HC Deb 25 May 1892 vol 4 cc1789-855

Order for Second Reading read.

*(12.27.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I desire to set out by expressing the opinion that during the Debate no hon. Member will question the accuracy of my statement that our system of registration is in need—I may say in urgent need—of amendment, simplification, and reform. The defects of the present system are generally acknowledged, though I do not know that they are distinctly or in detail understood. It is a complex system, a system which is costly in point of money and time, and in putting the voter on the register it is uncertain and dilatory, and far too dependent, so far as the right to vote is concerned, on paid and party organisations. Its unfitness has increased, or we have become more conscious of its defects since the introduction of household suffrage, for the difficulty is the greater with the great masses of the people to whom the franchise has been entrusted, as they have neither the information nor can they afford to lose time from earning their living for the purpose of making their claim to be put upon the register, or to defend that claim when party objections are raised against it. The demand for reform has largely increased of recent years, and the demand comes from either side of the House. With tolerable accuracy I think I have ascertained the defects of the present system, and I trust I shall convince the House that by the Bill I have provided a remedy for these defects, or for largely reducing them, after having given very careful study to the subject. The difficulties of the system of registration arose, in the first place, from the fact that it was framed when the franchise was far more restricted than, in these days of household suffrage, it is. Not unnaturally the main object in the minds of the framers of the system which has now become out of date was to put to the test of judicial investigation the claim to be on the register. Claimants are put to trouble and risk in getting their names on the register, and objections are almost encouraged. It is almost like going back to the time when I knew a little of law; when parties were supposed to fight out their pleadings and reduce them to an issue before appearing in a Court of Law. That old method of pleading was extremely troublesome and expensive, and the same remark applies to the case of registration. The man who makes his claim has the whole expense put upon him; he has to prove his claim and fight for his vote, and this he cannot do without having recourse to party organisation; and, as it used to be said, the battle of parties is fought in the Registration Courts. This should not be the system. The battle of Parties should not be fought over registration; the work of putting men on the register should be done by officers appointed to see that it is done. Our main object in improving the system of registration ought not to be so much the accurate testing of disputable claims as of placing on the register the name of every man who is entitled to the exercise of a vote. Such, broadly speaking, is the object of this Bill. I make the admission that I do not think it is possible to propose an efficient amendment of the registration system without to some extent dealing with the franchise itself. I did not address myself to the question with any preconceived intention of dealing at all with the franchise itself, and I have only dealt with it, so far as I have thought it necessary to do so, to procure the simplification of the system of registration. There are other Bills before the House. I do not know that they have been withdrawn—but other Bills have been introduced of a far more radical nature, reducing all the various franchises to the simple qualification of residence. Some of these measures propose a continuous registration—that is to say, that in every area there shall be a competent and reliable official appointed to keep and correct the register, putting on it the names of persons as they become qualified by length of occupation, and thus abolishing the Courts of Revising Barristers. I do not deny the merit of simplicity to these measures; and for myself I do not object to simplification, but we cannot afford to wait, and ought not to wait, for the amendment of our system of registration until we can introduce a considerable franchise reconstruction scheme. The leading feature of the present Bill, before all others, is the reduction of the period of qualification. At present the freeholder must be in possession for six months before 15th July to complete his qualification, and in all cases of occupation a tenancy of twelve months before 15th July is required. One day less possession or occupation involves the loss of a year before the claim can be made good, and as the register does not come into force until 1st January, a man who happens to commence occupation on 16th July may find himself delayed practically for two and a-half years before he can exercise the vote for which occupation qualifies him. No one can defend this monstrous state of the law, which especially affects our working class populations in large towns since the introduction of household suffrage. The fourth clause of the Bill meets this serious objection. The qualifying period is reduced to three months, and ends with 24th June. The change in date has been adopted for two reasons—in the first place, it becomes possible to complete the Parliamentary register by 1st November instead of 1st January— a gain of two months; and, in the second place, the qualifying period will begin with Lady Day, the day when the new overseers come into office. The first duty of the overseer is to construct a new rate book, and so he becomes conscious of the facts recorded in the rate book of occupations commencing, and it is easy for him to construct the overseers' list of voters as time goes on. 24th June is a better day than 15th July also, because it is one of the ordinary quarter days when tenancies commence and close, and obviously this is a convenient time to conclude the qualification period. There are other conditions of the franchise dealt with in Clause 3 by which the present requirement for the payment of certain rates and taxes is repealed. Anyone who has practical acquaintance with the working of our registration law will admit the great simplification of the register this clause would bring about. It would improve the register and remove the cause of many merely technical objections. Inasmuch as it touches the franchise, and I have said that I do not touch the franchise, except so far as it is necessary for the purposes of this Registration Bill, the change requires some justification. Under the present law the rates must be paid which are due to the 5th of the preceding January, but this date is under the Bill no longer within the period of qualification. It may be that the occupier occupied other premises before Lady Day, but it is not in respect to those premises that the claim is made. There is then no reason for retaining the date of 5th January There is another reason in support of the clause. Take the case of a compound householder or a service franchise voter. It is in the power of the landlord or employer to disfranchise such voters by neglecting to pay the rates unless a tenant takes the trouble to ascertain if his rates have been paid, and if not to make the payment himself. In the case of the service franchise I do not know that it is possible for the voter to guard himself in that way, for I do not think it is possible for him to separate the particular portion of the rates due in respect to his cottage from the rates paid by the landlord on the estate. It is evident these are conditions under the present state of things which are a fruitful source of objection and disfranchisement. I may mention that lodgers who pay no rates are exempt from these difficulties, and why should the £10 occupier be subjected to them more than the lodger? My clause proposes the repeal of this qualification as well as the payment of assessed taxes on houses of £20 value, and I do not think the House will consider it is worth while to retain these difficulties in the way of a simplification of the register. Really it is a revival. It found a place in Lord John Russell's Bill of, I think, 1854. I go on now to the other proposals, one of which is aimed at the fact that successive occupation does not give a man a vote as freely as, in my opinion, it ought to do. A person removing from qualifying premises of one description to qualifying premises of another in the same area, as, for instance, from lodgings to a house or from a house to lodgings, loses the vote. If he moves from one place to another, from one set of premises which he has occupied, without hiatus, to another, each of them qualifying places, the two together do not qualify because of the time limit. That, to my mind, approaches as near as possible to legislative nonsense as anything I have read for a long time. Not only that, but when you come to successive occupation it very often happens that a man who is properly qualified loses his vote because of a slight and formal inaccuracy in his description of his successive occupations. Under the present law a revising barrister has no power whatever to remedy this. He cannot correct an inaccuracy even if it is clear that the man is entitled to his vote. One of the proposals of the present Bill is that the revising barrister shall be able, and it shall be his duty, to correct any entry of the kind, provided he is satisfied of the right of the man to be on the register. The eighth clause localises all cases of successive occupation of qualifying premises in the same electoral area, and the ninth clause does the same thing in different electoral areas, giving a man a vote in respect of his occupation; and it is in relation to this clause that Clause 21 gives the power of which I have spoken to the revising barrister. Then there is a point with regard to lodgers. At present a lodger has always to claim. The facts of ownership and lodgership, if I may coin a word for this occasion to express my meaning, are not known to the overseer; and the lodger, as I have said, always has to claim. It has always seemed to me and those with whom I am accustomed to consult that the overseers might, when making their inquiries on the subject of occupation, ascertain whether the lodgers on the register still possess the same qualification; and if they do, the overseers should put them on the list without the necessity of a second claim. I think this is a practical improvement to which there can be no possible objection, and it would not add considerably to the work of the persons who are now responsible for the lists. I say that the true groundwork in the matter of improvement of the registration is to secure that the lists should not be inaccurate, as they are now, and we should not leave people who are qualified to have votes to fight out the inaccuracies in the list at their own risk and their own expense before the Judicial Court of the Revising Barrister. What we need is provisions which will insure greater accuracy in the original lists than we have now; and on this subject I may say—and I know the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir E. Clarke) is well acquainted with the fact—that in Scotland they have an infinitely superior system of making up these lists than we have in this country. I hear no complaint of the system of the preparation of the Valuation Lists in Scotland. They are accurately made, and objections and claims are very rare, because of the accuracy of the original lists. In consequence of the consciousness we have of the superiority of the Scotch system, it has been proposed that the overseers should be disestablished, and that in every electoral area there should be a competent and reliable officer who should do this work. But I would point out to the House that there is just the same reason for retaining the overseers as there is for retaining the valuation officers. They both have in their hands the same information— the Valuation Lists in Scotland and the Rate Book in England—and it seems to me that the analogy of Scotland does not go to suggest the abolition of the overseers, but it goes to suggest the appointment of registration superintendents in every electoral area, who shall utilise and command the services of the overseers and see that they do their work properly. I think that is far more in accordance with the Scotch system than creating new officers at great expense. There is no doubt that the overseers, particularly in the small rural districts, are not educated men, and are not competent for this particular work. The superiority of the Scotch system is that the valuation officer is competent. He is a better-class official and operates over a larger area. So I would say to my friends who are in favour of disestablishing the overseer that it would be a much easier and wiser course to put the overseers in training, give them the necessary assistance, and put them under supervision, and that is what in this Bill I have endeavoured to do. By the tenth clause registration superintendents are to be appointed by the County Councils and the County Borough Councils for every electoral area. By the 11th clause the overseers are bound to obey the directions of the registration superintendents. The 12th clause sets forth that in parishes where the population is over five hundred, and where there is no Vestry Clerk or competent official to make out the lists, the overseers or the Vestry should appoint paid assistants. The 13th clause provides that in smaller parishes the overseers shall be entitled to assistance, the remuneration to be fixed by the revising barrister. The 14th clause enacts that the registration superintendents shall draw the attention of the revising barrister to any neglect of the overseers with a view to a fine, and shall also call the attention of the revising barrister to any necessary alteration in the list. These are proposals with the object of simplifying the machinery of registration, and I venture to recommend them to the House. They do not upset the whole of the present system, and they accept the overseers, giving them sufficient extra assistance wherever it is required, and placing them under the supreme direction of a competent registration superintendent in every electoral area. This is not my own measure entirely. I have had the assistance of gentlemen whose names would be sufficient authority, and I will mention the name of my late lamented friend Sir John Lambert, whose intimate acquaintance I enjoyed, and whose assistance I had in the construction of this Bill. I hope I have laid the proposals of the Bill before the House without unnecessary verbiage, because this is a practical question which ought to be practically considered. I will sum up once more the main features of the Bill. It abolishes the vexatious rate and assessed taxpaying clause. It reduces the qualifying periods from six months and twelve months to three months, ending on but not including the 25th June instead of the 15th July, for reasons I have already given. It enables persons to come on the register who have occupied qualifying premises of the same or different descriptions in the same or different electoral areas during the qualifying period. It enables a revising barrister to alter a claim when there is a proper qualification, and thus get rid of numerous technical objections. It provides for registration superintendents in every county or county borough, and enables the overseers to obtain registration assistance, when it is required, and arranges for the remuneration of assistants to the overseers in small parishes. I beg, Sir, to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Stansfeld.)

