§ Mr. LABOUCHERE, Member for the Borough of Northampton, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the general inconvenience to the Country of the lengthened period likely to elapse before the Prorogation of Parliament"; and the pleasure of the House having been signified:—1473
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
My observations must be very brief, because I have already almost lost my voice owing to this Prorogation being put off. I do not think that the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury was very satisfactory to Members on either side of the House. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman admits that we have done our best to facilitate the conduct of business. We have done that, and we are told that, so far as this House is concerned, the Prorogation could take place next Wednesday or Thursday; but, owing to the action of the House of Lords, this turmoil and disquietude, which is incident to elections, is to be continued for a further week or two. I may also point out that our great object on this side of the House is to cheapen elections as much as possible, and that every day after a contest has commenced there is a certain cost to candidates. Therefore, candidates unite with electors in wishing that, as soon as practically it is announced that the Dissolution is to take place, the Dissolution should take place. Now, what are we told the Lords are going to do? The Lords are going, calmly and quietly, absolutely ignoring the feeling of this House and of the country, to treat their business as if time were no object. We are anxious to give the Lords an opportunity of looking into Bills. We sent up the Agricultural Holdings Bill after much discussion in Committee, in order to give the Lords an opportunity of discussing it. They did not do so. We met again on Thursday. The Lords did not meet on Thursday. They wanted to have a longer holiday. On Monday they carried the Second Reading of the Agricultural Holdings Bill. Naturally, we expected that they would have put the Bill down for Committee on Tuesday or on Wednesday. I do not say for a moment that it was due to Ascot races going on; but, as a matter of fact, a good many noble Lords did go to Ascot, and the Bill was put off until to-day. Therefore, we have a right to complain of the action of the House of Lords, and I move the Adjournment of the House, because I hope the right hon. Gentleman will use the great influence he has with the other House in order to induce them to facilitate business by sending down their Bills to enable us to pass them before 1474 the end of next week. And I move the Adjournment in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of making a further statement, and to give Gentlemen on this side of the House an opportunity of strengthening the arguments, or the suggestions, that I have used by many of the cogent reasons which, no doubt, will occur to them.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ (4.12.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
At last we have had avowed the plan which has obviously been under consideration for a longtime. We have been asked upon this sale of the House to facilitate the public business of the country and of the Government; we have agreed to and supported that request; we have carried out our part faithfully and well. But all the time the Government had in reserve, as an instrument of obstruction, the House of Lords; and while we were asked to pass Bills with very little discussion in this House, the Prorogation of Parliament is to be delayed by the action of the House of Lords at the instigation of the Government. And what is the object? The object is to prevent a large number of electors of this country recording their votes, especially the poorer members of the community. When the London Council elections took place a few months ago, in the Tory organs it was stated that the success of the Liberal Party had been due to the elections taking place on a Saturday. It was, therefore, determined that a day should be fixed for the Dissolution which should make it impossible that a poll should be taken in the boroughs of this country upon a Saturday; and the proof of it is that such a day has been selected. There are only two days that you can select which would make it impossible under any circumstances for a poll to be taken upon a Saturday, and these are the two days of the week named by the First Lord of the Treasury—namely, Wednesday and Thursday. If you took any other day the poll might take place upon a Saturday. These are the two days which make it impossible, and it is perfectly well known that preventing the poll on a Saturday is preventing many hundreds and thousands of men from 1475 recording their votes. I can speak of my own constituency. When I was there the other day I asked what is the day upon which the largest number of votes can be polled. There is a large number of working men in the railway works there, and a great many of these in the employment of the Midland Railway are absent during the whole week. They only return to their homes upon the Saturday, and they go away on the Monday morning. Hundreds of these men will be disfranchised by Her Majesty's Government using the House of Lords for the purpose of taking away the votes of the working men of this country. You think you will gain by this trickery. In my opinion, you will lose by it. The resentment and the indignation which will be raised by this contrivance throughout the country