§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [23rd March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells),
in moving; the following Amendment:—That this House, while desirous of improving the existing system of the Registration of Parliamentary Voters, is of opinion that the expense of such Registration, which it is now proposed materially to increase, should not be raised in a manner unequal and unjust by imposing an additional charge on occupiers of houses and lauds only,said that, in submitting this Amendment to the House, he hardly thought it necessary to disclaim any opposition to the principle of the Bill. He entirely recognised the necessity for some substantial reforms in their system of registration. If it was right to concede the electoral privilege it must be reasonable to afford every reasonable facility to the voter to exercise the privilege which the State had bestowed upon him. In giving a general approval to the Bill before the House he was bound to state that, in his opinion, many of its details would require consideration and amendment. His Amendment was confined to one aspect of the Bill, and one only; and he hoped the Government would see the necessity of meeting him in the matter. That was not a Party question in any sense, and he appealed to hon. Members on both sides to support the proposal he was submitting. To the Representatives of the agricultural interests he would make a distinct appeal. That was not a moment when the agricultural interests should be subjected to any increased burden of taxation, for the burdens already 1226 imposed upon them were heavier than they could bear. He thought, however, he should be able to show that this Bill would increase their burdens. He should like to point out that the burden of rates fell, as it had always fallen, with great severity upon a class to whom they paid a deal of lip-service—the class of "statesmen" in the North of England, the yeoman farmers. These yeoman farmers were among those whose property was most severely dealt with by this system of rating, and at this moment there was no class in England who were suffering so severely from the effects of agricultural depression. It was not with them a question of dividing the rates or fair rents; they had no landlords to fall back upon, and they had no one to help them whilst their property was subjected to two sets of taxation—namely, the share of Imperial taxation and the burden of rates as well. It was for that class he pleaded, and whatever amount of extra taxation was imposed by that measure they ought to be free. The money that was collected by the machinery of a rate was a special burden upon a special class of property. It fell upon the owners and occupiers of rural property, and constituted upon that property and people a special charge which did not extend to the community at large. The collector of rates visited the house of the yeoman farmer and the general run of occupiers, swept their contributions into his net, but passed by the mansion of the millionaire. By the present system of rating, the gathering ground of the collector was a very limited ground, and he contended that they would never get justice done until they increased the gathering ground so as to include within its limits all kinds of property, so that all might pay in proportion to their ability to pay. In the case of the Income Tax, the House Tax, &c, everyone paid in accordance with his ability to pay; but that principle did not apply to the case of rates. The essence of the grievance in regard to rating was that it was not assessed on a man's ability to pay, but solely on the rateable value of the premises occupied, and that in no respect corresponded to the justice of the case and the ability to pay, as in the case of almost every other tax. There bad been a rapid and continuous fall in the value of land, and whereas 1d. 1227 in the Income Tax used to produce £48,000, they were told the other night it had fallen to £36,000—a diminution of 25 per cent. Landed property had been going down for many years past, it was to be feared that further depreciation would take place, so that agricultural sufferings were more likely to increase than diminish. He would like to give the House two or three figures to substantiate the general proposition he had made. In 1871 the total annual value of property and profits assessed for Income Tax purposes amounted to £400,000,000. Twenty years later—in 1891, the last year for which they had the statistics—it was £600,000,000, or an increase of £200,000,000 in 20 years—being at the rate of £10,000,000 a year. This thoroughly confirmed the Chancellor of the Exchequer's view of the rapid increase of the wealth of the community at large. During the last 10 years they had had heavy burdens to bear; but he would remind the House that the land, which 10 years ago was valued at £51,000,000, had fallen to £41,000,000, and more recent figures would, he had no doubt, show that the fall was still going on. It was on this diminished and diminishing income, and not on the great mass of property, that it was proposed to throw the additional charges imposed by this Bill. His contention was that, the system was unjust, and that these new charges should he spread over all. This was as important for the town as for the country. Each man ought to pay in proportion to his ability to pay, and that should be applied without any respect to persons. He did not know that it was necessary to establish the view that the circumstances of agriculture rendered it necessary that no extra burdens should be placed on it. In the Gracious Speech from the Throne they were informed that there was a wide prevalence of agricultural distress; and, when the Government came down to announce so self-evident and distinct an expression of opinion, he thought the time was come when it was the duty of the Government to somehow deal with it. Even at present agriculture was suffering owing to the continued dry weather. That certainly was not the time to levy extra expense upon agriculture. Then, as to cost, he could not estimate the 1228 amount, but it was evident that there would be a swarm of new officials. In his own county they had seven divisions, and they would have seven Registrars, each necessarily with subordinate officers and the necessary assistants. These Registrars would have to exercise quasi- judicial functions, and they would require a certain amount of legal ability. It would he a good thing for the solicitors throughout the country, for an enormous number of appointments would have to be filled, and they could not be filled without salaries. That would be an increase of several thousands a year on the county rates, and under the Bill the charge was transferred from the Municipal Boroughs to the County Councils—in fact, transferred to the county rates. There was nothing to show that the Municipal Boroughs would have to pay for them as they paid now. He had endeavoured as fairly as he could to place his views before House. The proposal that was being made would place extra burdens on the shoulders of those who were least able to bear any increase of taxation. It was, however, of the utmost importance—it was national importance—that they should have the name of every duly qualified citizen on their roll of voters. What he had said in the matter he had said without any Party bias whatever, and he trusted to hear that the Government were willing to meet his views. Right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench must know that the interests of a very large and important section of Her Majesty's subjects were involved in this question, and in the adoption of the views he had been advocating. It could not be denied that the burdens he complained of would be added to the classes of whom he had spoken, and he could but hope that the Government would gee their way to meet the objections and to realise the urgency of the case. He begged to move the Resolution standing in his name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while desirous of improving the existing system of the Registration of Parliamentary Voters, is of opinion that the expense of such Registration, which it is now proposed materially to increase, should not be raised in a manner un-
equal and unjust by imposing an additional charge on occupiers of houses and lands only,"—(Sir Richard Paget,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. EDWARD STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, he sympathised most heartily with what had been said by the hon. Baronet the Mover of the Resolution as to the difficulties of agriculturists at the present time; and, though he was by no means hostile to the Bill as a whole, he would say that the burdens to be borne by those classes were very large, and might be larger if something wore not done. He was anxious, however, as well to deal with the Bill generally. He understood he would not be able to move the Amendment that stood in his name, and for that reason he would have to say a few words on points that he regarded as of great importance. He objected first of all to Clause 3. That clause was intended to simplify, while in reality it complicated, the registration of lodgers. The lodger franchise, in his judgment, lent itself to a good deal of bogus registration of persons who had no claim whatever to be enrolled as lodgers. In the Southern Division of Somerset, for example, a Member was returned in 1886 with the small majority of 157. Party feeling ran very high in the district, and there were only 38 lodgers on the Register; but the present state of the Register showed that there were 388 lodgers—an increase which was almost entirely due to the lodgers who were placed on the Register by the Party who were beaten in 1886. hi the Northern Division of Somerset in 1886 there was a majority of over 2,000; in 1892 the seat was lost to the Party by 19 votes. The lodger votes sprang up in one year from 29 to 297; and that enormous increase belonged to the Party who lost the seat by 19 votes. How was that increase brought about? In the Division which he represented a farmhouse, assessed at £20 a year, not only qualified the farmer himself, but also his three sons as lodgers. That was a case very difficult to meet, as the onus of proof that the sons did not pay so much per annum as lodgers lay not with the 1230 claimants, but with the objectors. In the Wells Division of the county the Election of 1886 brought about no contest, and the number of lodgers was only 19. In 1892 the number of lodgers had risen to 74; but there was a large watering-place in the Division where one might naturally expect to find a considerable number of lodgers. In the Bridgwater Division in 1886 there was no contest, and in 1892 the Member was returned by a majority exceeding 1,000. In 1886 the number of lodgers was 17; in 1892 the number was 25. These figures showed that where Party feeling did not run high, or there were large majorities, there was no necessity or attempt made to manipulate the Register, and that the lodger vote varied very slightly. But they saw the result in cases where Party feeling did run high, and where Parties were evenly balanced. The figures showed the lodger franchise to be in a very unsatisfactory condition indeed. What remedy could they apply? He would suggest that the lodger qualification should be entirely abolished. Liberal Members had not the slightest desire to disfranchise any voter. They were satisfied that the sons of farmers and the squires should possess their votes; but equal facilities should be given to the small tradesmen and working men of the villages and the towns. Those were the sentiments they ought to support. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would endeavour to meet the view he had expressed. If they enfranchised the sons of the classes they should enfranchise the sons of the people. It was said that the £10 qualification provision was to be dropped out of the Scottish Bill. If the £10 qualification was to be done away with in the case of Scotland, he hoped the same course would be followed in the present Bill. If that was not possible, he would ask the Government to drop Clause 3 out altogether. With reference to the 4th clause, which related to the appointment of Registrars of electors, he could not see what reason there was for interfering with the overseers in our rural parishes, who at present, as a rule, did their work very well indeed. He quite admitted that it might be desirable to appoint Superintendent Registrars in electoral districts in order to look after village overseers and provide for the cor- 1231 rection of mistakes. But in Clause 4 there was the objectionable provision that the County Councils should appoint the Superintendent Registrars. He said that provision was objectionable, because a County Council was, ill almost every case, a body having a large Party majority, and if Superintendent Registrars were appointed by such bodies the appointments would be influenced by Party considerations. He agreed with the Leader of the Opposition when he said that it was right and proper for these Local Bodies to hold strong Party feelings, and that he would not care for any Local Body which had not such a feeling on one side or the Other; but that was the very reason why the County Councils should not have power to appoint the Registrars. Party considerations Ought not to be introduced into this matter at all, and the preparation of the Register should be under the control of a person who would see that a fair, just, and impartial Register was prepared, in order that the full sense of the country might be taken whenever there was an appeal to the country. He knew it had been argued that it was a sound principle re commit to the County Councils the appointment of these officials. That would be true if the matter were a local one. But the preparation of the Register was not a mere local, parochial, or municipal question, but was rather a question which ought to be regarded from a national point of view. Over the appointment of the Superintendent Registrars the House ought to preserve some control, and he ventured to suggest that with that object the appointments ought to be placed in the hands of the President of the Local Government Board. There would not be a large number of them. If it was not desirable to entrust the Local Government Board with the making of the appointments, the officials might be appointed by the Judges as Revising Barristers were. To his mind, however, it was not right for the House to lose control over the appointments. The Bill provided that the Registrars should hold office during the pleasure of the County Councils. He objected to that plan, for there would be an inducement in places where Party feeling was very strong to intimate to the gentlemen preparing the Register that they were likely to hold their appointments only as long as they 1232 took care that the Party in the majority did not come off second best in the Registration Courts. He trusted that the Government, and especially the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, would do something to enable Liberal County Members like himself, who strongly objected to this portion of the Bill, to vote for the measures They were anxious to support the Registration Clauses, to make it easy for men to got get the Register, but it seemed difficult to vote for a Bill which did not simplify the lodger franchise. He trusted that Clauses 3 and 4 would be materially modified and the Bill not referred to a Grand Committee.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