*(1.6.) MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

It may be admitted by everyone in this House that the Registration Law is not in a satisfactory condition, and may be beneficially simplified, but the Bill as it stands goes much further than dealing with the machinery of registration, and would require to be greatly modified in Committee if read a second time. The Bill seems to have been drafted with care, and appears to be aimed mainly at simplifying the present system of registration. Looking at the Bill in that sense, I think we should be justified in reading it a second time, and leaving the details to be settled in Committee. It is true that the Bill raises the important question of the qualifying period of occupation, and I am one of those who think that the present period of occupation is not too long. It has always been the constitutional doctrine in this country that the right to vote is not merely a personal matter, but a right to take part in the representation of the particular locality with which the voter is connected. It is obvious, therefore, that if the qualification of residence is reduced, there will be a danger of leaving the representation of a locality not in the hands of the permanent, but of the temporary residents. I have known several constituencies where a temporary influx of residents has occurred, and those people may come on the register even under the existing law. And thus in some cases, where the parties are very evenly divided, and the majority one way or the other is very narrow, it may happen even now that the permanent voice of a constituency is overborne by this influx of voters, who are only there carrying out some work for a year or two, and then leave the neighbourhood never to return. What, I ask, would happen if everyone of these men were allowed to go on the register after two or three months' residence? I do not approve of that part of the Bill which proposes to shorten the period of occupation. But if that be left alone, whether it is possible to simplify the machinery for bringing a voter qualified by residence into possession of his vote is another matter, and one which I think might be discussed in Committee on this Bill. With regard to the appointment of superintendent, my experience is not sufficient to enable me to speak confidently as to its probable results. But it is easy to see that there would be some difficulty where a portion of the Parliamentary area is not within a municipal boundary. I do not know what position the Town Clerk would occupy in such a case, as he is to be superintendent in the borough. Difficulty might also arise in the case of a municipality forming part of a County Division. Therefore the machinery for dealing with that point would require some careful consideration in Committee. I would say, therefore, that if the House assents to the Second Reading of the Bill to-day, it ought to be clearly understood that all the provisions of the Bill are to be treated as matters of detail to be settled in Committee, and that the principle of simplifying the machinery of registration is the only proposition affirmed.

*(1.12.) MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I cannot arrive at the same conclusion as my hon. Friend (Mr. Tomlinson) with regard to the action which should be taken by the House in this matter. I am perfectly well aware that in reading the Bill a second time the House practically commits itself to nothing in regard to the registration of the country at the present time. Everybody is well aware that even if the Bill is carried through the Second Reading to-day it has no earthly chance of receiving the Royal Assent this Session, and therefore many hon. Members are doubtless more agreeably occupied than in taking part in the Debate this afternoon. I took the opportunity of coming down to record my vote against what I think would be an undesirable alteration of the law. I move, Sir, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. The Bill is a Reform Bill materially affecting the representation of the people, and this is almost the first occasion on which a Bill dealing with the electoral franchise has been urged on the House except on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that though measures affecting certain infinitesimal provisions regarding the representation of the people have been passed, no Bill so comprehensive as this has been seriously considered by the House of Commons except on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown, and that is one ground on which I ask the House to support my Amendment. The Bill is framed ostensibly on somewhat modest lines, and the right hon. Gentleman in his explanation carried out the principle of moderation; but what are the objects of the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman calmly proposes to repeal a provision which has always been attached to the occupation franchise in this country—that a person should be rated and pay the rates levied in respect of the qualifying premises. The right hon. Gentleman wipes out that very material safeguard, and proposes to entitle every person to vote, however great his default may be in regard to the local burdens, the faithful discharge of which has been insisted on by Parliament as an essential element of the occupation qualification. That is a strong order to begin with. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to alter the period of residential qualification. I am not prepared to say that some improvements might not be made in the existing arrangements, but I hope the House will not accept the invitation to make the change now suggested. The principle on which the representation of this country has been always hitherto based is known as the local principle. Many other principles have been recommended to the House. Mr. John Stuart Mill recommended Mr. Hare's principle, which was based upon personal representation. By it the individual elector, wherever he might reside, was to be personally represented, in an elaborate manner, as such, without any regard to the locality where he might reside. There is much to be said in favour of that principle, but this Bill proposes to retain the existing local principle and to engraft upon it the personal principle. Under this hybrid system persons might be brought from all parts of the country, and thus swamp the opinion of the locality with which they had only a temporary connection. So long as our system of representation continues to be local we ought to have some efficient guarantee that the persons on the register are bonâ fide connected with the locality, and are not temporary sojourners in the district. I also object to the provision dealing with successive occupation. That has always been understood in a strictly local sense, and is limited to the same constituency by the existing Act. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to enable a person who may be occupying premises in Cornwall to claim for premises in, say, Northumberland after a short occupation; or, in fact, practically without any occupation at all. That is a novel proposition which the House will do well to be guarded in accepting. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt very loosely with the question of rating. He seems to think that failure to meet the honourable requirements involved in the Local Government of this country should not be insisted on as a necessary qualification for a vote. I differ with him entirely on that point. There is one grave anomaly which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with in his Bill, but which, if he undertook to deal at all with these questions, he might well have taken cognisance of—that is, the existing system under which rates are compounded for by the owners of tenements, who thereby obtain some slight modification of their local burdens, which I do not think is to the interest either of the State or the locality. Notwithstanding the fact that the owner compounds the rates, the persons occupying the premises are entitled to vote as if they paid the rates. It consequently very frequently appears that the so-called, ratepayer is a person whose only connection with the rates is that he has never paid any in his life. It is no wonder that the rates go up by leaps and bounds. The so-called ratepayers who vote for the candidates have no interest in keeping them down. I may be told that in the long run the occupier pays the bill. Nineteen ratepayers, however, out of every twenty know perfectly well that to whatever extent their zeal may carry them in the way of additional burdens, thereby raising money in which they may in many instances be able to participate, in the guise of labourers or tradesmen or otherwise, that these additions to the local rates are a very long time in finding their way, if they ever do find their way, in the shape of added rent back into the pockets of the owners of property. Therefore, I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have inserted a provision in this ambitious Reform Bill of his for dealing with what, undoubtedly, is a very great anomaly in our present system. But I trust before the right hon. Gentleman comes again before Parliament with a Reform Bill he will give his serious attention to the suggestions which I have ventured to make. The ratepayer, in my judgment, ought to pay his own rates. I do not wish to detain the House at any length; but I felt it my duty to draw attention to what undoubtedly are very grave defects in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. Without going into any further detail, I would really ask the House whether this is a Bill which we are justified in passing in a platonic manner—a measure which there is no single person who has any knowledge of the House of Commons who is not perfectly aware can never be carried practically into legislative effect during the present Session of Parliament. It may be asked why, under these circumstances, go to the trouble of opposing this Bill? Why not allow this stage to pass, and put down what is commonly called a "block-notice," and so ensure that we shall never hear any more of a scheme which, I am bound to say, has been largely treated, I will not say with levity, but with an absence of interest, as is evidenced by the state of the Benches on both sides of the House? My reason is this, that I think that Parliament is abdicating its duty when either of the two Houses composing the Imperial Parliament gives the smallest assent or endorsement to principles of which a large section, and as I hope a majority, of Members decidedly disapprove. Therefore, I should hope that the House will consider this measure on what I consider its demerits, and that it will discourage the introduction of amateur reform. I use that term in no disrespectful sense towards the right hon. Gentleman, who to my own knowledge has been more practically associated with legislation bearing upon questions of this nature than perhaps any other Member of this House. He has had experience as a responsible Minister. Should he occupy that position again he will be entitled to approach the subject with the prestige of having had practical knowledge and Parliamentary experience; but occupying the irresponsible position which he and I both occupy at the present time I am justified in describing this as amateur legislation, as endeavouring to obtain the assent of Parliament to a principle which it is not seriously intended to carry into effect, and to commit Parliament, at the instance of a private Member, to a principle which I trust under these circumstances will never be assented to—namely, a tinkering of the Registration Laws in support of wire-pulling party interests, with the view, according to many people, of gaining supposed party advantages, though I am not myself prepared to say whether one or the other party would be affected in a party sense by the provisions of this Bill. I hope the House will support me in moving, as I now do, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.


Mr. Speaker—


Does the hon. and gallant Member second the Motion?


I do. My reason for intervening in this Debate is that I entirely disapprove of this Bill; and I will give my reasons for disapproving of it. When we had our last registration in, the borough which I represent, I found, through the registration agent, than an enormous number of bogus claims were put forward; so much so that the revising barrister sent these claims to the Public Prosecutor with a view to have some steps taken in the matter. What does this Bill propose? It proposes a three months residence as sufficient. How can a personating agent do anything at an election when men only reside three months in a locality? There have been an immense number of men struck off the register in my locality, and if it had not been for the very able and very capable registration agent these men would have been upon the register, and had there been a General Election, possibly voters would have been found who would have adopted those names. I do not accuse any right hon. or hon. Gentlemen whose names are on this Bill of having any cognisance of that, or that they would themselves lend themselves to such a thing. On the contrary, there are Liberals in my own constituency who repudiate what was done. If these tactics have been employed where there is a large majority, as there was in my constituency, of about one thousand six hundred, what about those constituencies where there is only a majority of one or two hundred? I consider that in the Metropolis, at all events, it is necessary that the period of residence should be more than three months; and I am not putting the matter now from a party point of view, or from any particular point of view. I give my strenuous opposition to this Bill. I am fully aware, however, that the Registration Laws want alteration, but I think myself that they should be altered in a different direction from what is proposed here, and that this Bill would not be for the good of this country if it took effect. I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. James Lowther.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

*(1.40.) MR. SHIRESS WILL (&c.) Montrose,

The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major General Goldsworthy) said he would tell us the reason why he objected to this Bill. I listened to hear what his reason was. The reason the hon. and gallant Gentleman put forward was that some time recently within his constituency certain people, improperly professing to be voters, who had claimed to have their names entered upon the register, were found out, and their claims were rejected. In the first place that shows, if it shows anything at all, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman either must live in a very lax constituency, or else that due care had not been taken by the proper person concerned in that behalf to see that those persons did not go on the register. The hon. and gallant Gentleman could not have read this Bill, because if he had he would have found that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure has specially put in a clause which will impose upon the overseers the duty of seeing that the lists are protected from improper claims of a character such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet based his objection to this Bill on the fact that it was a Reform Bill; and although he got away from that objection, and proceeded to consider some details, he kept reverting to it. Afterwards he called it an "amateur Reform Bill," and later on he called it a "tinkering Reform Bill"; but discarding the epithets, it is none the worse for being a Reform Bill, and it is because it is a Reform Bill that we on this side of the House support it. Therefore the point is, not whether it is a Reform Bill or not, but whether there is real substance in the objections which the right hon. Gentleman put forward, and put forward with clearness and fairness, to the measure before the House. The right hon. Gentleman stated that his first objection was that, by a sweeping provision in this Bill, the necessity for the personal payment of rates, so far as it is a qualification for a voter, would be entirely swept away. Let us see if that be a just measure of reform or not. What was the reason for requiring personal payment of rates? Was it to ensure the collection of the rates; was it that the payment of rates was evidence of good citizenship? Or, rather, was it not this, that in 1832, when Parliament was passing the Reform Bill of that year, and was casting about how to find the best evidence of who was a householder rated at £10 a year, the fact that a man had not only been rated at £10 a year, but paid the rates at £10 a year, was taken as evidence, and the best evidence to hand, of proving that he was a £10 ratepaying householder? I submit that that was the real reason why this, provision for the payment of rates was introduced into the law. I may remind the House that when that, Reform Bill was before Parliament some Amendment having been moved in connection with this matter, Lord John Russell, who was in charge of the Bill in this House on the 3rd of February, 1832, as may be seen from Hansard, used these words— The Amendment could not be accepted, because it was not in accordance with the object of the Bill, which was not to encourage the payment of rates, but to enable £10 householders to enjoy the right of voting for a Member of Parliament. But we have advanced long strides, since then. We have done away with the £10 occupation franchise—we have got household suffrage; and it is no longer necessary to find out whether a man is rated at £10 and pays rates at £10, or whether he is rated at £6 and pays rates on that valuation. Therefore I say that the time has come now for sweeping away such requirements as that.


There is a provision for personal payment in the Reform Bill of 1867.