will, in my opinion, rally against you many thousand more votes than you will gain by this design. Now, if you had issued the Writs on Saturday next it would not have compelled the polling to have been taken upon a Saturday. Nobody has ever asked that; nobody has ever wished that. All that we ask is that there should be an opportunity given that, in the places where it is most convenient, in the places where it would admit of a larger number of men voting than would otherwise do so, the poll should be taken on a Saturday; and if you had issued the Writs next Saturday, as you could do, and as you know you could do, and as I will prove you could do, and, according to all former practices you would have done, what would have been the days? The earliest day would have been the Friday following. The Saturday would have been open, the Monday, and the Tuesday. These would have been the four days upon which the poll could be taken; yet you have selected the day which you knew must exclude Saturday. And upon what pretence? Let anybody who has any experience or knowledge of the conduct of public business ask whether, with the Bills sent up at the close of a Session, it has been the practice of the Lords in former days to demand a long time for their consideration. Why, we know how they have swallowed them whole rather than sit for half-an-hour. What has been the history of the past week? There has been a Bill which they consider, I suppose, of great cones- 1476 quence—the Small Agricultural Holdings Bill. That Bill was passed by the House of Commons before Whitsuntide. What has the House of Lords been doing since Whitsuntide—this Assembly, which requires so much time to consider all these measures carefully—what has it been doing since Whitsuntide with the Small Agricultural Holdings Bill? Their Lordships met together upon the Monday, and the Government announced that it intends to strike out of the Bill, I was going to say almost the only liberal provision, which they accepted under the pressure of both sides of this House. That is all they have been doing all this week. Why has the House of Lords not been sitting to consider Bills during the present week? Why, because they were meant to spend next week or the next ten days upon those measures which have been referred to them! Now, as to the Bills which we have sent up, I undertake to say that, according to the practice of Parliament in former days, the House of Lords would not have required a week or ten days to dispose of them. We all know perfectly well that they would have been disposed of in a couple of days, according to the practice of the House of Lords in former Parliaments. The Money Bills, of course, could be disposed of in one day, as they suspend the Standing Orders; and as to the rest of the Bills, which we have disposed of in two days, will anybody say that the House of Lords could not dispose of them in two days, if we could do so, after we have sent them up from this House? I think the nature of this delay, and the object of this delay, will become apparent. I cannot think that it has been a very prudent course on behalf of the Government to employ the House of Lords for such a purpose as this. I think it will be thoroughly understood throughout the country. (Cheers.) Yes; we will take care that it is thoroughly understood; we will make it understood to every one of those men whom you do not intend to poll on Saturday, and whom you will have deprived of the franchise, what is the object of this performance; and we will let them also understand that upon the great issue that is put before the country you have arranged your proceedings so that by the action of the House of Lords you may, as 1477 far as possible, disfranchise the working men in the constituencies.
§ (4.20.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The attack of the right hon. Gentleman, both upon the House of Lords and upon the Government, appears to me to be one of the most extraordinary and one of the most unfounded that even it has been given to him, in his considerable Parliamentary experience of such attacks, to make in this House. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think, when I stated that that House would probably require next week to consider the measures that we have sent up to them, that I was indicating that the House of Lords were asking the greatest possible amount of time they could to consider the legislation which they are expected to pass. Has the right hon. Gentleman thought what that legislation is—of its amount, or of its quality? He talks as though it was the practice of the House of Lords at the end of the Session to deal with Bills of the kind they will have to deal with next week in a day, or two days. He expects, because the right hon. Gentleman happens, in the borough of Derby, to wish an election on the Saturday, that therefore the House of Lords are to suspend all their Standing Orders. I deny that it is the practice of the House of Lords, or that they can be reasonably expected, to suspend their Standing Orders on such Bills, and I deny that they can reasonably be asked to do so.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I did not say that they should suspend their Standing Orders. My statement was that the Bills which have been sent up to the Lords in the last two days could be dealt with by the House of Lords between Monday and Thursday next, and that, without suspending the Standing Orders at all. There is not the least necessity for suspending the Standing Orders.
