§ [TWENTY-SIXTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Sir J. GOLDSMID, Deputy Chairman, in the Chair.]
§ Clause 19 (Election and qualification of Guardians).
In page 12, line 30, after the word "Guardians," to insert the words—"A person shall not be qualified to be elected or to be a Guardian for a Poor Law Union unless he is a parochial elector of some parish within the Union, or has during the 12 months preceding the election resided in the Union, and no person shall be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected or being a Guardian."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, he wished to propose the omission of the words—Or has during the 12 months preceding the election resided in the Union.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. W. Long) suggests to me that an Amendment he wishes to move will come in better before the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member. I agree with him, and therefore I must call upon the hon. Member for Liverpool.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
then moved to insert, after the words "the Union" in the proposed Amendment, the words—Or in the case of a Guardian for a parish wholly or partly situate within the area of a borough is qualified to be elected a Councillor for that borough.He said, the question was a somewhat important one in Unions which were situated wholly or partly within the area of a municipal borough. In a great many such cases the people who served as Councillors resided at a considerable distance from the boundary of the Municipal or Parliamentary borough. He 349 thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) concurred in the view that such an Amendment ought to be adopted, so that those who were now qualified its Guardians should be similarly qualified in the future.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
In line 2, after the words "the Union," to insert the words "or in the case of a Guardian for a parish wholly or partly situate within the area of a borough is qualified to be elected a Councillor for that borough."—(Mr. W. Long.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
poined out that, although the Amendment provided for other persons than were residents being qualified to be Guardians in respect of rural parishes, no similar proposal had been made with regard to urban parishes.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
I must point out to the Committee that what we propose is in exact harmony with what the Committee has already decided in reference to the qualification for Parish Councils. We had a very full discussion on that question, and the Committee eventually settled the qualification for Councillors, as it now appeal's in the Bill. What we propose is that persons who may be elected as Guardians must possess one of two qualifications: they must either be parochial electors, or must reside within the Union during the preceding 12 months. I will not deal with the latter qualification, because there is au Amendment respecting it to be discussed later. As to the former qualification, a parochial elector is another name for a person entitled to vote on the Parliamentary Register or to vote on the Local Government Register. The Local Government Register deals with persons qualified to vote either for Municipalities or for County Councils. When the County Electors Act was passed it was enacted that the qualification which exists in a municipal borough should be extended to a county, and that the provisions of the Muncipal Corporations Act should be read as if a "county" were inserted instead of "borough." In a borough a man is qualified to vote if ho occupies 350 property within the borough and resides within seven miles of it. The Act of 1882 provides for the case of persons having an occupation franchise in the borough, but not residing in it. Such persons are rated, and are very often amongst the largest ratepayers. I could quote to the House a case coming within my own knowledge in which the largest ratepayer in the borough I represent is in such a position. It is provided that where a person was qualified on other grounds except residence, and resided within 15 miles, he should be qualified to be elected as a Councillor. I think the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. Long) is necessary, and I have in my hand a telegram I have received from Manchester pointing out the evils that will arise if it be not accepted. If a man has a large mill in Manchester, and his business and the whole of his public life is bound up with Manchester, but he happens to reside some distance away, but within 15 miles of the city, unless I accepted the Amendment he would be disqualified from being elected as a Guardian for Manchester. That is not the intention of the Government, and, therefore, I readily accept the Amendment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Words inserted.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
asked whether he rightly understood the President of the Local Government Board to desire to include in his Amendment other than rural parishes?
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, that in that case it would be necessary for him to amend his definition of the rural elector. At present it applied only to rural parishes.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The difficulty which the hon. Gentleman has suggested occurred to me, but the draftsman assured me that there is in the Bill a definition which extends the meaning of rural electors in the way ho desires. I cannot, however, at this moment put my hand upon it.
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON
moved the omission from the Amendment of the words—Or has during the 12 months preceding the election resided within the Union.He said that if these words remained in the clause several people might be successively qualified by residence during the 12 months, and a man who had left the constituency for nearly 12 months might retain his qualification, whilst the person who had succeeded him as a resident would also be qualified. Two or more men or women might sit for the same qualification. As far as he could see, there was no limit to the number of persons who might not be qualified under this provision. He could hardly think that this could be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
In line 2, to leave out the words "or has during the last 12 months preceding the election resided within the Union."—(Mr. T. H. Bolton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
My hon. Friend has a very acute and microscopic eye, and he has given a construction to these words which I should have thought it was beyond the power of human ingenuity to place upon them. The election takes place on the 15th April, 1894, and, therefore, the person claiming must have resided in the Union from 15th April, 1893, to the April, 1894. The main object of the clause is to secure the service of ladies as Guardians. Such ladies, as a rule, will not be parochial electors, although, of course, there may be exceptions. There are large numbers of ladies, especially of married ladies, whose services we are most anxious to secure in the administration of the Poor Law, and whose services I believe the public are anxious to secure, and that is why we have worded the clause in this way.
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON
pointed out that the words were, "has during the 12 months preceding the election resided." This did not render it necessary that a person should have resided in the Union for 12 months, but that he or she should have resided there at some time during the 12 months.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
asked whether the qualification would be destroyed if a person had been absent from the Union for three months during the year?
