§ *(4.10.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
I rise for the purpose of calling attention to the Parliamentary Franchise and its conditions; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is needful to amend and simplify the Laws relating to the qualification and registration of Parliamentary Electors; and especially to provide (a) that no person shall be permitted to vote in more than one electoral area during the continuance of one and the same register; (b) that the term of qualification shall be reduced to not more than three months; (c) that registration superintendents shall be appointed who shall be officially responsible for superintending the preparation of accurate Lists of Voters.If I may form a judgment of the Amendments which have been placed upon the Paper, I should not be disposed 41 to characterise them as being of a whole hearted character. They are either dilatory, obstructive, or evasive. The first I have to refer to is that of the hon. Member for the City (Sir R. Fowler), and it is one of the simplest. The hon. Member proposes that new legislation for registration purposes should not be taken in hand so soon after the passing of the Act of 1885. I do not intend to discuss that Amendment now. Then comes what I understand to be the more serious Amendment of the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Howorth). In the latest edition of his Amendment he recognises the desirability of amending the present system of registration; but he does not approve of any alteration whatsoever, however minute, in the existing qualification or condition of the franchise; and he thinks further—and in this respect he is followed by the authors of other Amendments—that no subject of this kind should be entered into, or ought to be considered or entertained, unless at the same time provision is made for the representation of the different parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland proportionately to their population. I come next to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Maclean), who desires that an adjustment should be made on the basis not of population only, but of taxation and population combined. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore) is directed to secure that the representation shall be in accordance with the number of Parliamentary electors. I hope the Members for London will take notice of that fact, because they know, as well as I do, that any qualification of that kind would tell unfairly upon the voters in the Metropolis, who do not get on the register as easily as voters in other localities. In addition to this, the hon. Member for Chelsea desires to retain the freehold qualification. My answer to all objections of this kind is to be found, I think, in the terms of the Resolution. I propose two things—first of all, that it is needful to amend and simplify the law relating to the qualification and registration of Parliamentary electors, and then I specially notify two main subjects by way of illustration as the means by which I propose to carry out that 42 Amendment and simplification. I further propose what is popularly known as the principle of one man one vote. And now let me show for a moment the reason why I think I am entitled to proceed with my Resolution in spite of the Amendments which stand upon the Paper. With regard to that part of it which is concerned with what is called the principle of one man one vote, I am bound to admit that it is controversial matter. But if it raises a controversial question, all I ask is that it shall be discussed, and that we shall not be prevented or discouraged from discussing a proposition in regard to which, on this side of the House, we in a large proportion feel and think very strongly indeed. With regard to the question of registration and qualification pure and simple, it stands on a different footing, and I can hardly call it controversial. The hon. Member for South Salford admits the principle of amending and simplifying the registration system of the country. The present system, in my own view and that of my hon. Friends, is entirely out of date. It originated at a time when the franchise was a restricted franchise, and started from a wrong point of view according to our more modern notions. In olden times, when the franchise was treated as a privilege and not as a right, a great object of legislation was to prevent persons from getting on the register who were not entitled to do so according to the law, or who ought not to be put upon it according to the ideas which prevailed at the time. But the situation has entirely changed since the passing of household suffrage, and the major part of our object now ought to be not so much to keep off people who are not entitled as to put on people who are. The present system is complicated, technical, insufficient, and costly; it is a stumbling block in the way of the ordinary householder, who is not capable of asserting or defending his claim; it is a crying grievance, and its remedy is of urgent importance. This is a part of the question which ought to be dealt with at once. It ought to have been dealt with from the moment that household suffrage became the law of the land. I see no reason why, if these propositions are true, it should be deferred to some 43 indefinite future day. I propose the acceptance of the principle of one man one vote, and what is the answer? That nothing of the kind is to be done until we can initiate some general measure giving to each separate part of the United Kingdom its due and exact proportion of representation according to its population, its population and taxation, or the number of its electors. The meaning of that very general phraseology is that the question of registration shall not be touched until the task of reducing the representation of the Irish people in this House is taken up. In illustration of my statement that our registration system started from the wrong point, I may point out that at present it is a condition precedent to being placed on the register that the rates due on January 6th should be paid before July 20th, and that the assessed taxes should also be paid. It would be a great simplification if that condition precedent were abolished. It would get get rid of a whole crop of technical or quasi-technical objections, difficult for the householder to get rid of or to understand. Is there any reasonable objection to doing so? I cannot conceive of any Registration Amendment Bill which does not include amongst its clauses one reducing the necessary period of occupation. My own proposal would be to reduce that period to three months. The immediate effect of that Amendment would be to make the condition precedent to which I have referred an absurdity, for the rates and taxes, payment of which are required, might relate to other premises than those in respect of which the occupation qualification is gained. The personal payment of rates used to be insisted upon in the old Debates as showing that the character of the person paying was such that he was entitled to vote. But the days have passed when the character of the voter can be regarded The country has accepted household suffrage, and must take its chance. Then the compound householder and the lodger pay no rates at all. What virtue is there in making the householder pay poor rates which became due three months before his tenancy began? As to assessed taxes, that is a very small matter now, only applying in the rare case of joint occupiers of a house of £20 annual value and upwards, and 44 I ask whether there is any sense in retaining a technical difficulty of that kind? I would remind the House that Lord John Russell, in the Bill of 1854, actually proposed to abolish all those provisions of the Act of 1832. Another illustration of the technical difficulties in the way of the householder is that if the description of his qualification is inaccurately stated on the list, which might be the fault of the overseer, in respect, for instance, of the name or the situation of the qualifying property, the Revising Barrister has no power to amend it, because in the eye of the law an Amendment would amount to a new qualification. That is altogether absurd. Why should objections be encouraged, and why should a distinct advantage be given to Party objectors, who make it a business to object? If the man is entitled to be upon the register and the qualification is not correctly described, why cannot the Revising Barrister be intrusted with the power of amendment? The Overseers' list ought to be more correct to begin with, because the ordinary householder is not able to defend his own case, and has either to employ legal aid or seek the assistance of some trained person which drives him into the hands of the agent of one or other of the political organisations. I maintain that that is mischievous, and that the system ought to be self-working. It is the duty of the Government to see that every man entitled to vote is put upon the register without trouble, expense, or risk to the man himself. The next point is successive occupation. Successive occupation only applies to the same class of occupation. The lodger must claim successive occupation of lodgings; but if he rises in the world and takes a house of his own, he cannot claim by successive occupation for his vote. I contend that successive occupation ought to mean successive occupation of any qualification. I come now to the question of simplification of the registration and qualification of the voters. I contend for a reduction of the period of qualification and adequate provision for accurate initial lists. The period of qualification for occupiers is at present 12 months, and the 12 months are reckoned from a specific day in the year—the 15th of July. Taking it merely as a 12 months' 45 occupation, on the face of it, is it not preposterous to give household suffrage on these terms, when a large portion of the working classes are weekly tenants, continually changing their dwelling-places according to the location of their work? The case, however, is far worse than appears on the first aspect. If a man enters into occupation on the 16th of July, he will have no claim to be put on the register until two years all but a day have elapsed; and then he will have to wait till the next 1st of January for the publication of the register. In that extreme case he will have to wait nearly two and a half years to exercise the right Parliament has conferred upon him. It is said that to change these conditions is touching the franchise. Why should the franchise not be touched? I maintain that yon cannot adequately reform and simplify the system of registration unless the occupiers' qualification be changed in point of term of residence. I have looked closely into this matter, and I have come to the conclusion that to construct a thoroughly amended and simplified scheme of registration, the franchise must be touched as I propose. One of the two keys to the whole thing is the reduction of the qualifying period. That decreases immensely the number of objections and simplifies the whole thing to an extent which those who have not gone into the question would hardly imagine. This proposal of mine to touch the franchise is not introducing anything new to the spirit of the law of household suffrage. Having conferred this privilege on the working classes, Parliament is bound in honour and consistency to make the law correspond in fact with what it intended it to be. The qualifying period, which may extend to 2½ years, merely implies wholesale disfranchisement of the working classes. I propose a three months' qualification, dating from Lady Day and ending in June. I choose Lady Day because that is the date on which the new Overseers enter on their duties and the rate book is constructed. This proposal would get rid of the difficulties of successive occupation and many other technical objections. But of all these proposed reforms there is none more essential than that which is intended to secure the initial accuracy of the Overseers' 46 lists, and thereby to minimise future labour, cost, and risk. The Overseers are primarily responsible, but we all know that in many parishes, especially rural parishes, the Overseers are untrained men, incompetent for the work of preparing the lists; and deliberately to allow any avoidable inaccuracy in the initial lists in order to correct it afterwards, is manifestly an extravagant and absurd method of going to work. Two things appear to be essential: In the first place, the supervision of the registration in every constituency ought to be under one chief authority, so that the work of the Overseers of different parishes in the same constituency may be prepared with uniformity, impartiality, accuracy and fairness. To secure these desirable results it is eminently necessary to have some suitable supervising power. Any Registration Bill should provide for qualified assistance to the Overseers in every parish. Attempts have been made in that direction, though not successfully; but no one, I think, will deny that in any measure which is passed for registration power should be given to appoint assistants to the Overseers to do the work. There is a strong and growing opinion that to secure accuracy and fairness and complete impartiality within each constituency, there should be some such superior registration officer in each constituency or district as the one to whom I have already alluded. That is the case in Scotland. I do not know whether many English Member is familiar with the law in Scotland; but there the lists are prepared by the valuation officer, the result of whose action is that the initial lists are exceedingly accurate and trustworthy, and that the objections and claims are much fewer. Therefore, I think we should be wise in looking to the example of Scotland, and seeing if we can derive any benefit from the study of the precedent that it affords us. The best method of applying the Scotch principle to English requirements may be, and will undoubtedly when we come to legislate, be a matter for discussion. That is, comparatively, a matter of detail, but I bog leave to state what my opinion is. I do not think that the Overseers ought to be entirely supplanted because of their special knowledge of their own parishes. We ought to keep 47 the Overseers, because we shall not want to duplicate the staff, but they should be directed and corrected by the supervising officer. That, I think, would be an immense improvement. If the lists were improved and made more perfect you would do away with all the subsequent work that would be required if they were less perfect. If you can reduce the number of mistakes in the lists you reduce the work of the registration agents and the Revising Barristers, and effect economy of money and labour. I come, last, to the proposal that no man shall be allowed to have more than one vote. I have said that that is a controversial matter, and I hope it will be thoroughly discussed. As the law stands at present voters may vote in any county and in any borough for which they are qualified. I say, shortly, that that is plural voting. It is one form of plural voting. Plural voting may consist in a man having, as in the case of the election of Guardians, more than one vote at an election in consequence of his possessing more property than other voters. That is, no doubt, a more objectionable system of plural voting; but still, under the present law, a man who possesses more means than another man may vote for several candidates in different constituencies. I could understand that system if he were voting for candidates for several Representative Bodies; but the House of Commons is one Chamber and one Body, and now that the principle of household suffrage has been adopted, on what principle can we maintain the right of an owner of property to multiply his vote, and to vote for a dozen or, perhaps, even for a score of men who are candidates for seats in this House? I say it cannot be defended in argument. That is inconsistent with the principle of household suffrage. It is not merely a theoretical objection that I hold, for I find from a Return which I obtained a couple of years ago that the non-resident ownership voters form nearly one-third of the resident ownership voters. I found that the total non-resident ownership voters were 121,287, as compared with 390,959 resident ownership voters. The figures differ in different constituencies, and the balance of Parties differs in different constituencies; but it is indubitable that there 48 are not a few cases in which the nonresident ownership voters amount to a percentage more than sufficient to turn the tide against a clear majority of the resident voters. Surely that is not just or consistent with the principles upon which the present suffrage is based. I do not propose to go into details on this point, because my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, who will probably speak later in the Debate, has made this branch of the subject very largely his own. I may add, however, that as far as I know there is no other country with a popular system which allows a system of plural voting. And now I would sum up very shortly the proposition I want to put before the House. I say we protest against plural voting in any shape. We are perfectly prepared to discuss it, and we want to discuss it, but we do not see why we should not oppose it as an objectionable thing to be got rid of in a measure partly for registration reform and partly for the simplification and improvement of the qualification. As to the modification of the franchise which I would propose, the Resolution is confined to a qualification of three months instead of 12. I have given my reasons for that. The hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Howorth) in his Amendment says we should not touch the franchise, but I have told the House why we on this side think we are entitled to touch it. First, because you cannot practically carry out a successful plan for the simplification of registration without touching that principle; and, secondly, because not to touch it would be to deliberately disfranchise those Parliament and the law have intended to enfranchise. We are told that this cannot be re-considered. There are manifest grievances and injustices connected with the present system, but we are not to be entitled even to approach the consideration of them—that is the extraordinary proposition of the hon. Member for South Salford. That is the latest edition of his Amendment. Though it is desirable to amend the present system of registration, no alteration whatever at present is to be made in regard to the qualification of voters which does not provide that the different parts of Great Britain and Ireland shall be represented proportionately to their population. That seems to be the burden 49 of the song of all these dilatory and obstructive and, I will call them, evasive pleas. What could be more irrelevant to the proposal I have made than to say that it shall not secure assent until the House is prepared to deal with the question of the readjustment of the representation as between Great Britain and Ireland? We have the system of household suffrage, and we regard this system of "one man one vote" as a corollary to the adoption of the system of household suffrage. We say the moment household suffrage was adopted this reform was due, and that there was no need to wait for it. As to waiting until we come to deal with the lighting question of the proportional representation of different parts of the United Kingdom, every one knows that you will never deal with that question in a measure for registration. I say, therefore, it is an evasive plea. It is of the utmost importance that we should simplify the system of registration in order that people may be put on the register without the intervention of agencies. I say it is to the interest of representative institutions that men should be put on the register and kept on without such intervention—that as little as possible should be due to the machinations or plans or offensive or defensive tactics of political or Party agencies. What we should want when we have an election, and what we should like when we come to deal with those great questions which will be placed before the constituencies at the next General Election, is a register possessing upon its pages the name of every man entitled according to the principle of household suffrage to a vote. You want to get at the opinion of every man. That is the object of representative institutions, and all this machinery and these contrivances against which my Motion is directed are simply for not getting at the right opinion of the great mass of the people of the country, but for dealing with the register in the interests of one Party or another. What did the great Sir Robert Peel say?—The battle of the Constitution is to be fought in the Registration Courts. Register, register, register!We must mend the existing state of things, I contend, so that the battle of the Constitution shall be fought out 50 here and not on the register. I think I have now brought before the House a case which is well worthy of its favourable consideration, and I conclude by formally moving the Resolution which stands in my name.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it is needful to amend and simplify the laws re-rating to the qualification and registration of Parliamentary Electors; and especially to provide (a) that no person shall he permitted to vote in more than one electoral area during the continuance of one and the same register; (b) that the term of qualification shall he reduced to not mere than three months; (c) that registration superintendents shall he appointed who shall he officially responsible for superintending the preparation of accurate Lists of Voters."—(Mr. Stansfeld.)
§ (4.56.) MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
In rising to second the Motion. I desire to point out that this subject has been before the House since the early part of the Session of 1886. Session after Session we have had before us—although we have had no opportunity of discussing it—a measure not only containing the principles of the Resolution now before the House, but also laying down legislative machinery for carrying those principles into effect. With regard to the question of the franchise, I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought by this time to have got rid of their fear in regard to the extension of the franchise to the great mass of our people, and, consequently, they ought to get rid of any fear of giving to the people who are rightly enfranchised by Act of Parliament an opportunity of registering their votes. The principles of the registration at present in force are about as absurd as anything that could be put upon the Statute Book. In the first place they absolutely disfranchise people for following their employment. If a man happens to lose his work in one place and goes to another place to find it again he is at once disfranchised. If a number of men have a dispute with their employer, say in the County of Durham, and are evicted from their holdings in consequence, they have disfranchisement by the registration law added to their punishment—disfranchisement for two years at least. The householder does not occupy as good a position with regard to registration as the lodger, for he usually takes possession 51 of his premises on quarter day. If he comes in on the Michaelmas quarter-day, he has to remain all that period and for the succeeding 12 months before he is on the register, and then another three months must elapse before the register is published. So that, under ordinary circumstances, he must be two years waiting for a vote. Then, as to the lodger. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in resisting the reduction of the franchise, showed that they had more faith in the man who was a householder than in the man who was a lodger, and yet they were willing to disfranchise the former longer than the latter. The lodger may come in at any time. A lodger can come in at any time if, during 12 months, he keeps the same rooms; but his landlord under whom he rents is not entitled, although his residence may actually have been six or nine months longer. Surely that in itself is absurd. Besides, let us get rid of ail ambiguities and difficulties attaching to the franchise which may prevent a man exercising the vote Parliament has given him. Either we intend to enfranchise him or we do not. If a man is intended to be enfranchised then let his being placed upon the register be as simple a matter as possible. It seems to me all that should be required is that a man shall have fulfilled the residential qualification, and be known as the person residing at a particular place. Many of us on this side of the House have held for a long time that three months is quite sufficient. Why, too, should not the register come into force immediately after it is revised? Why wait an interval of two or three months? Supposing Her Majesty's Government should, in some fit of patriotism, decide to go to the country this side of Christmas, the result would be we should have to fall back upon a register made up 12 months ago last July. I hold that the entire system is mischievous in the extreme. There is another very important aspect of the question, and that is the want of an officer to look after the registration. Why should hon. Members of this House have to pay the expenses of registration, as they practically have to? The list is practically prepared by the agents of the candidates, and that, in itself, is mischievous in the extreme. Supposing 52 an agent on either side can raise objections to several hundred names on the other side, and the persons named do not attend to substantiate their claims to the franchise, then the Revising Barrister must strike those names off the register, but supposing that both agents combine and submit the names of a few voters, or even one name, omitted by inadvertence from the list, not the efforts of both candidates can get that name, or those names, added to the list, for the Revising Barrister has not the power to make that addition. It is a subject well worthy the attention of the House and of Her Majesty's Government. An hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House has put down an Amendment which I wish had been embodied in the Motion, namely, that all elections should be on the same day. That in itself would cure much of the evil that now exists, and I hope my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment. I want to see the great mass of the people trusted with the vote. Once they are made citizens, the State will have a right to exact from them the performance of the duties and obligations attaching to citizenship. I think before the next General Election comes upon us we ought to have decided some of these questions. We have other and great questions before the present and future Parliaments without going back from time to time to these questions of Electoral Law. I had hoped that ere this we might have found time to simplify and consolidate our Electoral Laws so that the great mass of the electors might clearly understand under what conditions they are enfranchised, and what duties they have to perform in order to exercise their right of voting. At present the Electoral Law of this country is embodied in something like 182 different Acts of Parliament, and it is in the hope that the House may see its way to assent to this Resolution, and so place the Electoral Law of this country on such a basis that it will compare favourably with that of other countries, that I now second the Motion.