said, that although the registration of the electorate required amendment, he did not think that the Bill went in the right direction. The great difficulty he foresaw with regard to the Bill was that it would give unscrupulous politicians a means of gerrymandering the constituencies. He spoke feelingly: lit the last Parliament he, had mentioned that a if agree number of practically bogus claims were put forward in the Registration Courts, and that Revising Barristers found it necessary to send cases before the Public Prosecutor, and having considered the matter very carefully, he had, come to the conclusion that a very small expenditure of money would enable a political Party whose majority was not large to get upon the Register men who properly speaking, ought not to be voters. In a borough like his, which had eight wards all close together, with a three mouths qualification, what chance would the personation agents have of knowing who the people were? Under the Bill a man would merely have to prove that he had a three mouths' qualification. The qualifying period ought to be extended from three to six months, dating from the time the officials in charge of the Register were notified that a person had come into the neighbourhood. That would enable the Party managers to see that the claim of the person claiming to be put on the Register was a bonâ fide claim. No doubt, especially in the Metropolis, a great number of people were not on the Register who ought to be; and he would, therefore, be glad to see their claims made good, no matter what Party they belonged 1233 to. All he wanted was to have Members properly elected to the House. If the majority of the electors in Hammersmith were Conservatives, let them return a Conservative or a Unionist; and if they were the other way, let them return a Gladstonian. But, for himself, he would not be a party to getting a single man on the Register who ought not to be there. He would go so far as to say that there were Liberals in his constituency who were of the same opinion as himself on the matter. But they had to deal with those who, perhaps, looked more to their Party interests than to anything else; and he, therefore, wished to see an absolutely good Bill introduced, and one that would put men who were entitled to vote on the Register, whilst keeping off those who ought not to be there. He did not agree with the President of the Local Government Board that the Hill would be the means of doing away with the heavy expenses attending registration. The measure, if passed in its present shape, would bring extra expense on the Party organisations. It was to be hoped that it would not be sent to a Grand Committee, but would be dealt with in Committee of the House, and he trusted that there the qualifying period of residence would be extended from three mouths to six. If it passed in its present form it would be necessary for each Party to watch its effect upon the other Party very keenly, and that would enhance the expenses. With regard to the Registrars, he should like to see authorities appointed who at present occupied some official position in the electoral area—possibly the overseers.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not listen to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Hammersmith (General Goldsworthy) in regard to the period of qualification. He would join the hon. Member in any attempt to prevent gerrymandering, and in any endeavour to strengthen the measure; but he could not for a moment see how raising the residential qualification from three to six months would help them in the matter. By that course they would be showing a want of confidence in the masses of the people, and would debar a great number of people who ought to have a vote from getting upon the Register. People could not be expected 1234 to move to the day in order to insure getting upon the Register. He hoped, therefore, that the President of the Local Government Board would adhere to the three months' qualification. There might be something done to strengthen the Removal Clause if it was thought that that would lend itself to gerrymandering. He should not object to see that clause struck out, but he should like to see a three mouths' qualification, with the Register made up twice after a proper house-to-house canvass by the authorities. When the Register was made up it should be final, and they should do away with going beyond the Register in the case of scrutinies. That would be an advantage to all who were interested in registration work. In talking of a house-to-house canvass, some people might be afraid that he was attempting to increase what many Members were already afraid of—namely, the expenditure under the Bill. He was looking with great interest to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board to know what was the cost at present under the Registration Act. He (Mr. Rowlands) had looked into the matter, and the present system seemed to him the most costly and inefficient that it was possible to adopt, the expenditure being divided between two or three authorities. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had no idea of the expenditure incurred. They had the cumbersome system of their overseers first preparing the Overseers' Lists, which were utilised just up to the registration period, and then a second Register being prepared and printed separately, the Overseers' Lists being thrown aside. That was a system they wanted to get rid of. In London some of the authorities prepared the lists very efficiently. In one parish which formed a large part of his constituency, the Vestry Clerk was the assistant overseer, and he devoted a large amount of time, with his staff of clerks, to doing this work. Returns were sent round to the owners of tenement houses, and these people were looked after closely. If they did not send in the returns properly they were threatened with consequences, and before long he hoped a step further would be taken, and that proceedings would be taken against such of the owners as did not make returns. He wished to endorse all that had been said 1235 by the hon. Member for Somerset as to the abolition of the qualification that was now imposed upon lodgers. A more farcical qualification it was impossible to conceive. In London, where they knew, perhaps, more about the lodger franchise than in any other part of the country, tenement occupiers of model lodging-houses paying 1s. 6d., 2s., or 2s. 6d. a week were placed upon the Register as a matter of course, and were entitled to vote, not only at Parliamentary Elections, but also at Municipal and Board of Guardians and School Board Elections, and the lodger who paid £10 a year was required to make a formal application every 12 months to be placed upon it. Clause 3 was of some importance to London, as there wore at present in London somewhere about 70,000 or 80,000 lodgers on the Register. That number would be vastly increased if the tenement-occupier system were extended to them. It was said that if they gave the lodgers in London the right to be continued on the Register by the authorities after they had once been put on it the difficulty would be overcome; but he maintained that the difficulty could not be overcome in that way. It would be found that they lost about 50 per cent. of the lodgers each year, and an exceedingly strong case could be made out for these people. This was not a Party question at all; but as there were a vast number of lodgers in London—persons who paid higher rentals than many who were on the Register—he should like to see the £10 qualification swept away. Let the lodger be put on the Register because he has resided in a house just as the tenement occupier is put on. That would be a simple way of dealing with the matter; but whether or not he trusted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would give some consideration to the claims of the lodgers. The case mentioned by the hon. Member for Somerset was a most extraordinary one. It was hardly conceivable that a £20 house could qualify three lodgers as well as the farmer who rented the house. But if the £10 qualification were done away with something else would remain to be done. They would have to get rid of the proof of separate occupancy. However, the details of the Bill would have to be threshed out in Committee, 1236 where, no doubt, they would have plenty of specialists to help them. He congratulated the President of the Local Government Board on his Bill, so far as it went; but he wished he had gone a step further and had got rid of the Revising Barrister, by which means £25,000 a year would have been saved.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down illustrated the extraordinary character of the Bill. It professed to be a registration Bill, but the hon. Member had not made a single allusion to any single department of the subject of Registration. The hon. Member's speech dealt entirely with qualification, and so did the Bill. It was a Bill which came before the House in a false character and with a false nose upon it. The greater part of the clauses of the Bill related not to registration, but qualification. It reminded him of the man who asked for a halfpenny oyster at an oyster stall. The oyster was in a Very large shell, and the man took the shell and began to fill it with vinegar and pepper. The oysterseller thereupon objected, saying—"You wanted a halfpenny oyster, and you are taking three-halfpennyworth of vinegar and pepper." In this Bill they had a halfpennyworth of registration and three-halfpennyworth of qualification. It had one demerit in common with many Bills. It embodied the provisions of 20 Acts of Parliament, repealing some and partly repealing others; and how was it possible, when 20 Acts were treated in this fragmentary, scrappy way, for Members to understand the full scope of the Bill? He had put a question on the Paper to the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill, in reply to which he hoped to have a statement showing the actual effect of the measure upon the Acts of Parliament enumerated in it. It was very easy for Ministers who had clerks and secretaries under them to appreciate the effects of the Bill; but he ventured to say that few, if any, Members of the House had examined and compared the working of the different Acts quoted in the Schedule of the Bill, and he believed that nobody, save, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman himself, was in a position to appreciate fully what the Bill would effect. He objected to it on two main grounds. One was 1237 that it abolished rating as a qualification for the franchise, and it practically abolished residence as well. Heretofore the English franchise was founded upon residence, and it should ever continue so. It was conferred upon those inhabitants who performed public duties and met all their public charges. The principle of representation in the House was not that they were to take individuals and boil them down into Members of Parliament, but that they were to take from each locality with its corporate life, as representing a separate entity in the State, a person to speak on behalf of that locality. He maintained that the Bill would abolish rating altogether as a condition of registration, and so shortened the term of residence that it practically abolished that also. At present the condition of qualification was a 12 mouths' residence, ending on the 15th July, with the condition of paying the assessed taxes due on the 5th January before the 20th July. The lists of voters made up from persons who were qualified were published on the 15th August, claims and objections were then heard, the Revising Barrister did his part, and the lists were ready for Municipal Elections on the 1st November, and for Parliamentary Elections on the 1st of January following. The interval between the 15th July and the 1st January required for revision was 5½ months. No doubt there was some grievance on the part of those who had to wait 5 mouths for the admission of their claims, and a still greater grievance on the part of those who had not merely completed a year of residence, but probably, perhaps, another year. He would show the alterations proposed to be effected by the Bill. Take voter A. He entered on the 10th July, 1892. Under the present system A must be in residence, say, from 10th July, 1892, until the l5th July, 1893, and after that it required 5½ months longer to get him on the Register of Voters, so that 17½ mouths would elapse before he would be placed upon the Register. Then take the case of another voter, B, who entered upon occupation of premises on July 17, 1892, and continued to the 15th July, 1894, which was 24 months. He also would have to wait 5½ months for his revision; therefore 29½ months would elapse before he would find his 1238 name upon the Register. Now, A had no grievance under the present system, assuming the period of residence to be right; B had a grievance, inasmuch as it had taken him 12 months longer than A to get on the Register. It was now proposed that A, if he were to enter on March 24, 1894, should have completed his sufficient term of residence on June 24, 1894. But revision would then take 4¼ months, making together 7¼ months before A would be placed upon the Register. Taking the date of entry in B's case as March 26, 1894, he would be 19¼ months before getting upon the Register. Therefore, the difference between the cases of A and B