I was going to deal with 1867 later on; but as the right hon. Gentleman has referred to it, I will deal with it now. I suppose what the right hon. Gentleman alludes to is this. In 1867 there was a Reform Bill before Parliament. At that time a practice prevailed whereby the owners compounded with the overseers and paid the rates for their tenants, and in consideration of their paying them, and thereby saving some trouble to the overseers in the collection of the rates, a small reduction was made to them. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman desires to call my attention to this—that by the Reform Bill of 1867, I think it was by Section seven, Parliament put an end deliberately to that system, and required that in future the rates should be paid by the tenants, providing also that in future, if the owner had agreed to pay the tenant's rates, the tenant should be enabled to deduct the amount. But what happened? Only two years elapsed when Parliament repented of its purpose, and deliberately undid that which it did in 1867. I had not the pleasure of hearing the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Stansfeld) opening, and therefore I do not know that he referred to the fact that by the Poor Law Act of 1869 there was, as I say, a deliberate giving up by Parliament of the principle which it stood out for in 1867. Since then no attempt has been made to make personal payment of rates by tenants a necessary qualification. Furthermore, why should payment of rates, as a condition of qualification, be imposed on a man any more than payment of his other debts? Why not his gas and water rates, why not his tailor's bill, and his tradesmen's bills generally? But there is another feature which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with, and it is this: you get disqualified if you do not pay your poor rates at a particular date. You do not escape the payment altogether, you have to pay; the law is strong enough to make you, and you will have to do it in the end. Many a working man may find it hard to provide the money to pay the rates at a particular date, and if he does not pay he becomes disqualified. He becomes disqualified, but he has to pay all the same. Therefore, I think it is high time that this disqualification should be removed. The next objection of the right hon. Gentleman was that the Bill swept away the twelve months' residence. What is the present grievance, and on whom does it operate? It is that while, on the one hand, the law says that twelve months' occupation should be necessary, in point of practice much more than twelve months' occupation is necessary. It means sometimes two years, and sometimes as much as two years and a half. But there is another objection to the present law, and that is the case of the removals. The hardship of removal does not fall largely on the rich, who do not often change their residence. Some may carry on their business at one place and have their residence at another. Such people do not often have to remove. It is when you come to the working classes, who have to follow the tide of industry from one place to another, that the hardship of twelve months' occupation most harshly operates. I would suggest this question to the House—Why, when a man who is a voter in a particular district, say the City of London, removes, owing to the exigencies of business, to another place, say Liverpool, should he forfeit his interest in the Imperial Parliament and his right to vote on Imperial questions? I grant there is a distinction between municipal and Imperial affairs, and it is right that when a man ceases to reside in a place he should, at the end of his year of registration, cease to have any interest in its affairs; but does the same rule apply with regard to Imperial matters? Does a man cease to have a stake in the country, or is his interest in keeping down taxation, in retrenchment, in reform, diminished when he removes from one town to another? Surely this has only to be stated for it to be manifest that such a man does not lose his interest; and why, therefore, should you penalise him because he has to move? It would be much better and much fairer in Imperial matters that when a man removes from one electoral area to another he should be allowed to carry with him his interest in, and vote for, the Imperial Parliament, just as he now carries with him his personal character, his household goods, and all else that is his. I am afraid we cannot expect that this will come in the immediate future, because it is said with some authority that some period of residence must be necessary, and I grant that this is desirable. It is suggested that if you have not some such period as three months, then at election times wire-pullers and persons with improper motives might have an inducement to bring down to some locality immediately before an election a number of persons, by perhaps starting some industry, and thus preventing the opinion of the constituency being fairly expressed. Possibly these fears are remote, but in dealing with this privilege there should be some reasonable protection, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has done wisely in putting in a period of three months. Then what sound objection can there be to the proposal of successive occupation? At present if you move about in the same electoral areas your periods of residence count, but seeing that we are not dealing with municipal but with Imperial matters, and that a man's interest in these does not cease on removal, it is right to apply the same principle which you apply now to successive occupations in the same electoral area to successive occupations in different parts of the country, and the period of three months will be some protection.


By the indulgence of the House may I explain that what I was referring to in my speech was not individuals coming forward and claiming votes to which they were not entitled, but false claims put forward by an agent. That agent put forward a large number of these false claims, and it was that fact which was the special reason for the observation I made. I could not imagine that any right hon. or hon. Gentleman opposite had any desire to encourage such a procedure.

*(2.19.) MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE (Finsbury, Holborn)

The hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke on the other side of the House fairly enough admitted that this Bill is not merely a Registration Bill, but that it is a Reform Bill. As he said, he and those who act with him are not ashamed of the word "reform." "Reform," no doubt, is a very taking and a very popular word; but, at the same time, it has been associated with so many doubtful measures and suspicious proposals, that we on this side of the House are inclined to look with some suspicion on measures that are called Reform measures. It is well, however, to remember that this Bill strikes directly at the rating qualification. The hon. and learned Member went back into history so far as 1832, and he said that the rating qualification was then adopted simply in order to fix the limit of the £10 rental. But if he had been logical, I think he would have gone a little farther and said why the limit of £10 rental was fixed. He must know that in the open boroughs, prior to 1832, every householder had a vote quite irrespective of the amount of his rent and the rate which he paid. The £10 limit was fixed because it was considered by those who passed the Reform Bill of 1832 that the persons who paid no rates were not fit to be entrusted with the franchise—they called them pot-wollopers. Therefore they adopted a £10 limit, and said, "We will disfranchise those who have not a house rated at £10," who they considered were quite unworthy of exercising the franchise. I do not know whether they were right or whether they were wrong. I only know that from that time to this in all the measures of Reform that have been passed the rating qualification has been recognised. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he got the clause in the present Bill from the measure proposed by Lord John Russell in 1864, but Lord John Russell's proposals were all unfortunate and ill-omened. The rating qualification has remained an integral part of our system. It is true, as the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke observed, that the personal payment of rates is not insisted upon. A person who occupies a house and pays the rates through the landlord is not disqualified or disfranchised. But it is altogether a novel principle to enfranchise those who pay no rates. It may be that the time has come when we should make some great alteration in the system of qualification for the franchise; but no such measure has ever been adopted unless it has been proposed by a responsible Minister. Then, as to the question of qualification in regard to the electoral area, it is proposed that anyone who resides in a particular constituency for three months shall be entitled to a vote.


Three months from a particular date.


It may be that the persons have no connection whatever, beyond occupation, with the district. The system of electoral areas may be altogether wrong, but it is a system we have hitherto acted upon. I know that great men like John Stuart Mill and Mr. Hare propounded an elaborate scheme in which they disregarded the electoral area altogether; but, so long as the principle of the electoral area is continued, so long must the person voting in that area have some substantial connection with it. It is idle to say that a man should be entitled to a vote who has resided only three months in it. I am not advocating a qualification of twelvemonths—that may be too long; but I assert that three months is too short. I do not agree with the statement of the hon. and learned Member that those who move most from constituency to constituency are working men. I believe that working men, on the whole, reside quite as long in one particular district as any other class—certainly in London. It is the class above the working men who form the class of political casuals which this Bill takes under its special patronage. It seems to me that the man who is settled in the district in which he lives, who does not wander from place to place, is the most likely to act in the interests not only of that district, but of the country generally. Now, I have listened attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill, but I could not quite gather the exact complaints he makes against the present system. So far as I could understand, the only officers of whom he makes complaint are the overseers, and they are the very persons with whose functions he does not propose to interfere. No complaint was made against the way in which the revising barrister has acted; he is a person having no political bias, who comes in contact with the overseers and decides questions of law. Then what is the great improvement which is to be made in the present machinery? I am always suspicious when a Reform Bill is introduced from the opposite Benches, because I know what it will amount to. It means that there is to be an army of Inspectors created to be paid out of the rates. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that a proposal of that kind is one that deserves the consideration of this House or of any part of it?


I do not propose to appoint any Inspectors.


Not by name. I made a mistake in the word.




It matters little what they are called. They are to be appointed by the County Council and to be paid out of the rates. But the overseers, of whom such complaint has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, are to be entrusted with additional duties. They are to take the lodgers' list of voters for the last year and pay domiciliary visits in order to prepare the list for the new year. Fancy the overseers, who, we are told, have hardly sufficient intelligence to discharge their present duties, being entrusted with this delicate task of discovering in this way how many of these people are entitled to be on the list for the next year! Will it be at all practicable? The right hon. Gentleman said this was a simple Bill; but, having done my best to understand it, I venture to say a more complicated measure was never proposed in this House. What is the meaning of all this machinery? It is to save the voters trouble. If it means that a voter should be put on the list without having to fight for his claim, I agree; but if it means that he should not have the trouble of making a claim, signing his name, and handing in the paper, then I do not agree. If the vote is worth having, I do not understand why a man should be relieved of that small degree of trouble. In many constituencies we know that a great number of the claims sent in are not signed by the persons who are purported to have signed, and that is one reason why something more than three months' occupation should be considered necessary. If a man has only lived in a place for three months it is difficult to identify him or to learn anything about him, but if he has resided there twelve months you can generally procure information. In allowing persons to claim for others there will be this disadvantage—that the possessor of the vote being indebted to others for his vote will be inclined to exercise the franchise at their dictation. Therefore, I object to this Bill, because it strikes at the root of our present system. It may be right or wrong to do without rating qualification, but such a fundamental alteration should only be made by a responsible Minister.

MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)

The latter part of the hon. Member's remarks have been devoted to the danger of allowing one person to claim for another the right to vote. That practice is universally engaged in by agents, but it is one that I have always opposed, and one I understand the Bill aims at removing. Party registration agents are nothing more or less than election agents in disguise, and they are the people who are rendering the Corrupt Practices Act a dead letter and utterly inefficient. I should like to turn to some of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet (Mr. James Lowther), and also to the observations of the hon. and learned Member opposite, because it seems to me that they dwelt too much on the details of this and previous Reform Bills. The three main principles embodied in this Bill are, to limit the qualifying period of the voter to the reasonable period always intended; to simplifying the mode of transferring a voter from one register to another after change of residence; and the third is to appoint an official superintendent in the different districts. These are the three leading principles of the Bill, and those who approve of them are, I maintain, bound to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill if it goes to a Division. I maintain that the present nominal qualification of twelve months practically means eighteen months, and in some cases two or even three years. What is desired by the Bill is to limit the period before a man can be put on the register to three months, and then it must be remembered that there is another three months before the register comes into force. I cannot bind myself to the actual dates fixed in the Bill, because I can see instances where the 25th June would be utterly useless, seeing that in agricultural districts the change of residence is on Lady Day. Those matters of detail can, however, be better dealt with at another stage. The real question is the principle. Are we satisfied that a man should have to reside in one place twelve months before he can have his name placed on the register, and have to wait a further period before he can use his vote? I venture to say that such conditions were never intended. The intention of Parliament was that a residence of twelve months should constitute qualification, and that there should be no subsequent delay before the franchise could be exercised. As to successive occupation, I would ask whether it is not positively absurd that a farm labourer or shepherd who changes his place on Lady Day from one farm to another in the same division should be entitled to successive occupation qualification, whereas if he moves out of the division he should be compelled to wait a year and a half before he can have a vote. The very fact that he has been qualified to vote is evidence that there is nothing against his vote, and the mere fact of a man living in another house does not in the slightest degree alter his fitness or diminish his right. That is an alteration which ought, in the interests of many at present injured, to be effected. Then, as to the mode of carrying out the transfer, the Bill proposes an official who would act not in the interests of a party, but in the interests of the country and in the interests of the thorough carrying out of the Act. I should like to point out that official registration is to a certain extent known in boroughs, and that we have very few of those disputes which occur in the counties, where the registration agent appears to think that his duty is to remove names from the register rather than to put them on. What we desire is that names should be placed on the register and not erased. In the boroughs the agents have learned wisdom; they have the assistance of the overseer of the poor, and with his aid the lists are generally fairly well made out. In my own borough I do not believe that last year there were half-a-dozen objections made on either side. But in the counties half-a-day is occupied in hearing objections, and in regard to this state of things I think the blame is evenly divided between the two Parties. I cordially support the three main principles of the Bill. There is, however, this great danger, and it is one we should have to look to—that where the residence has been short there is liability to personation at the poll. There is no reason why the limit should not be extended even under this Bill, although when we recollect that there must be three months' residence before a man can claim, and three months afterwards before he can possibly have the vote, the danger of personation will not, perhaps, be acute. I myself should be glad to hear any objection on that point, as the danger is one that should be carefully guarded against in the interests of all parties. Having supported the principles of this Bill last year, and believing that they ought to be carried into effect, I now give my hearty support to the measure.