§ *(5.10.) MR. HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion has hung a very wide and far-reaching issue upon a very small and innocent-looking Resolution, and he may find, as others have done 53 that sometimes the opening of a small door discloses a landscape, not only much wider in extent, but much less inviting than was expected. I think he has already made this discovery; and I confess, further, that a great constitutional change, which has been the occasion, as I understand, of much deliberation among right hon. Gentlemen opposite, was never introduced with more parochial arguments or more commonplace rhetoric. The Resolution embodies three propositions, two of which are unimportant and of little general interest, upon which very little polemic, indeed, is involved. They deal only with details of registration, about which I do not think much difference of opinion arises, and with which the main portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was occupied; while the main issue was postponed to a few sentences at the end. The Motion of the right hon. Gentleman involves a very wide question. It, in fact, re-opens the whole question of reform. The Bill of 1885 differed from every other Act in this feature—that it was not the result of the deliberation of Parliament, or of a distinct vote taken in the House; but it was the result of private and diplomatic arrangements between the leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition. In these circumstances it is a little curious that within six years the whole question of reform should be re-opened at the instance of one of the high contracting parties to that treaty. It must not be forgotten that a great many of us who sit in this House, and a great many who do not—who are divided in many ways on particular subjects, were very much distressed indeed by the provisions of that Act as it passed. There were people who cannot claim to belong to the Party to which I belong, but who have been in the forefront of Liberal opinion, who took the same view as some of us here, that the Act preserved a number of anomalies and did not contain a number of safeguards that might very well have been included in it. One right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Liskeard, made a very conspicuous sacrifice of his political fortune on behalf of his views on that occasion. It seems to me that when an Act of Parliament has been 54 passed as a compromise under conditions of that kind, passed distinctly because there was a very great constitutional question impending, which might have been the subject-matter of a revolution, it requires considerable justification to re-open the whole matter so soon again. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in his place. That right hon. Gentleman certainly was a chief actor in the arrangement of six years ago, and it is to be hoped that he will not fail presently to give the House some justification for re-opening the whole question of reform, a justification we have not found in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution. We accepted the Act, because it was admitted to be a more or less peaceful settlement for a considerable period. We none of us expect that the settlement should be absolutely final, but we do think that when a great constitutional question, debated as this was, concluded as this was, is settled by an arrangement between the Leaders on either side, that we ought to have surcease from continual discussion of it, and that it should not within half a dozen years be thrust forward in front of more practical legislation. It would ill-become me to give any advice to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in regard to tactics or Parliamentary strategy for the right hon. Gentleman, as has been well said of him by a friendly critic, combines in his own person the restless activity of Achilles with the consummate craft of Ulysses; but why should he now re-open this question? It was settled by himself when he had a majority at his back, and when the Conservative Party were in a hopeless minority and were obliged to accept what he chose to impose. We were in the palm of his hand—we were as a fly upon a plate. The conditions are now changed—the balance of power is changed—it may be only temporarily changed, but changed it is, and it appears somewhat rash of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to re-open a question in which most of the grievances and anomalies which remain bear hardly rather on the Conservative Party than on the party of the right hon. Gentleman. It may be replied that those who now bring forward this Resolution are the 55 champions of truth and honesty, and are uninfluenced by considerations of expediency. Put I do not see in the premisses or conclusions of the right hon. Gentleman any signs of that position. What do we, in fact, see? We find the right hon. Gentleman, who was one of the foremost in the Radical Party, when a number of his colleagues were still unregenerate Whigs, and who, as we find from his speeches of old days, was extremely anxious to avoid all compromise in favour of the most logical application of political principles—we find him taking ground which certainly cannot be called high. Looking over the field of Parliamentary representation and finding it strewn with every form of anomaly and unfairness, he comes to this House and proposes a change, but a change which will not remove all these anomalies, and not even the most conspicuous, but one particular anomaly, comparatively a very small one. We find him urging the removal of an anomaly because such removal will be favourable to his Party, not a removal dictated by principle. I make these general observations failing to find the slightest justification for the introduction of a change involving such wide issues as are contained in the Resolution. I will now join issue rather more closely with the Resolution. I am speaking for no one but myself, but I confess that I do not accept the principle that in the representation of a great Empire the mere personality of the voter is alone to be considered, and that no heed should be paid to the position, or influence, or gifts of such voter. I have always held, and I think that history is more or less on my side, that those communities which have put aside the influence of these characteristics in favour of a mere counting of heads have found that it involves very serious difficulties. A man has claims to vote for a Representative in Parliament other than the mere fact of his existence as a householder. It does not appear to me reasonable that a man who, for instance, has great industrial works in two or three counties, and important duties in those several counties to his employés and the community generally, should be deprived of the right of voting in these communities. These views may not be shared by a large number of Members 56 who are more or less in sympathy with the Amendment I have placed upon the Paper. No doubt they are views which have not flourished during recent years, but I hold them notwithstanding, and it is only fair and candid for me to avow them. But apart altogether from the question whether it is right or wrong that a man who has acquired large wealth and great personal influence by proper means, should have greater political power than the man who possesses neither—apart from this question, it is certainly remarkable that an ex-Cabinet Minister should propose that, whereas men of power, and responsibility, and education should be debarred from undue political power, such undue political power should remain in the hands of sections of the community among whom disloyality is rife, and the main inspiration of their politics. I refer to Ireland. This is really an Irish question, and it is to be regretted that on this occasion the Irish Members should all be absent. [An hon. MEMBER: No, not all.] Well, that only one should be present. If it is right, as the right hon. Gentleman contends that all men should be reduced to a common level of political influence so far as voting is concerned, then the right hon. Gentleman ought certainly to have put into his Resolution the words of my Amendment. It seems almost incredible that anyone should come forward and propose to remove one anomaly, while leaving untouched a far more glaring anomaly of the same kind which is patent and at his elbow. There are six boroughs in Ireland, excluding Dublin and Cork, the whole electorate of which hardly equals the electorate which I represent. A man with large property in three counties is to be denounced if he exercises three times the voting power of an ordinary citizen, and is to be deprived of that privilege, while an Irish Nationalist who lives in Newry or any one of these small Irish boroughs is to be allowed to exercise seven or eight times the electoral power of a constituent of, for instance, the hon. Member for Aberdeen. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman would mete out to these Irish peasants in small counties and towns a degree of consideration which he denies to the intelligent voters of Scotland or of Yorkshire. I mention those two areas because the opinions 57 of hon. Members opposite are there dominant. Suck a system is ridiculous and absolutely indefensible. Large parts of the United Kingdom are absurdly misrepresented. I cannot understand why Ireland should have 103 Members, and London only 62; and I cannot understand why in London you should have the ridiculous distinctions which exist between such boroughs as St. George's-in-the-East and St. George's-in-the-West, between Chelsea and Fulham, and Islington and Holborn. But we are told that these things cannot be altered; that we are tied in every possible way by special enactments; that the Act of Union in effect limits Irish representation, and makes it impossible, without doing great public injustice, to alter the character of its representation. Why, the Act of Union in these respects has been torn to pieces. The Reform Bill of 1832 made a conspicuous change in the representation of Irish constituencies, and apparently it was never dreamt then that there was any invasion of the provisions of the Act of Union. Anyone who turns to one of the most useful and instructive Debates that have taken place in this House during the last 90 or 100 years, will find that the younger Pitt explained how and why the number of 100 Members was decided upon. At the time when that Act was passed the population of England was two and a half times that of Ireland. The population of Ireland was then 7,000,000, and according to the present view of hon. Members opposite Ireland ought then to have had not 100, but 250 Members. Pitt laid it down that this number or 100 was a useful compromise, and was based, not only on the number of voters or inhabitants, but also on the average of taxes collected. Apart from the question of the Act of Union which has been dragged into these Debates, there is no other argument save the extraordinary one used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, namely, that it is right and prudent that we should give communities which are far removed from the centre of Government more preponderating political power than those places which are near the seat of Government. If the right hon. Gentleman's view be the right one, then Ulster, which is far from London, 58 compared with Cork, has a most inadequate representation. Why is the North of England or Scotland to be altogether ignored, if we are to accept the right hon. Gentleman's principle? Or again, why is Wales to be ignored? Though it is not so far from London, yet many of its mountainous districts are difficult of access. In Wales, as in Scotland, there are scattered populations remote from the daily newspapers and other essentials of civilised life. It appears that these are parts of our country with claims much stronger than the South and South-West of Ireland. Why Bæotian districts which, when an election comes round, produce 30 or 40 per cent. of illiterates, are to be over-represented in accordance with this magnificent theory of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), and districts peopled by peaceable and educated people are to be under-represented, is a proposition entirely beyond the capacity of hon. Members to understand who have not had a very large experience of poetry and romance. I have quoted very few figures, because the Returns which have been made to the House are so easy of access. I have tried to argue this question on general grounds of principle. In proposing a great and constitutional change like the one involved in this Resolution, it ought to be justified by some arguments. I can find no arguments of any kind in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld). But, apart from that altogether, I consider that if we are to effect an alteration at all, it should be on a large scale. We ought to redress not merely one or two anomalies that happen to have a Party advantage for hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we ought to take our stand upon rather broader grounds. This House condenses now a greater political power than even it condensed before—greater than any other Legislative Assembly in the world. For the reason that it is so powerful, we ought to be exceedingly careful that we do not alter its constitution save on logical grounds. If the right hon. Gentleman had been true to his premises; if he had confined his proposition to the redress of the various grievances and anomalies contained in the present Act, we might possibly have met his Resolution in a very 59 different spirit. We feel justified in rejecting his illogical Motion, which is limited to gaining a mere Party advantage by the removal of a small anomaly, and to support the position that if changes in the distribution of political power are to be made, they should embrace on a large and wide scale the anomalies and grievances which exist. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
To leave out all the words after the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "whilst recognising the desirability of amending the present system of the registration of voters, this House is of opinion that no alteration of the present laws regulating the qualification of voters can be considered which does not at the same time provide that the different parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland shall be represented proportionately to their population,"—(Mr. Howorth,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *(5.40.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
I rise to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I have myself on the Paper an Amendment which distinctly affirms the desirability of amendments of the Ragistration Laws, and of retaining the non-residential property qualification; but, as I do not wish to trouble the House with successive Amendments, and as I am substantially in agreement with my hon. Friend, I give my support to his proposition instead of submitting my own. We on this side of the House, I think, have no objection to an amendment of the Registration Laws, holding that the qualified voter should be enabled to effect registration as quickly and as cheaply as possible. We believe that technicalities which stand in the way of the accomplishment of that object are obsolete and mischievous. For my own part, I should certainly be only too glad to see, instead of our most capricious system, which depends on the casual activity of political parties, some fair-working State system which would enable the qualified voter to get on the register without trouble or expense. But these are not the points to which the Motion is addressed. The central and essential object of the Resolution is, of course, 60 summed up in the well known formula—"one man one vote." The Motion if carried would commit this House to preventing in future any system giving a plurality of votes, and each vote would be of exactly the same value throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) has left the burden of maintaining that proposition to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division; and the hon. Seconder in like manner avoided it, and confined himself to details of registration. We have not had a single argument in support of that which is virtually a largo measure of disfranchisement. I have failed to find any historical authority during this century for such a measure of disfranchisement as is proposed by the Motion. John Stuart Mill, writing on Parliamentary Reform in 1859, expressed the view that the ideal representative system would be one under which there would be an ample suffrage coupled with a plurality of voting power proportioned to educational ability. I do net contend that a system of that kind could be practically established, but I think it well that the House should be reminded of Mill's view. I hold that the present system of plural voting is fair and defensible. In each separate constituency the vote of each voter has an equal value. And, in the theory of our Constitution, it is the locality which is represented in Parliament. If a man, who in one locality employs labour, pays rates, discharges local duties, is to lose his vote simply because in another locality he is entitled to a vote, the interests of the first locality would cease to be accurately reflected, and an injustice would be done to the man. So there is never any local invidiousness, any sense of local superiority or inferiority. The right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division has announced that if the formula "one man, one vote" were but once swallowed a Party would be returned to power that would give the people "a new heaven and a new earth."
§ *SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
A much greater man than the Member for the Bridgeton Division used that expression in connection with Parliamentary Reform. It was Mr. John Bright.
§ *MR. WHITMORE
Yes; but the right hon. Gentleman said that "one man one vote" would produce this transformation, and possibly rustic labourers and miners when they hear statements of that kind feel inclined to vote for the abolition of the present system, but I do not believe that if concrete examples of the working of it were put before the people they would think it either unjust or inexpedient. The system in no way prevents the wage-earning class from gaining their objects by means of legislation. Supposing the wage-earning class were to demand persistently and unanimously a universal eight hours Bill, who could doubt that such a measure would be passed under the present system of plural voting in spite of the fact that the feeling of the educated classes is strongly unfavourable to such a measure? The object of the Resolution is to give to every vote an equal value, but if it were carried and if no redistribution followed there would be no real equality. The vote of the Irish elector would have an infinitely greater value than the vote of the English elector. The Amendment, therefore, is very relevant to the Resolution. Asking that the principle of equality should be logically applied, it would entail redistribution under which the North of Ireland would obtain votes at the expense of the South and West of Ireland, England would obtain votes at the expense of Ireland, and London and the more progressive, more contented, and therefore more Conservative parts of England would obtain votes at the expense of remote and less prosperous districts. Bat the present time I think is singularly inopportune for the introduction of such change. All the best minds on the other side of the House must, I suppose, be occupied with the problem how to frame a Homo Rule Bill which will satisfy both the hon. Member for Cork and the right hon. Member for Derby, and on my own side of the House the leaders are pledged by the events of 1886 to reconstruct the agrarian system of Ireland, and to propose for her a measure of County Government. And, while the minds of statesmen have been thus pre-occupied, a spontaneous wave of popular feeling has thrust upon them the consideration of the grave, delicate, and complex 62 problem, of the relations between Labour and Capital. Statesmen, therefore, have not the leisure necessary for the consideration of the far-reaching questions involved in the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. That Motion is inexpedient, is brought forward simply to satisfy a Party cry, and can result in no real or permanent good to the people.
§ (5.59.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Although there are portions of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment which I heard with regret, I think that, upon the whole, it will be obvious to the House that already progress has been made in and by this Debate. It has been admitted both by the Mover and the Seconder—and I venture to hope, and even to presume, that after their admissions it is not likely to be denied—that the system of registration admits and requires amendment. Now, what is the meaning of that? The meaning of that is that a body, and evidently a considerable body, of our fellow subjects have a distinct political grievance. Let us see what this signifies and what it intends. If there are in the country a body of persons whom Parliament has declared to be qualified and entitled to vote for Members of Parliament, and if by the mechanical arrangement of your Registration Law you have so ill-adjusted the conditions of your electoral system that large numbers—many thousands, aye, even tens of thousands of men are kept off the register and away from the power of voting which Parliament in principle has given them—that is a political grievance. In regard to that political grievance it appears that there is a union of opinion. If there be that union of opinion, what is the reason why the grievance should not be removed? If my right hon. Friend has included in his measure other matters upon which hon. Members have a difference of opinion, the consistent course for them to take is not to block the Bill of my right hon. Friend by a hostile Amendment, and thereby prevent the removal of a political grievance which they themselves have admitted and confessed ought to be removed. Their proper course would be to carry the Bill of my right hon. Friend into Committee, and there to avail themselves of the majority which they know they possess.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
It is not a Bill.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Well, then, it is a Resolution intended to be followed by a Bill. If it were not I should feel very little anxiety to support it. I say they themselves ought to allow this plan to go forward and be dealt with as a Bill in Committee, and at that stage endeavour to exclude from the Bill that which they deem to be dangerous. I was sorry to hear in the speech of the Mover of the Amendment attacks on the Irish people, which I do not think added anything to the strength of his case, and which on general grounds would better have been omitted. I would wish, however, to relieve the mind of the hon. Mover of the Amendment with respect to one particular to which he appeared to attach great force, and where he is, no doubt, in historical error. He stated that the Franchise Bill was the result of a diplomatic arrangement, and that that diplomatic arrangement was intended to convey, and did convey, an assurance not of absolute finality, but of that kind of relative finality which is sometimes perfectly well understood to attach to political measures. Sir, the Franchise Bill was in no respect the result of a diplomatic arrangement. The Franchise Bill was passed in this House in 1884, and was thrown out in the House of Lords; but the apology made for throwing out that Bill was always a reference to the difficulties of a system of redistribution of seats. The redistribution of seats, it may be said, was the result of an arrangement between the two Parties in the House, and possibly the argument of the hon. Member might have some relevance as far as that is concerned. But as far as the Franchise Bill is concerned, so far from its having been proposed as a measure which in its then shape was final, it was a measure the entire principle of which was absolute simplicity. We confined the announcement of a great principle, a great proposition, as far as possible within the very narrowest limits, because we knew that if we attempted to conjoin with the assertion of that principle a multitude of amendments of our system in detail we should become lost in the wilderness of that 64 detail, and the opportunities of opposition would be multiplied a hundredfold—we should become ourselves, through a defective arrangement, the assassins of our own progeny. Our endeavour, therefore, was to set aside everything which, though thought to be an improvement—and it was stated so in the Debates of the time—interfered with the simplicity of the proposition, and consequently it was open to amend, enlarge, and develop in respect to accessory matters and principles in relation to registration and the improvement of our system, without the smallest regard to any arguments which could be drawn from finality or a diplomatic understanding. I merely follow what was stated by my right hon. Friend in a speech which the mover of the Amendment thought parochial, but which I confess, to my less fastidious or less experienced taste, seemed to be a very sound, able, and statesmanlike exposition in connection with this subject. We now have a system under which a person declared by Parliament to be qualified to vote may remain for three and a half years without getting a vote, if it so happens that he enters upon his premises on the wrong day of the year. I admit it is accidental, but I am going to mention the minimum as well as the maximum time. But if his opportunity of voting does not come until 12 months after the period of his registration, then, undoubtedly, two and a half years become three and a half years. No doubt the minimum time is one and a half years—there cannot be a difference of opinion about these matters of fact—while by the Bill of my right hon. Friend two and a half years or three and a half years would be reduced to one year and nine months, and the 18 months would be reduced to three months; and that is long enough. I wish it could be made shorter. I do not know whether good arrangements might make it shorter. Any unnecessary delay constitutes a grievance to the person qualified to vote and to be placed on the register, and consequently the removal of that grievance ought not to be withheld because at the same time it is proposed to do something else along with it which the majority deem to be exceptionable. The right hon. Gentleman answered me a moment ago that this was not a Bill. 65 It is just as easy, or ratter easier, to amend the Resolution of my right hon. Friend than it would be in Committee to amend a Bill. Therefore if there be on the part of hon. Members a real sincere opinion, which I am bound to believe there is after the declarations in the last two speeches, that the present system of registration inflicts a grievance on those who are qualified to vote and are deprived of the opportunity, it is quite fair from their point of view and to maintain their consistency that they should amend the Resolution of my right hon. Friend by excluding from it what relates to "one man one vote," and allow the rest to go forward and give it their support. So much for registration, and I am anxious to know what answer is made to that plea. It is the duty of those who admit the existence of a grievance to apply to it a remedy. Now, with respect to plurality of voting. I confess I heard with great regret an observation in the speech of the Seconder of the Amendment, because he referred to the possession of a dominant influence by the working classes in our electoral system, and he used it as an argument on behalf of the plural vote that if the working classes were at some period or other to demand with absolute unanimity the passing of a universal Eight Hours Bill the plural vote would be of great value to resist it.