would still be 12 months under the new, as it was now under the old, system. Then there was a proposal to abolish the annual application of lodgers for the franchise. He considered that such a practice was necessary, and that it should not be departed from, because very often people who had lodgers, particularly in large towns, did not even know their names. He submitted that it would be impossible to make a complete list, or, in fact, any sort of list of lodgers except by machinery already existing—that was to say, the method which required that the lodger should make his claim every year. The lodger ought to make his claim every year. He had been admitted to the franchise under purely exceptional circumstances. Under the old law, under the common law, under the principle of representation, the lodger had no claim to be a voter at all. Then as to the district Registrars. There was no reason to interfere with the present system, under which the assistant overseers performed their duty excellently well. There was no reason why these officials should be superseded. The Registrars were to be appointed either by the Town Council or the County Council, who were empowered at their discretion to remove any men so appointed from office without assigning the least reason, and it was provided that under such circumstances the Registrar should not be entitled to any compensation. What was this but an announcement to the Registrar that unless he fulfilled to the full the behests and carried out in their entirety the political ideas of the body who appointed him he was to be placed absolutely at their mercy? He con- 1239 tended that the provision was a direct invitation to the County Council or the Borough Council to import into those appointments that Party spirit by which, unfortunately, such bodies were too often animated. He would suggest that, if appointments of this character were to be made at all, they should, at any rate in the County of Lancaster, be put in the hands of the person who was apparently, in his own estimation, the only man connected with that county who was entirely free from Party bias—namely, the Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Bryce). He now came to one of the most objectionable features of the Bill. If this were merely a Registration Bill which honestly endeavoured to amend faults in registration he did not believe that a single Member of the House would stand up against it. Clause 8 provided that an elector who moved from one Parliamentary Division into another could, after residing for three months in the second division, be transferred from the Register of the first division to that of the second division, and should then cease to be registered in the first division. It was not stated how he was to be transferred. However, this 16 weeks' casual might override by his vote the vote of a man who was an actual inhabitant of the place and had been there for 19¼ months. Perhaps he had been abroad for his country's good, or had been serving the State in some other less involuntary capacity. Yet in 16 weeks he became as good a man as the old resident, and could neutralise the latter's vote. This provision showed that the Bill had been conceived not in a spirit of justice, but in great haste and without duo consideration. He wished to quote the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on the point. He knew it was not of much use quoting the Prime Minister against himself or against any of his Colleagues; because as soon as this was done an explanation was always forthcoming either that the quotation was an old one or a forgotten one, or that it applied to somebody else or to some other matter, and was not applicable to the case in hand. The quotation, however, which he wished to use was not an old one, and did apply to the present case. Speaking at Edinburgh in January, 1892, the Prime Minister said— 1240You are told that education, that enlightenment, that leisure, that high station, and that political experience are arrayed in the opposing camp, and I am sorry to say that, to a large extent, I cannot deny it.Well, it appeared that this Bill was intended to bring reinforcements into the Prime Minister's camp in order to counterbalance the education, the enlightenment, the leisure, the high station, and the political experience that were arrayed in the opposing camp. In fact, it was not a Bill for registration at all, but a Bill which would have the effect of introducing into the political arena the unenlightened and uneducated, the hasty and the inexperienced—in other words the 16 weeks' man. There was another consideration which ought to influence the House. It was unadvisable to disregard ancient principles and to destroy the ancient system which had regulated the political franchise in this country. He was not one of those who attached the greatest possible importance to political privileges. His belief was that the character of the English people had been made loss by the enjoyment of political privileges than by the enforcement of local duties, and it was the absence from this Bill of any condition providing for the enforcement of local duties as a qualification for the enjoyment of the political franchise that indicated to him most clearly that the Government had not paid attention to the true principles of the Constitution in framing their Bill. It was a truly Radical measure, with all the Radical marks upon it. The Radical principle was to pretend to give power to the people, and to give them but the shadow of power while depriving them of its substance. The Bill proposed to take one further step in the direction which had long been favoured by the Radical Leaders—the destruction of all organisation among the electors; the destruction of the idea that they belonged to one entity, one place, one locality, one town; the putting into their heads the notion that they were all individuals; the treatment of all these individuals as one incoherent mob; the imposing upon them of some slackjawed person who, by his blandishments and pretences, would gain their votes; and, finally, the placing of that person in such a position that the mob which had sent him to Parliament immediately lost all control over him until 1241 the next Election, when the same process was repeated. As he had already said, were this only a Registration Bill the object of which was to alleviate or remove the admitted evils of the present system, there would be no Member who would say nay to it; but inasmuch as it was nothing of the kind, but was a measure conceived entirely in the spirit of Party, and without any regard to the spirit of the Constitution, he should offer to it the most uncompromising opposition.
§ *MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
disagreed entirely with the hon. Member who bad just sat down, and was strongly in favour of the principle of the Bill. At the same time, he felt bound to protest in the most solemn manner against what he considered to be the want of belief on the part of the Government in the true democratic principles which should underlie the government of the country. He believed it would have been better had the Government boldly proposed a really Radical measure of reform instead of the present disappointing, if not feeble, Bill. The measure was, in his judgment, hardly worthy to be placed on the Statute Book in the same Session as the Bill for the better government of the country districts now before the House. As a Radical representing an agricultural constituency, he sincerely thanked the Government for the Parish Councils Bill; but, at the same time, he asked them whether they could not see their way to make the Parish Council gathering really expressive of the true wishes of the people it was supposed to represent by passing a real registration reform. If this Bill had been brought in by the Tory Party he could have understood it, as they had never willingly moved in the direction of reform; but with a Radical Government in power, backed by Radical House of Commons, simple country folk like himself had expected that it would have been made as easy for a man to find his name on the Register as it was to find it on the rate book. Why did not the Government boldly say at once that any three months' residence should qualify a man to vote in the election of those who made the laws he was bound to obey? He would point out that under Clause 3, which referred to lodgers, it would be perfectly easy for the squire and all the well-to-do people 1242 in our villages to got their sons put on the Register as lodgers, whereas the son of the working man would be unable to obtain a vote, because the house in which he lived was not of a sufficiently rate able value to entitle him to get on the Register. The clause might suit London very well, because there few lodgers paid less than £10 per year, whilst in the country few paid so much, and those who would be kept off' the Register were the equals in intelligence of those who were kept on. He hoped the Government would amend the Bill so as to abolish the principle of value altogether in connection with the lodger's qualification. He would further ask the Government to make it possible for any householder to find his name on the Register after having kept for any three months ending on a quarter day in any constituency. Possibly it might be said that a Bill containing provisions of that character would be certain to meet with fatal opposition in another place. That remark, however, had always applied, and would always apply, to any measure that was worth the acceptance of the Liberals. He, therefore, asked the Government to make this Bill a good one without minding whether their Lordships threw it out the first time or not. The people of this country had waited long for their rights, and they could patiently wait a little while longer. Any further opposition that was displayed in another place to the will of the people would only bring nearer the day for which every Liberal longed—the day of reckoning for all irresponsible obstructionists.
§ MR. C. HOBHOUSE (Wilts, Devizes)
remarked that at the General Election two demands were formulated—that the period of qualification should be greatly curtailed, and that every person entitled to vote should have an equal opportunity and equal chance of getting on the Register. It was, therefore, necessary to inquire whether these two principles were affirmed in the Bill before the House. As to the first, be had to say that while the period of qualification was not so short as some of them desired, yet until they had universal or Manhood Suffrage they could not, without enormous expense, attain the result they wished for. Therefore, be felt that the 1st clause met every reasonable expectation. No doubt some of its 1243 details would have to be amended; and he trusted that the President of the Local Government Board would, in Committee, find himself able to meet the views of the County Representatives in this matter. The second point to which he wished to allude arose in connection with Clause 3, and affected the lodger franchise. That clause, as it at present stood, abolished the obligation which now rested upon every lodger to claim his vote. The reform was, no doubt, very right, very proper, and very just; but in consequence of the method in which it was to be brought into action, it would, while removing one anomaly and one injustice, create another. At the present time, a lodger who claimed the franchise had to state his qualification in writing, and that statement was laid before the Revising Barrister, who heard any objections that might be raised, and also took evidence for or against the claim. An outcome of this somewhat cumbrous process was that proof was required not only of money payment, but more especially of sole and separate occupation of the rooms in respect of which the claim was made. What was the result? A son or other relation or dependent of a fairly well-to-do man who claimed a lodger vote found it comparatively easy to prove sole and separate occupation, but somewhat difficult to prove the money payment required by law. But the son, relation, or dependent of a cottager or peasant found it difficult to establish his claim either in respect of sole occupation or of money payment. Therefore, while the well-to-do claimant failed through inability to prove his claim on one ground, the poorer claimant often had his claim disallowed through being unable to establish his case on both points. The net result to the two clashes was, however, about equal, and no injustice was done to one class at the expense of the other. But the present Bill would change that. The lodger claimant would no longer depend upon his own exertions or that of the Party agent in order to secure the franchise; the householder with whom he lodged would in future have to make a Return, and that Return would be sent to the Registrar, who would in due course place the lodger on the Register of Voters. In the case of the well-to-do householder there was primâ facie evidence that the lodger in his house had a sole and separate occupation 1244 of the rooms which qualified him; but in the case of the poorer householder there might be primâ facie evidence that his lodger had not, and could not have, separate occupation. The Superintendent Registrar was not empowered to make any inquiry as to whether a money payment was made, and the consequence was that the claim of the lodger of the poorer householder might be rejected. There was a large class of men, earning from 20s. to 25s. a week, who lodged with men whose earnings did not average more than 15s. or 16s. a week; and whereas the latter were entitled to vote on account of their occupation, their lodgers, who were earning higher wages and were, therefore, presumably men of higher intelligence, were kept out of their vote. Tens of thousands of agricultural labourers would be entitled to vote if they could show separate occupation, but would inevitably be prevented because they could not do so. He might be told that an appeal would lie from the decision of the Registrar; but he found, as a matter of fact, that such an appeal would be so extremely expensive as to practically exclude any Party Association from endeavouring to make objections to claims put forward. In the first place, any objection had to be made within seven days; and, seeing that in the constituency which he represented there wore villages situated at least two days' post from the county town, it would be difficult to make the objection in time.