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir J. RIGHBY,) Forfar
The point has been before the Courts, and it has been decided that if there is a bonâ fide residence in a certain place the mere effect of a temporary absence does not make it less a residence during the 12 months.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
proposed to insert after "Union," in line 3, the words—And unless his name appears on the rate book of the parish in which he resides, and he has paid his rates direct for the last half-year.He said, he thought there ought to be something beyond a residential qualification, and he, therefore, proposed that nobody should be elected as a Guardian unless he directly paid rates in a parish of the Union. His object was to provide that if there were any extravagance or maladministration the effects should come home to the people who were responsible for it. Unless some such provision were inserted it might happen that in a Union where compounding was universal a Board of Guardians might consist entirely of compound house holders who did not themselves pay a penny of the rates and whose rents were never raised. If the Amendment were carried he thought it would not so much matter whether the electors paid their rates directly. The great Poor Law Commission of 1834 reported very strongly in favour of the payment of rates directly, and he certainly was of opinion that the best way to make the people administer the Poor Law carefully was to enable them to feel the results of their administration. If every Poor Law Guardian were a direct ratepayer he would be careful that the rates were not wasted upon idle people and that Poor Law relief was only given to those who thoroughly deserved it. He was not sanguine as to the fate of his proposal because he was afraid the Government or rather their supporters below the Gangway were anxious that a non possumus attitude should be taken up in regard to every Amendment that was moved. It might be said that the Amendment was 353 of a disqualifying character, entirely denied it. He did not propose any property qualification, but only a rating qualification. On the other hand, it might be admitted that in those places where compounding was compulsory people who were compelled to compound would be unable to be elected as Guardians. For his part, however, he could not see why compulsory compounding could not be done away with in this Bill. Such a proposal would have been far more germane to the Bill than a great many of the things which had been put into it. If compounding became purely voluntary in every case any man who wished to come forward to serve as a Guardian of the poor would take care that be himself paid up his rates, and surely a man might be expected to take the trouble of giving himself that amount of qualification if he came forward for a responsible position like that of a Guardian. The only other objection, as far as he could see, which could be raised was that no such qualification as he proposed had been imposed in reference to County Councillors, or Parish Councillors, or Members of the House of Commons. When, however, the Committee was dealing with so vast a subject as that of the Poor Law it was taking a very narrow view indeed to look merely at symmetry. Such symmetry would be entirely superficial, because the Poor Law Guardians stood in a totally different position from any other body. The errors of Parliament or of a Parish or County Council could easily be got rid of, but if extravagance were allowed to prevail in the administration of the. Poor Law the result might be to demoralise the whole country. He regarded the Amendment as a very modest and fair proposal, and as one which would introduce an effective check on the extravagance of Poor Law Guardians.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
In line 3, after the word "union," to insert the words "and unless his name appears in the rate book of the parish in which he resides, and he has paid his rates directly for the last half year."—(Mr. Griffith-Boscawen.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
The hon. Member is endeavouring to revive the 354 compound householder question, and, in fact, to disqualify the compounder, not from being a voter, but from being elected if a majority of the electors choose to select him as their representative. The hon. Member found fault with me for introducing an alteration of the law in this respect. I do not think I have introduced any alteration in the law. He is aware that at present any person can be elected a Guardian who is rated to the poor in the annual amount of £5. That is the law at the present time, and there is nothing to prevent the Local Government Board to-morrow substituting the rate-ability of 40s. for that of £5. I think the hon. Member will see that the provision of the Compounding Act is an answer to his demand that any change shall be adopted on the lines he suggests. That Act provides that every payment of a rate by an owner, whether he himself is rated instead of the occupier, or has agreed with the occupier or with the Overseer to pay the rate, shall be deemed a payment of the full rate by the occupier for the purpose of any qualification or franchise depending on the payment of the poor rate. I do not think, under these circumstances, that if I accepted the Amendment it would very much help the hon. Member in the end he has in view. I do not, however, care to urge the question on that basis. I put the case boldly on the ground that the electors are the proper persons to choose whom they shall be represented by. We have limited their choice to persons qualified to be elected, and I do not see why we should propose another disqualification from being elected. What the hon. Gentleman wants is really to abolish the law of compounding. He thinks that would be very germane to this Bill. I do not think it would be, and we must agree to differ on that point. If he and his friends think the time has arrived for altering the law respecting compounding, and can defend such alteration in the law on fiscal, economical, public, and convenient grounds, why not bring in a Bill on the subject and have it discussed on its own merits, instead of having the question mixed up with the present measure? I certainly cannot assent to the proposition that a man is to be disqualified from being elected on the mere ground that he 355 has compounded for his rates instead of I having paid them himself.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, the right, hon. Gentleman had challenged his hon. Friend (Mr. Griffith-Boscawen) to bring in a measure dealing with the c implicated question of the compound householder. The right hon. Gentleman's challenge was a bold one, and if the right hon. Gentleman would give a definite assurance that the Government would give facilities for the discussion of such a measure his hon. Friend would act wisely in accepting the offer made to him, providing the Government apportioned to him sufficient time. Until, however, he had that assurance in some specific and tangible form it would be well for him to afford the Committee another opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the point at issue. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said that under the existing law any person qualified to be elected as a Guardian would be subject to the some what shifting provisions issued by the Local Government Board for the time being, and that there was nothing to prevent the £5 qualification being altered by a stroke of the pen in Whitehall to 40s. Ho (Mr. Lowther) did not suppose that the Department would be entitled to abolish the qualification altogether, and, in fact, it would be sailing very near the wind if they went so far as to reduce it to 40s. As he understood the present proposal of the Government it amounted to this, that a person might be taken out of a casual ward to be elected as a Guardian. The person elected might be one who had never paid a farthing of rates, cither directly or indirectly, in his life.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that was so; he must have been in the casual ward for a year and a day previously to his election. There was, however, no guarantee that the person elected would be a bonâ fide ratepayer, who would be interested in keeping down the rates or in the just administration of the public funds. He thought the Amendment ought to be adopted.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, his right hon. Friend who had just sat down could not have considered the effect of the Amendment or he would not have supported it. Not 356 only would it disfranchise married women, but it would also exclude freeholders who did not pay the rates. There were certain Unions in which there never had been any rating qualification, and he believed that no ill effects had resulted in those cases.
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON
said that, as far as he could see, there was nothing in the Bill to prevent a man and his wife, or three or four persons, sitting on a Board of Guardians although their qualification arose from the same house. (Cries of "Why not?"] Surely that would be carrying the ability to sit on Boards of Guardians very far indeed. No doubt married women had sat on Boards of Guardians, but that was because they were ratepayers. He did not know whether there had been any absolute judicial decision as to the legality of their doing so, but the Poor Law Board had exercised a discretion in the matter, and had refused to interfere. He could not help thinking that the clause did not impose even the full 12 mouths' period of residence.
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON
went on to say that be thought the Committee hardly sufficiently appreciated the fact that a very wide door was being opened for all sorts of people to be put forward as Guardians who had no interest whatever in the financial concerns of the parish. He could not help thinking that some period of actual occupation of rateable premises should be required from those who were selected to spend ratepayers' money.
§ MR. W. LONG
entirely concurred with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke)—namely, that the Amendment was inconsistent with what the Committee had already done. Nothing had, however, yet been stated as to what would constitute a residence for 12 months. The point might be met by Amendments which were to be moved later on. At present, where a man claimed on the ground of residence, the presiding officer would have no means of proving whether the residence bad been actual or imaginary.