§ MR. BALFOUR
If the House of Lords were to follow their ordinary procedure—and I cannot see why they are not to follow their ordinary procedure —in dealing with Bills, for example, so important and so complicated as that of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Jackson) in connection with Irish Education—it is absurd to expect the House of Lords to 1478 deal with that Bill before Thursday next. The right hon. Gentleman belongs to that class of politicians which desires to abolish the House of Lords. By all means abolish the House of Lords, if you can. That may be a perfectly legitimate object of public policy; but so long as the House of Lords is an integral portion of our Constitution, in Heaven's name, at all events, allow the House of Lords to fulfil the duties which are entrusted to them by the Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman made no allusion to a matter which I suppose affects him very little—namely, the extreme desirability, if possible, of getting various Provisional Orders through the House of Lords, to which I adverted in the brief statement I made just now. These Provisional Orders cannot by any possibility be hurried. The very briefest time allowed will carry them over next week, and I utterly fail to see why we are to sacrifice, not the House of Lords, or their discussions, but the interest of all the communities in whose behalf, and for whose sake, these Provisional Orders are to be passed, merely in order that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby may have an election in Derby on a Saturday. There is one other point which has to be borne in mind. I think it is of importance, though not of quite such importance as those to which I have already adverted. There are at this moment before the House of Lords one or two Private Bills in the very first rank of importance. It is possible for us—and, of course, we shall do it—to pass a Resolution by which, even if those Bills are not passed, the money spent in promoting them shall not be wholly wasted. It is not absolutely necessary that the Bills should pass in the course of the present Session; but what is most expedient and most desirable is that the Committee stage of such a Bill as the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway should be got through, and even if the Bill cannot pass into law this Session—which I am afraid is very unlikely—that enormous investigation should not be cut in half before the Committee which is now carrying it on. Now, I do not put that in the first rank of importance; I do not say that the whole business of the country should be made to stand still on account of a Private Bill, however large; but I say 1479 that when we are considering what course the House of Lords should pursue in this matter we must not, and cannot, leave out of sight the immense private interests involved in such legislation as that to which I have ventured to advert. If it be admitted—as I think it must be admitted—that the House of Lords are only asking what is reasonable when they demand a week to discuss, I do not know how many, but twenty, thirty, or forty Bills which we have sent up, among which is included a Bill of such immense importance and of so controversial a character as that which has lately been in charge in this House of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, I think I have done enough to show the House and the country that we are not asking anything unreasonable for the House of Lords in giving them that length of time to discuss their business. What is the objection to the House of Lords having this very moderate period for debating these Bills? The objection is that if the Dissolution takes places on one of two days next week it will be found difficult, and perhaps impossible, to have the election on a Saturday, and the right hon. Gentleman works himself up into a storm of virtuous indignation over the iniquities of a Government which should so arrange matters that the elections should not be on a Saturday. The first observation I have to make upon that is that the Statutes by which the times of elections are fixed have often been under consideration in this House, and never was it professed that the Dissolution should not take place on certain days because of its operation in connection with a Saturday election. Possibly the point never occurred to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) at that time. I do not dwell upon that; but I point to the experience we have actually had in this matter. I am given to understand that in 1885 only two London boroughs polled on Saturday and eight county boroughs; and in 1886 only two London boroughs and thirty-one county elections polled on Saturday. I conclude from that that it is not the view of those in the country who are responsible for these things that Saturday is the best day; and I am bound to say—although I do not profess to have the electioneering experience of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1480 Derby — that such considerations as have been brought before me in this particular would certainly not induce me, if I were a returning officer, to fix an election on Saturday. I must point out certain very large errors of fact in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He asserted that the London County Council elections took place on a Saturday, and that certain Conservative newspapers stated that the success of the Progressive Party was due to the fact that the elections were on a Saturday, and he concludes from that that Saturday is the proper day on which to hold an election. But we must examine the facts more closely before we arrive at such a conclusion. What are the true principles which should determine this House when it deals with matters of this kind? What we desire, and what, I suppose from his speech, the right hon. Gentleman desires, is that the very largest number of people possible should be allowed to go to the poll, without inflicting upon them a pecuniary fine. As far as my observation goes, Saturday is the most disfranchising of all days. Before the extension of the hours of polling to eight o'clock, no doubt it was perfectly true that to have an election on any other day than Saturday disfranchised large and important masses of the working classes. Now that the hours of polling have been extended to eight o'clock, I cannot believe that any disfranchisement of a large kind can operate with regard to the working classes; but if you choose to have your elections on Saturday, you must disfranchise an enormous multitude of smaller tradesmen in the large towns, who are obliged to keep their shops open till late on Saturday night, and who cannot go to the poll without making a distinct, and for them important, pecuniary sacrifice. Therefore, if the returning officers insisted in any case on having the poll on Saturday—though no doubt they would be acting within their right, and I should never criticise their action—still it appears to me that the result of their action would be, not to enfranchise, but to disfranchise, those on whom Parliament has bestowed the privilege of returning Members of Parliament. There is another class, not indeed absolutely disfranchised, but something very like it, by an election on Saturday. The 1481 Jews are not a very large section of the population, except in certain constituencies; but in some cases, both in London and the country, they are a very large and very important element in the constituencies, and they are practically disfranchised by any returning officer who insists on having the election on a Saturday. There are other and subsidiary objections on which I do not care to dwell, but I think that many persons must be painfully aware of the fact that an election on a Saturday may often, has often, and may again, produce scenes of drunkenness and disorder. Hon. Gentlemen opposite belong to the teetotal party, but I suppose they will admit that an election is frequently accompanied by scenes of drunkenness and disorder. Another result of having the election on a Saturday is that a vast amount of Sunday labour is thrown on the various classes of the community connected with the working of an election. I do not propose to go into these points, as being comparable in importance with the disfranchising effect of a Saturday election. I only quote them as circumstances which should not be left out of account. I should not have gone into this question of the day of the week on which an election should or should not be held if the right hon. Gentleman had not dragged me into it. I have no objection to the controversy, and I am not afraid of it; but the fact that we cannot finish our business this week has nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with an election on a Saturday. It has to do with the possibility of getting through public business; and I say distinctly—having made the best endeavour I can to discover what the views are of those who are better acquainted than I can be with the business of the House of Lords that it is impossible for that Assembly to deal with the enormous mass of business we have sent up to them before the day I have mentioned. I hope the House will feel that, at all events, the way of hastening the election is not to move the Adjournment of the House, and that, therefore, it will not support the Motion.