One of the reasons weighing most strongly with me in favour of some of the changes proposed by this Bill is that at present we practically have not under our Franchise Act what in theory we profess to have. Much is said of the predominance of the working man, but in practice his voting power is much restricted by long periods of qualification, and the rating and other conditions. Now this ought not to be a party question. It does not follow that because the voters are working men they will all be found on one side. That is an exploded fallacy of olden days. Surely it would be a wiser thing to amend the franchise, as is proposed by this Bill, and make it correspond with what it professes to be, than to leave it in the present unsatisfactory condition. We were told in former days that in some countries the Constitution was despotism tempered with assassination, and I may say that here we have democracy tempered by registration. Our registration system is such as to limit democracy in a way that I do not believe was deliberately intended by Parliament. On the same principle as I object to promising private soldiers in the Army a shilling a day, and then defrauding them of that shilling by unforeseen deductions, so I object to telling workmen that they are voters, and then leaving them to find out that, by the ordinary and regular working of our registration system, their names are omitted from the register. Reference has been made by hon. Members opposite to difficulties that might arise by the proposed limitation of time for qualifying a man to vote. They spoke as if by this Bill three months would be the usual qualifying period, but that is not correct. Under this Bill a man will have to reside three months in a place before a certain day in the year in order to make his claim. Another three months at least will elapse before the new register can be complete, and there will almost always be a further lapse of time between the completion of the register and the exercise of the franchise at an election. It will, therefore, be seen that, instead of three months, the minimum of time qualifying a man to vote will be six months. I agree with my right hon. Friend as to a danger in Clause 9, which provides that a person who has occupied successively qualifying premises in different electoral areas is to be permitted to vote in the electoral area in which the premises last occupied by him for however short a time are situate. That seems a weak point in the Bill, and I can conceive that some of those gentlemen whose occupation as registration agents is to be taken from them might find a field for their activity in persuading voters—whenever it may be desirable—to transfer themselves to a different electoral area. I believe that in the United States of America tricks of that kind have been often played; but this is a matter that can be considered very well in Committee. It has been said that it will be quite impossible for us to consider this Bill in Committee this Session, and therefore why commit ourselves to the principle? Now, the principle of this Bill has been for a considerable time under discussion. Reforms in registration were promised by one Party in 1885, but nothing has been done. It appears to me that the time has now come when both political Parties should make up their minds on the principle of this Bill, even if there should not be time to pass it into law. I regret to find that by Clause 2 this Bill does not extend to Scotland, because I am sure it would be welcomed in that country, and is required as much there as it is in England. My hon. Friend the Member for the Montrose Burghs (Mr. Shiress Will), who made an admirable and lucid speech in support of this Bill, sat down without remarking that on the Paper for to-day appears a Bill brought in by himself—the Registration of Voters (Scotland) Bill. I ask that whatever is agreed to be done to-day as regards England may be done also for Scotland, either by introducing the necessary clauses into this Bill, or by allowing to run with it the Bill to which I have referred.

(2.58.) MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)

I do not propose to occupy the time of the House at any length, because I am anxious to hear what the Government have to say on this question. It matters very little in the present state of Business what may be the opinions of private Members with regard to this Bill; but if the Government will take it up there is not the slightest reason why it should not be carried through this Session. We have plenty of time before us. We are now only in May, and we have June, July, August, and a good piece of September before us with nothing else to do except consider the Local Government Bill for Ireland. Now, I want to say one word with regard to the observations and arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Holborn (Mr. Gainsford Bruce). To say that if a man wants a vote he should go and get it is simple nonsense. In the first place, a vote is not given to him as a prize; it involves a duty as well as a right. In the second place, hundreds and thousands of working men are prevented from going and claiming their votes because they have no time in which to do so. It is all very well for some of us who have but little to do to go and claim our votes; but I say it is simply cruel to turn round and say to a working man, "Why have you not got your vote?" when a half-day or day off means so much less bread, for his wife and children, who, under ordinary circumstances, do not get too much. If, on the other hand, it is said he should claim it through someone else, then you have all those difficulties to which reference has already been made. There are three alternatives in this matter. A man may claim the vote for himself, but he has not the time; he may claim it by a person whom he chooses, but there are objections to that; or, as the third alternative, he may claim it by a recognised officer, and that is the suggestion of this Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Holborn has told us that there is the danger of personation connected with the system proposed by this Bill, and that the register would be inaccurate and incomplete. I should like to remind him of the state of things which existed in the very borough he represents at the time he secured his seat. I had the good fortune to be engaged in that election, and my colleagues and myself found upon the register made up so carefully—of course, under the admirable system that now exists—ladies and Members of Parliament and persons who had been dead for years. Well, I have that much faith in my countrymen that I believe whatever may be their political bias, if you once impose upon them a judicial and official duty, they will discharge it in a spirit of fairness; and, therefore, if we had these officials to make up the registers we should not have to deplore the shocking state of things which now prevails. Now, Sir, only one word more, and then I do hope the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke) will give us some information as to the view taken by the Government on this matter. I must confess that I do not agree with what has been said about the 9th clause. It was suggested a few moments ago by the last speaker that there was a danger of voters transferring themselves to another Division on the very eve of an election.

An hon. MEMBER: No; on the eve of a registration.


Well, if it took place on the eve of a registration no harm would be done; but on the eve of an election were the words used. If anything like wholesale swamping were to take place on the eve of an election, it would be very objectionable indeed; but I do not see how there can be the slightest objection to the transfer of a heap of people from one Division to another on the eve of a registration, because if they claim for one Division they will come off the other. They cannot be on both registers.


Why not?


Because they could not be occupiers in both Divisions.


I do not see it.


Then I am astonished that the penetration of the right hon. Gentleman, to which we are all accustomed, fails him for once. I do not see why a man should not change from one place to another on the eve of a registration if he pleases. It is exactly what was done under the sanction of the great Constitutional Party in Liverpool not very long ago, when three hundred voters were transferred from one Division to another. I venture to think that the difficulty is one which could be got rid of, if it existed, in the simplest way, but it does not in reality exist. I do hope that the broad principle of this Bill of enfranchisement as against disfranchisement will be accepted by the House, and that all those who desire to see the population of the country exercising their votes as far as possible will vote for the Second Reading of this measure.

*(3.10.) MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)

It has been insinuated from the other side that we oppose the Second Reading of this Bill with the object, if possible, of keeping down the working class vote. I venture to disclaim any such intention. As a matter of fact, many of us who sit on this side of the House depend for our seats on that vote. We have as much confidence in the working classes as hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and we are just as anxious as they are that this class should give their opinions clearly and truly in every election. We find from experience that as the working classes move steadily towards the big towns, and as the spread of education becomes greater day by day, they more and more gravitate towards us, and we have, therefore, not the slightest wish to keep down the working class vote. It has been said that there is a particular principle involved in this Bill, but I think there need be very little discussion about that. The question is really one of machinery. It is whether the machinery proposed by the Bill is suitable to give effect to the objects which most of us on this side of the House desire in common with hon. Gentlemen on the other side? We feel it is important that at every election we should have as far as possible what is the true voice of the country. It seems to me that three questions are involved in this Bill: What shall be the qualification of the voter? I think the word is not used now in the sense in which it was used in the olden time. One hon. Member spoke as if residence for a certain time in itself, with regard to the local interests it creates, ought to be held to be a necessary qualification. I venture to dissent from that view. The object of having a residential qualification is simply and solely for business purposes. The practical question in putting a man on the register is to see that personation and offences of that kind shall be rendered impossible. What I should like to see accomplished, if it were possible, is to have the register made out up to the morning of the election, so that every man who is entitled could give his vote. That is an ideal which I suppose we are all agreed upon, but of course it is not practicable. There are the questions of preparing and getting out the register and providing against personation, and for these matters some time must necessarily be allowed. We know that we are engaged on what is only an academic Debate; and we also know that if the Government had had time they would have liked to take up this matter and thoroughly thrash out the question of what is the best machinery for the purpose. But there are, we know, many more important matters than this to be dealt with. For instance, the question of the illiterate voter, upon which the House gave a decided expression of opinion the other day, is very much more important than this. The second point is, Where shall a man vote? That is a question of convenience, and is not, after all, a question of residential qualification. Suppose a man moves from one place to another he can only vote for the place where he is on the register. No doubt that is a matter of grave importance to the out-voters, and it is also, sometimes, aground of temptation to candidates. In a recent election I had a letter from a man who had left the Division but was still on the register and was entitled to vote, but it would put him, he said, to considerable expense to come to the poll and give his vote because of the distance he lived away. Of course I could not help him, and I rather suspect that that letter came from a Radical who wanted to trap me; and while he received, I hope, my sympathy, he did not get his cash. But, of course, this is a question of convenience, and I think that it is desirable that a man's voting power should be transferred as quickly as possible from the place where the man lived to the place where he lives. The third question is, Who shall put him on the register? On this point I sympathise to a large extent with what has teen said on the other side; for though I have never had any difficulty myself about being put on the register, I know that the working man must either look very sharply after the matter himself or have it very sharply looked after for him, or he is in danger of having his name omitted. I shall not, however, commit myself to the machinery for the purpose provided in the Bill without further consideration. But looking at the Bill as expressing the principle that as far as possible it is desirable to make the true voice of the constituencies heard, I shall support the Second Reading, without, however, in any way committing myself as to the details by which that principle is to be secured.

*(3.20.) MR. EDWARD HOLDEN (Walsall)

As one who has recently come from the electors, I may say that there is no greater grievance amongst the electors than the way the registers are prepared. In the election to which I refer the opinion was expressed over and over again that great alterations were necessary in the Registration Laws, and nothing drew the cheers sooner from the large meetings which were held than the statement that it should be as easy to get on the register as on the rate-book. The Home Secretary is about to go to Birmingham, and if he will say the same thing to the people there I think he will find that the Town Hall will ring with cheers. He knows well that he dare not oppose this Bill in his own constituency. I should be very glad if the Government would oppose this Bill; but I am afraid they are too cute to take up that position at this time. This is a very good Bill, and I hope the promoters will be able to get it through Committee. I have been behind the scenes in registration matters for about thirty years, and I believe there is nothing more corrupt or unjust than the present system. It not infrequently happens that where it does not suit either party to put a man on the register, he is kept off for years. The registration agents go round and ask people what politics they profess, and if they happen to profess the same politics as the agent he puts them on the register, and if they do not he conceals his own politics and leads the men to believe that he will get them put on, but takes no further action, and thus, in many cases, succeeds in deceiving and thereby keeping qualified persons off the register. Not only is that the case, but sometimes you find a man on the register one year, and the next, though his qualification has not been altered and his rates duly paid, he is off. I do not say that one party is any worse in this matter than the other. I hope the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) will take the Bill to a Division, and cast the responsibility of rejecting the measure on those who vote against it. We do not care whether the Government oppose the Bill or not, and I am sure it will make a popular appeal at the next Election to that large class upon whom at present the Registration Laws press so heavily. Respecting the illiterate vote that we have heard so much about, the electors are quite indifferent how that question is settled.