§ *MR. WHITMORE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; I said nothing of the sort. I said rather the opposite—that the maintenance of the plural vote would be powerless to prevent the passing of that Bill.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Then why was it used as an argument for the plural vote? I will not say it was stated that it would prevent the passing of the Bill, but, undoubtedly, as far as I understood the purport of the argument, it was referred to as an argument for the plural vote—that it was by means of a plural vote that the other classes of the community would be able to retard the passing of such a measure.
§ *MR. WHITMORE
I am very reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman; but I cannot allow those words to be put in my mouth. I said the exact opposite. My whole argument was that there was no practical injustice in the plural vote, because it would not 66 prevent the demand of the wage-earning classes from being carried into law if they were unanimous in favour of such a proposition.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Then I certainly misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. It seemed to me from the hon. Member's speech that in his opinion the plural vote would be of great value to the other classes of the community, if they were under the necessity of drawing on their whole resources, of increasing their means of resistance to an almost unanimous demand by the wage-earning classes. Then that is not an argument for the plural vote. It is now loudly professed from the other side of the House that it is no part of the value of the plural vote to increase the weight of the upper classes where their judgment might come into collision with that of other classes. I trust that the hon. Gentlemen who sit near the hon. Seconder of the Amendment will dismiss that argument from their minds, and will confess that the plural vote is of no value whatever for that purpose. Then why is the plural vote to be maintained? The hon. Member—and I do not think I misunderstood his argument—has brought me to the perception of another valuable political truth, which I hope will be universally accepted on both sides of the House. I am afraid he will find that it very much weakens the power of hon. Members on that side of the House and their allies on this side to maintain the plural vote. The hon. Member says he relies upon the authority of John Stuart Mill. He says that John Stuart Mill was in favour of the plural vote. Yes; but of a plural vote as absolutely different and as directly contradictory in every point to the present plural vote as can be. Mr. John Stuart Mill, looking at this matter with the eye of a philosopher, virtually framed his ideas by the principle laid down by Mr. Burke—namely, that wisdom and virtue are the true titles to government. And Mr. Burke in that remarkable declaration does not admit any other title to government. Mr. John Stuart Mill wished to have wisdom and virtue, and to adapt the measure of political power that each individual was to enjoy to the amount of wisdom and virtue which he might be happy enough to possess. But what 67 have wisdom and virtue to do with the present plural vote? It is a plural vote by lottery. It is not the best of the upper classes or the wisest of the upper classes, or even the wealthiest of the upper classes—though I hold that to be the meanest of all titles to preference—it is not any one of these categories of persons who enjoy the plural vote. It depends upon whether you have property or lodging within a privileged precinct; whether you have kept your name on the University rolls, or have taken it off; whether your property happens to lie in one county or in more than one county. It is a pure lottery, and has no connection whatever with wisdom, with rank, with traditional respect, with excellence of character, with distinguished talent or public service—with no one of these things has it the smallest connection whatever. I say that if it were to be done by a lottery—confined, I admit, to those who are not working men; for the one virtue of this system, if it be a virtue, is that the working man is excluded from it, and in no case possesses it——[Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] Well, you may produce one. It is like the gentleman who on a fine day rashly made the observation that there was not a cloud in the sky; and presently, a little speck of gray appearing at one point of the horizon, said, "I think I see one." You may find a working man who has got the plural vote, but it is the rarest case possible. What I imagine people mean when they justify this plural vote is this:—they mean that, after all, these elements of talent, knowledge, education, high character, principle, and even wealth, ought to be represented in addition to more numbers. About the absolute title of property to such a representation I will not say anything. It is not necessary to enter upon the argument; but I am not sure that I should admit a great deal of such a title; because, looking back over the history of this country for some time, I am unable to perceive that the opinions and convictions of the people at large upon the great questions on which our history has turned during the last 50 years have been in any way inferior in soundness and wisdom to the opinions of the more highly educated classes. Unhappily, there are a great many instances which 68 might be adduced in proof of the contrary. But as regards character, knowledge, education, and talent, I am disposed to admit that there is a title to a certain extent, and that the man who possesses brains, or the man who possesses very high moral qualities and a long experience of life, ought to weigh more in an election than a man who does not possess them. But I assert that he does weigh more. I assert that the entire disposition of the people of these countries is to allow a full scope, to do full justice—and even more than justice—to all these elements and claims; that an Englishman or a Briton, and the Irishman too, if you give him a fair position from which to start—and the Irishman possibly more than any of them if he were in a natural and normal position—that all these are strongly disposed to attach weight to the judgments of those who are their superiors in temporal circumstances, and to follow such persons in the disposition of their franchise. This is a fact of common experience. Our proposition is that all that weight which is due to elements of character such as I have described is already possessed and will be possessed. But it is a very different thing indeed to maintain a system of plural voting which is not connected with the true elements of claim to superior weight. I must observe that what the hon. Member, in the explanation which he has given, has shown, as he thought, is merely that plural voting is harmless. But what we want to know is—What is the claim to plural voting? It is right that you should be able to substantiate in a positive way some claim to superior fitness. Why is one man to have five or six votes when his fellow-citizen has only one vote? I have not heard in the speeches of the hon. Mover or Seconder of the Amendment any attempt to make out such a claim. I do not think I need trouble the House further with the plural vote; I will come to the Amendment. I cannot understand the process of reasoning by which either the hon. Mover or Seconder of the Amendment has arrived at the conclusion that such an Amendment is legitimately connected with such a Motion. They are admittedly going to refuse the removal of a grievance, and why? Because they also have a griev- 69 ance. The point of the Amendment is this: There is no doubt that England is the one division of the four countries which may be called nationalities which is in a condition to obtain some 15 or 20 additional seats. I will put myself, then, in the position of an Englishman, and I ask—What argument can possibly be more inconsequent than this? Already, as an Englishman, on the principles of the Amendment, I am insufficiently represented. That is a grievance of itself; and because I am suffering from that grievance, the hon. Mover and Seconder of the Amendment insist upon keeping me under another grievance—namely, that I cannot get upon the register. Was ever such an argument submitted to the House? Multitudes of Englishmen are already suffering, and suffering doubly; first, because the country is not sufficiently represented; and, secondly, because they may be kept off the register; and the argument put by the hon. Mover and Seconder is, "We will not put you on the register because you are already suffering, as an Englishman, from insufficient representation." That is a true statement of the case, and cannot be got rid of by any interpretation, however ingenious or true. What is really this case? In the first place, I must observe upon the generosity of the course which is now pursued. It is quite true that at the present moment, with difficulty and with effort, we have got Scotland up to, or about up to, its fair proportion of representation; but I am not sure whether it is yet what it ought to be. It is also true that Wales has a very few—some three or four—seats more than, upon a strict apportionment of seats, it would have. It is also true that Ireland, with its diminished population, has a larger number of seats by, I believe, some 16 or 18 than would belong to it upon a purely numerical appropriation. How long has this been so? England sat contentedly enough as long as Scotland was paid off with 40 Members, while England had 500. England sat contentedly enough while 100 Members were given to Ireland at the Union, when the population of Ireland was not quite so large as was supposed by the hon. Mover of the Amendment, but when it gave a return of nearly one-third of the entire population of the United Kingdom. And, as to Wales, 70 what attention was ever given to any Welsh question or interest in this House by this mass of English Representatives until within the last five or six years? All these inequalities were borne contentedly enough; but now, forsooth, when by the aid of the microscope and arithmetical tables you find that England has a few Members less than she would have if mathematics were to settle the whole affair, you make this a reason why the political grievance in regard to registration should continue. What is the position now? Here is a partnership of four people—England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. What is the proportion and the position of the one partner to remedy whose lamentable and woeful case this Amendment has been framed, and will, I suppose, be passed by a majority this evening? In that mercantile firm, whore there are four partners—and I suppose that the conception of a mercantile firm is a sufficiently good illustration—one of them has more than two-thirds of the whole voting power, and undoubtedly he has made use of that vast preponderance, and has taken care that his affairs, at any rate, should have the first place and the first consideration through the course of our history. No man free from political bias can examine for a moment the case of Ireland with regard to its practical legislation—quite apart from the sore subjects which divide the minds and exasperate the hearts of men—without seeing in how backward a condition the legislation of that country has been left, an observation I may also make with regard to Wales. England has more than two-thirds of the representation. The three other partners very rarely combine together; but if they do they are overborne by the enormous weight of the English Representatives. This is not a thing occurring on one day; it occurs every day. In Welsh, Irish, and Scotch questions—in matters where they are entitled to decide for themselves—the other partners are borne down, over-ruled, and cast out of the precincts of this House by the enormous preponderance of the English vote. That is the practical state of the case. There is also this to be said: This partner, who has more than two-thirds of the whole voting power, invariably provides that the business shall be transacted by his own fireside. He does 71 not want to go out and be exposed to cold frosts and biting winds, but prefers to remain at home. Is that no advantage to England? The hon. Gentleman opposite made the observation that there was hardly an Irish Member in the House. Why are not the Irish Members present? The reason is that, whatever you may do by rail and steam, distance is still an impediment, locomotion is still a reality, requiring time, cost, and distraction from private affairs. The hon. Member's observation shows that the representation of Ireland is on the whole and for ordinary purposes—I do not speak of great occasions—less efficient than it would be if Ireland were a portion of this country. The representation of England is fairly adjusted. I am not ashamed to say that I think upon the whole England is not entitled to complain. I think her enormous preponderance, the vast power she possesses, and the use she makes of it by regulating the affairs of those other portions of the United Kingdom, not by their sentiments but by her own, show that if there is a grievance that grievance is not upon her side. The enormous preponderance she is entitled to and must always possess makes this Amendment a proceeding totally impracticable. I do not believe that either the Mover or Seconder of the Amendment, or any hon. Gentleman opposite, believes that ever again or within any measurable time the scales will be readjusted with the view of establishing an exact numerical representation as regards the four countries. But whether that be so or not, it is surely a strong plea which we are entitled to make to the independent judgment of this House—I suppose there is some independent judgment in the House—not to say that what is now one of the grievances of many Englishmen shall not be remedied because they suffer from others. If we are here for the purpose of doing as much good as we can agree upon, then accept what you admit in the proposition to be in itself desirable, and let us at least have the consolation of thinking that some good has been effected with a unanimity which, unhappily, does not always attend our proceedings.
§ (6.36.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I am very happy to be able to agree with a good deal of what fell 72 from my right hon. Friend in the early part of his speech, and indeed I must candidly say that I enter upon the consideration of this subject more perhaps from his standpoint than from that of the Mover or Seconder of the Amendment. My right hon. Friend has pointed out what I think is generally admitted—that a real grievance has been established in connection with registration. He has pointed out that those to whom it was intended that the franchise should be given are prevented from exercising it owing to the technicalities, the complications, and costliness of the existing system. My right hon. Friend goes on to ask why, having admitted this grievance and acknowledged its urgency, do you not accept this Resolution of the right hon. Member for Halifax so far, at all events, as that portion is concerned, and with the knowledge that in accepting it you pledge yourselves to the immediate introduction of a Bill. My right hon. Friend will himself see he lays himself open to an answer in the shape of another question. We might say to my right hon. Friend—You thought this matter urgent six years ago; you put it in the forefront of your manifesto to the electors, you won the election on it, and every one was led to believe the reform of registration would be the first point to which you would call the attention of the House. Why was it put aside? "Why," my right hon. Friend would say, "because more urgent business intervened." If so, it is also open to Her Majesty's Government to consider whether even now more urgent business does not intervene to prevent them dealing with this matter, which is admittedly of importance, but which may yet have to be postponed a little longer. I agree also with much of what my right hon. Friend said about plural votes. I have expressed myself often in public upon this subject, and I am pledged to the view that plural voting is inconsistent with the principles of our present suffrage. I believe that plural voting is doomed, and that sooner or later we must have uniformity of franchise. I am unable to agree with the Seconder of the Amendment that this is a proposal to disfranchise the plural voter. It is not intended to disfranchise a single voter; it is only intended to take from some voters a 73 plurality of voting power, a greater power than is possessed by the majority. But, after all, there are other considerations which have to be taken into account. This Resolution is one of those which come within the category of abstract Resolutions, and if the Government accept this abstract Resolution it will be necessary for them to interpose—to alter their programme and to interpose this business between the House and the business it has already undertaken. An abstract Resolution is, of course, the commonest of the weapons used by the Opposition against the Government. It is an invidious and therefore it is a rather formidable weapon. It is generally applied to some subject upon which it is expected there will be considerable support given to the Resolution on the part of the Government and its supporters. Then it puts the Government in this dilemma; that if they accept the Resolution they have to alter their programme; and, on the contrary, if, while admitting the merits of the Resolution, they decline to proceed, they are held up to scorn and reprobation, as standing between the country and a most desirable reform. Under these circumstances, it is rather interesting to consider how in times past this very serious weapon has been turned aside. I suppose no Minister was ever subjected to so many abstract Resolutions as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, and I am sure he will agree that on many occasions he has put forward a very stiff doctrine in regard to the subject. I have been looking—rather hastily, but in such time as I could spare—at the history of the Parliament which sat been 1880 and 1885 in order to see what doctrines my right hon. Friend laid down for our guidance with regard to abstract Resolutions. I do not think his doctrine is quite so stiff in the later periods as at some previous stages of his career; but coming from such a master of Parliamentary tactics we may rely upon it that we shall find precedents which will be extremely instructive. I find that on June 10, 1881, Mr. W. Fowler moved a Resolution against the perpetuation of life estates, and, of course, it is perfectly well known that the abolition of entail and life estates is a cardinal doctrine of the Liberal Party. Accord- 74 ingly, my right hon. Friend expressed his agreement with the terms of the Motion; but he deprecated the practice of the Government pledging themselves to loose and vague promises as to what they will do on some future occasion, and thereby endeavouring to gain popularity without being able to deal with the practical difficulties that must be met on giving them effect. And on those grounds—which appear to me to be extremely weighty—he urged the withdrawal of the Resolution, and I believe the House was counted out. In 1882 the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset (Sir R. Paget) moved a Resolution in favour of the relief of Local Taxation. That question gave no little trouble between 1880 and 1885. The position of the Government was this—that it held that a certain case had been made out for some relief, but that it was not prepared to give effect to its opinion at the moment, and, accordingly, on this occasion the proposal was resisted by my right hon. Friend on the ground that the Government were pledged to deal with the question, and the Previous Question was moved as an Amendment, and, I believe, was carried by a small majority. On the 21st of March in the same year there arose a Debate which is still more interesting and instructive—it was on the Motion of Mr. Arnold for uniformity of the franchise. My right hon. Friend voted for this Resolution, and therefore made an exception to his ordinary practice of opposing abstract Resolutions; but I think it will be seen at once that the exception proves the rule. He accepted the Motion with great hesitation; he repeated his scruples with regard to abstract Resolutions; he said it was a dangerous thing to live on promises instead of performances; and he said that it was only in the peculiar and exceptional circumstances of the House, owing to the obstruction that prevailed at the time, and to the state of public business, that he consented to vote for the Resolution. I think that subsequent events jnstified the line which my right hon. Friend took on that occasion, because this Motion for which he then voted was a Motion for the uniformity of the franchise, and Mr. Arnold laid especial stress on the principle of one man one vote. Accordingly, my right 75 hon. Friend in accepting the Resolution accepted the principle of one man one vote. According to his doctrine, he gave a pledge to give practical effect to that principle on the first opportunity; but when the time came in 1885 I suppose there were reasons of sufficient importance which induced him not to include the principle of one man one vote in the Bill he then brought in. I think the exception he made on this occasion was one he must afterwards have had cause to regret. Only one more illustration. In 1883, when Mr. Pell renewed the Motion in favour of the relief of Local Taxation, how was it met? Mr. Albert Grey met it with an Amendment which practically admitted the justice of the claim whilst protesting against an incomplete settlement of the question, and expressing the preference of the House for a complete settlement of the question of Local Government as well as of Local Taxation. Now what happened? Hon. Members of the then Opposition side of the House got up, and in a sceptical and disagreeable manner observed that this plea was a dilatory plea. They said what my right hon. Friend has just said about the Amendment of the Member for South Salford. But my right hon. Friend at that time indignantly protested against any such proposition, and claimed the right of the House and the Government to put forward this Amendment claiming a complete settlement of the question. From these accounts I draw three conclusions. In the first place, that it is dangerous and dishonest for a Government to make any promises without the intention or the power of immediately performing them. [Opposition cheers.] Really I had no idea that was a novel doctrine; hon. Gentlemen seem as pleased with it as if they had never heard it before. In the second place, I gather that, even when a Government agrees, or agrees generally, with a Motion which may be brought forward in this way as an abstract Resolution, as it is entitled to settle its own order of business, unless it is prepared to put the subject of the Resolution in the very forefront of its business it is bound to meet it either by an Amendment or a negative. And I gather, in the third place, that it is a legitimate and proper way of meeting a proposal for the incomplete 76 settlement of a great question by an Amendment which demands or expresses a preference for a complete settlement. The Resolution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax deals only with one little corner of the Reform question. Now, does my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian believe with his great experience, that it would be possible for the Government to introduce a Bill dealing with this little corner without having the whole Reform question re-opened? Is it conceivable that, when there are so many anomalies, the House is going to allow separate Bills each dealing with one of them and not to say a word about the others? My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) brought in an infinitesimal Bill—I hope I am not describing the measure improperly—for the amendment of a particular branch of the registration question, and thereupon Amendments were put down raising the whole question, which it would take months to settle. If that happened with one single branch of the question of registration, would it not certainly happen in the case of a Bill which is to remove a great anomaly in the suffrage as well as to deal with the whole question of registration? The question I have to ask myself is this: Is the alteration which is proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax of sufficient importance to justify a separate and distinct Bill; and, if so, is it possible for the House to give to it that separate treatment? I have said that I think there is a general admission on the part of the House that something should be done—and the more speedily the better—in order to amend the present system of registration; but I am by no means certain that it would be wise to accept the proposals actually made by my right hon. Friend. He proposes that the term of occupation should be reduced to three months; but, if it were so reduced, would it not lead to great abuse? Would it not be possible in certain cases which might easily be imagined to flood a constituency with new voters in order to turn an election? [Cries of "No."] If it is said to be impossible, I say it has been done. In America I have heard of a good many cases where a precisely similar thing happened I am not certain that there was 77 not one Presidential election which was carried or considerably influenced by the practice of one of the Parties in the State in importing a number of black