireland if the Parliamentary Register there were brought into operation earlier than it is now. The hon. and learned Gentleman has taken up the cudgels on behalf of my poor country, Scotland. If there are no other Members present to defend Scotland I will constitute myself her champion, and say it is an outrageous thing that the people of Scotland should have to elect their members on the old register.


I said I did not know anything about it. I asked a question.


Then why does the hon. Gentleman speak about it? If the hon. Gentleman wished to speak on our case in Scotland, I think he ought to have informed himself as to the law. Perhaps he would be surprised to know that the Parliamentary register comes into operation in Scotland now on the 1st of November, so that no alteration as regards Scotland is required. This proposal will bring the English system of registration into harmony with the Scotch. So much for the preliminary observations of the hon. Member.


And Ireland is to be left out in the cold?


I told the hon. Gentleman the other day that the Government would make inquiries, and if anything could be done they will try to meet the hon. and learned Gentleman's views. With regard to the Amendment I hardly think it can be seriously proposed by the hon. Gentleman. The Amendment would mean that, in the event of a Vote of Want of Confidence, the Government against their own will should be compelled to remain in Office to conduct the affairs of the country with the House of Commons against them for a period of something like three months. Such a proposition is one that it is almost too absurd for the House of Commons to consider.


The County Councils Association, which comprehends persons of every shade of political opinion, are unanimous in pressing for this measure. Although in very large cities there would be no difficulty in doing the work, it has been proved to the satisfaction of the Association that in many of the rural districts it would be impossible to find people to do it. Therefore, we ought to be grateful to the President of the Local Government Board for introducing a measure which will provide the necessary machinery.

Question put and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.