§ Question put, and negatived.357
§ MR. BARTLEY
asked whether it was intended that a man and his wife should both be eligible to sit on the same Boards?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
That is a matter for the electors. If the electors wish to put them on, why should they not? They might be the very best people in the place. I do not think the case would happen—
§ An hon. Member: Why not?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Well, I see no reason why not, but I do not think it probable. I see no moral objection to it; I see no administrative objection to it; I see no economical objection to if; I see no legal objection to it; and I certainly do intend to leave the discretion of the electors absolutely untouched, as far as the election of ladies, whether married or single, is concerned.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, he was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman wished to leave so much to the discretion of the electors, because he had decided earlier that, in regard to their meetings and to other points, they were to have no discretion.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK
said, he did not think the President of the Local Government Board had quite appreciated the point put by his hon. Friend (Air. T. H. Bolton). A person who had resided a week in the Union hail resided "during the 12 months."
SIR, R. PAGET
inquired whether the judicial decisions referred to by the Solicitor General were with reference to precisely the same words?
§ MR. CARSON (Dublin University)
said, that it was too late now to make any alteration in the Amendment; but he suggested that on the Report stage the words "during the 12 months" should be changed to "for the period of 12 months," which was really what was intended.
§ Amendment (Mr. H. H. Fowler), as amended, agreed to.
MR. STANLEY LEIGUTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
moved— 358In page 12, line 31, to leave out from the word "or" to the word "personal" in line 32.The President of the Local Government Board intended to do away later on with all incorporations under Local and Personal Acts, except in the case of Oxford, and perhaps Bristol; but he should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman could do that unless this Amendment were now accepted.
In page 12, line 31, to leave out, from the won I "or" to the word "personal," in line 32. —(Mr. Stanley Leighton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ * Mr. H. H. FOWLER
We have a clause under consideration, which will come on in its proper place, by which we propose that the election of Guardians for the parish of Oxford shall proceed on the same lines as in the other parishes, but that certain regulations affecting the City of Oxford and the University shall not be proceeded with. What we tire now dealing with are the very few incorporations that remain, and which we think it would be, inexpedient to leave alone. The difficulty raised by the hon. Gentleman is a question of drafting. I will take the responsibility that the draftsmen are right, if the hon. Gentleman will leave it there.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On Motion of Mr. H. H. Fowler, the following Amendment was agreed to:—
In page 12, line 33, to leave out from the word "repealed" to the end of Sub-section.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
asked the President of the Local Government Board what course he meant to take in regard to the following subsections which he had placed on the Paper:—In page 12, line 37, to leave out from the beginning of the line to end of Clause and add.—" (3) The Guardians for each parish shall be elected by the Parish Council, or, if there is no Parish Council, by the parish meeting, and, if the parish is divided into wards, the Guardians for each ward shall be elected by the Parish Councillors for that ward: (4) The nomination and election of Guardians shall be conducted according to Rules framed under this Act for that purpose by the Local Government Board; (5) The term of office of a Guardian shall be three years, and on the 15th day of April in every 359 third year the members of every Board of Guardians shall go out of office and their places shall be filled by the newly-elected Guardians; (6) If any casual vacancy in the office of a member of a Board of Guardians occurs by death, resignation, disqualification, or otherwise, such vacancy shall be filled up by the remaining members of the Board, if a quorum, at a special meeting of the Board to be called for the purpose.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I cannot accept the first sub-section of the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the second sub-section, I intend myself at the proper time to move that the nomination and election of Guardians shall he conducted under the Rules framed by the Local Government Board. With reference to the other two points in the hon. Gentleman's demand, I must adhere to the opinion expressed in the Bill.
In page 12, line 87, to add—" (4) The nomination and election of Guardians shall be conducted according to Rules framed under this Act for that purpose by the Local Government Board."—(Mr. Lees Knowles.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he had on the Paper an Amendment to the first subsection of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, to provide that the election of Guardians should take place at the annual meeting of the Parish Council, and, if the parish was divided into wards, at the annual meeting of the Parish Councillors of such wards, or, if there was no Parish Council, at the annual assembly of the parish meeting, by the parochial electors present at such meeting.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, that it had occurred to him that if the right hon. Gentleman saw his way to accept his proposal it might be provided for under the Rules to be framed. The object he had in view was to save time and expense in connection with these elections.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
It is rather out of Order now; but I may tell the hon. Baronet that his proposal will not save expense, but would lead to confusion. What we shall endeavour to do is to provide that these elections shall be held on the same day.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
The right hon. Gentleman proposes to take powers to regulate the expenses of the elections. Does he propose to do so under this Amendment?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
On a point of Order, I wish to ask whether it would be possible now to move the first paragraph of my hon. Friend's Amendment, the second paragraph of which, I understand, has, in my absence, been adopted by the Government?
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Under any circumstances it would not be in Order, because we have already decided that the Guardians are to he elected by the electors.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, that in his judgment the Amendment before the Committee ought not to be put in the Bill without some limitation. He submitted that it was a large order, indeed, to say that as to the hours of polling a Government Department should have the power to fix any hours they liked.
§ MR. STOREY
said, that if the Committee decided that the Local Government Board should have the power to make these Rules some limits should be indicated, such he had laid down in an Amendment which stood on the Paper later on, by which the hours of polling could be fixed in accordance with local desires.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
With regard to the question on a point of Order, put to me a few minutes since by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Manchester, I find that the Amendment to which he referred is not the one I understood, but is an alternative proposal to Sub-section 3 of the Clause. It is, therefore, in Order.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
With regard to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, I must say that the Government never contemplated interfering with or controlling the plan of elections. I have said that that must be a question determined by Parliament, and Parliament alone. I may say that when my hon. Friend's Amendment is reached I shall object to his provisos. I think Clause 35 is the proper clause on 361 which to bring up the question of the hours of polling. With reference to the election of Guardians, the election at present is in accordance with the Rules laid down by the Local Government Hoard, so that there is nothing now in this proposal. But it would he inconvenient to have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland proposes, the elections in the one district carried on under different Regulations—in one place under the Municipal Act, and in the other under the Rules of the Local Government Board. So far as this Amendment is concerned, if it be adopted, it will not preclude us on Clause 35 from inserting conditions as to the hours of polling.