citizens a few weeks or months before the election took place. Then my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax did not argue the question of "one man one vote," but left it to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division. I wish my right hon. Friend (Sir G. Trevelyan) had got up at the moment and seconded the Resolution, because he was in a position to give the best possible answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax when he asks, "Why do not you deal with the franchise?" The right hon. Member for Bridgeton, speaking in 1885 upon the Reform Bill, then before the House of Commons, said—This Bill is neither a limited nor a half-and-half measure, and if it is passed I expect that no man living will be troubled with the question of the franchise again. This Bill takes in all the householders of the country, and, leaving aside the question of sex, settles everything else upon a permanent and solid basis. It admits those who should be admitted, and it excludes all who should be excluded.If that Bill was exactly the right thing, why has it become necessary to alter it now? I am bound to say I am not quoting this because I agree with it, but because it affords one answer, if not the best answer, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax. My objection to dealing with the question of "one man one vote" is certainly not on the merits of the proposal. I have said already that I have spoken on more than one occasion in favour of uniformity of the franchise and in favour of several other things in regard to which I have no idea that the majority of the House will be inclined to agree with me. I have spoken in favour of Manhood Suffrage. Is my right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld) in favour of Manhood Suffrage, and, if he is, why did not he put it into his Resolution? I have spoken in favour of payment of Members, and of equal electoral districts. I am still in favour of all these reforms. Is my right hon. Friend in favour of them? If he is in favour of these alterations, and if he had put them in his Resolution, we should, at all events, have had a real and important issue. But he has laid himself open to this accusation or suspicion 78 —that out of the vast field of reform which still remains to be covered he has picked out a little corner which may be expected to give to his Party some half a dozen seats, while he has left out of account altogether other great reforms which undoubtedly would tell heavily against him. I hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby say, "Why would Manhood Suffrage tell against him?" I do not know that it would; but I was referring more particularly to equal electoral districts. But it must be remembered that we have to deal with anomalies; and if we are to do so, the right hon. Member for Halifax is himself an anomaly, and I am afraid we shall have to dispense with his genial presence in this House. He represents a borough with a population of 73,000, which sends two Members to Parliament. I represent a borough which is six times as large, and which sends only seven Members to Parliament. That is a grievance if you like, and a much greater grievance than any grievance about plural voting as it now exists. Take another case. I made a calculation before the last Reform Bill, and I have continued it now. Before 1867 the majority of this House was returned by one-sixth of the electorate. After 1867 the majority was returned by one-fifth, and at the present time the majority is returned by very slightly more than one-third. There, I say, you have really important anomalies which some day it may be necessary and desirable to remedy. But is it desirable to remedy them now? A reform agitation is one of the most absorbing agitations you can possibly have. Therefore, to renew a reform agitation means distinctly the postponement of every other reform for the time. Again, reform is not an end. It is a means to an end. The people do not want reform solely in order to have the pleasure of having a vote, but they want it in order that they may use their votes and that their Representatives may do something which they want and which they think will conduce to their advantage. What was the state of things before 1885? Then, if you like, you had a serious grievance which it was absolutely necessary to remedy. You had a majority of the population absolutely excluded from representation—a ma- 79 jority of capable citizens were without the suffrage. You had at the same time such an extraordinary difference in the value which was given to the vote in different cases, that whereas 40 Members in certain constituencies were returned by 250,000 people, it took 6,250,000 to return 40 Members in other constituencies. What was the consequence? The consequence of that misrepresentation of the people of England was that the interests of large classes were unrepresented or insufficiently represented. The artisans were hampered by the way in which the vote was distributed, and the agricultural labourers were practically without representation. Reforms were stayed; they could not be proceeded with for want of a change, and I say that that justified the agitation and turmoil which prevailed. But surely the people who made those sacrifices in order to obtain this improvement of machinery expect that when you have got your improved machine you will turn to and use it, and not begin to tinker at it. Surely they have a right to expect that as in times past, as the Reform Bill of 1832 was followed by a number of reforms, and it was not until those reforms were settled or exhausted that a new Reform Bill was brought in—as the Bill of 1867, in like manner, brought social, political, and material reforms to the advantage of the people, so also the Reform Bill of 1884–5 should be fruitful in good work before you again ask the people of this country to stand aside, to give up all hope of material improvement once more in order to reform the suffrage and the representation. I maintain that at this time, at all events, you have no mandate to begin reform over again. You have enough of reform for any reasonable purpose. You have a House which now is both willing and capable to deal with questions which I believe are first in the hearts of the people. If that is the case, then, when did you change your mind? Do you mean to say that an interval of five years has made such a difference that you are now in favour once again of renewing the Reform Bill controversy? What did my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax say upon this subject? I came across the other day a little book which I daresay many Members would wish to have strictly suppressed, but it 80 really is very interesting. It is called' Politics of the House of Commons, and it professes to give the politics of all Members of the House of Commons elected in 1885, as derived from their election addresses and the speeches which were made immediately preceding. I turned to this little book to see what my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax had said upon that subject. Remember this, that Reform Bill had passed, and therefore he knew at this time its imperfections. And what did he say? He spoke at Shoreditch on October 21, 1885, and he put forward his programme, following very much the lines upon which I have been aspiring. He said that now the people would expect that Parliament would set to and do their work, and deal with the arrears which had been allowed to accumulate so long. In the first rank he put Reform of Procedure in the House of Commons; in the second rank he put Local Government; in the third rank he put the Land Laws; and in the fourth Free Education. Nowhere did he put "one man, one vote." On October 27 my right hon. Friend was speaking at Halifax to his own constituents. He repeated his programme. At this time he urged immediate attention to Local Government in all its branches; he wanted Free Education, and he said, by the way, it was to be secured by Parliamentary grant without destroying the denominational schools. At the same time he was questioned by a constituent, and in answer he said that he was in favour of disestablishing the English Church, and he was against Home Rule for Ireland.
§ *MR. STANSFELD
The statement of my right hon. Friend—I know not from what source he takes it—is absolutely incorrect.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I accept the statement. I told my right hon. Friend the source from which I derived it, but I am perfectly unable to attempt to verify it, and after his contradiction I should not think it necessary to do so. However, this is my point. At the time of which I am speaking my right hon. Friend had a programme of what I call practical and material reform. Well, of that programme only a very small portion has been dealt with up to the present time. Take Local Government, for instance. We have made a great 81 advance, but my right hon. Friend will agree with me that perhaps, after all, the most important part of all still remains to be accomplished, namely, that part of it which would bring local government still more close to the people by the creation of District Councils. Very well; but then I ask my right hon. Friend is he, under these circumstances, willing to interrupt the work on which we are engaged, and prevent the possibility of its being dealt with by this Parliament, in order once more to raise this question of constitutional reform? I say distinctly that, as far as I am concerned, I think the time has not yet come for a new Reform Bill, and that what we have to do is to make the best of the old one. I believe that we have, as I said before, no mandate whatever from the constituencies to deal with this question. There has been no agitation; it cannot be pretended that there has been any popular agitation upon the subject. I am convinced, if you could poll the country to-morrow, you would find an immense majority in favour of going on with what I call social legislation rather than dealing any more with constitutional questions.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
You will have the chance soon enough. Do not be afraid, and when the time comes to give you the chance for which you pretend to be so eager, remember the people will ask you what you are going to do if they give you their votes, and what will you tell them? You will tell them, "In the first place, there is the eternal question of Home Rule; to that we stand pledged to our Irish allies; our faith and our honour are pledged, and that must be the first part of our programme." Then you will have to say, "In the second place, and when we have satisfactorily dealt with Home Rule to the satisfaction of those Irish allies—those who are our allies and those who were our allies—we have then to come to the second item of our programme, and that is 'One man one vote,'" and it is not until you have accomplished that that my hon. Friends from Wales can hope to have a crumb from these rich men's tables. It is not until after you have accomplished these two great constitutional reforms, until you have taken 82 the whole Constitution to pieces and created a new Government for England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales—it is not till then that the agricultural labourers or the artisans of this country can look for one ha'porth of bread with all the quantity of constitutional sack. That, however, is a digression which was provoked by the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. It was only meant to show him that I do not think his chance is quite so good as be anticipates. But in sitting down let me repeat that, in my opinion, the time has not come for this reform, still less has it come for such a paltry reform as that which is suggested in the Resolution. Do you think that "one man one vote" is going to arouse any popular enthusiasm? Just contrast it with the previous agitations for reform. When Mr. Bright went up and down the country he had behind him the whole influence of the artisan class, who at that time were almost unrepresented, and when his views were accepted by the House more than 1,000,000 of new voters ware added to the electoral roll. And when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton at a later period asked for a further extension of the suffrage he was pleading on behalf of the agricultural labourers, who were then practically without representation; and when his view in turn became the accepted view of the House of Commons, then 3,000,000 of voters enjoyed for the first time the franchise. Yes, those were things worth fighting for. Those were things for which it was worth while to put aside practical reforms, and to accept the necessary delay which ensues upon these great political controversies. But that is not the case with such a question as "one man one vote." It is not worth while, following the right hon. Gentleman, to put aside these much more interesting and much more practical questions in order to obtain an alteration in our constitutional system which, after all, at the outside will have no substantial effect upon the relative position of parties, and which, while it takes a little from a few, confers absolutely nothing upon the great majority of the population. When my right hon. Friend is prepared to undertake the larger question, when he can get a mandate from the country once 83 more to call attention to this subject, when we find ourselves required to complete the work of Mr. Bright and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton, then I hope I shall be permitted to join in his efforts; but I am not at all prepared to intermit all the work of the Session, and all the work of this Parliament, in order to secure a result which I do not think is worth the labour which would be given to it.
§ (7.14.) SIR E. GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
I do not think the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was consistent or showed that he had a strong case behind it. The first part of the speech was devoted to showing that the subject of the Resolution was so grave and so serious that even the Government with its large majority could not afford the time to deal with it; while the second part he devoted to explaining how very small and infinitesimal the question is. The course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham in respect to the Motion was a very remarkable one, and not a few of the conclusions he drew as reasons for opposing it must have been very inconvenient to hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Gentleman is in favour of manhood suffrage, of equal electoral districts, and of the payment of Members, and yet so insignificant is this Motion, which involves a great principle of justice to the people, that he can not even bestow upon it his support. He said it was dangerous to make promises that a Government were not prepared immediately to perform. Well, I venture to say that this Government have made such promises when they were not prepared for immediate action, and we have the everlasting example of the promise of local government to Ireland. When this Resolution was put on the Paper it appeared to be so reasonable that hon. Members opposite would not oppose it, but since then we have seen them engaged day by day in the construction of ambushes in order that their real intentions in opposing the Resolution should not be disclosed. Whenever it is proposed to deal with the franchise three objections are sure to be raised on the other side of the House—that there is something in the condition of Ireland which renders it impossible to do so, that if anything is done there must be a 84 great redistribution of seats, and that the proposal is exceedingly inopportune. Now, it is somewhat strange to hear from the other side of the House that Ireland blocks the way, and it is refreshing to hear from the hon. Member for Salford that, notwithstanding the paternal and beneficent government of the present Chief Secretary, Ireland is yet in such a state of restlessness that something must be done for that unfortunate country before such an elementary injustice as this can be remedied. On this side of the House we have a plan for dealing with the grievances of Ireland and are ready to apply it; if hon. Members opposite have a plan for dealing with Irish representation and with the Irish question, why do they not bring it forward and clear the way? There is nothing in this Motion to prevent their doing so. The question of redistribution has been dealt with in the Debate. The Amendment itself proposes that in any scheme of redistribution representation shall be based on population, and the Motion of the right hon. Member for Halifax is on the same principle. Both are in the interest of numerical majorities. As to the Motion being inopportune, the hon. Member for Salford regards it as such because, though there are certain anomalies in the Bill of 1884, a great change has taken place in the balance of power since that measure was passed. Does the hon. Member wish us to understand that that change in the balance of power is due to existing anomalies? But if the Motion is inopportune—if we are wrong in bringing it forward at the present time, because the question was settled six years ago, all I can say is that we are in very good company. Two years ago the Marquess of Salisbury advocated the extension of the franchise to women—a change far more complicated, far more disturbing, and far more novel than that proposed by the Motion before the House; and when the hon. Member for Salford talks about it being unstatesmanlike for one of the high contracting parties to the settlement of the franchise, or redistribution in 1885, to propose a resettlement of the question now, he surely must have forgotten this proposal of a far greater change by the Marquess of Salisbury only two years ago. Bat I contend that the Bill of 1884 85 was not put forward as a settlement or as a complete measure, but merely as the best measure that was possible in the circumstances, and I fail to see how it is possible to reasonably or logically regard the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member Halifax as any other than an effort to complete the work of 1884. The intention of the Bill of 1884 was to give every householder a vote; this Motion is proposed to make it easy for him to get that vote. The existing system may be made to operate very unfairly in certain circumstances, and in a way altogether contrary to the spirit and intention of the measure of 1885. Hon. Members opposite appear to be resolved to defend the plural vote, although at the same time they admit that it is not worth defending. Just consider how the present system operates. There was a by-election in North Bucks some time ago, and it was supposed that the balance of Parties was very close. Almost on the day of election there was published in the Times a leading article appealing to the 600 out-voters in the division to do their duty, as with them rested the result of the election. What effect would that article have upon the resident electors, and especially upon the agricultural labourers? The latter always had great difficulty in recording their votes; it might be necessary for them to walk miles after a hard day's work in order to vote; they might have had considerable difficulty in securing a suitable candidate, and yet, when they were on the eve of success, their hopes were to be annihilated and destroyed by the action of 600 voters who did not reside in the locality, and possibly had no idea of the qualifications of either of the candidates. The maintenance of the comparatively small anomalies and injustices involved in the present system does more than anything else, in these days of opposition to privilege, to set class against class. I agree with the hon. Member for Salford when he says that there is something more in the opposition to this Motion than appears in the Amendment. The hon. Member says the Motion will open a door through which the landscape presented to view will not be so pleasant as some of us suppose. I only wish the door were opened, for I can assure the hon. Member that I should 86 appreciate the prospect disclosed very much more than the hon. Member would naturally be likely to do. The time has now come when, so far from seeking by little side winds to give property a casting vote, or a special privilege, we may say that property can take very good care of itself. Who can look round this House and say that property is not rather over than under represented? I go as far as to say that any man of wealth and position, whether in country or in town, if he is not deaf to all the calls of responsibility and blind to all his opportunities, must have behind him a number of people in a humbler rank of life who, actuated by perfectly proper feelings, will take the guidance and advice of their more fortunate neighbour when they go to the poll. It is quite right that it should be so; and if a man in such a position is not thus looked up to, it shows that he is so deficient either in private character or public spirit that he hardly deserves his one vote. It used to be said that those who were not possessed of any property were an ignorant class and were wanting in intelligence, but that has passed away now that we have compulsory education; and we have seen the effect which the spread of education has had in educating the Government itself. The Local Government Acts for England and Scotland, the Allotments Bill, and the promise of free education are all duo to this educational process. It used to be said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we ought to be very careful in transferring power to the wage-earning class, because that class did not know political economy. But the Government have now been so far educated that it is making political economy itself the subject of inquiry by Royal Commissions and Committees; and it seems to be their object, under the tutelage of the electors, to unlearn that very science which they once reproached the electors with ignorance of. It is not want of education or property that prevents people from getting outside the class point of view, which is not the monopoly of any one class. Those of us who in political life have been brought closely into contact with large bodies of the electors at public meetings, and who are fair-minded men, will, I think, recognise that if anywhere there is unselfishness and the power of putting the interests 87 of one's own class on one side, that power is to be found even more among the wage-earning classes than any other. If this be not so, how does it come that an hon. Member the other day made a strong protest that the so-called working men Members in this House were not the only representatives of labour? I think that in this respect only too little reciprocity is shown in the choice of working men candidates. But it is said that the man who owns property has such a stake in the country that he ought to have more votes. I do not agree with that. The man who owns property may lose more. Yes; but he can afford to lose more than the poor man can. For example, the question of living under sanitary conditions is far more important to the poor man than to the rich. If the rich man falls ill he is able to get the best food and advice and complete change of climate and scene, while the poor man, helpless in this respect, is obliged to remain in his cottage in a sordid squalor which drags him lower and lower. If a bad use is made of votes, and a Government is placed in power which doss something that damages the material prosperity of the country, the rich man risks the loss of some comforts without which life would still be enjoyable, but the poor man loses what are necessities of life. We are now approaching great issues connected with the labour question, which have been put forward by the Government. If the House is to deal with these questions at all, if it is to be of any use in preventing further disputes, it is necessary that it should possess the full confidence of the country. Does it possess that confidence at present? If it does, why not remove this anomaly, which is irritating and useless? If it does not, then it is high time that we should consider what further can be done. I know there are many constituencies, in which there are large masses of working men, where there is much apathy with regard to politics, because they say that elections are not free, and the choice of candidates is so limited that it is not worth their while to go to the poll at all. You can only remove this apathy by manhood suffrage, payment of Members, and perfect freedom of election. These three things, if they were in the Resolu- 88 tion, I should be prepared to advocate most strongly. That being so, it makes it more incumbent on me that I should show no sympathy for, and that I should not contribute to, the stream of objections this Motion has, drawn from the other side of the House. The Government are approaching this question of the franchise in a spirit which shows they would rather risk the keeping of hundreds of properly qualified persons off the register than allow one improperly qualified person to have a vote. They propose to pay some attention to labour questions. I am willing to give them credit for good intentions in the discussion of the question they propose to take in hand; but in proportion as they have good intentions it is unfortunate that they should again give a flagrant example of that distrust of popular franchise which has so often led to humiliating defeat at the poll, and will do so again if they continue to display as paltry, as grudging, and as reluctant a spirit as they have done whenever this question of the franchise has come before them.