§ (4.35.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I should wish, Sir, to endeavour to brush one or two cobwebs out of the way, as a preliminary operation. Referring to what was stated 1482 by my right hon. Friend, and what I believe is an indisputable fact, as to the great reason alleged by the Conservative newspapers of London for the success of the Progressive Party on a recent occasion—namely, that it was because the election was held on a Saturday—we now see how much weight Her Majesty's Government assign to reasons alleged in Conservative newspapers. It could have had nothing whatever to do with the success of the Progressive Party.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
So that the success of the Progressive Party tended rather to disfranchisement in the view of the right hon. Gentleman. Then, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman said—it was a piece of Parliamentary fencing—that the question we were discussing was whether the election of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) should or should not be held on a Saturday, that it was convenient to my right hon. Friend that that day should be chosen, and consequently he had made this extraordinary attack on the Government. Now, Sir, my opinion of my right hon. Friend's position at Derby is this—that it does not signify one pin to him on what day of the week the election may take place; that Her Majesty's Government may fix it, if they please, on such day as they shall select, and at such hour of the day as they shall select, and my right hon. Friend would be entirely unapproachable by any one of them, or by the whole of them, in the confidence of the constituency of Derby. Then there are two subjects in the main which have been raised before us, and the first is as to the House of Lords. It appears—to my observation and memory for the first time—that the House of Lords is in the habit of giving such cheerful and careful attention to the Bills that go to the House of Lords from this House, that it is quite impossible for them to get through the business in less than the whole of next week—closing, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly, with the Monday of the next week. It is quite impossible for them to do the business in less than that time. Now, what we have been accustomed to see is this—that the Bills that have occupied this House for months are 1483 disposed of in the House of Lords in days. The House of Lords has not been exhausted by its recent labours. The work of the House of Lords during the present week has not been of an overpowering character. My right hon. Friend has pointed out—and I entirely support what he says—that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week are available, compatibly with a Dissolution next week, for the despatch of its business. It will be curious to watch the hours on those days of next week during which the House of Lords—in that self-sacrificing way which always distinguishes it—shall devote itself to the consideration of these measures. Of course, I take it for granted, from what the right hon. Gentleman says, that it is the intention of the House of Lords on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, to meet at three or four o'clock, or whatever the time may be, and to sit steadily until twelve o'clock for the consideration of these Bills. Manifestly this is the first demand we are entitled to make upon them. Will they do it? No, Sir, nothing of the sort; it cannot be done. They may request a few Peers to speak; they may put the Whips in motion for the purpose of getting up what may be called bogus Debates; but I defy them, with all their efforts, to make a show of business which shall occupy them even the time my right hon. Friend has pointed out as amply sufficient for the discharge of this business. No, Sir; my recollection of the House of Lords is this: that during all the years of my Parliamentary remembrance—and Heaven knows there are quite enough of them—there has not been a single occasion on which the House of Lords has been set up to create a difficulty until the occasion has now arisen. The House of Lords is the most accommodating, is the most elastic, and is the most squeezable body, so far as procedure is concerned, that has ever discharged legislative functions. I will not say that I denounce, but I must protest against the whole attempt of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to set up these necessities of the House of Lords to have prolonged and repeated Sittings for the purpose of discharging business which we know to be perfectly capable of being gone 1484 through during the time pointed out. It is one of the idlest and thinnest fictions that has ever been set up for the purpose of entrapping an unwary Parliament and an unwary public—if such a public there were in this country, and I suspect there is not. We know very well that when we are talking of the House of Lords we are talking of the Government. ("No, no!") That is our humble and respectful opinion. Oh, I know there are certain points on which the House of Lords will rebel on certain occasions; but those are isolated cases—when the House of Lords is touched in a tender place—when unquestionably it will, if galled, wince and make even the Government, with whom they fully agree, feel the effect of their wincing; but for all ordinary purposes, for the discharge of business, the House of Lords, if not under the