§ MR C. HOBHOUSE
said, he was glad to hear that, because that got rid of one of the difficulties he felt in regard to the Bill. Now, the appeal was to be made to the Revising Barrister; yet there was no provision for the holding of the Court, and it might be that the Revising Barrister would hold it at his Chambers in London. It was clearly laid down in Clause 6, Section 2, that he need not visit the place unless he thought fit.
§ MR. C. HOBHOUSE
said, his reading of the Bill did not carry that construction; it seemed to him that the Revising Barrister was to be the sole judge as to whether there was any necessity for him to visit the district. In former days 1245 the Revising Barrister had to go to the voter; now it seemed the voter was to go to the Revising Barrister; and, that being so, the expense of registration to the individual voter or to the Party organisation might be more than quadrupled. Again, there was the question of costs. At present it was within the discretion of the Revising Barrister whether or not he should grant costs against an unsuccessful objector; but under this Bill he would have to grant the costs, and the result would be that objectors who acted without sinister motive or any desire to do otherwise than merely test the legality of a claim would be saddled with the costs. This provision would be totally prohibitive of objections in the future. Personally, he wished to see the day when it would not be possible to object to the vote of any man. He hoped that the day was not far distant when every man, who had a sufficient residential qualification, would be put, upon the Register, and that it would not be possible for any person to object to that man's right to vote except on the ground of insufficient residence in the electoral area. But that time had not yet come, and until it had come he thought that political Parties should not be compelled to bear the excessive expense of objecting to bogus claims. If Clause 3 were allowed to stand, they, in the rural constituencies, might at any election be swamped by bogus voters.
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
said, he thought that those who voted against the Bill of the right hon. Member for Halifax in the last Session of Parliament had been justified by the conduct of the Government. Not even his dislike to the present Law of Registration could induce him to vote for that Bill, although there were a great many people who thought that in opposing that Bill he was opposing the revision of the Registration Laws. He congratulated the Government, who, when in Opposition, had supported that Bill, on the fact that they had changed their minds, at least, so far as the most obnoxious part of that Bill was concerned. In that Bill the qualifying period was fixed at three months; but it was also provided that these three months might be made up in any part of England. The effect of that would be that any number of people might be in- 1246 troduced into a constituency for the purpose of acquiring a right to vote; and after having lived there for a week or a fortnight might then leave, after having obtained a place on the Register for 18 months. It was very much to his astonishment that a large number of Members, the majority of the House indeed, were induced—probably it was because of their dislike to the existing Registration Laws—to vote for a Bill containing such a condition, which lent itself to political devices and stratagems of all kinds. Undoubtedly it might be taken as a, truth that the wider they extended the franchise the more careful they ought to be that there should be bonâ fide residence; that they should get hold of the real inhabitants of the district and keep up voting by communities, which was the essence of their system. Even now a great conflict was going on in Belgium on the question of the extension of the franchise; and it had been at last decided that within certain limits Manhood Suffrage should be established in that country. Those who were in favour of Manhood Suffrage in that country felt that, having extended the franchise in that way, they should be more careful to secure a good residential qualification, and it had been decided Unit the qualifying period should be extended to two years. He would vote for the Government Bill, because so far as it went it was a useful Bill; but he should have liked the Government to have proceeded on a simpler and a sounder principle. It was, to a large extent, a Franchise Bill. He did not blame the Government for that, because it was impossible to deal with registration without touching, to some extent, the franchise. The Government had determined to abolish the rating qualification; and while he did not object to its abolition, he thought that the Government ought, in abolishing it, to have been guided by some definite and clear principle. The effect of the Bill would undoubtedly be to simplify to some extent the question of lodgers; but a great many of the anomalies of the present system would remain. One was, that a large number of persons who lived in stores and largo retail and wholesale houses would be excluded from the franchise. The principle the Government should have gone on 1247 was the establishment of Manhood Suffrage with a sound residential qualification, and there was a great deal to be said for such a system. It would simplify difficulties such as arose from the lodger and service franchises, and what had been called inter lapping franchises; but the Government had not had the courage to establish that franchise. Or it might be that they were a little too frightened to do it, because an extension of the franchise in that direction would have the effect of increasing the strength of the Conservative Party. It was the fact that every sound extension of the franchise had had that effect, and probably one of the reasons why the Government did not extend it in the direction he had mentioned was owing to a desire not to strengthen the Conservative Party. His objection to the Bill was not such as to induce him to vote against it. Then as to the question of the period of residence, three months was said not to be too short, because it really meant a much longer period. He thought that six months would have been far better. It might be said that that period would mean that a man would not get on the list for 18 months or more. The answer to that objection was plain. It was that the Bill should provide for registration every six months. No Bill could be satisfactory that upheld au annual registration, for it was the root of all the trouble and evil, and they would never with it get a bonâ fide three or six months' qualifying period. He did not see why there should not be a registration every quarter. Then the qualifying period of six months would mean six months and no more. The main things required now were more frequent revision, bonâ fide residence, and a simplification of suffrage to Manhood Suffrage, to which, before long, they must come. He thought the Government Bill fell short in some matters; but as it was a step in the right direction, he intended to vote for it.
§ MR. LEON (Bucks, N.)
said, that like the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down he was prepared to support the Bill. He had a good many objections to make, not as regards the principle of the Bill, but as to some of its details which, perhaps, ought not to be discussed at the present stage, when the principle only was concerned. He desired to point out to the President of the Local Government Board the danger that existed under 1248 Clause 3 of this Bill, and at the same time to point out the want of Radicalism which the Bill disclosed, particularly in regard to the clause which, in his opinion—an opinion which he believed was shared by every candidate, Conservative or Liberal—would put a temptation in the way of District Overseers to place bogus lodgers upon the Register. He understood that the Bill was not in any way to be considered as a Franchise Bill; but under the measure as it stood there was a risk of a large increase in the number of voters by chance without the legal qualification necessary to put them on the Register. The Bill proposed to do away with the qualification of the payment of rates. But why should they make two bites at the cherry; why not at once get rid of the bar that was put upon men in the receipt of outdoor relief? There was no man so interested in good legislation as the man who was obliged to go for outdoor relief, and yet he was excluded by the Bill from voting for laws which might improve his condition. He did not want to give any factious opposition to the Bill on principle; but he maintained that the right hon. Gentleman, in framing the Bill, had not thoroughly appreciated the feeling of the country in the matter. Instead of bringing in a half-and-half measure which would have the support of the House in general, but which was not what the country required, the Government should have introduced a large Bill, including not only the abolition entirely of the £10 qualification for lodgers, but with one man one vote, the registration question, and the redistribution question, leaving the House of Lords to pass it or reject it as it chose, for that was a mere matter of detail. The country know perfectly well that once a Bill was taken up by the Liberal Government it would not be refused very long by either the House of Lords or the country. He was returned, and a great number of his hon. Friends who sat round him were returned, by Radical voters who required Radical legislation, and such a Bill as that before the House did not, come up to the wishes or expectations of Radical Representatives or Radical voters. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his was to amend the Bill in a great many particulars. They would not have the chance of discussing the Bill in Com- 1249 mittee of the House, because it was proposed to send it up to the Grand Committee on Law, He, therefore, trusted that the President of the Local Government Board would alter this Bill to such an extent as to make what was now almost a bad Bill into a good Bill.
§ *MR. DARLING (Deptford)
said, it must afford very little gratification to the Government to hear one after another of their supporters declare that the Bill was a disappointment of their fondest hopes, and "almost a bad Bill," and that it could only by any human possibility be made into a good Bill if it was dealt with not by the Grand Committee on Law, to Which the Government proposed to refer it, but by a Committee of the whole House And yet these hon. Gentleman, with admirable subservienecy, intended to allow it to go to the Grand Committee. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken said they could not improve the Bill if it were sent to the Grand Committee. The hon. Gentleman would have the opportunity of voting that the Bill should not go there They were exercising their minds as to who was and who was not fitted to have a vote. Why should not the hon. Member apply to himself the words which another hon. Member applied to the Government—"Be bold; do what you ought to do." He would say to the hon. Member for Bucks—"Be bold; do what you ought to do." Let him not be frightened by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, If the hon. Gentleman thought, the Bill could only be improved by keeping it in the House let him keep it there. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite show that they were as fitted to have a vote as the lodger son of an agricultural labourer by boldly voting against referring the Bill to the Grand Committee. The ideal of the hon. Member for Bucks was not a high one. He said the men most interested in good legislation, who above all others ought to be on the Register, were those in receipt of outdoor relief. That was a qualification which the hon. Member himself did not possess. But what an odd Bill it would be if the President of the Local Government Board were really to undertake to satisfy his followers or his critics;—what an odd Bill it would be if they were to admit the principle that the men entitled first to be provided with votes were those in receipt of outdoor 1250 relief, and that that should be, as he understood, a sine quâ nan! The hon. Member, in making the necessary qualification one which only a small proportion of the nation had the honour to arrive at, proposed to set up a limited aristocracy instead of that democracy whose efforts at legislation they at present so highly enjoyed. But, coming to the Bill itself, complaint had been made by the hon. Member for Wiltshire that lodgers would be placed in a worse position by the measure than, they occupied at present, because the amount of the; rating would be considered by the Registrar in deciding whether a man's son should be on the list or not. But under the Bill there was no rating qualification. The father of the son was not entitled to vote because of a rating qualification. The Registrar would not have to consider how much rates the father paid, for that; was neither here nor there.
§ MR. C. HOBHOUSE
I said that the question of rating would be entirely removed from the purview of the Registrar, who Would have no power to deal with any question of money, but would have to deal solely with the question of the separate occupation of a room.