§ *(7.40.) MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)
The hon. Member who has just sat down travelled far beyond the issues raised by the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in his opening remarks made it a matter of complaint that this Resolution is opposed by so many Amendments when there is a general agreement that these questions ought to be dealt with. But if the Member for Halifax had simply brought in a Bill to amend and make smooth the working of the machinery for registration, I am quite sure it would not have encountered that kind of opposition with which his Resolution is met on this side of the House. His Resolution is opposed because, while seeking ostensibly to improve the machinery of registration, it affects the principle on which the franchise itself is based, and we have come to the conclusion that if that question was raised at all it is necessary that the whole subject of the franchise should be fairly dealt with. Now, with regard to that part of the Resolution which deals with registration alone, I think we are all agreed that it would be a very good 89 thing to have the machinery of registration made as easy and cheap as possible; but I do not at all agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax that it would be wise to relax any of the restrictions which are now imposed in order to secure that the voter shall be a substantial citizen, who contributes to the taxation of the country, and has by a period of residence identified himself with the interests of a particular district. But we are told that this question of plural voting is one of principle; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has asked what claim can be put forward for the retention of this plural vote. In the first place, on this side of the House we contend that the proposal to make an alteration in the franchise is an infringement of the compact made only six years ago by the leaders of the two Parties. To this it is answered that a change has already been proposed by Lord Salisbury, but I would point out that Lord Salisbury has only treated it in public speeches as a matter of discussion: this is the first distinct Parliamentary attempt to alter that compact of six years ago. Our contention is also this: that if we are called upon to remove one anomaly, we call upon the other side to remove other anomalies also. I quite admit that this question of the plural vote is a small matter, but it marks the distinction between household suffrage and that manhood suffrage which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and others want to see. For my own part, I am not afraid of manhood suffrage, or of its result to the Conservative Party; but if any proposal is to be brought forward, let us discuss it on its merits, and not as we are now doing. I can see that in some instances the doing away with the plural vote may do a real injustice. Business men settle down to live in the suburbs of London and other large cities, and gradually a community grows round them, shops are opened, churches and chapels are built, and a populous and flourishing district springs up where a few years before hardly a house existed. Is it not an anomaly to say that the owners of the most important houses in such places, who probably pay more rates than all the rest of the community together, who contribute to the support 90 of the institutions in the neighbourhood, are to be deprived of their votes for the district in which they have so strong an interest, while their own servants and the shopkeepers are to have votes? I do not believe that the working classes feel any particular umbrage at this small relic of a system which has for the most part passed away. Possibly it might not be any serious grievance to a man of property if he were debarred from voting in a particular locality, and his vote were made a single one, because it is the influence of his life and character on the people around him which has to be primarily considered. But no case has been made out for depriving such a man of his vote. No doubt there are very serious anomalies in the representation of the different constituencies in England. Some boroughs have been treated with a partiality which is astounding. Take, for instance, the borough of Sheffield, which has five Members, while the two flourishing boroughs of Newcastle and Oldham, with 10,000 more voters than the whole registered electors of Sheffield, have only four Members between them. But the great instance of an anomaly that exists in the present system is undoubtedly to be found in the excessive representation which is enjoyed by Ireland. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian says that it is a very small matter indeed; that England can afford to be generous in dealing with that country. If, however, the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman that representation should increase according to the distance from the centre of government were to be adopted it would be the strongest argument against Imperial Federation. What amount of representation in such a case should we give to the distant colonies and dependencies in a Federal Council? Not only is Ireland herself, with her diminished population, excessively represented in this House, but it must be borne in mind that a large part of the population which she has lost has emigrated from Ireland and settled in England. There are probably about 2,000,000 Irish people in Great Britain, mainly settled in the great boroughs. They are not treated as aliens, but hospitably received, and they enjoy every privilege with Englishmen and Scotchmen; and they take good care that 91 everyone who is in the smallest degree entitled to vote shall be placed on the register. The existence of these communities of Irish residents in our large boroughs is a serious matter at a time when questions affecting the connection of Ireland with Great Britain are under discussion. On ordinary occasions the action taken by the Irish settlers in this country is, under our system of Party government, calculated to give them the control of a large number of boroughs in this country. There are a considerable number of hon. Members opposite representing English boroughs who would not be in Parliament at all if their election had simply been determined by British voters. They represent really the weight which the Irish vote can carry into the scale of the Radical Party. Occasionally this power has been used on the other side; but the consideration is important as showing how very great is the influence which the Irish now wield, not only in their own country, but throughout the constituencies of Great Britain. It is a fact now that, even as the representation of Ireland goes, without taking into account this extra influence, there is a Member in that country for every 7,400 electors, while in England there is only one Member for every 9,400 electors. Thus, you come to the conclusion that 7½ Irish votes are now equal to 9½ English votes; and as the disparity between the populations of the two countries goes on increasing from day to day, by the time the General Election comes we may be able to say that seven Irish votes will be equal to 10 English votes. That is a grievance which is a very sensible one, especially when backed by the voting of the Irish in English constituencies, and I say it is calculated to prejudice our whole system of Parliamentary Government and to lead to results of a most serious character, because we might actually have a verdict given in favour of Home Rule in this House, determined by the excessive representation of Ireland here, and not really representing the minds of the British electors at all. That is one of the reasons why I, for my own part, have always put into the foreground this anomaly as one that ought very soon to be redressed. I think the time is very opportune, because we are taking a 92 Census this year, and we are also having a Committee to report on the financial arrangements between England and Ireland, and to determine the incidence of taxation in the two countries. In considering what proportion of representation should be given to Ireland, the question of the contributions of the Irish people to the National Exchequer should be taken into account as well as the population of Ireland. If that were done there is no doubt that a very serious and important change would be made in the character of this House, and that it would be impossible for us to be compelled to devote nearly the whole of our time to the discussion of Irish measures, as we have done for a great many years past simply, as I have said, through the influence which a determined minority wields by means of the excessive representative power it holds both in Ireland and Great Britain. I consider that if the old Whig maxim were true that taxation without representation is tyranny, then the converse is also true that representation without taxation is also tyranny, and it is to avoid that state of things that I intend to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, which declares that the present excessive representation of Ireland in this House should be put an end to. We on this side of the House are anxious that Ireland should enjoy equal rights and privileges with ourselves in all things. We are prepared to give her the utmost amount of Local Government that we can within the limits of the Union, as we have given it already to England and Scotland; but if that is done and Ireland has equal responsibilities and equal opportunities with our own, I say that she ought also to bear an equal share of the burdens of the Empire, and ought to have no more power than Englishmen and Scotchmen have in determining the results of the Debates in this House. (8.0.)
§ *(8.30.) MR. G. G. LEVESON-GOWER (Stoke-upon-Trent)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in the speech which he delivered earlier in the evening with his usual vigour and acuteness, complained that the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Halifax was of a piecemeal character, and did not definitely and finally settle the question. It has, Sir, been the 93 experience of most of us that, as a rule, in human affairs, more particularly in politics, finality is a bard thing to obtain. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham mentioned, among other things, that he was anxious to obtain manhood suffrage, the payment of Members, and equal electoral districts. What steps did the right hon. Gentleman take, when he was a distinguished Member of the Cabinet of 1884, to enforce his views that this finality, which he now declares to be necessary, should be brought into the measure to which he was then a consenting party? Did he then take up the position that unless all these various points were included in the measure he would not give it his support? If he had done that, then his position would be stronger than it is at this moment. But now the right hon. Gentleman complains of the absence of finality which he acquiesced in with perfect readiness in 1884. It seems to me that we must take a good thing when we find it. If there is something in itself good to be obtained we ought not to adopt the preposterous position that it should be refused because something else is not attached to it; and with regard to the representation of Ireland, the whole question of that representation will have to be dealt with sooner than gentlemen opposite seem to imagine. We on this side of the House will not cease to press for those reforms because of the difficulty of reaching a total settlement of all electoral difficulties. But while the right hon. Member for West Birmingham gave as his reason for opposing the Motion that it was not final and not complete, it is to be noticed that he did not commit himself to any special hostility to any proposition contained in that Motion. He was not always so reticent, for in a letter which he addresses to the electors of West Hartlepool he, while admitting that the change would be theoretically a just one, committed himself to the remarkable statement that it would make no substantial difference in the representation, and would not contribute one iota to the happiness of the people. I am not prepared to follow the right hon. Gentleman there. I maintain that plural voting has a considerable effect on this House. I should not have ventured to interfere in this Debate had I 94 not an opportunity of being officially connected with a body engaged in the work of registration and organisation of electors; and, as the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has said, of all the different parts of the United Kingdom, England is most affected by plural voting. In the districts near London the effect is most marked. I will give the House a few instances to show how the resident vote is simply swamped by the system of plural voting. In the Fareham Division of Hants, where the list includes many property owners of Portsmouth, the total electorate is 12,800, and the ownership voters number 4,700. The Member for that division was elected by a majority of only 659 in 1885. In the Lewes Division, which includes property owners from Brighton and Worthing, the total electorate is 10,800, and there are 3,000 property voters. In Middlesex we find that in the Tottenham Division, where the Member was elected in 1885 by 735 out of a total of 13,218 voters, 3,342 are voters who hold the property qualification. I might go on to quote a multitude of these cases, but perhaps the most conspicuous is the case of Wimbledon, where, out of a total of 14,000 voters, as many as 6,700 are ownership voters. The result of that is, the whole of the political vitality of the district has disappeared, and it is impossible for either side to rouse any interest in political questions. Surely such a state of affairs cannot be regarded with satisfaction. I now come to the second point in the Resolution of my right hon. Friend—that a shorter qualification should be admissible for the voter to get upon the register. There is a general agreement that the registration system should be altered. I therefore need not dwell upon that at any length. I may, how-over, just mention a case which came to my knowledge the other day, where a man was kept off the register from 1888 until 1891. He took possession of his house in September, 1888, and did not get on the register till January, 1891, so that if an election does not take place soon it will be three and a half years before he is able to use his vote. If this Motion is carried, as I trust it may be, I would venture to suggest that there should be a supplementary registration in July. Then we come to the third 95 point—as to the superintendence of the registration by a fixed official superintendent with a personal responsibility that every voter who has a right to be on the list is on it. I think it was Sterne who, comparing different institutions in England and France, said they manage these things better in Prance. That certainly is the case with regard to electoral registration. In France, I am told, they have a permanent official, whose duty it is to find out when a voter is qualified by three months' residence, and then to see that at the expiration of the three months his name is at once placed on the register; so that if a man enters a house on February 15, he becomes entitled to vote on May 16. I was very much struck by the attitude taken up by the hon. Member for Salford. He had the courage to say that he was opposed to the abolition of the property vote. If he had taken a course which his language would seem to justify and insisted in his Amendment on the retention of the property vote, the issue would have been far more clear and intelligible. But instead of that he has attacked my right hon. Friend's Resolution by a flank movement. It occurs to me that the Amendment has been devised to secure an honourable retreat for some hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition side, in order that those gentlemen may give some appearance of reason for voting against the Resolution. Some of the remarks with which the hon. Member favoured the House as to the necessity of considering the position and standard of education as grounds upon which the franchise should be granted, seemed to be echoes of speeches delivered in favour of Mr. Disraeli's Bill in 1867, with all its well known fancy franchises. I could hardly imagine the hon. Member was seriously suggesting such a thing to-day. I believe Her Majesty's Government are going to support this Amendment. I wish to point out to the Government, however, that in assenting to the Amendment they will be binding themselves to the assertion of the principle that it is desirable to amend the present system of registration; and, if that Amendment is carried, they will be expected to bring forward a measure of reform which will meet with universal acceptance. I 96 suspect the real truth is that the Unionist Party cannot afford to let go the one chief prop which keeps them in power—the plural vote. And when one sees these plural voters perambulating the country north, south, east, and west in order to vote down the resident voters, it looks like the manœuvring of a stage army appearing and disappearing, in order to give an impression of magnitude. In the same way as Napoleon refused to risk his Old Guard except at decisive junctures, so Her Majesty's Ministers cling with desperate hope to the one body of opinion on which they think they can rely in all circumstances. I shall support the Amendment of my right hon. Friend; and though we may not carry it, the Division List will show the people who are the real friends of electoral reform and progress.
§ *(8.53.) MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
It does not appear to me that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has established his position; but he has only failed where the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has failed, and the Mover of the Resolution. I hold that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax has been answered by the Amendment proposed on this side of the House, and I concur generally with the remarks made in support of it by the hon. Member for Salford, who condemned the Resolution rather by reason of what it omitted than for what it contained. In my short political career I have endeavoured to keep one eye upon principle and the other eye upon the people, and I have felt that so long as I was true to principle, though people might not always agree with me, I should still deserve respect. As far as I am able to judge of the feelings and wants of the people, there is very little of what they are supposed to demand contained in the proposal before the House. What the people required—that is to say, those who call themselves "the progressive and Radical" Party—is summed up under these heads: Universal Suffrage, Triennial Parliaments, Payment of Members, and Equal Electoral Districts. If I were disposed to ingratiate myself with this section of the people, this would be my programme: I should not be content with merely trying to get rid of the plural vote. It appears to me hon. 97 Gentlemen opposite have only succeeded in one thing to-night, and that is in showing there is a Radical mote grievance and a Unionist beam grievance. Therefore, I say that, from the point of view of the so-called progressive and Radical people, the reform proposed by the Resolution is a wretched affair, and altogether too small for their ideas. Last night we had an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, whom we are glad again to see in this House, although we may be sorry he has gone away from his old principles. Now he only represents 1,792 voters, while I represent close on 10,000. We absolutely refuse to allow the question of reform to be re-opened. We are blamed for refusing to allow this question to be re-opened, but our refusal is due to the fact that we believe our paramount duty to be the maintenance of the interests of the country, with the constitutional machinery we now possess, and we are not prepared, like some people, to throw overboard another plank of the Constitution whenever the opportunity seems favourable for catching a new vote. Hon. Members opposite complain of the working of the present system. May I remind them of the old saying, "That bad workmen quarrel with their tools." As to the proposal on the Paper to admit women suffrage, as the less of two evils I would prefer universal suffrage. There is too much ambiguity in the proposal—"one man one vote." Why not say at once that you want to have universal manhood suffrage in lieu of all the different suffrages we now have—the household, the lodger, and the service? I am dead against further lowering of the franchise. My view, as a Conservative, is that we should raise the people by education to the level of the franchise, not lower the franchise to the houseless, the unemployed, and vagrants. However clever a man may be, and however capable by nature, if he has not some property, some household, some lodging, he is not, and ought not to be, entitled to the position of a voter. Now I am obliged to refer to the question of Triennial Parliaments, because the Amendment I have placed on the Paper is closely connected with it. There is a growing desire no doubt to have more frequent Parliaments, but I am glad to 98 think that I have had the honour of sitting in a Parliament which is likely to be a Septennial Parliament. There is every probability that this will be known in history as the Septennial Parliament, but still one with a most successful and honourable career. But if we are going to shorten the period during which Parliament is to sit we must also shorten the time during which elections shall be carried on. At present elections, owing to the length of time they occupy, upset trade and foster ill-feeling and unrest all over the country, and I do not see why we should not adopt the system in vogue in France and America and have all elections on one day. Again, if any attempt is to be made to arrive at finality, payment of Members is one of the questions which will have to be considered. Some years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian started a theory which has much justice in it, although it is not generally accepted on the Government side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman argued that the distant parts of the country should have better representation than those near the centre of Government. I would have no objection to allow Ireland to have one Member for every 8,000 voters, Scotland one Member to every 10,000 voters, and England one Member for every 12,000 voters. But where, I ask, is the justice of having an English constituency consisting sometimes of 14,000 voters, when there is an Irish constituency consisting of 1,792 voters? When the question comes up I am prepared to make some concession to the centrifugal argument. In the same way, on the question of the payment of Members, I feel that Irish Members are at a great disadvantage as compared with English Members, and that Scotch Members are also at a disadvantage, though not at so great a one as the Irish. If £100 a year were considered enough for English Members, I would suggest that £200 should be paid to Scotch Members, and £300 to Irish Members, by way of enabling them to meet the disadvantage it must be to some of them to be so far removed from the centre of Government, but I am opposed to payment except in the shape of a travelling or family removing allowance. In regard to equal electoral districts, it seems to 99 me that if we once establish the idea of equality in political privileges, we must have equal electoral districts. I have only one or two words to say upon the Motion itself. I am at one with the declaration that—It is needful to amend and simplify the laws relating to the qualification and registration of Parliamentary electors.I feel it is a grievous thing that if a man is properly entitled to a vote he should, by some accident of the machinery of Government, be debarred from the exercise of the privilege. As to the appointment of a register superintendent, I think there would be some difficulty which no legislation could get rid of. At present Political Parties are obliged to employ registration agents because they have no confidence in the present officials, and I am afraid that, as long as human nature is what it is, confidence in registration officials will be lacking. I thank the House for listening to me so patiently, and I hope the result of the Debate will be to recall the minds of the people to the fact that, though there may be occasional small injustices worked by the existence of plural voting, it is nothing as compared with the great injustice which under the present system obtain, when the vote of an Englishman in any of the wealthy centres of population is only worth a seventh part of the vote of an illiterate in Ireland. The Government have performed the unpleasant duty of strengthening the Criminal Law in Ireland, and they are now taking the promised and pleasant measures to complete the social regeneration of the country. We are about to establish a peasant proprietary, and next year we hope to complete the work of Local County Government for Ireland. At this period of our Parliamentary existence, the proposal to interpose in our work a measure which would re-open the whole reform question is one which I, as a consistent supporter of the Government, cannot countenance. I shall support the Amendment in the hope and belief that in adopting it the House will not be placing obstacles in the way of carrying out the programme for which it received a mandate a few years ago, that programme being to consolidate and perfect the Union, and to improve by wise administration, legislation, and 100 practical sympathy the social and material condition of the working millions of a united and English-speaking people.