(3.23.) MR. TIMOTHY SULLIVAN (Dublin, College Green)

This is eminently a Bill to be dealt with in the Committee stage, and I am pleased to notice that, so far as the principle is concerned, there is an almost entire agreement on both sides of the House. At present the Registration Laws are a temptation and an encouragement to fraud, and that system is thoroughly unsound and rotten from top to bottom. The registers are stuffed by energetic agents unless those agents are watched and checked by equally energetic agents on the other side. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Major General Goldsworthy) said that a short time ago an attempt to put on the register in his constituency a considerable number of fraudulent votes was only frustrated by the watchfulness and energetic action of a very capable election agent. But there are not capable election agents in all the constituencies. It is not every Member of Parliament who can afford to engage and maintain a very competent election agent, and the result is that the registers are stuffed and frauds are committed on the electors. I cannot see what interest any Party can have in wishing to continue a fraudulent system which is a temptation and an encouragement to dishonesty, and must be demoralising to all who are concerned in the working of it. I say it is absurd, and ridiculous, and scandalous to see the way in which questions are fought out at the Registration Sessions by the agents of the opposing parties with the object of stuffing or depleting the register as their wishes may incline. It should be the business of some public officer responsible to the State to do this work, and to do it satisfactorily. I am perfectly convinced that it would work satisfactorily, and would be approved of by Members of all shades of political opinion, and by the country at large. That being so, I fail to see why there should be any division of opinion on the Second Reading of the measure which is now before the House, and the details can be talked about in Committee. We have been told that this Bill will not get into Committee; but that is no reason why we should not take the Second Reading, because we have heard of other measures—big measures—which have passed the Second Reading, but which will not get into Committee. As there seems to be a universal and unanimous opinion in favour of this Bill, I hope the Second Reading will be pressed, and then it can take its chance of getting into Committee.

*(3.28.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

There is no doubt that the present system of registration is not everything that one could desire, and there is a great deal of room for improvement in many particulars. Many details are involved in this Bill with respect to which I should not object to reasonable alterations; but this Bill is a very large and formidable one, having some very sweeping consequences, and, therefore, requires to be looked at from every standpoint. There are, to my mind, three leading features in this Bill: First, it would alter very materially the qualification of the voter. That is a very sweeping alteration; and though there is possibly much that may be said both for and against the proposition, still, that is a very large reform, which would very materially alter the register. The second question is the proposal to very much shorten the period of qualification. The hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Bousfield) said that, theoretically, the idea should be to make up the register to the very morning of the election. When we live in another world that may be the system of election, but under our imperfect conditions that could not be carried out. It is all very well to have a high ideal and a noble aim, but we must look at this rough world as we find it, and I say that a period of three months does not give sufficient time to prepare the registers, There is a lot of work to be done in their preparation, and in my view a measure which only allows three months is so far impracticable that it need not be entertained by the House. Then comes what I suppose is really the main point of the Bill—the registration officer. The theory, as I understand it, is that we should do away with private registration agents, and have an official registration agent, who would do his duty impartially. Looking through the clauses I turn to London, in which I am largely interested, as I represent a division of that city. I find that the registration officer for London is to be appointed by the London County Council. The London County Council is a political body, and yet that political body is to appoint my registration agent. I should look with grave suspicion and objection on such an appointment as that, for I should strongly object to my agent being appointed by a party whose politics were opposed to my own. That is not a fair way of appointing registration agents. But if the measure were carried into law, would it really do away with private registration agents? It is proposed to appoint an official agent, but will it be maintained that both parties are to be content with that agent? Suppose he is partial and acts improperly, which is conceivable, to one side or the other, we should want an agent to look after him. I believe at present it is the duty of somebody to put voters on the list, and we only employ agents to see that somebody does his duty. It is said these agents often put on the names of those who have no right to vote, but I am sure that is not done to any great extent. If an official agent were appointed, I should insist on having an agent to look after my interests, especially if he were appointed by a political body diametrically opposed to me in politics and doing all it can to oust me from my present constituency. There is no penalty provided in the Bill for neglect of duty on the part of the official. If he is corrupt or leaves a large number of names off the list, there are no means of bringing him to book, and an election might take place on an imperfect or unfair register. I do not agree that the ideal registration system is such as that proposed by the hon. Member behind me. All these measures are necessary because people do not do their own duty. It should be the duty of everybody to put himself on the list. If the franchise were felt to be the duty and responsibility that it really is, everybody entitled to vote would demand to have his name put on the register. These measures assist men to be indolent, and I think we should try more to throw the responsibility on the individual and simplify the machinery to that end, instead of appointing another army of official agents. I have always felt keenly that some reform is necessary in the Registration Laws of this country, but this measure is so crude and drastic, and so sweeping, that I cannot support the Second Reading, especially as it is admitted, even by its supporters, that almost every detail in the Bill would have to be altered in Committee.

(3.37.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to be under a misapprehension as to the duties of the registration agent under this Bill. He is not intended to render unnecessary the employment of Party agents, but simply to see that the overseers do their duty. The hon. Gentleman objects to the appointment of the agent by the London County Council; but does not appear to object to the present system by which registration is left in the hands of the overseers, who are appointed by the Vestries. I do not know that Vestries have divested themselves of political feelings any more than the County Council. I look upon this Bill as one intended to get rid of a large number of the harassing and absurd technicalities which make the franchise at present rather a subject of mockery than of serious consideration. The alteration of the period of residence to three months is undoubtedly a reasonable one, and it means that a man must be in a constituency eight or ten months before he can vote, because the register made in July does not come into operation till November. It seems to me that we are year by year drifting away from the principle of locality into recognition of the sound principle that the right to vote, which involves an Imperial duty, is not dependent on local circumstances or peculiar to any locality, but is a right in every sense Imperial. It therefore seems to me that we should consider whether we should not cut down the qualification to manhood qualification. There is an important clause which has been overlooked up to the present, Clause 21. At present a person on the list under any special qualification loses his vote if he does not possess that precise qualification, though he may possess half a dozen others, and the law of household suffrage is in such a condition of confusion, muddle, and scholastic refinement that it is in many cases absolutely impossible to decide whether a person is a householder or a lodger. A lodger who, during the qualifying period, changes his qualification by buying the house in which he lives loses his vote for that year. That is so absurd and iniquitous that it is sufficient in itself to condemn the present system. I warn the House that what we have to deal with now are not merely difficulties of registration and technical machinery, but difficulties going to the essence and root of the franchise, and I regret that it is not proposed to take a bold step and get rid of these shadowy and absurd qualifications, and come down straightforwardly and at once to manhood suffrage. It must come sooner or later, and all the machinery Bills in the world will not avoid the difficulties now attaching to the franchise until you get rid of the distinctions between lodgers, rated occupiers, householders, and others. There is another point in which I think the Bill is defective. While it provides that successive occupation of different sets of premises may qualify a man, it does not provide for cases where accompanying the change of residence there is a change of qualification, as where a lodger becomes a householder. This is a Bill which does something to throw light on the present absurdities of the law of registration, and for that reason I think it would be well worth consideration in Committee, and I, therefore, hope the House will pass the Second Reading.

(3.45.) MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

I quite acknowledge that under the present law there are anomalies in registration that might be amended and technicalities that might be done away with; but, though I have not had time to very carefully examine the Bill, I think it is too drastic for us to be able to consider it at all fairly in this Parliament. In the first place, it appears to take the electoral power away from the resident population, and to put it as far as possible in the hands of the migratory and floating population. I think the term of three months is too short for qualification. In some London constituencies the fluctuations in the population amount to twenty-five or thirty per cent., and if the period were only three months I fear there would be serious jerrymandering in London. I look upon the proposed appointment of the registration superintendent by the London County Council with great suspicion, as that Council is a political body—a fact clearly proved by their having appointed their Aldermen entirely from one political Party. It would be the same with the registration agents. They would place in every district in London an individual who would be nothing more than a first-rate electioneering agent for their own ends. It is desirable to have an official agent in the various districts, but I would have him appointed by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, the Lord Chancellor, a Committee of Judges, or by any authority in the State than by the London County Council. The Bill takes away the property qualification, and allows people to be on the register without paying any rates and taxes. It has always been a principle of the Constitution that representation and taxation go together. And I would venture to suggest that any alteration of that principle should be straightforwardly done by a Reform Bill, and not in a Bill of this kind. The best system of registration would be that under which each voter came to claim his vote himself. In New York everybody desiring to vote at a coming election must, some time before the date of the election, go to an office and claim his vote. I cannot see why that system should not be applied in the United Kingdom. If the superintendent had to investigate lodger claims he would have in his hands a vast amount of patronage in the appointment of a large number of individuals of the same political faith as himself, who would go round the districts, not so much to trace the lodgers as to induce the voters to vote for the Party to which he belonged. I look upon this Bill as one which ought to be regarded with very great suspicion. No doubt the time is nearly ripe when this question of registration should be dealt with by a well-considered Registration Bill. I am prepared to give my support to a Bill of that kind, which will alter our present system of registration without altering it in the way proposed by this Bill.

*(3.51.) MR. FRANCIS STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

I think that, after the speeches which we have just listened to from that side of the House, surely it is time we should ask for a little Governmental guidance in the matter, because there have been the most contrary opinions expressed in different quarters. Every speech which has been delivered on the other side has been delivered, it will be observed also, either by London Members or by Members who represent essentially urban constituencies. Surely we are entitled to have some utterance from the supporters of the Government, or some Member for the Government who is more deeply in touch with the country districts, as to what line the Government propose to adopt with regard to the measure. A good deal has been said in the course of this Debate as to what is the real principle of the Bill. It has been argued that the principle of the Bill was contained in the fourth clause, which reduces the qualifying period from its present duration to the period of three months. That is certainly a provision of great importance, but I venture to think it is not the real principle of the Bill, I venture to think that the real principle of the Bill will be found in Clause 3, which provides that— So much of any Act as requires any person to be rated, or requires any rate or assessed taxes to be paid, for the purpose of entitling any person to be qualified as a Parliamentary elector, shall be repealed. If my view of the principle of this Bill be correct, then the reduction of the qualifying period to three months, though of great importance from a practical point of view, is really of less importance than the recognition of the principle in Clause 3—namely, that, after all, a man should be entitled to vote, not in consequence of what he has got, but in consequence of what he is. We have got the recognition of the principle in this Bill, though limited in degree, and with safeguards against fraud and personation, that a man is entitled to have the vote conferred on him, not on account of the property he possesses, but on account of the personality of the man; and that seems to me to constitute the main and cardinal principle of the Bill. What is contained in Clause 4 with regard to the reduction of the qualifying period to three months is a provision of great practical importance, but after all it is not, as I have said, the main principle of the Bill. But even that would help, perhaps more than anything else, to remedy the grievance which exists in many cases. As to what has been said as to the machinery of the Bill, surely that is a matter which might very well be discussed when the Committee stage is reached. Hon. Members have said that they have great confidence in the Committee stage of a Bill. We have not got to that stage of this Bill yet, but I think hon. Members ought to put as much confidence in the Committee stage of this Bill as in the Committee stage of the Irish Local Government Bill. If they are prepared to do that, as was indicated to some extent by the hon. Member for North Islington, I should ask the Solicitor General whether he is prepared to assent to the general principle of the Bill, and to give such facilities as would enable real and effective progress to be made with the present measure. I decline altogether to enter into the details of the present measure at this stage. It appears to me that what was said with regard to Clause 9 would have been amply met if the principle which was embodied in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) and which was rejected a few days ago, not on the real and straight issue but on a side issue, had been adopted. But even if that were not the case, surely it might be very fairly argued that any error in fact with regard to that clause might be fully and satisfactorily met when the Bill goes into Committee. On these grounds I venture to make an appeal to the Home Secretary or the Solicitor General to give us some words of advice and counsel in the matter, and to express what course the Government intend to adopt with regard to this measure.