control of the Government, gives a willing, a ready, a loyal, and universal assent to the proposals of the Government. Consequently, we perfectly understand that it is the right hon. Gentleman who, with a certain limited amount of aid from the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Bill, has set up this remarkable defence for the postponement of the Dissolution. Then we come to the question of the effect of disfranchisement produced by the choice of one day or the other; and here the right hon. Gentleman set up the case that Saturday was a disfranchising day. Why is it a disfranchising day? It is a disfranchising day for two reasons. The Jews—that most worthy and excellent body of men—have been paraded before us as a reason why there should be no election on a Saturday, the fact being that in forty-nine out of fifty constituencies in the country there is not a single Jew in the constituency. But the right hon. Gentleman says there are constituencies where there are large fractions of Jews. Very well, Sir, and if there are such constituencies, let the returning officers take that into consideration. We do not ask to have the elections fixed on a Saturday, but we ask that it should be left open to the returning officer to fix the election for a Saturday. So I think I have disposed of the Jews. Then there is the case of the small tradesmen. What is to become of them? If you have an election on a 1485 Saturday no small tradesman can vote without inflicting on his business a fearful loss, and putting him, perhaps, in danger of the Gazette. Why cannot a small tradesman vote, as I believe he always does, in the daytime? He is not dependent on the extension of the poll to eight o'clock, as the workman is. The small tradesman's pressure of business does not commence at those hours when the poll commences. Therefore the answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that there will not be a single small tradesman or a single big tradesman throughout the country disfranchised. But the right hon. Gentleman has formed the opinion that Saturday is an inconvenient day altogether; and I must say that we are so far indebted to the right hon. Gentleman that he laid down a sound principle, and said we ought to have the day which is the least disfranchising. The answer is that it ought to be, at the very least, left open to the returning officer; we ought not to preclude him from the exercise of his discretion, and have the election on Saturday if he so thinks fit. Who are the persons mainly interested? I think I have given him a fair answer for the Jews—let them be considered by the returning officer. I think, too, I have given him a fair answer for the small tradesmen—they have the whole forenoon and afternoon at their disposal. But what are we to say for the working men of this country? The right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, will be inclined to admit that the working men of this country are at all events entitled to have an opinion, and that they might entertain an opinion entitled to much attention on the question of which is the best day for the election. The working men of this country form the large majority of the constituents. Our contention is that in the boroughs the Saturday is by far the best day, the day of least disfranchisement—the only day for perfectly free voting; and consequently, the working men being the most numerous class in this country, the day on which the nation can most freely and adequately exercise the suffrage. The right hon. Gentleman has had some evidence put before him on this subject. I had an opportunity yesterday of receiving a deputation of working men, who, undoubtedly, whether they represented the whole working class of the 1486 country or not, are representative to a very large extent—unquestionably representative—of the Metropolis; and undoubtedly this question is more important in the Metropolis than anywhere else. What, Sir, is their view? They informed me that they had presented to the right hon. Gentleman spontaneously—not any influence from above, and not as the result of any political machinations, but spontaneously—a. Memorial setting forth on their behalf that Saturday is the lay on which they can most easily and freely vote; that if Saturday be not appointed in many cases a considerable disfranchisement of their class will take place, and that consequently there ought to be a free discretion to fix the election on Saturday. I think that is a moderate contention, and I cannot help stating that, in my opinion, Her Majesty's Government have been very ill-advised in taking a course—a course which they might have avoided—which will prevent what the working classes themselves believe to be the best means of allowing them fully and adequately to exercise the suffrage. The construction placed upon the matter would undoubtedly be that whatever the profession of the right hon. Gentleman may be as to the propriety of appointing the day of least disfranchisement, his action is not in conformity with that profession, and that he and the Government to which he belongs have deliberately and advisedly adopted an arrangement for the Dissolution of Parliament which, in the opinion of the working men themselves, will make it impossible for them to exercise the franchise in that large and unrestricted manner in which it was the desire of Parliament, and in which it is for the benefit of the country, that it should be exercised.