§ *(9.12.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I feel in some difficulty in reference to this Debate, because I have a good deal of sympathy with many of the opinions that have been expressed from the opposite side of the House. It is a common device for one side to taunt the other side with not going far enough, and I am in hearty sympathy with hon. Members opposite who have discovered a new-fangled zeal for such radical doctrines as the payment of Members and equal electoral districts. I feel that the ideal to which we are seeking to attain would be that which would give us not only the principle of one man one vote, but manhood suffrage, equal electoral districts, and payment of Members. But when we have had a Division as to the payment of Members, for instance, I do not remember that the hon. Member (Mr. de Lisle) has been found as a supporter of that proposal. I am, therefore, obliged to receive the hon. Gentleman's expressions of sympathy with such a project, as simply a pious opinion, used for the purposes of debate. I am not astonished that a pious opinion should be uttered by a gentleman who has given us a prescription for losing a constituency. The hon. Gentleman has told us that he keeps one eye on principle and one eye on the people—a performance that must necessarily cause obliquity of vision. I know it is a difficult process for the hon. Member to reconcile his principles with those of the people he represents, because I believe that no Member of the House of Commons within the memory of sitting Members, has received so many votes of want of confidence as the hon. Gentleman.
§ *MR. DE LISLE
Let me explain. I found that the best way to get a Radical audience to give me a hearing was to let them first of all pass a vote of want of confidence.
§ *SIR WALTER FOSTER
The explanation of the hon. Member does not make his case better. If that is the only way for him to get an audience in his constituency he is not likely to sit again in the House of Commons—at all events, for the Loughborough Division. Now, 101 the hon. Member for South Salford, in moving his Amendment, said his chief objection to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, was that they opened up the whole question of reform. But it was quite evident from his remarks in regard to reform, that the hon. Member was criticising not so much the last Amendment of the franchise as the Redistribution Act, which everyone knows was a matter of compromise, and like most matters of compromise, produced very unsatisfactory results in many cases. We should be very glad to have that Redistribution Act amended, for there are a great many constituencies in England which ought not to have the amount of representation that they at present enjoy, and there are teeming centres of population—great towns like Cardiff—which have much less representation than they ought to have, and will have one of these days. But while the hon. Member for South Salford told us we did not go far enough, and that this proposal opened up the whole question of reform, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, on the other hand, told us that this was a paltry proposal with reference to the franchise. The hon. Member for South Salford referred to anomalies. The Opposition are anxious to remove all anomalies, and they think they can remove them one by one as it becomes possible to do so. The principle of one man one vote is a practical principle, and one to which effect can be given without doing any harm or making any great alteration in the present distribution of political power. Some hon. Members have referred to the question as one that is not exciting much interest. I can quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who represents a constituency in which the principle is practically nonexistent, does not recognise the acute sense of injustice which prevails in many county constituencies. If the right hon. Gentleman were to go down to many county constituencies, he would find, that one of the great grievances of the agricultural voters, is that when the polling day arrives they are outvoted by men nonresident in the division. I believe it would add greatly to the cohesion of all classes of society, if this standing in- 102 justice were removed, as it would be if the proposal of the right hon. Member for Halifax were adopted. This brings me to refer for a moment to the question of registration. We want the system of registration carried out by a public official instead of by those who often allow political bias to influence them in their work. The register should be made as easy to get upon as the rate-book. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) says that if such a reform were carried out we might have constituencies flooded. I would point out that it is very seldom that a residence of only three months would be needed. There would be great difficulty in calculating how many additional voters would be required to turn an election, and the expense of bringing any number into a constituency would, I think, make any attempt to tamper with the representation of a district an absolute impossibility. Such things as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) suggests might be possible with the black citizens of the United States, but I do not think it could be done in any constituency in this country. We need a complete remodelling of the system by which voters' lists are at present compiled. We want the system to be above suspicion, and to work automatically, so that every one who has a right to be on the register shall be placed there without any trouble to himself. It has been said by Gentlemen opposite that we are acting in the interests of a Party; we are acting in the interests of the whole voice of the nation. We want the whole voice of the nation, as represented by every man who is properly qualified, to find expression whenever a General Election takes place. To whichever side of the House this would be an advantage it is a matter of justice to individual voters; and on this account we claim this reasonable reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said he was in favour of manhood suffrage and equal electoral districts, but he has not given us much help in the direction of obtaining them by calling this more moderate reform a paltry reform, and bidding us make the best of the Reform Act now in force. It was not his wont in former days to bid any class of people labouring under 103 an injustice to sit still and make the best of it. On the contrary, no man ever spoke more strongly in the country in favour of active agitation for the removal of injustice; and I regret that we should to-day have heard his voice raised against a just system of registration, which would add to the voting power, remove a sense of injustice, and increase the content, and therefore the strength of the country.
§ *(9.25.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I should like to recall the fact that I have for a long time taken great interest in registration questions, and I much regret that in 1885 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) did not see his way to deal with the question of registration and shorten the term of residence. I must remind the House that, although that was the case, the Government then gave a very strong pledge that on the first opportunity they would endeavour to deal with the whole question of registration, and in the Mid Lothian programme of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian the question of registration was put in the forefront as one of the four questions that were ripe for legislation. I believe that every person who is duly qualified to be a voter is entitled to be placed on the register and to vote, and no person ought to be asked to place himself under any obligation to Party election agents—for the registration agents of the present day are nothing more or less than election agents—and, so far from endeavouring to add to the list of voters, they spend most of their time in trying to keep off the register those who will not vote in accordance with their wishes. I have long been of opinion that there should be some official person—whether a parish officer, or an officer of the County Council, or a Government officer—whose duty it should be to see that every person who is duly qualified is placed on the register. I think that as long as election agents are allowed to act as registration agents under present conditions the Corrupt Practices Act will be an absolute nullity, and I should like to see all their expenses included within the election accounts. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that the period of residence ought to be 104 shortened, for at present it practically requires an 18 months' residence to qualify. Whether three months would be sufficient is a point of detail upon which I am not prepared to express a decided opinion. I am inclined to think it rather too short, and I should like the law to be so altered that there should be one clear year's residence before a man is entitled to vote. It is impossible, without having a complete Bill before us, to say from what time of the year the qualifying period ought to date from. On one question there cannot be the slightest doubt that attention is required—the injustice that arises in connection with successive occupation, especially among artisans and farm labourers. A man is allowed to count successive occupation in two dwellings, supposing he moves from one part of a constituency to another. But if he removes but just over the border line to a neighbouring constituency his successive occupation is altogether lost. I maintain that the right of a man to vote is his own qualification. If he has been in residence for a year and is on the register then he is duly qualified, and ought not to forfeit that qualification by going into another constituency, simply because he has crossed the border line of a borough or parish. In rural constituencies this inconvenience often arises, as it also does among artisans by their moving from one town to another. I agree in the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. De Lisle) that it would be a good thing for the country if elections were held on or about the same day. I say on or about because I do not believe that all elections could be held on the same day, in consequence of the difficulty of finding competent persons to act as returning officers and clerks in the country. In boroughs the difficulty does not arise because you have men from year to year continually engaged in conducting municipal and other elections. No doubt in time a like experience will be available in the counties. I would suggest that at a dissolution a Royal Proclamation should be issued naming a day on which the nominations for boroughs should take place, and a day for the elections; and also days for county nominations and elections. Supposing that the Proclamation were issued on a Saturday morning, 105 borough nominations might take place on the following Tuesday, and county nominations on the following Wednesday or Thursday, the borough elections on the Friday, and the county elections on the following Tuesday. Thus within 10 days after the receipt of the Writs every election would have taken place, and business would have resumed its ordinary course. There is another reason for holding the elections about the same time, and thus getting at the real opinion of the country. No one who has been engaged in elections, as I have been for some 25 years past, can have failed to notice that the result of the first two or three days' elections have an effect on the elections immediately following. After a time the electors seem to recover their equilibrium, if I may say so, and vote in their elections more or less upon the events of the questions presented to them, but certainly in the first few days the effect of the early results is remarkable—electors apparently being influenced by the desire to be "in the swim" with what seems to be the majority. By concurrent elections a more general reflex of public opinion is likely to be obtained. But this suggestion of the hon. Member for Leicestershire only shows how questions come up for consideration in reference to a reform of our electoral system that are not embodied in this Resolution. On the subject of plural voting much has been said, but I think it has been treated rather too much from the point of view of a certain number of landlords and rich people being deprived of plural votes. So far as I am concerned I do not care if they are deprived of all votes over one. In that matter I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for Northumberland. If a man holds a high, respected position in a county he can make his influence felt among voters by justifiable means, by advice and example, but he is not entitled to more votes than his neighbour. If this were merely a question of the voting power of wealthy landlords I should not hesitate for a moment. I cannot see why a landowner having property in three counties should have three votes, while another landlord having the same amount of property in one county should have one vote; or, that a wealthy merchant having business premises 106 in one constituency and his residence in another should have two votes, while another merchant having premises and residence together in one constituency should have but one vote. If the Motion before the House would only affect wealthy people I should say nothing against it, but it would, if carried into law, really disfranchise many small freeholders who have bought land out of their savings. I know there are many hundreds of such cases in my own constituency. I know that there are small freeholders of the fishermen and artisan class who have acquired small plots of land out of their savings just outside the borough, and they, no doubt, had in view when making these investments the acquisition of a vote for county purposes. All these will be absolutely disfranchised by carrying such a proposal. Of course, if the proposal is part of a large scheme, these with others must suffer individual loss for the public good. I merely mention this to indicate that it will not be only among the wealthy landowners that votes will be lost, but it will tell also among small freeholders.
§ *MR. HENEAGE
Yes, I am quite aware of that. I only mean to show that this is not only the case of the wealthy classes we have to take into consideration. We have been asked to vote for the principle of "one man one vote." That is a phrase. I have given reasons why I think this question should be thoroughly considered, and presented in the form of a Bill, and upon the principle expressed under the phrase "one man one vote" I keep an open mind, and am not prepared to give an opinion either way until I see the Bill. In taking that course I am following the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1885. He said the Bill was not before the House and he would not discuss it. Indeed, I think since then he has taken up a similar attitude in relation to the eight hours movement. I am, therefore, in good company in taking this course. I shall on this occasion support the Amendment, and though hon. Members have described that Amendment as unfair and evasive I am quite willing to acknowledge that I have had a hand in that 107 Amendment. But I beg to remind hon. Members also that I know something of the Local Taxation Amendment of 1883. At present I think that the adoption of the principle of "one man one vote" can only be justified if every man is given an absolutely equal voting power, and that cannot be given unless we establish equal electoral districts. I shall vote for the Amendment now, but keeping a perfectly open and free mind when the principle is put before us in a Bill.
§ *(9.42.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
There can be no doubt that the Law of Registration requires simplifying and amending, for there are many anomalies the chief of which have not, I think, been mentioned by those who support this Bill. For instance, whereas the signature of a lodger is accepted as primâ facie evidence in support of his claim, a householder is required to give personal attendance to support his claim. On principle I admit it is quite right that a person moving from one borough to another should continue to have a vote if his qualification has once been established. I suppose difficulty would arise as to identification, but I think a certificate from the rate collector, or overseer, or some proper authority ought to be enough to secure the franchise by succession for an elector in his new home. With a three months' qualification I cannot agree, because I look upon the rate book as the foundation of the electoral list of occupiers, and many of the rates in the Metropolis and other parts of the country are collected only every six months. I think it is an advantage to have the voter's name once on the rate book as having paid one rate before he is placed on the Register as a voter. If hon. Members hold that the occupier only ought to be the owner of the vote, and that freehold and other franchises ought to be destroyed, I do not agree with them. In my opinion, persons not otherwise qualified who pay Income Tax or who are members of benefit societies and thus give proof of their thrift, and freeholders should have a vote whether they are occupiers or not. The more competent people we can get on the list of voters the better, and I believe that the "fancy franchises," as they are called, exercise a very beneficial influence on the 108 electorate by giving persons thoroughly qualified a vote, and an interest in exercising it. I cannot vote for the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Halifax in its entirety. I quite agree with those who hold that the law requires amendment as to registration, but I do not admit that persons should vote only for one district. I do not see why I should not have a vote for my office in the Strand and also for my house in the country, since I pay taxes and rates for both. If there is any reliance in the axiom that representation should accompany taxation, I see every reason why a man paying double for a double qualification should have two votes. I do not, of course, mean that mere rentcharges should give votes. I do not encourage the manufacture of votes by the property qualification, but I say there can be no solid objection to a man who has a place of business in the city rated at £5,000 having a vote in respect to that and another vote for his residence at, say, Tulse Hill. In a recent Debate upon another branch of the subject I notice it was stated that the constituency of the City of London is diluted by bankers and merchants. But these are the men who have created the wealth of the community, and, therefore, they ought to have a considerable share in the choice of its representatives. Proportional representation or electoral districts may be a very nice theory, but the calculations on the subject are entirely disconcerted by the fluctuation of the population, especially in suburban districts. I consider that if we had electoral districts we should have to break up communities for the purpose of getting a regular number of voters according to a certain proportion of representation. If, for instance, one constituency consists of 12,000 voters and another of only 2,000, the Member who represents the former, I suggest, ought to be counted as 12 on a Division, and the Member who represents the 2,000 ought to be counted as two. In that way we should avoid altering the areas. Of course, in Committees, the Member should not have any such power, but on a Division in the House it would be easy for the clerk to have some mechanical arrangement or machine to record without any waste of time the absolute number of thousands repre- 109 sented by any Member and to give him credit for that number.
§ (9.57.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
The hon. Member's idea is an interesting and amusing one, but I think novelty is its only recommendation. Our object has been to shorten as much as possible the time of the House occupied in Division, but I am afraid the plan suggested would considerably lengthen the time. There was one feature about the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman I recognised, and that was the frank manner—and I think he is the first on that side who had done so—the frank manner in which he defended the system of plural voting. He affirms his right to vote for office in the Strand as well as residence in the country, and this is the issue so many Members on the other side of the House have evaded. How does the system work in London? In my own constituency there is a firm of house agents. This firm used to have five members on the register for East Finsbury. I am glad to say we have now reduced the number to four, one being disqualified on the ground of not being within the seven miles limit; but they have this number on the register simply because they are qualified as agents for a wealthy Corporation—the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—and in several other boroughs on the same ground Messrs. Clutton have representation. What justification can there be for this? Votes such as this turn the scale against the votes of responsible citizens. Now let me come to an issue with the hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich. We are not dealing with local rates; we are dealing with the Imperial franchise; and the interests of one citizen should be equal to that of another. The moment you go away from that as the basis of the rights of citizenship you are landed in difficulties. Now there has been an extraordinary want of perception shown by several Members of the meaning of the expression "one man one vote." As helping to an explanation, let me give another illustration from the home county. There is for the Hornsey Division a polling place inside Guildhall. It is a known fact that the election for the Hornsey Division is settled, not in that Division of Middlesex, but in the City of London—three or four miles away.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
Does the hon. Member deny that there is a polling place for the Hornsey Division in the Guildhall?
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
Yes; I admit that, but we know very well that the proportion is 2,500 on one side, and 500 on the other. But I do not care whether it is this side or the other side that have the vote. I deny that any Division should be represented in this way—that instead of the persons who reside in the area having the right to say who shall be returned, it should be settled outside. We are only trying tonight to extend that which has been going on for a long time; we are only trying to enforce the principle which was advocated when the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed, which was advocated again in 1867, and again in 1884, and which will have to be advocated again and again until the franchise is put upon such a basis that it will give us a sound and reliable reflex of the opinion of the people. As to electoral districts, I have not heard any objection from this side of the House to putting them on as fair a basis as you can. We know, for instance, that London is over-represented, and that it should only have one Representative instead of two, and we know that under any system of proportional representation that view would be taken. But I do not wish to go into detail in this matter. We are prepared to carry on the work as it was carried on in 1885; but, as has been pointed out, in 1885 there was a compromise. Many of us would have liked to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian go further than he did. He had to satisfy both sides, and to meet the opposition of the House of Lords. He provided in his measure, however, that all boroughs of less than 50,000 inhabitants having two Members should lose one Member, and all with loss than 15,000 inhabitants having one Member should lose their Member and be included in a county district. That was an improvement; but no one on this side of the House ever thought that in that way finality had been reached. We 111 are prepared to go further, as, indeed, are some hon. Members on the other side. I think one of the greatest advantages of this Debate has been that hon. Gentlemen opposite have told us what they will go for in course of time. Well, although we should be prepared to go with them in endeavouring to bring about reforms, we must ask them not to shift the issue before the House, seeing that it is a clear and distinct one. Are hon. Members opposite prepared to endorse the policy that the qualification for a vote for Imperial and national purposes shall be that of citizenship, and not any property qualification whatever? That is the question which the country will consider we are fighting for, and it will not allow itself to be deceived by any of the peculiar arguments which have been put before the House in the course of the Debate. As to registration, we have been told that a three months' qualification would lead to the jerrymandering of a constituency; but those of us who are acquainted with the position in which the electors of London are placed are aware that you do not, under the present system, get a fair proportion of the opinion of London represented at any election. London is differently situated to other large towns. Instead of being one borough it is divided into several portions, and the result to an elector is that when he removes from one division to another he has to go through a probationary period of from 18 months to 2½ years before he can get on the register. There is a large portion of the population of London who never get on the register at all, and are never able to record a vote. That applies to the householder, but to take the case of the unfortunate lodger where the principle of successive occupation does not apply at all:—If a lodger moves from one house to a house next door, though he may still be in the same electoral district, and in the same parish, he has to go through the probationary period. I have known cases in which men were anxious to record their votes at Parliamentary Elections, when they have taken the trouble year after year to get themselves put on the register, but where, having been obliged to move just prior to a General Election, they have found themselves disqualified. I think we ought to have a definite state- 112 ment from the Government as to whether or not they endorse the Amendment of the hon. Member for Salford, or whether they propose to bring in a measure of drastic reform of the registration laws at once. If they are so afraid of committing themselves to an abstract Resolution they should be prepared at once to carry out that portion of the Resolution which they endorse, and we shall expect them to Table in the present Session a Registration Bill to effect the object of the Amendment which, with their help, will be adopted by the House this evening. I may be reminded of the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, "You are trying to break down the programme of the Session; you have no mandate from the people for this." But I would ask in reply: what mandate had the Government for the Tithes Bill, or the Land Purchase Bill? So far as the latter measure is concerned, not only had they no mandate to pass it but they absolutely had a mandate against the introduction of any system of land purchase for Ireland. We are not misled by this attempt to draw a red herring across the path this evening. We say the issue is clear and distinct, and we are not afraid of our opinions. We say distinctly that one man should have one vote, which does not require any shuffling to understand. We say that we should have a thorough reform of the registration laws and that the whole of the responsibility should be cast on the officer whose duty it should be to carry out the registration and to place on the register the names of persons entitled to be there. We may be told that what we are proposing would involve great expenditure; but if we had returns placed before us showing the official expenditure on registration for municipal and Parliamentary purposes I think it would be found that the authorities already receive money enough to pay all legitimate expenses. In conclusion I would merely say that these are the issues we are going to vote for to-night, and that we shall hold those hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite who have been so frank in expressing their views to-night to their declarations when these matters are brought from time to time under the consideration of the House.