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
I would suggest to the Committee that to insert these words now would be very inconvenient, because they would modify a subsequent clause. I would suggest their withdrawal at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
moved to insert—The Guardians for each parish shall be elected by the Parish Council, or, if there is no Parish Council, by the parish meeting, and, if the parish is divided into wards, the Guardians for each ward shall be elected by the Parish Councillors for that ward.He said that he regarded the question of the form of the election of the new Guardians as a very important one. Me was quite ready to admit that the plan he proposed in order to strengthen the administration of the Poor Law under the Bill was not altogether free from objection, nor could he say, even if that plan was accepted by the Government—which he very much doubted—that he should no longer view with the same apprehension the consequences of the great changes which the Government were recklessly indulging in in the Bill. As he had said, there were objections to his plan. The first was that if they mixed up the question of the Poor Law administration, oven in this indirect manner, with the election of Parochial Councillors, the Parochial Councillors would be elected, not simply on grounds connected with the administration of the affairs of the parish, but largely with the view to embarking on some particular policy, good or bad, with regard to the administration of the Poor Law. The second objection, which had 362 been pointed out to him by a friend in whom he had great reliance in this matter, was that a habit we had contracted in England was to go on in the same kind of groove we had been going on in for years, and that, therefore, if the Government plan were adopted, though it undoubtedly changed the character of the electors, and made important modifications in the Poor Law machinery, it nevertheless permitted the election of the same kind of people who were now elected by the same kind of machinery they were now elected by; that the country would go on in the same kind of groove to which it was accustomed; that there would be no violent dislocation of administration; and that for years no great evil might be anticipated from the change the Government proposed. But if instead of the plan of the Government his plan were adopted a new procedure of election would be put in force, and instead of improving matters it would make them worse. However, he believed the advantages to be obtained from adopting the plan would greatly outweigh the objections that could be stated against it. The real effect of the Amendment was that the Poor Law should be administered by a committee of Elected Bodies in the district, and one of the first advantages that would be secured by the system would be that a superior class of men would be obtained on the Boards to administer the Poor Law. Wherever secondary election had been tried—and it had been tried in America to a greater extent than anywhere else— it had been found that by that process a class of men bad been secured for public work that could not be obtained by any other election machinery, and the system had worked well in practice. In the second place, experience showed that by this system persons could be secured in office for a longer term than by any other means. The term of three years had been mentioned by his hon. Friend, but he should prefer to lay down the term of live years, and in doing so we should approach nearer the practice of the American Senate, where the term was six years. Another, and not the least, advantage he claimed from the system was that contested popular election for the office of Guardian would be avoided. Whatever were the merits of Representative Institutions, they could not be 363 carried on without the difficulty and turmoil of election, and that was a grave objection. An election in itself was not a good, but an evil; but it was especially an evil when dealing with Poor Law questions. He was much struck with the observation of the hon. Baronet who asked how they could go before a popular audience and explain to them that it was in the interests of the ratepayers and the poor themselves that outdoor relief should be administered with a sparing hand; it was not the kind of argument on which they could make anything before a popular audience; it was an argument that had great weight upon small committees, but was not of the slightest use in dealing with popular audiences. Not the smallest advantage of his Amendment was, that they would avoid popular election in connection with so difficult a subject as the Poor Law. The advantages of his Amendment were that they were not gained at the expense of what were called democratic principles, for by this proposal the Guardians would be a committee of a popularly elected body. He did not put forward this Amendment in any over confident spirit, but he trusted it would meet with careful consideration on the part of the President of the Local Government Board.
In page 12, line 37, to leave out Sub-section (3), in order to insert the words,—"(3) The Guardians for each parish shall be elected by the Parish Council, or, if there is no Parish Council, by the parish meeting, and, if the parish is divided into wards, the Guardians for each ward shall be elected by the Parish Councillors for that ward." — (Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'The parochial electors' stand part of the Clause."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
said, that everyone would acknowledge the extremely fair and candid way in which the, right hon. Gentleman had treated this question. The Government had carefully considered this matter with every desire to see whether the plan could be adopted or not. The right hon. Gentleman, in stating his opinion, had explained the advantages and also the disadvantages that would arise from it. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman laid great weight upon the disadvantage 364 of mixing up the question of Poor Law with the election of the Parish Council, but he would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it was not merely the election of the Poor Law Guardians that his Amendment would affect. Practically, what the right hon. Gentleman was proposing was that the Parish Council should elect the District Council. Now, in the hierarchy of Councils the District Council would be rather higher than the Parish Council, and why the lesser should elect the greater he did not understand. The right hon. Gentleman, who attached importance to secondary elections of this kind, should bear in mind the example of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That body, which governed the Metropolis, was the outcome of secondary election, and was the greatest failure in the system of local government of this country. He believed it was the only body of the kind that had ever been the subject of Parliamentary inquiry by Royal Commission. The precedent of the Metropolitan Board was not one likely to encourage a belief that secondary elections resulted in the choice of the best administrators. It should be observed that the Vestries of London had never fallen under the same condemnation as this secondary body fell under. If the Government could find any way of coming to an understanding with the right hon. Gentleman they would be extremely glad, but they could not see why, with reference to Poor Law administration, there could be a distrust of popular election. It was quite true that in many places ex officio Guardians did much work at present, but there were also many places where the elective element was predominant on Boards of Guardians and where no cause of complaint arose. The right hon. Gentleman declared that one could not explain in a popular election why they could not increase the outdoor relief. Nevertheless such explanations were given, and, that being the case, would they strengthen the hands of the administrative body by depriving it of the support which it gained from popular election? There was a maxim of law which said Delegatus non potest delegare. It would certainly be a novel departure to empower the Parish Council to delegate, not their own authority, but a totally different authority—namely, that which 365 the framers of the Bill intended should he exercised by the Poor Law Guardians or District Councils. These were the reasons that weighed with the Government and which prevented their acceding to the Amendment.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he was glad that the Government looked with some favour, at any rate, on the principle of the suggestion—[Cries of "No!"] Well, he gathered the difficulty arose from its application. He did not think there was any question of distrust of popular election, because if the Amendment were accepted it would be known that when the Parish Councillors were elected they were popularly elected Poor Law Guardians, as the Poor Law Guardians would be practically a committee of the Parish Council. In his opinion, it was altogether in a democratic direction. They knew that all the evils of their local government in the past had been the multiplication of Boards for separate inquiry, and they had always held up that the doing away with that was the state of things to be aimed at. He should like to see the day when there would be one Board or one Council only for each area or district, with all the work of that area or district committed to it, and he thought there was a tendency towards that, whether the question was one of education, of health, or whatever it might be. Though there was great diversity in the management of the business connected with the administration of the Poor Law and the other business of the parish, as much diversity existed in the business of Town Councils. The Town Councils had the health of the borough to look after, libraries, watch committees, and industrial schools, and they were quite as diverse as the work of Poor Law administration and the other work connected with a parish that had to be transacted. Suppose they applied the same principle to this Parliament. No doubt a Member of Parliament was often elected for some special consideration—on account of his opinions upon local veto, peace or war, and a variety of other matters, but they did not say that was an objection to his doing the general work of the country; therefore, why should any similar objection come in when they elected a 366 Parish Councillor; why should it be an objection to a Parish Councillor's election that they knew at the same time he had the guardianship of the poor in his hands? He thought it would be an advantage, because they knew very well from the past history of local government that the more power they gave to an authority, the more diverse and important those powers were, the better the men they got to contest the election. He believed that had been the invariable experience of the history of local government, therefore the more important the work they gave to the Parish Councils the higher the class of men they would get upon the Councils. If they placed the government of a district or area in the hands of one Board they would simplify local government, and if they accepted the Amendment, for which he should vote, he thought the objections raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer could easily be overcome.