I do not desire to inconvenience the House by postponing the observations which I intend to make on this Bill too long. Though I cannot pretend to give any counsel or advice to the hon. Gentleman opposite to guide his action in the matter, yet I am prepared to discuss the questions which have been raised in the course of this very interesting discussion. If I accepted the statement of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that the main and cardinal principle of the Bill was to be found in this 3rd Clause, which repeals all provisions now in force as to the payment of rates—if I accepted that as a correct definition, I should certainly vote against it. But the hon. Member who stated that is not one of those hon. Members whose names appear on the back of the Bill. At the beginning of this Debate the purpose and object of the Bill was explained in a very moderate and a very interesting speech by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), who has taken for years a very great interest in registration questions, and who has on more than one occasion offered elaborate suggestions to the House on the subject; and in this Bill he claims to have given to the House, and I see that he has offered to the House, a very carefully-revised version of the proposals as regards registration, which he had previously made. In his opening speech the right hon. Gentleman said this was not a Franchise Bill. He said he did not alter the franchise; he proposed to alter the franchise only so far as was necessary to carry out the purpose of improving the registration; and he also truly said—he only did justice to many Members on this side of the House in saying—that he was sure the desire to improve our system of registration was not confined to his own side of the House. All the Members who have spoken have, I think, acknowledged that our present system of registration is not in a satisfactory condition, and that it is desirable that an attempt should be made, and should early be made, to remedy certain defects in our registration proceedings, which, at the present time, unfortunately allow many voters to be off the register who ought to be upon it; and they do recognise that it creates a feeling of soreness and dissatisfaction which it is the duty of this House to endeavour to remove. The proposals of this Bill, so far as they affect the franchise, are proposals which the Government would not make, and would not accept. I think I shall be able to show to the House, when I examine these proposals, that they are not essential to the Bill. The Bill is one with regard to registration; and applying exactly the line of the right hon. Gentleman who proposes this Bill. I shall examine some of its provisions and state my views with regard to them. The Government has felt, and it has been acknowledged by all who have experience in the matter, that there are defects in our registration system which it is desirable to remedy; and I believe the Government would have offered to the House before the present year proposals for amending the law with regard to registration but for a consideration, which hon. Members I think will very clearly see the weight of when they notice the course of the discussion this afternoon. If the Government had offered to the House proposals touching registration only, it is perfectly clear that the Bill in which these proposals were contained would have been made the subject of additional proposals involving large and grave Constitutional changes; and the introduction of such a Bill would by no means be a simple matter of dealing with registration machinery. The speech of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, made to the House just now, will illustrate that to hon. Members, because his proposal is a very short and trenchant one. He said, "You say you have got a great many difficulties and unsatisfactory matters as regards the registration laws; and they can only be got rid of by having manhood suffrage." And I know there is a body of Gentlemen in this House who, when we were discussing a somewhat cognate subject the other day, made their opinions vociferously known that they are in favour of manhood suffrage, and they would seize at once—and I cannot say that their action would not be legitimate—they would seize at once the opportunity of a Registration Bill in order to carry their proposals into effect. But we are here dealing this afternoon with a purely academic discussion. One or two hon. Members expressed a sanguine hope that this Bill, if the Second Reading be accepted by the House, might be carried through Committee and carried into law during the present Session of Parliament. By the terms of the Bill I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has any view in consonance with that hope. This Bill proposes that certain alterations should be made in the law with regard to registration, and the date at which these alterations would take place according to the terms of the Bill would be the 1st of June, 1893; and it is not, I think, quite reasonable to imagine that the House would deal with any very great expenditure of time or care with proposals which clearly cannot be, or would not be, carried forward so as to become law in the course of the present Session. But that being so, I confess I think it is advantageous to both sides of the House that we should have had an opportunity of discussing the subject in reference to proposals deliberately made, and made not only with the authority of the right hon. Gentleman himself, who, as I say, has given much study to the subject, but with the support of many of his colleagues on the front Opposition Bench. It is very desirable that these matters should be fully discussed. As to the proposals that are now before the House of Commons, generally speaking, they touch two matters: they touch matters of registration, and they touch matters of franchise; but as the right hon. Gentleman said, the matters of franchise have been only introduced as consequent upon, and as necessary to carry out the registration arrangements which have been proposed in this Bill. I think I shall show the House that these franchise proposals are not essential to an alteration of the law with regard to registration; and I say at once that although I am prepared to meet with a negative any proposals which were simply for the repeal of the provisions as to the payment of rates, or for the reduction of the qualifying period to a term of only three months, I will show hon. Members, I think, how the two matters of registration and franchise appear to me to be not necessarily involved. With regard to the period of qualification, it is perfectly true that there are many cases now where persons clearly belonging to the class to which Parliament has given the privilege of the franchise are unable to procure the opportunity of exercising the franchise by reason of the difficulties of the registration law. The case has been put, and truly put, that under the present state of the law it may be, in an extreme case, two and a half years before a man, who is supposed to be qualified by a twelve months' residence—it may be two and a half years after the beginning of his twelve months' qualification period before he actually comes upon the register, so as to give his vote; and that, of course, is a hardship. The proposal of this Bill would not do away with the hardship. It would, I take it, reduce that hardship; but under the present Bill, and under the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, if a man came into occupation of his house on the 1st of April instead of the 25th of March, then he could not get upon the register until the registration of the year after that, and he therefore might be nearly a year and five months, although three months was the qualifying period, before he could exercise the franchise. I do not say that that difficulty can be wholly avoided. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in the Bill which he brought forward four years ago he endeavoured to deal with that difficulty, and to deal with it by a system which has been much discussed by those who are anxious to amend the law of registration—that is, by providing for supplemental registers from time to time in the course of a year. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill of 1888 made provision for a register being formed at four different periods of the year, and brought into operation; and that would, but for an objection which is a serious one, be, to my thinking, a much better solution of the difficulty, because you could thus retain, what I think is very valuable, the requirement of twelve months' continuous qualification, and at the same time you could secure that within three months of the end of that year the person should get upon the register. The real difficulty with regard to that is its enormous expense. I think I am right; I have the Bill of 1888 before me. However, that was the principle. I fully agree that the hardship which has been discussed is one which Parliament ought to deal with, and my own view is that, directly you have got a man belonging to the class entitled to the privilege of a vote, it should be made as easy as possible for his name to come upon the list. If possible it should be by the action of a public officer, because it is a public matter that his name should be put upon the list, and when it is once there it should not be allowed to disappear from that list as long as he continues to hold the qualification which first put it there, But the hardship which is so much felt of having to wait sometimes for a year and a half or two years, or even two years and a half, before actually exercising the franchise is to my thinking of much less hardship than the one which now exists if a man changes his qualification from one constituency to another, and therefore loses again for this considerable time the right to exercise a vote. My own view is that the losing of the vote because a man moves from one constituency to another constituency is a much more serious hardship than the other. Some Members of the House will remember that in 1884, when we were dealing with a Reform Bill, I spoke and voted in favour of the proposal that successive occupation should be allowed in London not only as it now is, within the area of the divisions of an old Parliamentary borough, but that it should be allowed as between one Parliamentary borough and another. I could not see why a man who had lived in Bermondsey and went to live at Rotherhithe should be allowed to vote with successive occupations, whereas the man who lived at Clapham and went to live at Southwark should not. I think that is a matter in which an amendment should be made. But there are alternative proposals for dealing with this difficulty, and as far as I know there are only these two alternatives, with the exception of these supplemental lists. One is that you should shorten the period of residence; the other is that you should have successive occupation enabling a man to carry, from one constituency to another the title to give a vote. My own individual opinion always was in favour of the second proposal, and I am not pressed by the consideration of the local character of the representation which has been put so strongly to-day. I think the greater number of those who have dealt with the question have been of opinion that there should be some reduction in the term of residence, but certainly not so short a term as three months, and certainly not so short a term as three months coupled with a successive occupation. This Bill is a Bill of detail. It is impossible to say there is any special principle to which one commits oneself in voting either for or against such a Bill. But the objection I have to the special mode of the right hon. Gentleman is that if you have a qualifying period of three months—three months from March to June—and you allow within the limit of these three months' successive occupation, you have a man who comes into the constituency on the 14th June, the qualifying period of the three months expiring on the 24th June, perhaps with a certificate of voting power from the other constituency, and he comes immediately upon that electoral list. I confess that that would be a most serious temptation to manipulating constituencies. One knows how very narrow indeed the majorities are in a great many towns. I will give just one instance of what might happen under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman if it were accepted in all its details. I take such a place as Grantham. I find that in Grantham there was a majority at the last Election of thirty votes. Grantham is a place which has large industrial works and a great many men moving about from time time and coming in to live in the constituency. It is said that the bringing in of voters for the purpose of swamping a constituency is not likely to be done because it must be done not immediately before an Election, but immediately before the registration. But suppose you have, as you often have, a case where a new register is established for the purpose of an Election. You then get the register and the Election practically at the same time. It is pretty well known that an Election must take place in the course of the next twelve months at all events. Suppose we are dealing with this case of Grantham under the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. Fifty or a hundred workmen might be brought into Grantham a fortnight before the 24th June. They would bring with them their certificates of voting capacity from the other constituency, and by living that fortnight up to the 24th June they would be entitled to be on the register for Grantham and to vote upon that register at any election which would take place between 1st November next and the following 1st November, although they might have gone away from Grantham within a week after the 24th June had passed. That is a serious danger, the reality of which would be shown at once if we were dealing with a Bill of this kind in a Select Committee and had the opportunity of getting statistics as to the extent to which a migratory population come into or out of a particular constituency. And when you are dealing with constituencies of a different character—rural constituencies, for instance—which are affected by particular times of the year and particular procedure in regard to husbandry—with regard to their population it will be seen that this is a very serious difficulty. So I do not think it is desirable to combine a shortened period of qualification and successive occupation, and I hope that whenever this House should find it necessary to deal practically with this matter it will either content itself with some shortening of the period of twelve months—not certainly taking it down to three months—without successive occupation, or that it will deal with the question of successive occupation in another way. The other part of the Bill is the part which relates to the processes of registration and the authorities by which the processes of registration are to be carried out; and in its own admirable and deliberate way the House has hesitated very long, before it dealt with this matter. In 1868 there was a Report of a Committee of this House upon borough registration, and that Committee declared that the present system was unsatisfactory, because important and difficult duties were imposed upon unpaid overseers, who were constantly changing, and they recommended the adoption of the Scotch system. Parliament has not been in a hurry, even when it had the official leadership of those with whom the right hon. Gentleman is associated, to carry out that principle of registration. But the right hon. Gentleman in his speech accepted the Scotch system, and suggested that that was a wise system. There is a very important question to be raised with regard to that, which, again, is entirely a question of detail. The right hon. Gentleman has said it would be undesirable to oust the overseers from their present duties, because it would involve a serious interference with a long-established practice, and evidently it is so large a proposal that he shrinks from making it. At the same time, whenever this matter has to be practically dealt with, I think Parliament will have to consider very carefully what is the present expense of the system of registration as it is administered. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman certainly appears to throw a very heavy burden upon localities in this country, because he proposes that in every county there shall be a registration superintendent. By-the-bye, that is the case now. The clerk of the County Council has duties connected with the registration of a county. But the right hon. Gentleman also makes this rather serious proposal, that in every parish where there is a population of over five hundred, and where with the exception of the overseer there is no Vestry clerk or other officer whose duty it is to make out the lists of Parliamentary voters therein, the Vestry shall, on or before the 1st May in each year, appoint an officer, to be called the registration assistant, who is to do the work. Now a parish of five hundred inhabitants means sixty or seventy voters, and this is a proposal that in every parish of the country where there are sixty or seventy Parliamentary voters a public officer is to be appointed. If the Vestry do not appoint him, the Guardians of Unions are to appoint him, and he is to be paid such a salary out of the poor rate as may be fixed by the Vestry or the Guardians, as the case may be. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could have carefully considered how very large a burden would be thrown upon the parish by the appointment of a regular registration officer to deal with registration work in every parish where you have over sixty or seventy voters. Of course, this question of the expense has two sides, and I should very much like to see a careful investigation by a Committee of this House of the cost to the country in one way or another of the present system of registration. For the purpose of dealing practically with this question I have endeavoured to get some information upon the subject of the expenses of registration, which, of course, apart from the expenses of revision, are the expenses of the overseers who have to make out the lists. I obtained some time ago from a friend of mine who has great experience a return of certain parishes, town parishes and county parishes, and of the amounts which were allowed to the overseers by the revising barrister in respect of the preparation of the lists. The amounts varied very much. I had an instance of one parish of two hundred and fifty inhabitants where the amount allowed to the overseer was £28, and in another parish, where there were two hundred and forty inhabitants, the amount allowed was only ten guineas. The amounts, worked out in the boroughs to a cost of £28 per thousand electors; and in country parishes to £52 per thousand. I cannot say that the parishes which were given me could be taken as a governing rule as to the expenditure all over, but this is a very serious matter to consider. There are in England alone 4,500,000 voters, and applying the figures I was able to get to the number of these voters, I think that the lowest amount at which the expenditure of localities upon registration through the overseers can at present be put is £135,000, or £140,000 a year. We all know perfectly well the system that is adopted, though it costs that, is so unsatisfactory that the political Parties in each constituency spend a very large sum on registration. My own view is that it would be fair to take as an average that in every constituency in England, taking the two political Parties together, £300 a year is spent upon registration. That gives just the same result from private funds as we have already had from public funds, and makes £270,000 a year spent on a more or less imperfect system of registration. That is not at all satisfactory. The money might be spent in a much better way. A great deal of the money spent in Party registration is mischievously spent, and I am glad to recognise that one provision in this Bill would be a very valuable provision as reducing the amount spent in this matter. I think it is a mistake to say that Party election agents as a rule are working upon the lines which have been suggested this afternoon. The hon. Member for Walsall gave us interesting revelations of the way in which, according to him, Liberal agents carry on their practice.