§ (4.49.) MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is about to take a step which will have the effect of disfranchising the working men of London. There can be no doubt about it. His argument about the small shopkeepers is worth nothing at all. The working men believe that they can vote in larger numbers on Saturday than on any other day. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted the experience in past elections. There are very few constituencies in London in which 1487 the returning officers are not in the power of the Party opposite, and these returning officers must have been convinced by the experience of the 5th March last that the day on which London could really poll is on a Saturday, and on that day alone. The right hon. Gentleman has got up a case about the House of Lords. He says that there will be delay because the House of Lords cannot dispose of their business in the time. If that is so, the House of Lords is to blame.
§ MR. BALFOUR
How can that be, when only to-day this House sent up to the House of Lords a most important Bill?
§ MR. STUART
They have a week in which to get through the business. The right hon. Gentleman has shown his whole hand, for his speech was dead against a Saturday being chosen for the election. When answering the question I put to him, he chose to regard it as one asking the Government to declare in favour of a Saturday. We only want to be free to have a Saturday, and that is a very moderate request indeed. The public will be able to judge with regard to it for themselves. There is a marked difference between Saturday and any other day, and we say that the election ought to take place on the day which we are convinced is the most convenient for the masses of the people. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is in favour of better registration laws, but he and his Party have sneered at us for improving registration—they say we are always tinkering with the Constitution. The people of London will now see what tinkering with the Constitution means. Disfranchised as the working men are through the state of the registration laws, the right hon. Gentleman is going to disfranchise them still more by keeping from them any opportunity of voting on a Saturday. There is no obligation on the returning officer to have the election on Saturday in constituencies in which there are great numbers of Jews. I appeal, therefore, from the right hon. Gentleman to the people of London, who will see well enough who it is that is preventing them from exercising their privileges.
§ *(4.52.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down appears to think that enfranchisement simply means the power of voting on the part of those who agree with him in politics. ("No, no!") He pointed to the 5th March as a proof that Saturday was the best day that could possibly be fixed for the election, but what was the result? That scarcely more than one-half of the whole of the constituencies in London were able to vote.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
That day happens to show that there was a very small poll indeed, and the greater portion of that poll was on the side of the hon. Gentleman. A subsequent bye-election showed that the friends of the hon. Member had voted in their full strength on the Saturday. If there was disfranchisement then, where was it? It was of the small shopkeepers, who were not able to vote on a Saturday, but who voted on the other day. No proof has been offered whatever except the Memorial referred to that Saturday is so inconvenient to the working classes as has been suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is no proof whatever, except the desire which they have expressed and the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), that the railway employees in Derby would not be able to vote except on Saturday. But the curious thing is that in Manchester it is stated that hundreds of voters among the working classes in the employ of the railway would not be able to vote if the elections took place on a Saturday. This matter has been considered by the Manchester Trades Council, and by an overwhelming majority they approved the previous question against using any influence with regard to this matter. And what did they state? One delegate stated that Saturday would not suit thousands of shopkeepers. But hon. Gentlemen opposite do not care apparently to have the small shopkeepers' vote. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said that we wished to disfranchise the working classes.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
What I have done is this: I have only insisted on polling on Saturday where it is convenient. What we say is—poll on Saturday where it is convenient, and where it is inconvenient poll on some other day. What you are doing, however, is to make Saturday polling impossible.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
It is not we ourselves who choose that day; but we say that Saturday is not more an enfranchising day than any other day, and that, on the contrary, it disfranchises a large number in the constituencies. In proof of that, we cite the County Council elections in London. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to give the impression that we want to disfranchise the working classes. While we deny the allegation, we are entitled to say that the hon. Gentlemen opposite are anxious to avail themselves of a day when they cannot have recorded against them the votes which we believe will, if recorded, defeat them. The hon. Member opposite has said that my right hon. Friend's speech was a speech dead against Saturday polling; but my right hon. Friend was only replying to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, who dragged that particular day into the discussion. It is therefore he who is responsible for raising the question, which is not a question for the House, but for the returning officers, who in many parts of the country consider that Saturday is not a good but a bad day for the election.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
There are four days in the week any one of which the returning officer may choose for the holding of the polls; and in making that choice they will consult the interests of the locality and the general local feeling. But what the Government are doing is to make it impossible for Saturday to be one of those four days, and that is the gist of the controversy between us. The right hon. Gentleman says that in some districts Saturday is not a convenient day. I quite agree with him that there are some districts in which Monday is a much more convenient day; but when he says that there is no proof that Saturday is a convenient day, I can assure him that he is entirely in error. A large number of industries would prefer 1490 Saturday to any other day; but that not the question for the House to argue now. What we want to argue is that no Government have the right to make any such arrangements as render it impossible for, at all events, a considerable number of localities to hold the poll on the day they prefer, and which, if not selected, would involve their disfranchisement. The whole case is perfectly plain and transparent. The First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. A. J. Balfour) argued against Saturday altogether, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) has also argued against Saturday altogether.