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, they had had a good deal of example of secondary election in London in addition to the cases indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was not only the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works, but the whole of the District Boards in London, and also the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The Metropolitan Asylums Board was an example of the state of things the Opposition wished to introduce, because the Board consisted of one-third nominated by the Local Government Board, while two-thirds were elected by the Boards of Guardians themselves, who were elected, though formerly on a higher qualification, by the popular vote; and yet in spite of all those restrictions the Metropolitan Asylums Board had not been remarkable for those qualities which the Committee would desire to see. But he rose really to call attention to a different point. He wished the Committee to look at the construction of the Amendment. The clause applied to Boards of Guardians throughout the country, to London, to municipal boroughs, to urban districts, and to rural districts—four classes of the population; but the Amendment as drawn seemed to contemplate only the rural districts, and therefore would be out of place in this clause. At least four-fifths of the population affected by 367 Boards of Guardians would be outside this Amendment. What would happen in London and in municipal boroughs under this Amendment he could not understand, because the Amendment was confined to eases where there were Parish Councils, and those only affected the rural districts.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, the objection raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) could be met in the usual way if the Government would indicate their willingness to accept the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer argued the matter most fairly, and the first objection he took to the proposal was, as was perfectly true, that it would affect not only the Boards of Guardians, but the District Councils; but he should have thought it would not, in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite—remembering the peculiar duties of the District Councils—have been a disadvantage to have the legislation of the District Councils centralised. Of course it was quite easy, as the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last had done and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done, to give instances in which secondary election had failed and it was just as easy for them to give instances in which primary election had failed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer over-looked what had frequently been urged in the Debate from those Benches, that they did not exactly distrust the popular election in this matter, but that there was an anxiety and apprehension in regard to the peculiar temptation that would be held out to the persons to be elected not to say, "Well, we do not intend, under any circumstances, to give outdoor relief," or something of that kind. As his hon. Friend said the other night; that was a species of argument extremely difficult to make use of at an election. Some days ago, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer desired to give an opinion as to some method of common agreement between the two sides of the House, he (Commander Bethell) indicated this Amendment of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Lees Knowles) was the best one for the purpose. He still entertained that opinion, and he should have been glad if the Government could have seen their way to accept it. He did not understand the Chancellor of the Ex- 368 chequer absolutely to close the door against any definite method of solving the question other than the one suggested by the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated just now he was anxious to find some common mode of agreement. So far they had tried several plans, but had been unable to find any common ground on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would meet them in this matter. This particular Amendment avoided all the difficulties of the other Amendments; it had nothing to do with ex officios, it was symmetrical, it was simple, it applied equally to all parts of the country, and he owned that if they could not find some common ground of agreement in an Amendment such as this he saw great difficulty in finding one at all. That which ought to be sought for was something which was not complex, that could be carried out, and something that applied to the whole country. This Amendment did that, and if the Government could not accept it he hoped they would indicate in what further direction they could make some concession towards meeting their wishes.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
thought they must all recognise with satisfaction the very serious vein that characterised the discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had approached the matter in a serious spirit, and he believed that was due to the fact that throughout the Committee there was a real apprehension of the possible risks they were running in this great transformation of the administration of the Poor Law. That possible risk had been admitted by the President of the Local Government Board, and again by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though not in the same words. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had submitted to them some reasons for not holding the apprehension that many of them were subject to. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Why do you fear the possibility of a profuse, or an indiscriminate, or an unwise administration of the Poor Law following the adoption of the principle of free popular election, inasmuch as your Guardians now have to defend the same principles before the electors to-day as they will have to defend before the electors in the future." He thought that correctly gave the statement of his right hon. Friend, but the right hon. Gentle- 369 man had forgotten that they were not only disposing of the ex officio Guardian, but that they were also disturbing the qualification of the Guardians and the principles on which the electors should register their votes. They said that all the elements of Boards of Guardians in the past had, in purely rural districts, been controlled by the farmers in the district. The agricultural labourers might have votes, but they were counteracted, whether rightly or wrongly, by plural voting and by qualifications for the election of Guardians. Farmers felt in an acute form any change of rates which might arise during their tenancy, and the result had been that Boards of Guardians had been characterised by extreme frugality. He did not say they had always been wise in their administration, but frugality had been at the bottom of the movement of the farmers. They were now in the future to deal with a different set of electors, with a popular body of electors, and they could not go before them with the same feelings as they had done before the electors of the past. He agreed with what was said by the hon. Member for Gloucester the other night, that they could not go on the platform of a popular meeting and claim the strict administration of the Poor Law, or attempt to prove that freehanded administration of relief was not for the benefit of the labouring classes. They did not want to forbid any alteration of the Poor Law, because they believed it was open to considerable amendment. Personally, he was not much enamoured of the present Amendment, but he did think it afforded some security against the particular evil which had been referred to, and if no better proposal were suggested, he should certainly support it if it went to a Division. He did not recognise any insuperable difficulty in applying this principle to urban districts, because the clause could be made applicable to urban as well as rural parishes, and the whole of that difficulty was a matter of drafting which could be very easily removed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer relied on the failure of the principle of secondary election in connection with the appointment of the President of the United States as a fatal objection to the present proposal. But the answer in that ease was simple. The College of Electors 370 was chosen for the election of President, and for no other purpose, and the people who chose them almost immediately drifted into the position of dictating to them for whom they were to vote. The election of the Senate of the United States by the State Legislatures had, on the other hand, been a great success. The reason was that the State Legislature had many things to do, and nobody dreamt, when electing its members, of the line they would take in the choice of a Senator every three years. That was lost in the multifarious duties of the members of the State Legislature, and so his right hon. Friend thought that in the case of Parish Councils and Town Councils charged with numerous duties more or less important, that in the election of members of these Councils the particular duty of choosing the members of the Boards of Guardians would be so lost amongst other duties with which they would be charged that, the election of Parish Councillors would never occur on the isolated question of the principles of parochial relief. Then they were told to look at the Metropolis and see how badly secondary elections had worked there. He thought that was rather assumed, for the Metropolitan Board of Works was not such a great failure as was supposed. It carried out large works extremely well, and the taint of corruption under which it ended applied in the smallest possible degree to its officers, and to its members scarcely at all. It was superseded in a great hurry. He never know any act of the Legislature about which so little time or thought was taken within its walls as the creation of the London County Council. But even if the example of the Metropolitan Board of Works was as bad as was supposed, it would not be a fatal objection to the present proposal. The objection to secondary election was that the body so elected almost invariably lost power. Those who selected it looked for age and experience and character more than activity and vitality, and it would consequently be almost a senile body. As he had already said, he was not greatly enamoured of the plan proposed, but it was much better than that contained in the Bill, and afforded some mode of escape from the risks which had been pointed out. Secondary election by persons themselves popularly elected was, he submitted, sufficiently in touch with 371 the democratic spirit of the age, while it gave an assurance that the bodies so elected would possess some of the qualities they desired to see possessed by them, and the absence of which, they all feared, might be the marked characteristic of the Boards of Guardians elected on the plan proposed by the Government.