And Conservatives, too, I said.


The contention was made for the Liberals; the imputation was made upon the Conservatives, but we do not accept it. A great deal of the work they have to do is to clear the list of the names of persons who have died. And I am very glad indeed to see a proposal in this Bill to make the overseers make returns of deaths four times in the year, in a way which would enable the register to be kept much better than it is now. But the right hon. Gentleman says this alteration of registration and of qualification requires the abolition of the provision regarding the payment of rates. I cannot see why. If it does require the omission of that, then it would seem to me a fatal objection to his proposal. It is true that if you have twelve months you may require the payment of rates up to the 9th of January before the end of the qualifying period; and if you make the period three months you would have to alter the period for the payment of rates. It seems to me it is most important for the sake of purity of the register, and for the sake of its completeness, that we should stand by the system which has been here adopted, and is adopted in Scotland, with results that are most excellent—namely, that the record from which the names of voters is taken should be a record which is not only connected with Parliamentary and political purposes, but is connected also with purposes of public and fiscal administration. I believe that secures the protection of the purity of the Parliamentary register, and at the same time secures that completeness of the register which is wanted, for public purposes. If you had to make a Parliamentary register which was not connected with liability to rating or for public purposes, I think that register would be much more subject to being tampered with by persons having political objects. I hope I have put before the House considerations which are of much importance in regard to this matter, and I think the House will see that, holding these views, and speaking on behalf of a Government in sympathy with the desire that there should be amendment of the Registration Law which will make more complete our register, and will make it more certain that a man who has a qualification should be on the register early, and should be kept on this register regularly, there would be no excuse in the Government inviting the House to meet with hostility the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman makes. He has recognised quite fairly, in the speech in which he opened this Debate, that the proposals he was making were proposals not of a Party character. My hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill, and whom I trust will not now think it necessary to insist upon his Motion, had, however, a suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman who proposed the Bill was inspired by astute wire-pullers, and that there was some reason for thinking that the Bill had been devised to give a Party advantage, although he did not indicate the way in which the advantage would be given in greater measure to any other Party than our own. However, I do not think this is a matter of Party advantage. My own belief is, and always has been, that the real object of both Parties ought to be to see that persons who belong to the class which is entitled to the franchise are as far as possible put upon the register and placed there with as little as trouble to themselves as can be arranged. We want to get the names of all qualified people on a great national register, and then to free them from difficulties arising simply in consequence of the complexity of Election Laws.


I think both sides of the House will be satisfied with the extremely moderate speech we have heard from the Solicitor General. I do not myself see how this is to be considered a Party question unless there were any Party that should profess to have interest in the keeping off a certain part of the people of this country who are entitled to be on the register. I should imagine that no Party would make that assertion or that profession. I quite agree with the Solicitor General that the main object of this Bill is to remove a great grievance, which operates extensively, and that is that a class of people whose employment takes them from one habitation to another should in consequence of that change lose their votes. There are hundreds and thousands of men in this country who at the next Election are entitled to vote just as much as those on the register, and yet will be not able to vote. The Solicitor General gave the instance of Grantham, where, under certain contingencies, it was anticipated that political operations might take place. But I will take the case of a place where hundreds of men are disfranchisd by the mere fact of the change of their employment. In my neighbourhood there have been established great railway works, and many hundreds of those men are brought to those works, men whom everybody will admit are as fit to have a vote as—perhaps fitter than—many of those on the register. What is the effect? The effect is that these men who have a perfectly good qualification where they have resided, will, not through any act of their own, but by change of the employment of the Railway Company to another place, lose their right to vote, it may be for a year, a year and a half, or in extreme cases for two and a half years. That is a monstrous injustice, and it is an injustice which is not a rare one, but one which is taking place every day to greater or less extent throughout the country. We all know, too, the increased trouble and expense, in consequence of that state of things, in finding out what are called "removals," and the great difficulty there is in bringing men who have gone elsewhere and not obtained a vote to the place they have left, and where they are entitled to vote. As the Solicitor General has said, there are two means by which that can be remedied. One is by shortening the time that is required for a new qualification, and the other is successive occupation. You might, if the lawyers were not supreme in this country, shorten the time very much by getting rid of the long interval between July and January during which a man cannot use the vote he is declared to be entitled to until the appeals have taken place. If sufficient time were given to the revising barristers and to the two Judges to hear appeals, I do not see why a man should not go upon the register in September or October, instead of waiting until January. I will take the case of one of these railway men, who, we may suppose, has resided in London for two or three years in one place. He is taken to another place, and the Solicitor General says he must reside twelve months in that place.


I did not say he must reside in that new place; I said he might shorten the period of twelve months by successive occupation during the twelve months. I myself voted for successive occupation.


Do I understand you to admit that if a man is twelve months in one place he may vote on one month's occupation in another place?


That would be my own view.


I think that is a view for which there is a great deal to be said. I do not see why a man who has established his occupation for whatever period is considered to give a title to a vote should not carry it with him in his new employment. That seems to me reasonable, of course with certain protection against personation and matters of that kind. I do not agree in thinking that twelve months' occupation is a necessary element. I do not see why three months' occupation—which would prove that a man was not of the character of a vagabond, but was a bonâ fide occupier—should not be sufficient. I am not going to follow the Solicitor General through all the details he has advanced, but he has spoken of the expenditure, and I agree that the money might be much better expended. And one of the objects of this Bill is that the money expended on registration shall be more economically and better expended than at present. There is no doubt, if you obtain competent people to do the work, there will be much less expenditure required in correction. As regards rating, we do not want to discard the rate-book. You may still take the rate-book, but the question is whether you are to make the vote dependent upon the personal payment of the rate. In connection with that point we consider there is a valuable principle, but with so much concurrence of opinion as to the objects we have in view I think we ought to pass the Second Reading of the Bill, and so record the desire of the House of Commons to give facilities to every man to exercise the franchise to which the Constitution declares him to be entitled. We must remember that the men who are disabled are the men who are least able to help themselves. The property voter with his plural vote is always on the register. Wherever he has occupation he carries his vote with him; but the occupier whose livelihood is the wages of labour, subject to the necessities of that labour, is constantly disfranchised, to the great injustice to himself and to the real injury of the community. Under these circumstances, I think it would be a very good thing if this afternoon we passed the Second Reading of this Bill.

MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)

I wish to enter my protest—I hope temperately and respectfully, but at the same time most firmly and earnestly—against the attitude taken by Her Majesty's Government, as expressed at the Table by the Solicitor General; and I venture to say this is the first time in Parliamentary history a Government has accepted a Bill upon an all-important and far-reaching subject, that has been brought into this House and supported by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen sitting on the opposite side of the House. It is true that the Solicitor General, with all the nebulous precision of Nisi Prius, endeavoured to persuade the House that this was a mere question of registration. On that I have two remarks to make. If this is so very important a subject, as I admit, and if it so earnestly and urgently demands reform, why have Her Majesty's Government not brought in a Bill themselves to deal with the question of registration? We are on the eve of a General Election, and a reform of the Registration Laws, if necessary, ought now to be carried out; but I submit that any such proposal for reform of the Registration Laws ought not to come from the Opposition, but from the responsible Government of the day. But I deny entirely that this is a question of registration, and I say in opposition and in answer to the Solicitor General that this Bill, so far from being a mere question of registration, cuts at the very root and basis of our representative system. I am one of those persons old-fashioned enough to believe that the franchise is a privilege for which some test of fitness ought still to be required. We have still two tests, and two only, of fitness in this country—they are the payment of rates, either personally or by the landlord, and proved residence in some locality for a certain period of time. This Bill proposes practically to abolish both these tests of fitness, because by Clause 3 it is proposed to abolish the rating qualification. Surely the rating qualification is already low enough. The Solicitor General objects to Clause 3—I say it is the vital clause of the Bill—and yet the Solicitor General and the Government are going to support the Second Reading. The other test of fitness for the exercise of the franchise is twelve months' residence in the locality, and by Clause 9 of the Bill it is proposed to reduce that period to three months, and I would call attention to this three months' residence anywhere; because by the doctrine of successive occupation a man has only got to prove that he has existed, that he has lived in this country for three months before the registration, in order to prove his qualification. In fact, what this Bill reduces the franchise to is this—it is manhood suffrage tempered by the proof of three months' existence. That is merely the principle underlying this most dangerous and most mischievous Bill. There is another point which does affect us. Metropolitan Conservative Members so closely that I must beg leave to draw to it the attention of the House. It is proposed that the registration superintendent, who shall practically have the whole control of the registration of voters in the Metropolis, should be an officer appointed by the London County Council—a body whose majority are animated by the most malevolent Party bias. It is to this body—the sworn enemies of Her Majesty's Government—that it is proposed to hand over the loyal body of their Conservative supporters. I most earnestly protest against the attitude of the Government. There is only one drop of consolation in the bitter cup which I am not going to drink this afternoon, and that is, that this miserable Bill has not the slightest chance of passing into law. None the less, as a matter of principle, shall I vote against it, with the firm conviction that I have never given a sounder vote in my short Parliamentary life.

(4.52.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.

Perhaps I may be allowed to make a few remarks upon what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann). As the Solicitor General has very clearly explained to the House, the Bill consists of two parts—one dealing with the limitation of the period required to give the necessary qualification for voting, and the other dealing with the machinery for registration. My own view with regard to the period of qualification is, that should the subject be touched at all, it should be touched with a most cautious hand, and in a most cautious manner. Undoubtedly, whatever change is to be made, I could not go to the length of the proposal contained in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. With regard to registration, I believe that a very large number of gentlemen on both sides of the House—certainly on this side of the House—have pledged themselves publicly to a reform of the registration laws, and are desirous of having such reform carried out. The difficulty this afternoon is to decide what line should be taken in reference to a Bill dealing with the subject. I should imagine that there are parts of the Bill to which every man sitting on this side of the House would strongly object. I can also conceive that there are other parts of the Bill to which hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House could have no objection. Certainly we are not called upon to exercise anything in the nature of Party discipline, or to ask hon. Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House either to vote for the Bill or to vote against it. The Government themselves are not committed either to the Second Reading or against it. Those who vote for the Second Reading, I conceive, will not consider that they are pledging themselves to swallow wholesale the views contained in the Bill with regard to the qualifying period; while those who vote against the Second Reading will not desire to regard themselves as committed against any reform of the existing machinery. I do not understand the heat which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham has thrown into his observations on this subject. He must see that it is most inexpedient—unless he thinks that the existing system of registration is perfect—to preclude the House from the chance of publicly expressing its desire that some reform should be entertained. I do not myself see that I am the least bound not to oppose, to the utmost of my power, the particular suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to the diminution of the qualifying period; but I would not resist the Second Reading, because I believe that many of the provisions of the Bill are good as they stand, whilst others by alteration may be made good.