§ MR. DARLING
said that all the Registrar would have to make inquiry about was whether the lodger rented a separate room. If he did he must be put upon the list, and if he did not he must be left off. It was true that in many instances, under such a rule, the sons of labourers would not be put upon the list. But neither would the sons of the Hall. That was an injustice that arose from abolishing the rating qualification and leaving the rental qualification. To be logical the Government should have abolished both, but that would have shown that they had some principle in their legislation; and why should they pretend that they had principle when they had none? The hon. Member for Somersetshire said he should like to abolish the lodger franchise altogether.
§ MR. DARLING
asked, if they abolished the qualification, what became of the franchise? The lodger remained a lodger, but that was all. He agreed with the hon. Member that it would be objectionable to leave to the County 1251 Councils the appointment of the Registrars who were to decide who should vote for a Member of Parliament. That, he thought, was generally admitted to be a fatal blot in the machinery of the Bill. It would place the whole Parliamentary system under suspicion. They know what the County Councils were; how they got elected; the objects for which they existed. They saw some of them at work, and knew the methods by which they pursued their ends. This point had not escaped the attention of the political supporters of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—it had not escaped the attention of hon. Members on his side, and it would be well to find out some other more independent means of appointing persons who would have such a high office to fulfil. Those persons ought to be above all kind of suspicion of being friends of one particular Party. They know perfectly well the system of electioneering by which a Party proceeded first of all to get hold of the Vestries, then to got hold of the Charities, then of the Municipal Bodies or County Councils, and ultimately of the Parliamentary Representation; and if they were going to put into the hands of those who held the Municipal representation the engineering of the Parliamentary representation, they would do an injury to the Parliamentary system of this country which the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to regret. But there were other clauses which were strongly objected to. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said he would willingly see abandoned altogether what he called the Removal Clause in the Bill; the clause by which they claimed for successive occupation; the clause by which it would be possible to put voters who were necessarily in one particular borough into another; to let them vote there and go back when required. That clause, he imagined, had been conceived in humble imitation of a clause in another Bill called the "Popping-in-and-out-clause," and what would be one of the chief disfigurements of the House of Commons would be perpetuated in Metropolitan constituencies. The hon. Member saw the evil of it, and did not care to represent a constituency on such terms. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to leave the clause out, for it was one which 1252 was simply designed to enfranchise the nomadic races, the Scythians and Arabs of London, who wandered about with no fixed abode, and who, when an election was seen to be in the near future, would be very ready, for a small consideration, to settle down upon any constituency and swamp the votes of the legitimate residents there. The hon. Member for Leicestershire had called the Bill a disappointingly feeble Bill, hardly fit to go upon the same Statute Book with that magnificent creation of genius, the Parish Councils Bill. The shortening of the term of residence was a matter which they were all agreed called for attention, and they were perfectly ready to concede that point to the right hon. Gentleman if he would abandon the objectionable features in the Bill—features which, in their opinion, would simply result in placing upon the register numbers of people who certainly were not fit to have a Parliamentary vote, and probably were not fit even to be Magistrates in Lancashire. For these reasons they could not be enthusiastic about the Bill. Every portion of the House had pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman how many hon. Members there were who would have no position upon the Grand Committee on Law, and now that that had been done, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see the advisability of leaving this Bill to be dealt with in a Committee of the whole House, when every Member would have an opportunity of endeavoring to improve it.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had said that because there were those who desired to see a larger and better Bill, therefore the present one could not be accepted. But he would say that they were glad to accept what they could get as an instalment of that which was demanded by the Democratic Party in this country, and which they would get by-and-bye. He himself was in favour of the Bill being considered by a Committee of the whole House, but the reason why it was proposed to be sent to the Grand Committee on Law was that unless that was done there would be very little chance of the Bill being passed this Session. The reason why the hon. Member wanted to keep the Bill in this House was because he would have the opportunity of delaying it, and then 1253 there would be no chance of getting it through at all. [Mr. DARLING dissented.] They knew what had been done with regard to other subjects which had been debated in this House, and they knew that the general policy of the Party opposite was to delay everything, so that they should get no reforms at all. Therefore, though as he had said he would have preferred an opportunity of discussing the Bill in the House, still he was pleased to think that it was going to the Grand Committee on Law, because there would thereby be a chance of getting it passed during the present Session. He would like to get rid of the anomalies that the hon. Member had talked about as soon as possible, and one of the anomalies was the present Registration Laws, which professed to give them something with the one hand and took it away with the other. The hon. Member had also said there was a number of people in this country who were not fit to be on the Register at all. He confessed he did not think the hon. Member was the proper person to say who ought to be on the list. He thought everybody had a right to be on the Register in the country, and he would like to see manhood suffrage. During the last 50 years they had been putting more and more people on the list of voters, and the result was that they had got bettor laws and better government altogether than when the matter was loft entirely in the hands of the classes. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would proceed with this Bill as far as possible, in spite of opposition. He did not think the date mentioned in the Bill, 24th June, would meet all cases, because in some counties the lettings were not from 25th March, but 6th April. That would cut out a large number of agricultural voters, and he therefore hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider whether the date could not be altered so as not to shut out anybody from the list. As to the lodgers' vote, if they had lodgers' votes at all he thought all lodgers ought to go on without regard to what rent they paid. If that alteration could not be made, so as to do away with the rental qualification altogether, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would drop that clause. He trusted some alteration would be made with regard to the removal of voters from one electoral area to another. 1254 Arrangements ought to be made so that people should not lose their vote on account of being obliged to move. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman could go so far as to give them registration twice a year instead of once. Personally, he would like to see an automatic arrangement whereby they could get on the register at any time of year, which, he believed, was done in some parts of America, from which country we got all our reforms—whether it was the ballot, disestablishment and disendowment, or other reforms. He believed it was the general opinion that the registration officers would be much more independent if they were appointed by the Government rather than by the County Councils, and that would be a wise alteration to make in Committee. He did not see why a man should lost; his vote because he happened to have received temporary relief during the year. If they struck voters off the list or kept them off the list because they received temporary relief, he would like to know why they did not strike off also those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who received permanent relief in the shape of pensions. Those gentlemen had to make a declaration that they could not live unless they received those pensions, and he supposed that meant that they would otherwise have to go into the workhouse, which was exactly the position of those who received temporary relief. He would have liked to have seen the right hon. Gentleman dealing fairly all round. He did not want to strike anybody off—he would prefer to keep them all on—but if any were to be struck off they should be struck off all round. He had, at any rate, to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having made an effort to improve the registration of voters of the country. There was no doubt an improvement was wanted, because all parties would admit that the present system of registration was a sham, and a fraud upon the people, and he thanked the Government for the effort they had made to get the law altered.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
said, he had to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having found the first supporter of his Bill, though the hon. Member who had just sat down could not be said to have given it hearty support.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
That is quite wrong. I gave it hearty support, because it is going in the right direction.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said, the hon. Member had nevertheless found fault with the details of the measure and its machinery. The hon. Member and others who had spoken appeared to confuse the questions of franchise and registration. A great many hon. Members had devoted their speeches more to the question of the franchise than to the important machinery which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to provide by the Bill. He understood that it was contemplated to extend the Bill to Ireland, and he, therefore, wished to point out that there wore very grave reasons for hesitating to do so, not from a mere Party point of view, but because the machinery adapted to England was not suitable for Ireland. Attempts had been made formerly to apply English machinery, and the result had been a great many absurdities in connection with the Revision Lists and the work of the Registration Court. Some of the provisions on the Statute Book in relation to Ireland could not be applied, and some of them were at the present moment mutually destructive. In addition, the judicial decisions applying to the work of registration were conflicting and extremely uncertain. He, therefore, contended that it would be highly inadvisable to apply to their system of registration and to a law which was already sufficiently complicated further machinery which was not adapted in any way to the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view—the simplification of the method of enabling those who were qualified to obtain the vote. There was also no urgent necessity for simplifying or altering the law of registration in Ireland, as there did not exist in Ireland at the present moment one of the great evils which had been admitted by hon. Members in various parts of the House. There were not, as in this country, large numbers of people who were deprived of their votes by defects in the machinery of registration. This was a great grievance, he believed, in England; but it did not exist in Ireland. Though the machinery there was not as perfect as they could wish it to be, still, it was amply sufficient to secure that every person who was entitled should have a fair opportunity of obtaining a 1256 vote. The friends who sat near the right hon. Gentleman had evidently expected that this Bill for simplifying the machinery of registration should in reality be something more, and some of the Radicals had promised their constituents that machinery would be provided by means of which electors would have an immediate opportunity of getting on the register without the restrictions which now existed. The right hon. Gentleman had very properly not given any encouragement to that view, but had endeavoured, as far as he possibly could, to make the Bill a real Registration Bill, though he did hint that the effect of this improved registration would be the addition of a large number of voters to the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the rating qualification as a mere paper barrier. In Ireland, at any rate, it was not a paper barrier. On the contrary, rating there was of the highest possible importance in identifying the voter and his qualification, and thus in securing that people who had no right to be on should not be put on the register. It was one of the most effective means of protecting the Court and the electoral body from the successful pursuit of false claims. One of the principal duties of an Irish Revising Barrister under the Act of 1885 was the identification of the premises out of which the claimant claimed to vote. He had seen the Revising Barrister strike as many as 100 names off the list which were fraudulent claims. In the division in which he lived a claim was made for every member of a particular family called Kelly for whom a Christian name could be found. The solicitor for the Party to which these claimants belonged saw that the other side wore prepared to fight the cases, and he, therefore, consented to the Revising Barrister striking out over 100 claims which were fraudulent. If they imported into Irish registration this provision for abolishing the rating qualification, they would at once deprive the Court of its most valuable instrument in ascertaining whether, as a matter of fact, a claimant had a really bonâ fide qualification, and whether he was, therefore, under the present system of the franchise entitled to obtain a vote. He had himself known a claim for a vote sent in, the qualification being for the occupancy of a house, the "house" being an erec- 1257 tion four or five feet square dug out of a turf bog, and that claim was defeated because the "house" was not rated in the books of the collector. If this principle of rating was done away with it would be absolutely impossible for the Court to have before it any conclusive evidence by an impartial person as to whether or not under the present household franchise there was a sufficient occupation of the premises by the voter who was claiming. With regard to the qualifying period, he objected to the proposal to reduce it to three months. He looked upon the qualifying period as a means of identification, and to reduce it to three months would not give sufficient time to ascertain whether the person claiming had or had not occupied for the qualifying period. In the country districts, if the period were shortened as proposed, it would be impossible to prevent cases of short and fraudulent occupation. The hon. Member for East Finsbury denounced the present system of registration as costly and inefficient, but he (Mr. Macartney) altogether doubted whether the machinery provided by the right hon. Gentleman instead of that which now existed would be either more efficient or would reduce the cost. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman would not get rid of the Party organisations, and he himself did not think it would be advisable in the interests of the public or of that House that Party organisations should be got rid of. He had had some experience of both local and State elections in one of the States of America, where there wore no Party organisations such as we have taking part in the work of revision and registration. The result was that in the State in question the registration was most corruptly carried out, and in very few cases, either in local or State elections, was the real opinion of the whole of the inhabitants expressed. It would be an unfortunate thing for the purity of elections and for any registration scheme if Party organisations were to be excluded from interference in electioneering matters. As to the proposal to abolish the lodger claim, that would be a most dangerous thing to do in the rural districts in Ireland. When the present franchise came in there was no franchise in Ireland which was attempted to be used 1258 in a fraudulent manner more frequently than the lodger franchise, and it was only owing to the easy method of detection given by the form of the claim, and by the fact that there was a separate list for lodger claims, so that there was a facile means of identifying persons, that these attempts to fraudulently get behind the franchise were got rid of. He should be sorry to see any attempt made in the counties, at all events, to alter this qualification, for if they took away from the Courts and the public the protection of the present form of claim there would be vast numbers of fraudulent claims which, in all probability, would be successfully maintained, and especially when they came to consider the methods by which these claims were to be dealt with in the Bill. First, the District Registrar was to walk up and down the country and to satisfy himself who was a lodger or not. The names were then sent to the Superintendent Registrar, and before anybody had an opportunity of attacking the lodger claim, and there being no question of law involved, persons might be put on the list of voters who had no right to vote at all. He now came to the most important part of the machinery which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to substitute by other machinery. He proposed to abolish Clerks of the Peace and Town Clerks, and to substitute for them Superintendent Registrars; whilst for the Clerks of Unions and rate collectors in Ireland, who corresponded to the Overseers and Assistant Overseers in England, he proposed to substitute District Registrars. He could not for one moment believe, in Ireland at all events, that this proposal could be nearly as efficient as the present system, or nearly as cheap. He himself had had much experience of Revision Courts, and he had never yet heard the representatives of any political Party express themselves dissatisfied with the work done by Clerks of the Peace, the Clerks of the Unions, and the rate collectors, who were indeed the most suitable persons for doing the work. There was another and a grave objection to this part of the Bill. He did not know what authority in Ireland the right hon. Gentleman would select to be entrusted with the appointment of the Superintendent Registrars or District Registrars. He 1259 (Mr. Macartney) objected to such appointments being left in the hands of the Grand Juries or Boards of Guardians, and these were the only Representative Bodies in the counties. In the cities they had Representative Bodies, but it certainly would not give entire satisfaction to all classes of voters if the appointment of Superintendent and District Registrars were to be left in the hands of the Corporations. As to the question of economy in substituting one set of machinery for another, he did not think that the system proposed would be any cheaper than the one which had hitherto prevailed. The Superintendent and District Registrars had a right to call in the assistance of Overseers and Assistant Overseers. For this assistance the Overseers would be entitled to remuneration just as they received it now for admirably carrying out the same work. So that not only would there be the expenditure for the Superintendent and District Registrars, but they would have to continue the remuneration to the various officials who were at present carrying out the work of registration with great ability and efficiency. Under the Bill as it stood it was left entirely in the hands of the Superintendent Registrar to make up the lists of voters without holding any Court. Upon the statements and descriptions given to him by his District Registrar he was enabled to make up what would practically become the list of voters upon which the candidates would be elected. It seemed to him that was a very far-reaching step to take. At the present moment, if any inhabitant felt he had been unjustly dealt with and that he had a right to vote, he could go into Court before the Revising Barrister to prove his claim, and no statement made behind the voter's back could induce any action which would preclude him from establishing his vote or in any way impair his right. But under this Bill, as he had read the 5th clause, the Superintendent Registrar had the opportunity of drawing up the voters' list, without holding any Court, in an administrative manner, and if, after looking at the statement made to him, he said, "I won't put that man on," the particular man referred to had no opportunity of objecting to the omission unless 1260 the action of the Superintendent Registrar was founded on some question of law, because the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that the Superintendent Registrar could deal with every question except where a point of law was raised. That appeared to him to be a most extraordinary provision, and one fraught with very serious consequences, because everybody with experience of Revision Courts would admit that nine out of every ten questions raised were not questions of law, but of fact, and must be of fact, as long as they had the present franchise existing. They were told that the Revising Barrister was not to deal with the endless technical errors which came under his notice. Why not? By one sweep of Ills pen the right hon. Gentleman was taking away one of the most important duties of the Revising Barrister—and that was identification. At present, when the description was insufficient for the purpose of identification, &c, the Revising Barrister had power to expunge the name. There was no portion of a Revising Barrister's duties which were so onerous as the duties which came under the 5th sub-section of the 27th section, and which, he supposed, would come under the right hon. Gentleman's description of "endless technical errors." He was bound to say he should protest in the strongest possible manner against the Superintendent Registrar, or any other official, or even the Revising Barrister himself, being allowed to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman called "endless technical errors," in any other way except in open Court, subject to the criticism of representations of both Parties, or subject to the application, examination, or criticism of the voter himself. Such provisions appeared to him to sweep away the right of the claimant to have every opportunity of establishing his claim—without anybody going behind his back—until he got on the list which gave him a right to vote for a Parliamentary Representative. He denied that the proposals of the Government, as embodied in the Bill, were likely to diminish the cost of registration by one farthing. This Bill was an attempt to simplify registration, but he did not think it would succeed very far in this direction. If the right hon. Gentleman 1261 proposed to extend the Bill to Ireland, then he would do a great deal in the way of simplifying the work of registration by holding Revision Courts twice a year, by allowing the occupation for the qualifying period to be reduced to six mouths, and by consulting with those who had such large experience of registration work in Ireland—namely, the Clerks of the Peace, who were removed from political conflicts, and who had discharged their duties in a most efficient manner. He was convinced that the method he suggested was the best that could be adopted for bringing about a simplification of registration, and it certainly could not be done by adding to the already complicated system in Ireland the still more complicated clauses of this measure, which, although they might be capable of adoption in England, could never be assimilated to the law as it stood in Ireland.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, he could not admit that there had been a chorus of disapproval of the Bill. There were one or two points upon which he and his Radical friends thought the Government might go further, but, so far as he was aware, they approved of the general object of the Bill. He would venture to point out that there were many difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill on behalf of the Government had to contend against. They were difficulties of a serious kind, and they arose simply from this—that the Bill did not recognise, and did not endeavour to recognise, in a full way, the principle of universal suffrage. That was the real point upon which the difficulties arose that lay in the way of the passage of the Bill. But he was ready to believe that just as great difficulties lay in the way of a complete extension of the franchise in such a manner as he had suggested. He did not propose discussing the Bill generally, but he rose for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who would soon, he hoped, have an opportunity of stating the views of the Government, before he 1262 came to an ultimate decision not to throw overboard the case of the Metropolis. He wished to say that those of them who represented London Liberal constituencies were desirous—and in this he understood they had, indeed, support from both sides of the House—that registration and revision should take place in London twice, instead of once, a year. Views to that effect had been expressed by hon. Members on both sides. When he spoke on the First Reading of this measure, he referred to the subject of supplementary registration; but there was a growing feeling that the right way to deal with the question was by the introduction of more frequent registration. The hon. Member for East Finsbury (Mr. Rowlands) had dwelt upon this question as well as upon others, into which he (Mr. Stuart) need not enter in detail now. He would just mention, however, the case of the lodger clauses. There was a considerable amount of objection to these clauses from both sides of the House. It might be that the voice of London would be misrepresented if some one did not take part in the Debate. London was in the position that, if they took away the franchise from those classes, they would be taking from the very people they proposed to confer it upon in other parts of the country. Owing to the tenure of houses, the character of the population, and for other reasons, London had a very large proportion of lodgers. There were about 80,000 at present, and, with adequate machinery, that number could be more than doubled on the lists. He was not arguing whether the votes of this large body affected one Party or the other; he was simply arguing the right of the people of London, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give the question serious attention. They started the Session with great hopes, which had been disappointed; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not commit the dangerous mistake of neglecting the interests of London in this matter.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