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, if the Government were absolutely determined not to give way on any point, he wished they would use the majority and shorten the discussion. It seemed to him that the Government by producing no arguments, but simply going into the Lobbies with their supporters and negativing every proposal that was made, were not treating the Committee in the way it ought to be treated. The object of Members of the Opposition was to devise the best possible Board of Guardians for the administration of the Poor Law. When the Parliament legislated on the Report of the new Poor Law Commissioners what course did they adopt? They took care so to frame the Board of Guardians that members of all Parties should be brought together, not by the chance of an election but by means of methods which they proposed.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, the proposal made by this Amendment was to improve the Board of Guardians and make them something different to what they would be if the Bill were left as it was. The Amendment would carry out the principle of the old Poor Law Commissioners, which was not to trust only to a popular election, but to trust to a double election. The adoption of such a proposal as this would give to these Parochial Boards a dignity and an authority which they did not possess at present. It would raise them by giving them the opportunity of exercising functions of a very important character. It would enable them to select without the fear and the necessity of using popular arguments or depending altogether on the popular vote, and would thus enable them to do what they, in their conscience, thought right to do. In that way he was perfectly satisfied they would get a very much better Board of Guardians than they should without this Amendment.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, there was one very strong ground in favour of the adoption of the present Amendment, and that was that it tended to make their system of local government somewhat less complex. He thought one of the greatest dangers to local government was the multiplication of the elections for Local Bodies. If they were so multiplied a great many people would get tired of them and take no part in them, and this would not be a very advantageous result. It was because this proposal did, at any rate, remove from the rural parishes one of these elections that he thought it very desirable it should be supported in the absence of any bettor. It was, it was true, limited to rural parishes. But there was the obvious reason for such a proposal being made with regard to these parishes specially, that it was in these parishes alone that they were now proposing to set up additional Local Bodies. They were not proposing to add to the bodies in urban districts, but in rural districts they were adding to the bodies that already existed, and were making their system more complex. Such a proposal as was contained in the Amendment would tend to good administration. There would be a close and visible connection between the Parish Bodies and District Bodies, and in that way their administration, which overlapped at certain points, would not be so likely to come into collision, and they would thus avoid a good deal of difficulty and misunderstanding. He did not think the fact—even if it were a fact—that secondary elections had entirely failed in the Metropolis was a good argument against trying such a proposal in their small parishes, the cir cumstances being totally dissimilar. He was always in favour of a County Council in the Metropolis, but the way the Board of Works was knocked out of existence was unjust to that body, considering the immense amount of work it had done in the past. He failed to see how the other illustration—that of the Metropolitan Asylums Boards—was a good illustration in support of the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. The members of the Asylums Board had a most unpleasant, disagreeable, and unpopular work, and they had performed it with very considerable public spirit and with 373 success. He thought there were strong grounds for apprehension that in the case of these new elections for Guardians there world be issues raised which would interfere with the strict administration of Poor Law relief. He knew of one instance in which County Councillors lost their election on account of having declared themselves in favour of a strict administration of the Poor Law. The very fact that it occurred showed what was likely to occur in the future, and dealing with the class of electors they should have in their country districts, it would be very difficult to maintain strict principles of administration of Poor Law relief. He believed it was very important to maintain those principles, therefore he welcomed any proposal that would give certain protection to the administrators of Poor Law relief, and if they could do that without infringing any popular principle —and he believed the present proposal did not infringe any—he thought they ought to adopt such proposal, both on the ground of securing better administration than they were otherwise likely to have, and also on the ground of doing away with unnecessary complexity in their future local governing bodies.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
desired to say that the object of his right hon. Friend in moving the Amendment in its present form was to raise the question of indirect or double election in order that it might be debated fully, and if it had found acceptance either in this precise form or some slightly altered form, their suggestions would then have been that the power of nomination given under this proposal to the Parish Council, and parish meeting, should also have been given in urban districts to the Local Boards, or Corporations governing those districts, their view being that the Parish Council and parish meeting of the future would, to a large extent, occupy the position now held by the Corporation or Local Boards in urban districts where there were no Corporations. The same effect would have been brought about that the representative authorities of the urban and rural districts would have selected the Guardians to administer the Poor Law, instead of their being elected separately, and for a particular purpose. There was one other reason which had governed 374 hon. Members on his side. There could be very little doubt whatever that the fears or apprehensions regarding the future administration of the Poor Law were well founded. They were, to some extent, altering the conditions of these authorities in the future, and giving them some duties which would be attractive altogether apart from the administration of the Poor Law. They would thus attract to the elections for these District Councils men who would be anxious to take part in work entirely distinct from the administration of the Poor Law. That difficulty would be avoided if the Government saw their way to adopt this or a similar proposal, which would create for the Board of Guardians, solely for that particular purpose and not as a result of popular election, the process of selection on the part of the Local Bodies. He would point out that in the rural Unions it was a mere flight of imagination to suggest that there was anything in the form of election, or of a platform, or anything which induced a candidate to make pledges or tempted him to give way on one point or another, or pledged him to a particular form of administration. Elections might turn on some purely local reasons, but anything in the shape of contested elections, as they understood them, or of a platform, was absolutely foreign to the present elections for Guardians in the rural districts; therefore, they could draw no evidence from the rural districts which would justify the view that, as the Guardians had resisted and avoided the difficulty in the past, so they would in the future. This discussion had proved again that there were reasons of apprehension and anxiety, and he confessed he was very sorry the Government could not accept this proposal, because he believed it would very largely have reduced the fears many of them, both inside and outside that House, entertained, and would have simplified the passage of the Bill. After all, if the worst came to the worst, and it was found, after a period, that this plan did not work well, it would have been very easy then to have dealt with the Poor Law as a whole. The difficulties which had been pointed out by some hon. Gentlemen, and especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, afforded another 375 proof of the complications which ensued from interfering with the Poor Law in a Bill of this kind, and it would have been wiser if the Government had left it untouched. As, however, they had thought fit to deal with it, he, for one, regretted they could not accept this proposal as it stood, or in an altered form, because then they should have got the principle of a double election. They were perfectly willing to put the proposal in some other shape or form which the Government might suggest with the view to this principle being adopted.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