*(4.57.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I cannot agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Peckham that no Member of the House has any right to introduce a Bill on this important question, or that such a duty ought always to devolve upon the Government. We should never be able to urge upon the Government the importance of questions unless independent Members introduced Bills, and the attention of the Government was thus drawn to them.


That is not what I laid down, or anything like it. I said that a Bill dealing with Parliamentary Reform should be introduced by the Government.


But proposals for Parliamentary reform generally proceed from the Opposition. If you always left Parliamentary Reform to those who were in Office, you would get very little reform of this character. Lord Grey carried his Reform Bill by his exertions when in Opposition, and only completed it when in Office. It is by exercising the powers of opposition and by calling attention to errors that exist that reforms are brought about. I will not follow the hon. Member for Peckham in his remarks. I do not think he contributed very much in the way of practical suggestion as to how we should act in regard to existing grievances. When we dealt with the Franchise Bill of 1884 and the Redistribution Bill of 1885, there was always a great difficulty on the part of those who were in charge of them in showing that they were Franchise Bills and not Registration Bills. The subjects are mixed up so closely together that there was great difficulty in keeping them separate. Hon. Members were constantly wishing to introduce provisions affecting registration, but it was suggested that they should be postponed till a fitting time came for dealing with such matters. I think that thanks are due to the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this measure for having framed practical suggestions which can be considered by the House. I will not go into the details of the Bill. I will deal first with the question whether we should retain the present rating qualification or not. The hon. Member for Peckham stated that rating is regarded as evidence of fitness for the franchise; but I would point out that whilst the rate book is regarded as the best proof that a person is holding as an occupier, it has never been intended to be a test of fitness for the franchise. In 1869 Parliament enabled all small tenement holders to vote without themselves paying rates. When the service franchise was created, the rating qualification was dispensed with and why should that qualification be insisted upon for the master when it is not applied to the servant? As amatter of fact, the rating qualification was introduced in order to make the rate book the basis of the register, but that is a mere matter of conversion not of qualification. As to the time of occupation, every householder ought to exercise his vote without any restriction except in one respect—the occupying qualification should be sufficiently long to prevent the invasion of constituencies. The more eminent a candidate is, the more liable he would be to such invasion. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) might lose his seat, not by the votes of the bonâ fide electors, but by those of men introduced into his constituency solely for the purpose of getting rid of a most distinguished opponent. Surely some safeguard should be maintained against that. I agree with the general argument of the Solicitor General, but in his answer to the right hon. Member for Derby, the hon. and learned Gentleman contradicted that argument, when he said that a man, having a six months' qualification in one constituency and only a day's residence in another, ought to be allowed to vote in the latter constituency. That would not be a fair exercise of the franchise. I am desirous, however, that there should be a great mitigation of the absurd occupation period of two years and six months. The House must remember that when Parliament gave household suffrage it did not intend that there should be an interval of between two and three years before the franchise could be exercised. The object should be to give as unrestricted a franchise as is compatible with the prevention of undue invasion or attack in any constituency. I agree that the time ought to be altered at which the register comes into operation. There is no reason why the Parliamentary register should not come into existence as soon as it is made. The municipal register comes into existence on the 1st November. Why should not the Parliamentary register come into existence at the same time? It has been urged that the successive occupation clause would lead to a great deal of personation. I would venture to suggest a way in which the amount of personation now existing might be lessened. A great amount which now occurs in our elections is in respect of dead people. My suggestion is that the registrar of deaths should be required to give notice to the returning officer of the death of every elector as it occurs. Then the names could be struck off the register at once, and there would be no possibility of personation taking place. There are other suggestions I should have liked to make with regard to the Bill, but I will not now enter into the details. I am glad to think that there will be a vote of the House in favour of this Bill, because it will establish the fact that the majority of the Members believe a reform of the existing registration system to be necessary.

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

We have been witnesses this afternoon of a very curious scene on the Treasury Bench, and I think that some Member of the House should call attention to it. In the first place a subordinate Member of the Government, the Solicitor General, was put up to bless the Bill, and to express a general approval of its clauses; then a representative Member of the Conservative Party, the hon. Member for Peckham, got up, and spoke what I venture to believe is the voice of the majority of that Party. The First Lord of the Treasury comes into the House, and, hearing what his follower is saying, quickly picks up what the mind of his own Party is with reference to the question. He then gets up and takes practically the point of view of the hon. Member for Peckham, immediately throwing over the Solicitor General. The Solicitor General had not spoken for the Government, and the Government are not going to oppose the Bill, because they trim their sails to every wind that blows. The fact is the Government do not like this Bill. During the last six years the Conservative Party have several times voted against proposals brought forward for the amendment of the registration laws; but now, on the eve of the General Election, they have not the courage to say they are opposed to this Bill. The existing registration law of this country is utterly bad. It belongs to a time when a vote was a privilege and not a right, and when it had the effect of keeping people off the register. We ought now to have a system which will enable people to get on the register. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury touched the crux of the question when he referred to the absurd occupation period of two years and six months. No man could have contemplated, when the reform of 1884 took place, that such a state of things would now exist. Both the First Lord of the Treasury and the Solicitor General are against the proposal to shorten the period of occupation necessary for qualification. What is the value of a Registration Amendment Bill unless it will shorten the period of occupation? It is worthless. For the Government to pretend that they are supporting a reform in the Registration Laws when they refuse to support a proposal for shortening the period of occupation is simply ridiculous. Now, Sir, this matter is one in which the constituencies take great interest. I am not far wrong when I say that more than a million of people who should be on the register in England and Wales are kept off it by the present bad and faulty registration system. Let me call the attention of the House to the extreme necessity for this measure for London, where we suffer more in this respect than in any other place. In illustration of this simple fact I may say that last year, by the Tory and Liberal registration agents and associations no fewer than 93,000 names were placed upon the register, and no fewer than 22,000 names—many of the persons being dead—were struck off. The 92,867 names placed on the register by the various agents and associations were left off owing to the carelessness which the existing system makes possible. That I venture to say, is a state of things which would be impossible if this Bill became law. Then the number of persons in London whose claim to vote is rendered null and void in consequence of their removing from one part of the Metropolis to the other, or because they change their qualification, or for some other reason of the same description, is quite fifty per cent. of the whole electorate. The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Bill has proposed a certain change in the matter of the registration of the old lodger, and I cannot see why he has not made a similar change with regard to the registration of the new lodger. I hope he will consider that point. Another matter to which I desire to call the attention of the House is that, whereas the Bill provides for successive occupation in various districts, it does not provide for what is a still more familiar form of disqualification—namely, change of qualification from occupier to lodger, and vice versâ. These, however, are questions which could be dealt with in Committee. What, however, I have risen especially to point out is the absurd action of the Treasury Bench in this matter, and how clear it is that the Solicitor General has been thrown over by the First Lord of the Treasury, whose views on this Bill are represented by the hon. Member for Peckham.

*(5.14.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

I had no intention whatever of saying a word upon this Bill; but the remarks of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) and of the hon. Member for Hoxton (Mr. J. Stuart) have induced me to do so. On the one hand, I should not like it to be supposed that the hon. Member for Peckham represents the general feeling on this side of the House; and, on the other hand, I think the hon. Member for Hoxton has infused into this matter a party element for which there is no justification. The Bill was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld) in terms most reasonable and moderate, and that feeling was fully reciprocated by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke). I would remind the House that both political organisations have recognised the difficulties of registration, and appreciate the fact that there are many points capable of amendment. At Birmingham, last year, the Conservative National Union passed a resolution of mine in favour of registration reform, and as the hon. Member for Hoxton imputes to hon. Members on this side a lack of interest in this question, I may point out to him that the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Bolton) and I have introduced this Session a Bill providing for successive occupation in the case of lodgers, and for otherwise amending the Registration Laws, and that the names of Conservative Members are among others on the back of that Bill. Personally, whatever the Treasury Bench may think generally, I, as an independent Conservative, most heartily approve of the sentiments which have been expressed by the Solicitor General. The time may soon come for us, as it has for many other countries, when we shall have to choose between household suffrage and manhood suffrage, and we, who believe in the principle of household suffrage, are of opinion that it will be best maintained by making its application as inclusive as possible, and so strengthening what is the franchise of citizenship. No one can have any experience of the delays, technicalities, anomalies, and disappointments, due to the want of the powers of amendment conferred by this Bill which exist in the Revising Barristers' Courts—and which tend to create a feeling of disgust in the minds of the voters—without feeling that something should be done in the direction proposed by this Bill to remedy such defects and shortcomings of the law. In my opinion, moreover, the work of registration is badly done by party action, and would be much better done by public officers. The appointment of public officers would not only prevent great delay and inconvenience to voters themselves, but it would terminate a state of things which demands that so much party energy should, as now, be dissipated in the useless and thankless task of registration drudgery. If politicians, instead of devoting the dog days to revision and mere technical details, could spend the time in taking a higher and better part in politics; for instance, in imparting political instruction, much real good would result, and, personally, I do not share the distrust of official County Council and Municipal action which has been expressed. I think, Sir, the principle underlying this Bill is a right one. The third clause is certainly open to criticism, because I still believe in maintaining essentially a citizen franchise. If taxation without representation is tyranny, I think representation without taxation may prove to be tyranny over other people. There are evils to be redressed in connection with the Registration Laws, such as the deprivation of the right to vote in cases of successive occupation both in and outside the same electoral area—with proper precautions for proving identity and preventing personation—and I hope and believe that this side of the House is anxious to help in redressing them, and that they will, therefore, support the Second Reading of this Bill.

*(5.20.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I should like to call particular attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. He came into the House for a few moments only, and stated that the Front Bench were at liberty to vote whichever way they liked; but, at the same time, as soon as the Bill goes into Committee, he should do his best to strangle it in some of its most important points. The right hon. Gentleman expressed himself as diametrically opposed to the provisions for shortening the qualifying period, and also, as I understand, to those relating to residence in different electoral districts. Now, it seems to me, judging by the needs of the working-class districts with which I am acquainted, that the most vital points of this Bill are the very ones the right hon. Gentleman has decided against. Under the existing law, if a man goes from one place to another in order to get work that he may keep his wife and family, he loses his right to vote. The Bill now before the House will remove that grievance amongst others, yet that is one of the things the Leader of the House has declared himself opposed to. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman can consent to allow his Party to vote as they like since he has determined to do the Bill all the harm he can when it gets into Committee.

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

I think it is evident, from the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, that his followers are going to support this Bill because they know it will not be proceeded with further than the Second Reading this year, and because some of them have stated on public platforms that their Party would bring in a Registration Bill. That is only another specimen of the policy which has been adopted by the Government this Session in connection with various Motions distasteful to them. I am sorry to miss from the Treasury Bench the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of whom we have heard a good deal with regard to Registration Bills. As the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) has said that they are almost united on the other side as to this Bill, it might be as well that the House should hear a few words from a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject of registration. On the same day that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) was pressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Hull to go in for a Registration Bill, and the Solicitor General was advocating the same thing at Westminster, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen), speaking on this question, was reported in the Times to have said— It would mean a new distribution of political power; one more tinkering with the Constitution, and an attempt once more to pick the Constitution to pieces. That is the Ministerial view of registration. And I think it just as well, as we are going to a Division, that the country should know that, although a section of the Conservative Party will vote for this Bill, they have not the slightest intention of assisting to pass it into law. The hon. Member for Hoxton (Mr. J. Stuart) has gone into details with regard to London that I should have dwelt upon had I spoken before him. But as I do not wish to waste the time of the House I will refrain from touching on more than one point—namely, the question of successive occupation. London suffers more in this respect than any other city in the Kingdom. In Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow a man may move from one part of the city to the other and claim his vote on the ground of successive occupation; but in London he cannot move from Southwark to Brixton, or anywhere else in the Metropolis, without running the risk of being off the register two years and live months. As time is getting short I will not say more than that I hope the country will understand that the promise of a Registration Bill from the Government is a very hollow one indeed.

Question put.

(5.25.) The House divided:—Ayes 295; Noes 88.—(Div. List, No. 143.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.