§ MR. BALFOUR
I do not desire to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but what I argued was that it is quite impossible to finish the Business of the Government before the end of next week; and I pointed out the result might be that the election could not take place on Saturday; and I answered certain arguments against that course.
§ MR. FOWLER
But that was not the point which was so rapturously cheered by those behind the right hon. Gentleman. What his Party so rapturously cheered, and especially the London Conservative Members, whom I should like to hear express their views openly and audibly in this House, was the argument against Saturday elections. I think it is desirable that the London Conservative Members should, in the interests of their constituents, present their views on this subject.
§ MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
I have stood up in my place three times, and it is not my fault that I have not been called on.
§ MR. FOWLER
We shall be glad to hear the hon. Member when the time arrives. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury says that the Public Business cannot be disposed of. I wish he would take the volumes of Hansard for the last three years and read what has been the record of the House of Lords in the last two days of each of the last three Sessions. And I wish he would note the speed with which they can despatch Public Business when the 12th August is looming. Last year on the last day but one of the Session the House of Lords immediately suspended all the Standing Orders relating to every Bill, and they passed them as I may say by shovelsful, and they adjourned at six 1491 o'clock, after passing all the Bills the House of Commons had sent them with the greatest rapidity in the last week of the Session. When the last Dissolution took place in 1886, the whole of the House of Lords' Business was completed in two or three days, and always has been at the end of the Session. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the Irish Educational Bill is to occupy a considerable time in the House of Lords. But what the right hon. Gentleman dwelt upon was Private Business and the great injustice that would be inflicted on persons promoting Private Bills. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the Motion which the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Courtney) is going to move on Monday. He is going to make a Motion on Monday relative to the standing Orders, which will simply suspend all these Provisional Orders and all these Private Bills, so that nobody would be put to any loss. The extreme amount of delay which will take place will be the thirty-five or forty days between the dissolution of this Parliament and the meeting of the new Parliament. I am sure the country will believe that there is no necessity for the delay on account of business; but the Government are, of course, the musters of the situation, and they can dissolve Parliament on any day they think proper. Let us, however, distinctly mark that there are two days in the week which if taken for the Dissolution will render a Saturday election impossible, and that the Government have deliberately announced that they intend to select one of the two.
§ MR. WEBSTER
So far as I am concerned as a London Conservative Member, all I wish is that at the next General Election we may have a large poll and not a County Council poll, which in my constituency was not much over twenty-five per cent. A large number of shopkeepers were to my knowledge disfranchised. I was personally in St. Pancras on that day, and I asked a large number of the shopkeepers to vote for my friends, but they told me that they were unable to leave their business. It is not right or fair that either shopkeepers or any other class of the community should be disfranchised. It appears to me that the working class can vote equally well on any day of the week; but Saturday to the tradesmen in London is practically 1492 market day, and they are therefore obliged to be in the shop from two o'clock to eight in the evening. Thus to have the poll on Saturday would virtually disfranchise the tradesman. Look at the last election. The poll was not thirty or forty per cent as in the case of the County Council election, but eighty or eighty-five per cent.; and I find that in Blackburn, where there was the largest poll of all the constituencies—ninety-five per cent. of the voters on the register—the poll was not taken on a Saturday, but was either Tuesday or Wednesday. Therefore it appears to me that the working classes in the towns can, as I have said, vote equally well on any day in the week; while, by having the poll on Saturday, you would virtually disfranchise a large number of the shopkeepers of London.
§ MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I have had some experience of elections in London, and I deny that the working classes can go to the poll between the hours of 8 and 8, and I am prepared to prove that a large proportion of electors are disfranchised by the closing of the poll at 8 o'clock. We are told that we are not to have elections on Saturday because of the percentage of voting that took place on 5th March; but are we to be responsible because our friends on the other side could not get their friends to vote for their programme? They brought the Duke of Westminster into London and also the Duke of Norfolk, and then they could not get their people to the poll. That, however, was not our fault. We offered an attractive programme; we won the election, and that programme is the whole secret of our County Council victory. Let me point out that with regard to this polling on 5th March there has been left out of the calculations this fact—that we were able to vote on the system of one man one vote for London. That was one reason why the poll appeared less than it really was. What has been the sort of argument offered? The argument used by the Leader of this House is an insult to the working class of London, and I throw it back to him as contumely upon that class. He said that if we were to have a Saturday election we should have a vast amount of drunkenness. Was there drunkenness on the 5th March? I went through several of the constituencies, and I saw none of that 1493 debauchery the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make appear; and I believe this absence is characteristic of the whole of the working class constituencies throughout London. If that drunkenness exists, it must exist among the friends of the right hon. Gentleman, and not among the Radical electors of London. Never, I believe, was a greater insult offered to the working class than is contained in that statement. The class that, unfortunately, gets drunk on Saturday is the class which does not take interest in public affairs. We have been told that the whole question remains with the returning officer, but we know that it does not. Anyone acquainted with the Act knows well that it is distinctly laid down that after the receipt of the Writ certain stages up to the date of the Election are all settled for the returning officer, and must take place within a period of given days. If you have the Dissolution on a day which does not allow Saturday to come within those dates, it will be impossible for the returning officer to choose Saturday. I have reason to believe that a very large number of returning officers in London would, from their past experience, fix Saturday as the day of polling; and when we are told that this might suit the working class, but would not suit another class, does the Chancellor of the Exchequer seek to admit that his Party does not expect to have the working class vote at this Election—that they have lost it? As to the small shopkeepers, I find that they choose the quiet period of the morning between 9 and 11 o'clock for recording their votes. Our wish is not to disfranchise the small shopkeepers. I think this Debate has been of a very interesting character to the working classes, because it has been clearly demonstrated, whatever may be the theory laid down, that the First Lord will not afford the facilities which will allow the vast mass of the working class to go to the poll. Take the question of Saturday from another point. Will any hon. Member say that the day upon which the working classes have most leisure is not the best occasion they could have for voting? Many of them work a long way out, and are prevented by distance from getting back to their homes in time for a poll that closes at 8 o'clock. Especially does that apply where the working men have to take a railway 1494 journey. Go to Liverpool Street and see the working men's trains going back at 8 o'clock on an ordinary day. On Saturdays these return about 2, 3, and 4 o'clock, and the passengers are not, as the First Lord said, in a state of drunkenness.
§ MR. BALFOUR
What I said was that there was more drunkenness on Saturday than on other days. Is that denied by the hon. Gentleman?
§ MR. ROWLANDS
I do not deny that there is more drunkenness on Saturday afternoon; but I say that those who take an interest in public matters do not get drunk on Saturday afternoon in consequence of going to the poll, and thus there is no argument in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I think my object has been fulfille[...] Under ordinary circumstances, I should be desirous of dividing the House; but it appears to me that if we were to carry the adjournment, which is very possible, we should furnish the Government with an additioral excuse for the extraordinary course they are pursuing on this occasion. I beg, therefore, to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
One reason, apparently, why a longer time is required by the other House for the discharge of Public Business is that the Peers are at present so busily engaged in electioneering. So many of them are taking part in the elections that I do not wonder they cannot attend to their duties. Only the other day I had a message from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), who at present is in his constituency, stating that there are two noble Lords going about with the Conservative candidate and taking the chair at that candidate's meetings. Therefore, I do not think we need be much moved by the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that all next week would be required for the discharge of Business.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
There is one matter of Public Business I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement about. Late last night the question of Private Bills was raised, and I hope it may be fully understood now that the right hon. Gentleman will at the conclusion of Public Business move the Adjournment of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I understand that a Motion for the Adjournment of this House will be moved by the First Lord of the Treasury. That will be the proper opportunity for the discussion of this question.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. BALFOUR
I think the question which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) asks will be answered by the Motion that I now make: "That, at the conclusion of Government Business this day, this House do adjourn till Monday next."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, at the conclusion of Government Business this day, this House do adjourn till Monday next."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Can it be understood by those who desire to leave London that it should be the rule hereafter, as long as the House sits, that the Motion for Adjournment shall be made at midnight when Government Business is concluded?
§ MR. PICTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the whole of the Government Orders must be carried? Does he include the Archdeaconry of Cornwall Bill?
§ Motion agreed to.