I think the House will agree with me that the criticisms passed on the Bill this after- 1263 noon have been both frank and candid. The Bill has certainly not been overpraised, and most of its weak points, if not all, hare been discovered and commented on. But there is this peculiarity in the criticisms that have been passed—they are inconsistent, if not contradictory. The Leader of the Opposition on a former occasion, in a very powerful onslaught on the measure, described it as a Bill of immense magnitude; this afternoon we have been told that it is a poor, weak, halfhearted measure, not worthy of a place on the Statute Book. The hon. Member for King's Lynn has described the Bill as a Radical measure intended to serve Radical purposes, and the hon. and learned Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who is a moderate Conservative, has found fault with it because it does not go far enough, and the hon. Member is evidently in favour of Manhood, if not of Universal, Suffrage. In reply to some of the things that have been said, I think it right to assure the House, as I did at the stage of the First Reading, that, when preparing this Bill, I had no intention of putting upon the register either Liberal voters or Conservative voters, my object being to pass a mere Registration Bill, not a Franchise Bill. I wish to put upon the Register the large number of voters, Liberals and Conservatives, who are qualified, but who are not on the Lists owing to the defective machinery. That is the object of the Bill. I will not be betrayed into any discussion as to whether our present franchise is right or wrong, whether it ought to be extended in one direction or another, whether it is just or unjust in its operation. I admit the anomalies of the franchise, and I am as anxious as any man could be that every capable citizen should be entitled to vote; but the Bill is not mainly concerned with these matters. It will be said that in respect of the question of residence and of the Rate-paying Clauses the element of franchise does come in, but I do not assent to that. The object and intention of the Bill, at any rate, is to deal with the case of those persons who are already qualified and who ought to be on the Register, but are not; and to amend the present dilatory, costly, in- 1264 effective, and unsatisfactory mode of registration. I wish to recall the attention of the House—I am afraid I must say both sides of the House—to the Amendment which is before us. That Amendment is—That this House, while desirous of improving the existing system of the registration of Parliamentary voters, is of opinion that the expense of such registration, which it is now proposed materially to increase, should not be raised in a manner unequal and unjust by imposing an additional charge on occupiers of houses and lands only.The hon. Baronet who has proposed the Amendment—and whom I am sorry is not now in his place—has discussed very fully the present position of the rural taxation of the country, contending that the rural rates are unjustly heavy, and that the effect of the Bill will be to add to the expenditure, already too large, which rural ratepayers have to provide for. As the hon. Baronet has referred to a Report which I have recently presented to the Treasury, relating to Local Taxation, I take the opportunity of calling attention to the fact that according to the Report there has been a steady fall in the rural rates of this country during the whole of the present century. At no time during the present century have the rural rates been so low as they are at present, inasmuch as, notwithstanding the increase for education, sanitation, and other purposes, they are still 4d. in the pound less than they were in 1868. I do not wish to show any want of sympathy for the farmers in their present distressed condition, but the Government are not responsible for that condition any more than they are for the prolonged sunshine which is said to be ruining the crops. It has been stated by a high authority that if every rural rate were abolished it would not make a difference to the farmer of much more than 2s. per acre. And the result of my calculations has been to show that the whole burden on lands (including in the expression not only agricultural lands, but parks, open spaces, gardens, &c), is equivalent to a rate of scarcely more than 3s. per acre. By this Bill the Government are not proposing to impose any additional taxation; they are merely readjusting 1265 Local Taxation. The proposal in the Bill practically amounts to placing the burden upon the large Imperial subventions which have been given to County Councils of late years. I think, however, that if the control of the local expenditure for registration is to be given to an Imperial Department the result will be very costly, and, therefore, it is proposed that that control should be given to the Local Authorities. Whatever body is entrusted with the power of appointing the local officers for carrying into effect the proposals of this Bill must utilize the existing agencies. Well, now, turning to the Bill, my first duty is to deal with the official Opposition criticism of it. All the arguments that have been urged against the measure have been summed up in the most masterly and able speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the last occasion when the Bill was before the House, and I will ask the attention of hon. Members to the points upon which the right hon. Gentleman based his opposition to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was a great Reform Bill, a great Registration Bill, and a Bill of the greatest magnitude, because it would have the effect of introducing hundreds of thousands of voters to the franchise. The right hon. Gentleman divided his objections to the measure under two heads—the first being to that part of it which he described as a Reform Bill, and the second being to the part of it which he called a Registration Bill. His objection to a part of the Bill, as being a Reform Bill, was based upon his statement that for the first time since 1832 the measure proposed to abolish the qualification of the personal payment of rates. I dispute the facts as well as the principle of the right hon. Gentleman. The fact is that the personal payment of rates is not a necessary qualification for the exercise of the franchise at the present moment, and I dispute the principle that the personal payment of rates ought to be a necessary qualification for the exercise of the rights of citizenship. Does the right hon. Gentleman forget what has happened since 1832? Does he not remember the imperfect Bill passed in 1867, and the measure of 1869, and the enfranchisement of vast numbers—two- 1266 thirds of the population—who were householders under £10 value. Under Mr. Disraeli's Bill, Parliament decided that the payment of rates by the landlord should be regarded as a payment by the tenant for the purpose of the franchise. But Parliament made the exercise of the franchise by the tenant dependent upon the solvency of the landlord. If the landlord did not pay then the vote was lost altogether. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he held the office that I now hold, proposed that the name of the occupier should be placed on the book, no matter who paid the rates. Parliament had not courage, or was not bold enough, to do all that was demanded of it; but I think the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the statement that this Bill proposes, for the first time since 1832, to abolish the qualification for the franchise of the personal payment of rates, is not accurate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) said the other night that rating is only an evidence of qualification—the real qualification was the occupation of the House. I wish hon. Members would bear that sentence in mind—the qualification is not the payment of the rate, nor the time the house is occupied, but the actual occupation of the house. The right hon. and learned Member for Bury also said that the rating qualification has already been abolished in the case of the service franchise, and in the case of small tenants. Well, Sir, it has not been abolished in the case of the large houses. I admit that; but does any hon. Member contend that that is of any value? So far as the middle and upper classes are concerned, this is a farcical mode of endeavouring to collect a rate, which has no practical value so far as the great bulk of the compound householders are concerned. It has no application whatever, and there is no disqualification arising to any great extent, because, as a matter of fact, the rate collectors collect the rates, and collect them very vigorously. But I would point out that no lodger is required to be rated, and never has been. No rates have to be paid in respect of the house in which the lodger lives. The landlord is not obliged to pay the rates in that case and all the lodger has to show is that he is lodging in premises the rent of which would be 1267 4s. per week; and, whether the rates are paid or unpaid, he is entitled to vote. The legislation of the last 25 years has completely and finally abolished the rating qualification, and what is proposed in this Bill is simply to improve the machinery and wipe out an obsolete, useless form, which adds to the expense, and which, if it has any effect at all, has an effect of a most unfair and unjust character. The right hon. Gentleman went a step further, and said the principle of the Bill was that the non-payment of rates should be a disqualification of the full rights of citizenship, and he appealed to the Government not to shatter the ruins which still obstruct the easy, expeditious, and economical working of our electoral system. Now, I venture to submit to the House that all the householders in this country, and every ledger and every man in this country, pays his contribution to the taxation of the country. There is not a working man who drinks his glass of beer or glass of spirits, or smokes his pipe, or drinks his cup of tea, who does not contribute, and contribute very largely, to the Imperial Revenue. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, in a memorable speech, said—I will undertake to say that a working man pays more in taxation—a larger proportion of his income—than the greatest peer or the richest commoner in the land.And in a subsequent speech, delivered two years afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman said that, in his opinion, the working man paid out of his taxable income 13½ per cent., whereas the upper and middle classes did not pay more than 6 per cent. I do not accept my right hon. Friend's calculation. I think he has exaggerated the one and underrated the other; but for the purpose of my argument I am content to say that they pay an equal proportion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, but if they hold the old doctrine that those who direct the policy of the State shall be contributors to the expense of the State, I say the working man householder and the working man lodger fully fulfil the condition, and pay a very fair share—and more than a fair share—of the Imperial Expenditure.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My point is this. If it happens that a man is legally bound to pay rates, that is an act of citizenship which he should be required to fulfil before exercising the franchise. If he does not pay the rates, that shows that he is, ipso facto, not a proper man to exercise the franchise.
§ *MR. H. H. FOWLER
Under the existing state of the law there is no such liability whatever. The Legislature has provided that the overwhelming majority of the people shall have a vote, whether they are rated or not, or whether they pay their rates or not. What I am objecting to is their being fined if somebody else does not pay the rate which they have already paid in the rent. The tenant is paying his rates in his rent all the year round. They are exacted from him every week, and the delay in payment is with the landlord. The right hon. Gentleman opposite objected to the alteration of the qualification, as he called it, to three months' residence. I deny that it is a question of qualification at all. It is the occupation of a house. Lord Salisbury put it that the requirement of a period of residence is simply a precaution to prevent personation, and nothing more. It is an arguable question whether the residence should be for one month, three mouths, six months, or 12 months. It is not a question of qualification—it is an evidence that the man possesses the qualification. The right hon. Gentleman said there was a class of people who went into the workhouse as a sort of winter quarters, and having resided at the expense of the rates during the winter, then emerged to take cottages or houses. He said they would be in occupation of them for something like three months, when they could claim the franchise. Well, I have had some little experience of a large Municipality, and have never heard of this mysterious class of arabs carrying on such an extraordinary procedure. If a man has been so unfortunate as to be reduced to pauperism—and many a man is so reduced through no fault of his own (as in the case of the 2,500 men in Middlesbrough who were affected by 1269 the strike of last year with which they had nothing to do, and consequently lost their votes)—why should he be deprived of the opportunity of regaining the franchise? In many cases he shows himself a, capable citizen by the manliness with which he struggles against evil days, and eventually recovers his lost ground. The period of qualification, after all—as the speeches of this afternoon have shown—is reduced to a mere question of time. What did the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) say? He said six months would gain all the objects we are striving for. I say there is no question of principle at stake, the question being purely one of wisdom and expediency. You cannot say that this question goes to the root of the great Reform Bill, and that we are destroying a bulwark of the Constitution. Then the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to deal with the machinery of the Bill. He said that the machinery of registration ought to be cheap, easy, and fair, and not only that, but that it should be thought to be fair. Well, these are the principles on which the Government defend this Bill, and if the Bill does not carry out the intentions of the Government in any of these respects we are prepared to amend it in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says we propose to substitute three stages for one. I rather demur to that; also to his statement that we are going to make these new functionaries masters of our destinies. But I would ask the House to consider what the proposal of the Government is. Our proposal has been strangely misrepresented and misunderstood. This Superintendent Registrar will have no judicial functions whatever; he will have no power to put any man on or to take any man off the Register. The question has been asked several times whether this officer is to make up the Register. We have been told that he can manipulate the Register. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, an hon. Member cheers that. If he will point out to me where in the Bill the Superintendent Registrar can manipulate the Register, I will promise to insert Amendments to prevent it. What is intended is this: nine-tenths of the objections made to voters and to persons claiming to be voters are duo to accidental mistakes and misdescriptions—pure tech- 1270 nicalities, such as where "John" is put for "James," and "No. 21" in such a street is put for "No. 11." There are an immense number of these technicalities, and we propose to interpose an officer whose duty it will be to see that the lists are properly made up and put together. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that this is done now. The lists are now made up by Clerks of the Peace and Town Clerks. In addition, the Superintendent Registrar will have to correct misdescriptions, omissions, technical errors brought to his notice; he will have to consider all the claims and all the objections, and to publish in the margin whether these claims and objections are to be allowed or disallowed. The appeal to the Revising Barrister will remain as it is now; and this intermediate stage, instead of adding to the cost, will very materially diminish it. An hon. Member has referred to a point with which I am familiar—namely, the large cost of printing. He says that a Clerk of the Peace told him that in his district £500 a year in printing would be saved if the Bill passes into law. Hon. Members may not be aware that all these lists are got up twice; whereas if you have one homogeneous system with a Superintendent and a District Registrar, they will only have to be got up once. The Committee of this House which sat two or three years ago examined one of the principal Revising Barristers; and in answer to a question put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was Chairman of the Committee, this gentleman said he thought that it would be a good plan to get a competent person to look after the registration, part of his duty being to revise the list according to the objections and claims, and, so far as he could, to form a judgment upon them before the revision. Asked if he thought that would be a good plan, he said it would save a great deal of vexation to the voters, and would prevent a great deal of formal business from being brought before the Revising Barrister. Having heard a great deal of evidence with which I need not trouble the House, the Committee unanimously reported to the House the desirability of appointing this officer, and it pointed out the enormous cost of the present system, and also that this is the system 1271 which prevails in Scotland—and I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten it for the moment. In her registration, as in many other respects, Scotland is very far in advance of England, and the Committee proposed that the Scotch system should he extended to England. The Government have not followed the recommendations of the Committee throughout. In Scotland there is a functionary called the Valuation Assessor, who does the same thing that that we want the Registrar to do in England. The Committee suggested that the officer should he the Clerk to the Guardians. The Government have submitted a plan of their own, which I shall be prepared to defend when the time comes; but I do not say that it is the wisest and best plan, or that it is not capable of improvement; and if any better plan should be suggested in Committee, we shall be willing to accept it. What I am contending for is, that there shall be an intermediate officer between the person who makes out the lists and the Judge or Revising Barrister who has finally to decide whether a man is entitled to vote, and that with such an intermediate officer we shall got rid of nine-tenths of our present difficulties with respect to registration. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the cost, it should be remembered that there is another element to be taken into account besides money. There is the loss of time to the labourer in making his claim and in resisting objections, which is a severe tax on him, and often causes him to lose his employment. It was that cost which I am anxious to save instead of that of two or three additional officers. The right hon. Gentleman drew a very interesting description of the Revising Barrister holding his Court in every village. The right hon. Gentleman took the extreme case of counties in which he said that a man would have to walk 40, 50, or 60 miles to make good his claim. Well, I have great faith in the common-sense of the people of this country, and I do not think that members of County Councils, Quarter Sessions, Boards of Guardians, or even Members of Parliament, in doing their administrative business will deliberately set to work to make fools of themselves. I do not think they will allow any person to put his office where 1272 a man would have to walk 40, 50, or 60 miles to it. There are 5,624 places which may be called villages in the country, and the Revising Barrister goes to only 1,713 out of the 5,624. Therefore, the Revising Barrister holding his Court in every village is a flight of imagination of the right hon. Gentleman. I will credit hon. Gentlemen, whether sitting on this or on that side of the House, that in drawing up their Order in Council they will have some regard to the convenience of the voter. There is one objection of the right hon. Gentleman's which met with considerable support on the Ministerial side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the tribunal or machinery should be not only fair, but should be thought fair. I quite agree that it should be thought fair. That the machinery should be thought to be worked in the interest of a Party I should consider most disastrous. The right hon. Gentleman says that every man worth anything has made up his mind to give his support to one of the two Parties in the country. If that is so, where are they to draw the line? The Revising Barristers are all gentlemen, generally of pronounced politics. I have known Revising Barristers in one district to become Parliamentary candidates in another. But I am satisfied that there is not one of those gentlemen who, in the discharge of his duty, will allow himself to be influenced by political considerations. I know it is an unpopular opinion in this House that any popularly elected Body can act without regard to political considerations. I have been a member of a Town Council before I came into Parliament, and I can say without fear of contradiction that when public appointments are at stake the desire is to get the best men for the place. I, for one, do not accept the criticisms which have been so freely showered upon our elected representative Bodies. But though the right hon. Gentleman is so afraid of the appointments which the County Council may make, he seems to have no fear about the Overseers who are appointed by the Justices. Are they influenced by political motives? I think it would be absurd to say so, but whether or not it is no part of my argument. If it is a sound objection that Registrars should not be appointed by persons who 1273 have political feelings, then it is equally wrong to allow other functionaries to be appointed by such people. An hon. Member said this afternoon, developing an argument of a right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the whole of the patronage should be thrown on my Department. I thought the Local Government Board was a political Department. As far as the fairness of the thing is concerned, I think the right hon. Gentleman's argument was unsound and not proved. I would refer for one moment again to the example of Scotland. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will remember Mr. Duncan McLaren, one of the late Members for the City of Edinburgh. Mr. McLaren gave evidence on this point, and expressed the opinion that even if an official were chosen at the instance of a dominant Political Party there was not the slightest fear of his being biased by political considerations afterwards. The criticisms which have been indulged in this afternoon have been criticisms on the details of the Bill. They are criticisms which will be properly dealt with on the Committee stage, and I am not prepared to indicate what course the Government propose to take on many of the questions which have been referred to. A very valuable Amendment has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke), and one which well deserves the most anxious consideration, whilst all the questions which have been raised on either side of the House will be considered in the fairest spirit. I understand that there is a feeling in the House that the Bill should not go to a Grand Committee. I quite agree with what has been said to the effect that Grand Committees were not constituted for the discussion of controversial Bills. There have been imported into this Bill several serious questions of a controversial character in the discussion of which it would be unfair to prevent any Member sharing. I regret that we seem to have no power under our Rules of sending portions of a Bill to a Grand Committee. I think it would produce a great saving of time if we could dispose of controversial questions in Committee of the whole House, and then send the uncontroversial details to a Grand Committee. As this cannot be 1274 done, I am prepared to say that we shall not press for the sending of this Bill to a Grand Committee. I hope that announcement will facilitate the progress of the Bill to-day, and that hon. Members, feeling that they will have the fullest opportunity of arguing the various points to which they attach importance, will accept the principle of the Bill and pass the SECOND READING. I may say, in conclusion, that I think now I am in a position to deal with a great many Amendments, and also with a great many objections in reference to local machinery better than I should have been at the time when this Bill was introduced. Since its introduction the Government have brought in a Bill for the Better Government of England and Wales. That Bill introduces a large amount of new local machinery, and it is the intention of the Government to pass it during the present Session of Parliament. The result will be that we shall have bettor opportunities of improving the machinery of this Bill. I close by repeating what I said before. This Bill is not brought forward as a Party measure. The hon. Gentleman opposite said it served a Party purpose. The fact that both sides complain—it being said on one side that it is too Conservative, and on the other that it is too Radical—disposes of that suggestion. It is a Bill to put on the Register as expeditiously and cheaply as possible thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of men who are as much entitled to a vote as any man is, and who, through no fault of their own, are at present deprived of a vote. I think it is our duty to see that men who are entitled to a vote should be put in a position to exercise it.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I think that if anyone had a suspicion that this Bill had been brought in for Party motives, that suspicion would have been removed by the speech of my right hon. Friend, and especially by the extremely fair way in which he met the general desire of the House that the Bill should have more convenient discussion than it possibly could have in a Grand Committee. I have not the slightest idea of following my right hon. 1275 Friend in the very interesting speech in which he reviewed the criticisms that have been made on the Bill. I wish, however, for a very few minutes to refer to the personal allusion he has made to me with reference to a statement of mine in 1885 in reference to the relative taxation of the working and other classes. I do not go back in any way from that statement. I made the most accurate calculations at the time, and I stand by the figures as being accurate; but I must point out that since then there has been a very considerable change in taxation. For instance, the Tobacco Duty has been somewhat reduced, the Tea Duty has been reduced, the House Duty slightly changed, the Income Tax increased, and, more than all, Free Education has been granted, and a sum of something like £2,000,000 sterling has been given to the working classes—advantages which they have not previously enjoyed.
§ *MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think it was 6d. However, in order to ascertain the proportion now, a new calculation would have to be made. I rose specially to call attention to a point to which my right hon. Friend has not alluded, and which I have not heard mentioned as yet in this Debate. I take it for granted that, in the view of the Government, the time for qualification is a question of principle and not one of detail; and, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend, a person qualified and residing for three months in a constituency might obtain a vote for that constituency. But that is not all. A person who is qualified in another constituency, say, in Birmingham, might transfer his residence to London, and become either a householder or a lodger in London, and he might, by a three months' residence, obtain a vote. This is not a Party question in the slightest degree, and I am not quite certain that any Party would benefit, or that, in any case, the Government Party would be likely to have the greatest advantage; but it does leave the door open to a kind of electoral fraud which has been practised very 1276 largely in the United States of America. I have been told, though I cannot absolutely vouch for it, that one of the Presidential Elections was carried by the action of the "bosses," who removed for a short period into certain doubtful States a number of negro voters. Now, it seems to me it might be perfectly possible for an active politician in any constituency where Parties are very closely balanced—and, as my right hon. Friend knows, there are an extraordinary number of elections decided by very small majorities—to import before the time of a General Election, which can very often be foreseen and predicted with tolerable accuracy, a sufficient number of voters—say 50 or 100 working men—to turn an election. I can conceive the matter being carried very much further than that. I can conceive the case of a great contractor who might, by selecting his constituencies, turn an election in 10 or 12 or 20 boroughs or constituencies. I would ask my right hon. Friend's consideration of this point, because when we get into Committee we shall ask him to amend the Bill upon it. It seems to me that the only remedy for such a danger is to insist that there shall be a residence, at all events, of six months in the constituency in which the vote was given. I do not want to deprive the man of the franchise. It is not a question whether he should have it or not, but of where he should exercise it. Suppose, for example, in my own case, I resided for six months in Birmingham, and then came to London as a lodger for three months, I should think it quite fair that I should continue to have my vote for Birmingham, but I should think that I ought not to have a vote for London. I hope this is a matter of sufficient importance to have justified me in calling the attention of my right hon. Friend to it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.