said, it seemed to him that an attempt was being made, against, which he must enter his protest, to attempt to dodge the principle of direct election. This was a principle which he supported for all purposes. Hon. Gentlemen opposite showed their want of faith in democratic institutions by eternally resisting, in every form, a direct appeal to the people. The feeling appeared to be that, because Guardians were going to be elected by the popular vote, they were going to undo the whole Poor Law system by giving out-relief indiscriminately. [Mr. W. Long: No, no!] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's experience differed from his; but his experience was that they might trust the people with the expenditure of their own money, and that they would be as careful of it as those who pretended to be so anxious on their behalf. In Friendly Societies and Trade Unions, in which the popular vote prevailed, the people were as exacting about money matters as anyone could wish them to be—they were careful not to waste the money of the members, and his belief was that they would be equally careful not to waste the money of the ratepayers. [An hon. MEMBER: Oh!] That was his opinion; but supposing it were otherwise, he would rather see a little free-handed work in the administration of the Poor Law than the niggardliness which had sometimes characterised that administration in the past. One of the reasons why they heard so much of the cry of the unemployed was that the Poor Laws were so wretchedly administered that the unemployed were refused the little temporary relief that would got them over their difficulties. He was in favour of a little relaxation. In his own locality he had spoken pretty freely on 376 these points, and he found that the people mistrusted men who, on the platform, would make promises which they could not fulfil. Let them infuse a little humanity into the administration of the Poor Law, and the country would be the better for it. It was sad to hear—and he felt sorry when he heard—so many expressions of sympathy with the poor coming from those who could not trust them with the management of their own affairs.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
said, the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down could not be passed over in silence. The hon. Member opposed the Amendment in a spirit very different from that in which it had been received by the Government, by treating it as an insidious attempt to get rid of popular representation. He did not know whether he was in the House when the Amendment was brought forward; but it was not, received by the Government in that spirit. He thought it could be shown that secondary election was just as democratic, just as much the expression of the voice of the people, as was primary election. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Howell) had not an exclusive right to the principle that the government of the parish should be conducted by the people, and there could be no derogation in secondary election. If Parish Councils were trusted as representing the people, why should they not be allowed to select Poor Law Guardians? Although the Amendment might not embody the best form of local government, still it would make the District Councils collectively representative of the Parish Councils, and that would be much simpler than direct election. Nobody said that elected Guardians would necessarily be extravagant; but it was admitted that there was a risk in certain cases of bad administration which would be detrimental to the interests of the working classes, as it was 25 years ago in the East End of London. That was the evil they feared. Since then there had been more prudent and more scientific administration, and not only were the Unions more-economical, but the condition of the people was improved compared with what it was when there was a reckless administration of relief.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, after the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Howell) he was bound to say one or two words. As an ex officio Guardian for many years he knew the danger of the demand for a little relaxation in the giving of relief, which would not be merciful in itself, but would lead to greater suffering on the part of the poor themselves. He did not care about reducing expenditure, provided only that the law was administered in the best way. The hon. Member referred to Friendly Societies, and no one could give better testimony than he (Mr. Bartley) to the way in which they were managed; but the members knew that in every payment they sanctioned they were voting away their own money; but it was idle to say that under the present Bill the majority of the electors would be spending their own money. He asserted that, if the adoption of the new Poor Law of 1834 had depended upon popular election pure and simple, not a single Union would have adopted it. He thought they (the Opposition) had every right to complain of the action of the Government in this matter—in their not attempting to meet a danger the possibility of which they admitted. The President of the Local Government Board had gone the length of acknowledging this. They had had no answer to the weighty arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. He admitted the Amendment was not all it might be; but it was better than depending upon direct election, and he would, therefore, press upon the Government that they ought even yet to accept the Amendment.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 95.—(Division List, No. 399.)
The next Amendment standing on the Paper would come properly in connection with Sub-section 6 of the clause; when that sub-section is reached it will he competent to move the omission of that sub-section relating to the term of office of Guardians, and the insertion of the Amendment (which proposed to prescribe the mode of election).
§ MAJOR DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he had to move—In page 12, line 38, after the word "wards," to insert the words "for the purpose of the 378 election of Guardians, here called district wards.This Amendment was proposed in a similar spirit to that which he moved a few days ago, and its object was to make the meaning of the clause clearer than it was. He did not, however, wish to press it if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill objected; but he would really ask the right hon. Gentleman why the words towards the end of the sub-section were inserted, or whether they were considered necessary? In his opinion they were not necessary; and, if that were found to be so, he thought they might be left out.
In page 12, line 38, after the word "wards," to insert the words "for the purpose of the election of Guardians, here called district wards."—(Major Darwin.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
was understood to say he did not think it would be any advantage to adopt the words suggested by the hon. and gallant Member. If there was any point in connection with the closing words of the sub-section upon which he could meet the hon. Member's views he should be glad to consider it; but he thought if any change was to be made it should be on another part of the Bill, and not at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
moved—In page 12, after line 41, to add as a new sub-section—"(4) In the case of a Poor Law Union which comprises a municipal borough, together with a rural district, it shall be the duty of the Local Government Board, before this Act comes into force, to inquire whether, having regard to the relative population and other circumstances as between the urban and rural portions of the Union, any alteration is required in the number or distribution of the Guardians, and they shall thereupon make such alterations as shall be required.379 He said, the first point he wished to press upon the Committee was this: There was at the present time a great necessity for a wider use of the powers conferred upon the Local Government Board by the Act 7 & 8 Vict. The powers then conferred should be more widely used. He took the case of Preston, a town which was divided, for Guardian purposes, into six wards. These six wards contained a population of 99,305, and the rateable value amounted to £334,183. Some portions were within the municipal boundary, and some portions were outside it. Some of these parishes were exceedingly small. One contained 252 inhabitants, and two or three contained only a little over 100. The rateable value was small in proportion. The aggregation of the parishes made up, together, only 44,345 inhabitants, with a rateable value of £269,000, and yet they returned 24 members to the Board of Guardians, as against the 16 returned by the borough of Preston. It was not necessary to argue that that was a condition of things of which the inhabitants of the township of Preston had just reason to complain. Why should the inhabitants of that largo town be over weighted by the representatives of those small parishes? This was a grievance which, independently of the passing of this measure, the town of Preston would have had just reason to complain. He had reason to believe that it had been in contemplation to present a Memorial to the Local Government Board on the subject, and he was not sure that in any event that Memorial would not be presented. Whatever might be the present position of a Union containing, as that of Preston did, a borough and rural district, it would be very much aggravated by the passing of this Bill, because the result would be to give a more thoroughly local element to the election in small parishes than existed at the present time. It was obvious that when the plural vote was done away with and the ex officio element which existed more or less in the Unions, and the elections were conducted purely on the "One Man One Vote" principle, as was proposed in the Bill, the evil of which the borough portion of the Unions complained would be aggravated. It appeared to him that the passing of a Bill of this kind was a ground for asking that the powers 380 which the Local Government Board possessed should be exercised, and exercised without requiring the Unions to go through the formality of presenting a Memorial to the Local Government Board. In carrying through a great alteration of this kind it was essential to add to the Bill all those things which were necessary to make its operation as fair as possible. The object of the Amendment was to require the Local Government Board to put in force those powers they already had, and to do so without requiring these Unions to go through the formality of presenting a Memorial.