§ *(10.15.) SIR R. FOWLER
With regard to the reflections which the hon. Member who has just sat down has cast upon my constituency, I must say I do not think any fair-minded man can feel that a constituency which comprises 32,000 electors is not entitled to send two Members to Parliament. That constituency in the last Parliament returned me as one of their Members by the largest number of votes that ever returned any Member to this House. As regards the immediate question before the House, I have placed an Amendment on the Paper, which, however, I shall obviously not have opportunity to move. What I wish to protest against is that after this House in 1885 went into the question of the representation of the people in Parliament, and discussed the matter at great length, and arrived at a comprehensive measure upon it, only five or six years afterwards we should have the question re-opened. I think we should have a little rest. If we look back at what has happened in the past we shall see that the greatest change made in the representation of the people was that brought about in 1832. No attempt was made to re-open the matter until 1852. I do not say that there were not Motions made by private Members of Parliament, but no attempt was made by a responsible Minister or ex-Minister. From 1852 no attempt was successful until 1866, and the Act of that year was allowed to remain in operation 18 years before the question was again re-opened. I think now it is only fair that this question should be allowed to rest, and certainly should not be re-opened in what is practically the first Parliament after the settlement of 1885. The Home Secretary the other day, in reference to a Debate raised by the hon. Member who has just sat down, said it seemed to him that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side who re-opened the question of reform had, no doubt, expected when the Act of 1885 was passed that that Act would place them in power for 20 years to come. That was their opinion, and it certainly was mine. If I could have imagined in 1885 that at this moment I should have been speaking from this side of the House it would have been a great surprise to me. Of course this subject is being re-opened because Gentlemen opposite do not find 114 that the result of the last Reform Act has been what they thought it would be. In the course of the next few years there will be an election. If the Party opposite comes back to this House with a majority, I do not think we shall hear much more about reform. I think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when once they are seated on the Bench below me will be very happy to leave the question alone for six years. Let us have a little rest on this question. Let us be allowed to go on in a course of useful legislation instead of burdening ourselves by re-opening a question which was settled as recently as 1885.
§ *(10.21.) SIR G. TREVELYAN
I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is not present, because I wish to answer several of the right hon. Gentleman's challenges. The right hon. Gentleman challenged my right to speak in the Debate at all, quoting in support of the contention a sentence from one of his speeches on the Reform Bill of 1884, namely—No man will be troubled by the franchise again. It admits every man who should be admitted, and it excludes no man who should not be excluded.But these words do not preclude me from supporting the Motion before the House, because the Motion merely purposes to really bestow the franchise on those on whom the Act of 1884 intended to bestow it. It disfranchises no man, because it is only an equalising Motion, and merely prevents any man from having more than a citizen's right. Consequently, even those who considered the Act of 1884 final have a right to vote for this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham went on to say that we should do ill to be always changing our Parliament, and that use ought rather to be made of the existing Parliament. Turning to the Welsh Members particularly, the right hon. Gentleman said that what they ought to do was to fit the country with District Councils and abolish the Welsh Church. Here I am obliged to drag in a word of politics in answer to the right hon. Gentleman. What is the use of such a recommendation in the present Parliament? Only the other day an attempt was made to obtain a free system of voting in regard to the Parochial Boards of Scotland, which raised the question of 115 District Councils, but the effort was defeated; and the Division on the Welsh Church proved that it is perfectly idle to ask for religious equality from the present House of Commons. As to what the right hon. Gentleman has said on abstract Resolutions, I utterly deny that the acceptance of such Resolutions implies any priority of claim for the purpose to which the Resolutions are devoted. It merely implies that a large number of hon. Members regard those objects as highly important. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the manner in which, in old days, Resolutions proceed from the other side of the House, asking for the application of the money of the Treasury to local purposes, had been treated. But what better example could we have of what perseverance in abstract Resolutions will do? However those abstract Resolutions were treated, they were at any rate repeated and persevered in, and they have met with the most complete success. It cannot be denied that millions, far in excess of the most sanguine hopes of those who moved those Resolutions, have been poured into their laps by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman says it is dangerous and dishonest for a Government to make promises which it cannot immediately perform. It is, however, the duty of private Members to make use of the weapons which the power of moving abstract Resolutions of this House has put into their hands, and to say what they consider reasonable, feasible, and just. If they can say this in sufficient numbers they can be quite certain that their wishes will be carried into effect. It is said that the Resolution is out of place because it is subsequent to the Bill of 1884. In January, 1885, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham made a speech to his constituents, in which he said—There is another question. I am in favour of the principle of one man one vote, and I object altogether to the plural representation of property. I will take my own case; I am a terrible example. I have three votes for borough constituencies and the same number for county constituencies. That is to say, I have six votes. I use them on the right side; but I know many of my friends who have 10 or 12 votes, and I have heard of one reverend pluralist who has 23. I consider that this is an anomaly altogether inconsistent with the principle upon which we stand.Then the right hon. Gentleman enlarged, 116 with admirable wisdom and energy, on the question on which my right hon. Friend has been speaking to-day, and it is to be observed that in the very second sentence of his speech he told his audience that it was made not only subsequently to the Franchise Act of 1884, but within some two months of the passing of that Act. That is the most important question on which it is necessary that we should give one vote, and as to which we do not care at all for the red herring which is being dragged across the scent. It was all very well in the old days, when Franchise Bills were proposed, to say that it was necessary to accompany them with Redistribution Bills. That is what was done in 1866, and multitudes of voters were proposed to be added to the borough franchise; and it was still more plausible in the case of the Reform Bill in 1889, when the county constituencies were quadrupled, because by that quadrupling you brought into the highest belief the gross injustice with which the counties were treated. The only excuse then given for that injustice was that, while the population was large, the electors were few; but when the electorate was enlarged, that electorate was in proportion to the population; and it was absolutely necessary that the representation should absolutely be enlarged also. But that is not the case here. In this instance it is a mere excuse; the right hon. Gentleman does not propose to alter the balance between one constituency and another in the least respect. It is proposed to make certain changes which would be equal over all the constituencies, and it is a mere excuse to say that that should be accompanied by redistribution. Then it is said that the Irish representation ought to be reconsidered and diminished; but the proposal, so far from diminishing the number of Irish voters as compared with England, would very considerably increase it. The proposal would give the vote to a great many people who now lose it through bad registration; for while registration in Scotland is difficult and in England is bad, in Ireland it is an absolutely detestable system. And if you alter the Registration Laws at all, Ireland will gain more than any other part of the Kingdom. And, in the next place, the proposal will diminish the number of 117 property voters; for while in England the number of property voters is very large, in Ireland they are almost non-existent. I have taken several Irish counties and compared them with English counties, and I find that while in Armagh and Berkshire we have the same number of occupying voters, Armagh has only 400 property voters, while Berkshire has 4,000. If you diminish the number of property voters of Berkshire, can that be a reason for taking them from Armagh? Take another case; Cork has 50,000 occupying voters, and Lincolnshire 53,000; but in Cork there are only 394 property voters, while in Lincolnshire there are 18,409. If you diminish largely the number of property voters in Lincolnshire, is that a reason for taking the Members from the County of Cork where there are practically no property voters at all? I think I have said enough on this point. ["Hear, hear," and laughter from the Ministerial side of the House.] I do not know why hon. Members should say "Hear, hear," and laugh. The laugh was a little discourteous, because I have been dealing at no great length with a perfectly new point. At any rate, I think I have said enough to prove that any argument drawn from the question of redistribution necessarily accompanying such a change as is now proposed, while unreasonable anywhere else, is absolutely baseless when grounded on a comparison between the effect of this proposition in Ireland and in England. What are the real merits of the question, putting the Amendment aside? Parliament is the great Council of the nation, in which every citizen takes a part in person or by proxy. Among those who attend in person who in his senses would propose to apply the doctrine of plural voting? It is inconceivable that a Member of this House or of the House of Lords should, on account of his wealth, have more votes than another Member or another Peer. What is absurd in the case of Members of the two Houses is equally absurd in the case of those who send them to Parliament. Under the Municipal Corporations Act no elector can vote in more than one ward. The President of the Board of Trade applied that principle to the counties, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will state some real reason why the principle should be rigorously confined to elections for Municipal and 118 County Councils. This plural vote came about in two ways: and one of these matters has been very little touched upon to-night, though I think it is almost the most serious. In 1888 a Return was made of the non-resident occupation voters. It was one of the most culpably deficient Returns ever presented to Parliament, though that was not the fault of the Government. From the Return it appears that in the Exchange Division of Liverpool 1,850 votes were exercised by men who did not live in the division. In another division the number of such voters was 1,636. In North-West Manchester, out of 12,000 occupiers 4,314 were non-resident; while in Central Birmingham there were 1,970, and in Central Bradford 1,981 non-resident voters. With regard to London, I would only correct a statement which I made during the Debate on the livery franchise, when I said there were 7,000 resident occupation voters to 12,000 nonresident voters. The fact is, that there are 4,000 resident occupation voters to 19,000 non-resident voters. But this Return is most defective, because half the great towns of the country are omitted from it, and therefore I say it is sufficient to justify the proposal of my right hon. Friend that in every constituency there should be a responsible official, whose duty it shall be to present these figures, if necessary, to Parliament. That is the case of the boroughs. In the counties the grievance takes a still more serious form. In Cheshire there are 5,400 non-resident voters, of whom more than 1,000 are in one constituency. In a single constituency of Essex 1,484 people vote who are non-resident. In a single division of Durham there are 1,053, and in a single division of Yorkshire there are 1,222 non-resident voters. The grievance, though great here, rises to quite colossal proportions in the counties surrounding London. It is not too much to say that any chance of a healthy resident public opinion on political questions is prevented in the divisions of Middlesex, and in at least one division of Surrey, by men who have not even the excuse of possessing property in those divisions, but whose property is in different portions of the Metropolis, five or six miles away from the divisions where they go to swamp the opinion of the real residents. They 119 do not even take the trouble to go down and swamp that opinion, because in some places they have polling booths, outside the district, at their own doors. And I would ask the House to contrast this with the manner in which the electors, described by the hon. Member for Berwick, have to vote, they frequently having to travel three or four miles; while some of them in the more remote districts have to travel five or six in order to record their votes. What abuses does this system give rise to? As long as a man votes for his own residents no abuse can take place. No man' chooses a house to live in for any other purpose than because he wants to live there; but if you allow the vote to be given for property, there is the greatest difficulty in preventing every sort of fraudulent or semi-fraudulent arrangement. So much, then, for the question of the plural vote, and now, in a very few words, I will call attention to the other part of the Resolution, which I say is not a disfranchising Resolution, but enfranchises those whom Parliament intended to endow with a vote. Every man whom Parliament intends to be a voter should be enabled to get that vote without expense or trouble, but the difficulties of the householder in this respect are so great that it is no exaggeration to say that at least 30 per cent. of the citizens of this country are constantly living in a state of disfranchisement. The two divisions of the Tower Hamlets are specimens of other divisions in London. One division of the Tower Hamlets has exactly the same population as Bury in Lancashire; but while in Bury there are 8,000 voters, the division of the Tower Hamlets, represented by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie), has on the register only 4,300 or 4,400. Now, the registration in Lancashire is not perfect; but what must it be where they are not 30, bat 50 per cent. below the low standard of Lancashire? This evil arises primarily from the long period of residence which is enforced as a qualification, combined with the fact that the Londoner, having often to cross from one part of his constituency to another in search of employment, is often absolutely disfranchised because of his search for work. The third and last proposition of the right hon. Member for Halifax is not the least important—the difficulty and 120 uncertainty of persons getting upon the register at all. First, I will take the question of expense, and all that he asks is that in this matter England may be assimilated to Scotland. In Scotland there is a public officer who lends his services to the Local Government for the purposes of registration. I have been a Scotch Member for 23 years, and during 22 years of that period I have never been called on to pay a halfpenny for registration, nor, so far as I know, has any other Party man in my constituency, for what is properly a public burden. We ask, then, that England may enjoy a similar advantage—that an officer may be appointed in this country charged with making and keeping the register, that he shall be responsible to his official superiors, and that the voter may be relieved of all expense in obtaining his vote. The Overseers who now carry out the work of registration in this country are unfitted by habits and education for the duty, and all this difficulty and expense in getting the vote is but a relic of old days, when men used their votes for corrupt purposes—when, the vote having cost them money to obtain, they used it with a view of getting some recompense for it. But all that is now changed, and the vote is now regarded as a public trust. It is, therefore, the duty of the public to see that it is placed in the hands of the voter without expense, and under the auspices of a responsible public officer. They are points of great importance, and we conceive that every Member of Parliament has a right to put his views before the country on these matters without having his attention directed to an Amendment which, I think, has absolutely no relation to the subject-matter of the Resolution. If ever there was a question on which Parliament ought to vote without reservation, without conditions, and without regard to considerations that have absolutely nothing to do with the main question, it is this, and I hope to-night that the Division will show that the Liberal Party, at all events, has this question deeply at heart.
§ *(10.54.) MR. RITCHIE
The course which has been pursued to-night with regard to the Motion before the House is, I think, a very inconvenient one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax without touching, or, at all 121 events, after touching only very lightly, on the main proposition in his Motion, sat down, after informing the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton would take up that part of the question and deal with it. Now, to say the least, it is inconvenient that the arguments for the main proposal of the Resolution should not be heard until the close of the evening. And what makes it still more inconvenient on this particular occasion is that the right hon. Gentleman has given the House a considerable number of figures which it is impossible to check in the small portion of time remaining at my disposal. As the right hon. Gentleman was going rapidly through his figures, however, I was able to check them in one instance, and one only; and if we are to judge of the accuracy of the other figures which he gave by the one which I was able to check, I can only say that the House would not be able to form a very high estimate of his general accuracy. The right hon. Gentleman when dealing with the question of the plural vote, and when elaborating his argument with respect to the comparison that had been made in the representation of Ireland and England, told the House that there were in Lincolnshire no fewer than 18,400 plural voters. Now, it so happens that 14,000 of those 18,000 are not plural voters at all.
§ *SIR G. TREVELYAN
I can only use the Returns that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have put into my hands. Wherever the question was one of non-residence I carefully used the Non-residence Return. There is no Non-residence Return for Ireland, and I was only able to use the Return in which the plural voters for Ireland and England are described, and I refrained from calling them non-resident purposely.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I am quite aware of that; but I want to point out that 14,000 of the 18,000 are undoubtedly owners as well as occupiers; but they are registered as owners, although they vote as occupiers. The reason why they are registered as owners rather than as occupiers is that they are so registered under the Act of 1885, which enacts that unless a man who is both owner and occupier claims to be put on the register as an occupier, he is put on the list by the Overseer 122 as owner, although he votes as occupier. So far, then, as 14,000 of the 18,400 whom the right hon. Gentleman called plural voters in Lincolnshire are concerned, they are not plural voters at all. I now wish to say a few words with respect to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Halifax and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian spoke of this Motion as a Bill. It is well known that the right hon. Member for Halifax has striven for some years past, and striven in vain, to induce the House to consider a Bill on the subject which he had. I must confess that I have felt some sympathy and commiseration for the right hon. Gentleman when I have seen him balloting year by year in order to seek for his Bill a place which he failed to secure. And I cannot help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman had been as zealous in urging upon his colleagues in 1885 the extreme importance of this matter he might perhaps have been more successful than he has been. But, unhappily, the right hon. Gentleman was unsuccessful with his colleagues in urging upon them the importance of the question, and equally unsuccessful in regard to the ballot. Why is it that the right hon. Gentleman has been so unsuccessful with his Colleagues? Why is it that they have refrained from dealing with this question, which, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said, was one of the questions of the authorised programme? It was, I suspect, because the programme had served its purpose, and because, when the election took place, it was found by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian that the register was sufficiently good for his purpose and required no further attention from him. Indeed, I often think that the Party opposite seem to consider that the register is invented for one purpose, and one only—to make it easy for them to remain in power. So long as the register effects that object all works smoothly and well; but the moment it ceases to manufacture voters in support of the Party opposite, then there is something wrong in the machinery which requires oiling and attending to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian made a speech—I think it was in Birmingham—in 1888, and then 123 referred to the plural voter. He also made some very remarkable mistakes in his figures, which I think he has since acknowledged. But whether they were right or wrong, the right hon. Gentleman by some calculation—I do not know how—came to the conclusion that three-fourths of the plural voters voted against him at the General Election, and that was considered by him and his Colleagues as sufficient reason why the ownership vote should at once be taken in hand and reformed before another election. Now, the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax tonight is divided into two distinct parts. One is the question of registration reform. There seems to me to be some confusion as to what constitutes registration reform and what constitutes franchise reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax has undoubtedly some extraordinary notions as to what constitutes registration reform. He said that the Reform Bill of 1885 established Household Suffrage without rating qualifications, and then went on to say that the Reform Bill necessarily required this Registration Bill which abolishes the ratepaying qualification of the Bill of 1885.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must have been very hard up for a case if be had to go back to the Bill of 1832, seeing that there was a Bill passed in 1884. I understood him to mean the last Reform Bill. Looking to the fact that the Bill of 1885 enfranchised a larger number of persons than the Bill of 1832, it is clear that the franchise was wider than in 1832. Now the right hon. Gentleman proposes even to abolish the modified restrictions made by the Bill of 1885. I venture to say that a Resolution, which has for its object the abolition of ratepaying occupation, the reduction of the term of occupation, the establishment of successive occupation, and the principle of one man one vote, cannot be called a mere registration reform. If it can, I do not know what is meant by reform of the franchise. Registration reform, in my opinion, means the reform of the machinery of registration by which those persons entitled to the franchise by the Bill of 1885 shall be put upon the register. But the moment you abolish some of the 124 restrictions on the franchise of 1885 it ceases to be registration reform and becomes franchise reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian gave an illustration of the necessity of the reform of registration. I do not propose to deny that there is a necessity for a reform of the Registration Laws; in point of fact, I have myself stated it more than once in this House. Then, says the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, "Why do you not correct the grievance at once?"
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I did not call upon the Government to correct a grievance. I stated that the responsibility of correcting it rested with those who proposed this Resolution.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I thought that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was this—that if the Government accepted that Resolution it would be their duty to bring in a Bill.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
Then I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. Having admitted that there is a necessity for some reform, it may be fairly said, "Why do you not alter the law?" I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. We should have been very glad indeed to have taken in hand the reform of the machinery of the Registration Laws; but we knew that if we touched the question of registration every conceivable Amendment dealing with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax has touched upon would have been brought forward. The only qualification the right hon. Gentleman made in his speech was to admit that so far as one man one vote was concerned his proposal entailed more than a mere registration reform. The right hon. Gentleman admits that this is not a registration proposal, but a reform proposal. As far as we are concerned; we admit the necessity for a reform of the registration machinery, we do not admit the necessity for a Reform Bill; we do not think it wise or expedient or in the interests of the people. Now, with regard to the other part of the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, the most important part is undoubtedly that which deals with the abolition of dual voting. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian seemed to imply that all who could be included under that category were 125 the propertied and wealthy class, and when the suggestion was made that there were some working men probably to be included in it the right hon. Gentleman repudiated that idea with scorn, and said, "Show me where is your working man," and made it clear that, in his opinion, such a thing did not exist. But, as a matter of fact, it is very well known to those who have studied this question that there is a large number of small holders of land, and they probably exceed what may be called the wealthier class under the head of the ownership vote. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there are large numbers of the working classes who now, happily for themselves, invest their means in what are called building societies; and I believe that a very large number of the working classes have become owners of property under the operations of those societies. I should like to say one or two words in defence of the principle of these so-called plural votes. The question of representation in the House of Commons has been discussed very much on the lines that the whole of the House of Commons is returned en bloc, and the fact that localities are represented in this House seems to have been almost entirely ignored. It is the fact, however, that it is the localities which are represented in this House, and, that being so, surely men who have a substantial interest by reason of ownership in localities have a right to record their vote for the choice of a representative to watch over the interests of the locality in the House of Commons. I can understand that a man may have two votes, one in a town and the other in the country, and he may desire to vote with regard to different interests in each locality. Take the case of a man living in London who has a factory in Essex. Would it not be wrong to deprive him of a vote which he could exercise in order that adequate representation should be obtained for each of the localities in which he is interested? Take the case of a mineowner. Surelya man who is the owner of a mine should have a voice in the election of a Member who is to represent the mining interests of that particular locality? I see nothing incongruous about such an arrangement, and in my opinion it is perfectly defen- 126 sible. I do not say there are not some abuses in connection with this matter, as there are abuses in connection with other questions; but, so far as the general principle is concerned, I do not think it is open to the objection which has been urged. This question of dual voting is not by any means so large a question as it is represented to be in some quarters. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, speaking at Birmingham, gave the number of plural voters as being 586,000 in Great Britain. As a matter of fact, 400,000 are resident owners, and, therefore, have not plural votes, leaving a balance of 186,000 in the whole of Great Britain who have plural votes. Taking the Return of the right hon. Member for Halifax for England and Wales, the number is reduced to 120,000, and as the right hon. Gentleman takes off 45 per cent. of those votes for absentees, the number of so-called plural votes is reduced to 73,000.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
Those are comparatively few. That 73,000 has to be considerably reduced by those who, not being also occupiers, have only one vote. The right hon. Gentleman assumes that the great majority of those ownership voters are opposed to him and his Party; but if those ownership voters are equally divided it would be granted that the matter is not very material. You have to assume, before any great grievance is made out, that the great majority of those 73,000 votes are given for one Party, and when you consider the small number and the deductions that ought to be made the matter is seen to be, after all, an exceedingly small grievance on the basis of which to ask the House of Commons to put a stop to all progressive legislation, and to embark on a new Reform Bill. The question of Ireland has been raised this evening. According to voters there is no doubt that Ireland has 21 more Members than it ought to have. If, therefore, you compare the anomaly of plural voting with the anomaly which exists in Ireland the result is that the county voter, in consequence of the plural vote, has 5 per cent. less influence than he would have if it were abolished; whereas the Irish voter has 20 per cent. more influence than he would have if the representation were reduced to the fair proportion 127 between the two countries. The result is that the Party opposite close their eyes to this four-fold grievance in the case of Ireland, and shout loudly about this grievance in the case of the plural voter. They are quite willing to accept all anomalies in their favour, but their indignation is overwhelming with regard to any anomaly by which they think that they themselves suffer. No one can calculate the difference which the period of residence will make in the number of voters. I do not know that it would make a material difference in the number. Bat one difference it would make would be to introduce into our Registers an element of instability which happily is absent now. Precautions ought to be taken to see that voters have a substantial interest in the locality, and the question we have to decide is whether 12 months' residence is too large, or whether three months is enough to give that stability. I think three months' residence is too little, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham has shown conclusively to what dangers that proposition might lead. With regard to the Bill of 1884, I should like to ask whether this Bill at that time was considered to be only an instilment or a settlement of the question which ought to be considered as lasting for some time. The right hon. Member for Birmingham has quoted a sentence from the speech of the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow to show that he, at least, thought it was not an instalment, but a settlement of the question. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton has said that this is quite consistent with his attitude now. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the alteration of the period for qualification is not a very important and very considerable alteration of that measure of which he said that, if it were passed, it would prevent our being troubled with the matter again. Surely the right hon. Gentleman believes that the proposal made would add considerably to the number of those who were enfranchised. If it would so add, how can the right hon. Gentleman contend that this proposal is no interference with the franchise? He cannot do anything of the kind. But the right hon. Gentleman was not long in changing his mind on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman 128 stood for some constituency—I think Hawick—in 1885, but at that time we had no dissatisfaction expressed about the question of reform. But by July, 1887, he had found salvation—he had changed his opinion about the Reform Bill, as in regard to other matters. Having expressed unqualified satisfaction with the settlement of 1885, in 1887 he tells the electors of Bridgeton that if they will return him he will make it the business of what remained of his life to see that every citizen householder should have a vote, and that no citizen householder should have more. What I am insisting upon now is that in 1885 he gave no indication that the settlement was not an acceptable one to him; on the contrary, he emphatically expressed his approval of it in unqualified language. Yet in 1887 he tells the electors of Bridgeton he means to devote the remainder of his life to this Reform Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with this Parliament; he evidently thinks this Parliament is quite useless for all kinds of social legislation, although he has not to-night used language quite so strong as he did on January 22 last. He then told an audience that the clergy had two votes to their one, and that it was plain they would not get justice until all had one vote alike. I maintain that when a politician of the character of the right hon. Gentleman said this to a comparatively uninformed meeting—["Where?"]—I think Stockton.
§ *SIR G. TREVELYAN
It would be fairer to read the whole passage. I named other people besides the clergy—brewers, ground landlords, and others—and showed how difficult it was to approach social questions while these classes had plural votes.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I maintain that for the right hon. Gentleman to tell an audience that the clergy had two votes to their one was throwing dust in their eyes. What the right hon. Gentleman meant was that the clergy returned two Members for the University of Oxford and two for that of Cambridge. This is what he called the clergy having two votes to their one.
§ *SIR G. TREVELYAN
I stated that they voted for their local Members and for the Members for Universities.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I am speaking about the balance, the excess the right hon. 129 Gentleman said the clergy had over the audience. If the right hon. Gentleman had told his audience that the clergy returned four Members to the Universities I should have nothing to say; but he said they had two votes for every one the working men had. The right hon. Gentleman further said that improvements could not be expected from a Parliament where the employers had an average of two votes and the employed only an occasional one. Surely this statement is for all practical purposes directly contrary to the fact. Every working man has as much right to a vote as his employer. I am not talking about the question of the dual vote. The right hon. Gentleman said the working man had an occasional vote, whereas he has as much right to be on the electoral roll if he is rated at £10 as the man living in a house rated at £500. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman was calculated to produce an impression which the facts did not warrant. The right hon. Member for Halifax has admitted that this is not a registration proposal, but a reform proposal.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman calls upon the House to proceed instantly with this Reform Bill of his. And why? Because, he tells us, the next Parliament will have very much larger questions to deal with. That is to say, we are called upon by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to get rid of all these difficult questions in order that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may deal with the larger questions which they have in their mind. The right hon. Gentleman said in effect that it was true that his Party did not deal with this question when they were in power, that they neglected their duty, that they left their obligations unfulfilled, that they are bankrupt debtors, and that they are now calling upon the present Government to take up their dishonoured Bills. But Her Majesty's Government decline to put a stop to the social legislation which they have in hand for the purpose of taking up those dishonoured Bills. No previous Parliament has ever dealt with our social problems to such an extent as the present one has. It has dealt with the sanitary condition of the houses of the working classes, with the question of Local Government, and it proposes to 130 deal with the subject of the extension of the education of the people, as well as with other matters of considerable importance, during the present Session. But if Her Majesty's Government are to take up the programme which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has put forward, they will at once destroy all chance of this beneficial legislation being carried into effect. The Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman is one which Her Majesty's Government are quite unable to accept. We do not say that registration does not require to be dealt with, but we decline to be drawn into legislation of the large and important character which the right hon. Gentleman indicates. We say that nothing has been said to-night as to discontent on the part of the people, or powerlessness on the part of Parliament, to prove that we should undertake a Reform Bill of the magnitude and character which the right hon. Gentleman wishes us to enter upon.
§ *(11.34.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I hope the House will not be impatient if I trouble them for a few minutes with some remarks upon a branch of the question which has not been referred to in the course of the Debate. I will try as much as possible to abstain from any repetition of what has been said, and put before the House one or two considerations which weigh with me in approaching the question. We have been told that this is not a mere Registration Bill, but a Reform Bill.
§ *MR. COURTNEY
I am glad of the correction. It is a correction which was made when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was speaking. It is a Reform Motion, an abstract Motion, a Motion to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in that respect has the strongest possible objection. The right hon. Gentleman does not pretend that the Government could carry this Session a Bill dealing with the question, but he asks that the Government should assent to the Motion of the right hon. Member for Halifax in order that he, may bring in a Bill. My right hon. Friend forgets that the Member for Halifax has already abandoned a Bill, because it was impossible to pass it 131 accepting this Motion instead of it; and therefore we have to look the fact in the face that this is an abstract Motion which under no circumstances could this Session lead to any practical conclusion. I am not at all satisfied with the condition of registration. I have always looked with the greatest aversion at the proceedings which take place in the Registration Courts. Those Courts are caricatures of our constitutional life, and I should like to see them altogether abolished, and the more sensible process which appears to prevail in Scotland introduced. I also think the term of residence necessary for qualification should be reduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) made out that the present difficulty connected with registration sometimes mounted up to three and a half years' deprivation of the vote. He reckoned the time from the moment of qualification to the moment the vote was exercised. If that system of reckoning is to be adopted the right hon. Gentleman has very much understated the case. Suppose a person got on the the register just before the last election, and lives in a constituency where there has been no by-election, he will not have exercised the franchise for a much longer period than three and a half years. I am quite content to have the term of residence reduced; indeed, judging by results, the School Board term of residence seems to be enough; and whilst we are about it we might adopt the School Board qualifications in other respects. Now, I believe the question of the abolition of the dual vote is a matter of comparatively small importance. The figures given by the President of the Local Government Board strongly support that contention. No doubt dual voting might have great effect upon by-elections. It was quite possible that the North Bucks election might have been turned by the introduction of out-voters; but this did not apparently happen, and even in the case of by-elections there are out-voters on each side. I am convinced that at a General Election the influence of the out-voter is very limited indeed. I doubt whether it is worth maintaining, seeing that it is violently opposed to the strongest political sentiment of the day, that of equality; at the same time I will 132 suggest to certain of my hon. Friends whose minds are occupied with the great questions of the hour, an illustration that perhaps will make them pause before they declare that under no circumstances will dual voting be allowed. I do not know whether hon. Members saw a pamphlet circulated quite recently giving an account of a conference between mine owners and the workers in mines on the question of the eight hours' movement. The conference was composed of about an equal number of persons on both sides. That was accepted as a fair basis. So, again, if the dispute had been referred to arbitration, there would have been one arbitrator on each side. Now, if questions of this kind are to be brought in the future, as seems likely, into this House as a great Court of Arbitration, are you going to say that the rule of arbitration, which you allow in private conferences and references, is to be put aside here and mere numbers prevail? Why am I going to vote against the Motion of my right hon. Friend? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) thinks the argument for the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for South Salford amounts to this: that if the dual vote is abolished, such a dislocation will be produced in our electoral system that it will be necessary to re-consider the question of the representation of Great Britain and Ireland. But I do not so understand the meaning of the Amendment. I do not think the Amendment involves that or amounts to that. What I understand the Amendment to mean is, "If we are going to take up the great question of reform let us deal with what is one of the most critical and important questions, namely, let us redress the balance of representation between the component parts of the Kingdom." That is the argument. Yet I cannot support the Amendment. I shall vote against the Motion, but I will not vote for the Amendment. The hon. Member who brought forward the Amendment said the great and pressing matter is to redress the balance between Great Britain and Ireland. No doubt that is a great thing, but it was not the greatest thing. There is a much greater and more pressing matter to be attended to if the problem of electoral reform is to 133 be taken up. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division said that in this great inquest of the nation every citizen votes by himself or by his proxy. But is that so? I should like to know where the 1,700 citizens who voted against me at the last election have got their voice? Go through the whole of the electorate of the United Kingdom, and you will find that of those who voted two-fifths are not represented at all in this House. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman is one of the idlest of dreams. The great evil of this House is that it does not represent the people of the country. [Opposition cheers.] Hon. Members may cheer that statement as they like, but with the reform which is advocated in the Motion, and which they are going to support, this House will still less represent the people of the country. Reference was recently made to Wales, and it was said that of the Welsh Members 25 were of one Party and 5 of the other, or I think it was intimated 27 and 3. I believe the right hon. Gentleman who made that statement really thought that the people of Wales on the issue then under consideration were divided in the ratio of 9 to 1. I am quite sure many persons think there is a similar division of opinion in Ireland. These are illustrations of the failure of our system to bring about a fair repreeentation of the people. In many constituencies nearly one-half of the electors are not represented at all, as the Member sitting in the House merely represents the majority, which is frequently only a bare majority. However soon after a General Election a decision may be arrived at in the House, it does not necessarily represent the decision of the country. Now, I should like to submit another reflection to hon. Members. The balance of votes in this House depends upon the balance in certain constituencies. Some constituencies always go Conservative and others Liberal, but there are many constituencies in which the strength of Parties is about equally divided, and it is upon the decisions in these constituencies that the character of this House depends. You have provided a system of election which brings home to every elector in such constituencies one question on the issue of which 134 at the moment the election depends. The present machinery makes the Constitution, as it were, top-heavy, and leads to those violent changes which so frequently occur. The result is that you do not get the stability, the fixed conviction, and the reality of judgment of a responsible people. You are in danger of making the decision of the question, which at the time of the election may be uppermost, determine the character of this House for four or five years. That is the gravest difficulty we have to deal with in the constitution of this House, and it is a subject to which you ought to address yourselves when considering the subject of reform. Consider what is the great question on which we are going to be engaged so much in the future. Consider the problems of labour, and consider what kind of judgment you will get from an electorate constituted as I have described when a popular labour cry is made the cry of an election. The hon. Member for Northumberland (Sir E. Grey), in his admirable speech, said most truly that, whatever the electorate, the conditions of leisure and means are such that you will always have men of wealth in this House, and that the sentiments of wealth will be uppermost in this House. They will; but they will be subject to electoral pledges, which will often be opposed to private opinions. It will be very difficult for candidates to keep their independence on such questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Morley) may, and I hope he will, maintain his independence and keep his seat; but it must be remembered that he is in already. It is one thing for a man who is in to be able to say unpopular things; it is a very different thing for a man to attempt to get in when he expresses unpopular opinions. I would just refer to a fact which is governing the character of this House at this moment. It is well known that the character of this House as a legislative and deliberative Assembly is in a very different condition from what it would have been but for some events which happened last December. Supposing a General Election had taken place the week after those events, there would have been shown a strong illustration of a particular passing emotion upon the electorate which would possibly have 135 stamped upon this House for four or five years a particular character in consequence of a hasty, though possibly a good, judgment concluded at that moment. Our kinsmen across the Atlantic are aware of the perils of such an electoral system, and the founders of the great American Republic, who did not tumble into the Constitution they created, guarded against it, as has been shown in connection with the recent great turnover there. I am going to vote against the Motion, because I am impatient of such peddling with a great question, and because it appears to me that my right hon. Friend has no conception of the perils and dangers which the House ought to consider. The proposals he makes are not only inadequate, but entirely misleading. I shall not vote if it comes to a Division for the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite, because I believe there are still greater things to be undertaken than that to which he calls the attention of the House. I hope, however, we shall have no vote on the Amendment. I shall try to prevent it by crying out "No;" and as it will be after 12 o'clock, it will be necessary to employ the closure to get a vote upon it. We shall have a similar state of things to that which we had the other night when the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) was attempted to be brought in as a substantive Motion. I hope that some of us will do our best, as was done on that occasion, to prevent any vote being taken on the substantive Motion.
§ (11.57.) The House divided:—Ayes 189; Noes 291.—(Div. List, No. 71.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ DR. TANNER
I rose to object, following on the lines laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, who said he objected to the Amendment——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Objection is not sufficient; but as the hon. Member is 136 continuing the Debate, it must stand adjourned.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Are not further proceedings governed by the 12 o'clock Rule against opposed business?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
An hon. Member rose to object, and I said that a mere objection was not sufficient. Nobody then rose to move the Closure, and the hon. Member for Cork continued his speech, and as there was no indication of a Motion for the Closure, I was obliged to adjourn the Debate. When the Mover of the Amendment moved that the Question be now put, I informed him that he was too late.
§ The Debate stood adjourned till tomorrow.