In page 12, after line 41, to add as a new subsection:—"(4) In the ease of a Poor Law Union which comprises a municipal borough, together with a rural district, it shall be the duty of the Local Government Board, before this Act comes into force, to inquire whether, having regard to the relative population and other circumstances as between the urban and rural portions of the Union, any alteration is required in the number or distribution of the Guardians, and they shall thereupon make such alterations as shall be required."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he did not admit that the passage of this Bill would aggravate any differences which existed in reference to the population of rural and urban districts. As the hon. Member had admitted, the Local Government Board had already the fullest power to deal with these cases, and not only that, but in Clause 47 the Government proposed that the County Councils should exercise similar powers subject to the approval of the Local Government Board. They were increasing the machinery and giving the machinery a local aspect. He would ask the hon. Member if he had considered his own Amendment. He was asking that before the Bill came into force—and they were hoping that it would come into force at a very early date— the Local Government Board should enter upon what he might call a roving inquiry in reference to 250 Unions—fcr there were 250 Unions which were touched by this Amendment—namely, those which comprised municipal boroughs and rural districts. It was not the practice of the Local Government Board to enter on those inquiries unless somebody complained. They received either a Memo- 381 rial from ratepayers or a resolution from a Board of Guardians complaining of the undue representation which one part of a Union received, or of another part having been deprived of proper representation, and there was correspondence and inquiry before they considered themselves justified in effecting any change. The Committee would agree that they would not be justified in taking action in these cases without the fullest opportunity for local opinion to be heard. Would the hon. Member (Mr. Tomlinson) propose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should allow the Local Government Board an increased vote, because he (Mr. Fowler) did not know how the Department would he able to proceed without it, if it was to conduct these 250 inquiries in addition to the enormous number of inquiries it was at present obliged to undertake, and which almost swamped it. Certainly if these 250 inquiries had to be made the practical effect would be to put back for 12 mouths the period at which the Bill would come into operation. The principle of the allocation of Guardians in Unions when the Unions were formed was carefully considered by the administrators. There were few duties attaching to the Local Government Board which were more difficult to discharge, and which aroused greater local feeling and irritation than any attempt to interfere with the representation on Boards of Guardians. They could not allow these Boards to become unwieldy; and, as a rule, if they added to the representation of one section they diminished the representation of another, he would put this consideration before the Committee which was put before them the other day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther)—Why were these inquiries to take place only in urban districts? Why not in rural districts also? Why should they not be made in the whole of the 500 or 600 Unions? he maintained that there was ample power already existing in the Local Government Board to redress any proved grievance, and, in addition to that, as he had said, it was proposed that County Councils should have a coordinate jurisdiction with the Local Government Board, subject to approval, to redress any inequality—and he did not deny that inequalities existed. He 382 would promise one thing—namely, that if a Memorial came from Preston it should have immediate and careful consideration on the part of the Local Government Board.
§ SIR J. GORST
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would admit that Preston was in a very unsatisfactory position as regarded their grievance. A short time ago hon. Members were taunted by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green with opposing the Government in their attempt to give real democratic representation of the people on Boards of Guardians; but when the hon. Member (Mr. Tomlinson) got up shortly after to propose real democratic representation for Preston he was met by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board with a formidable list of the various difficulties which would have to be surmounted before this desirable result could be achieved. The Committee were indebted to the hon. Member for Preston for having given a very good illustration of how after the Bill became law the democratic representation of the people on Boards of Guardians so ardently desired by places like Preston would be a long way from being secured. Here they had the town of Preston, with a population about double that of the rural districts annexed to it, returning only 16 Guardians, whilst those outside districts returned 24. This anomaly, apparently, would have to last until the Local Government Board or the County Council of Lancashire had leisure to take this and other cases of the same kind into consideration, and redress anomalies which stood in the way of the intentions of the Government being carried out. The hon. Member had given a most valuable illustration of the anomalies that continued to exist, and having given those, probably he would withdraw his Amendment, and leave the Government to settle the matter as best they could.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, it appeared to him to be poor consolation to those who felt these inequalities, which would be aggravated by the passing of the Bill, to be told that they were to be left to the law as it now stood.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he had not given reasons against dealing with the case of Preston, but against the hon. Member's Amendment. If the people of 383 Preston, or the Guardians of Preston, or the ratepayers of Preston, would send up a Memorial to the Local Government Board he would promise that the matter should he looked into immediately.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not wait for an increased grant from the Treasury before dealing with this case.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, he rose to move to leave out Sub-section (4), and to insert—The election of Poor Law Guardians shall be conducted according to the provisions of Section 14 of 7 & 8 Vict. c. 101.This, of course, was the official title of his Amendment, but the popular title was that of plural voting—a subject well understood by all persons interested in these matters, and a title which had become familiar with the House. When he brought forward the question during an earlier stage of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure asked him exactly what he meant. He (Sir R. Temple) had then read out to the right hon. Gentleman a passage from an old Act of the beginning of this century, of George III., and he must say that the result was not very edifying on the right hon. Gentleman's mind. He had now chosen to refer to the more recent Act of Victoria, which was thus described by a modern writer on the Poor Law—Each ratepayer under £50 a year has one vote; £50 and under £100, two votes; £100 and under £150, three votes; £150 and less than £200, four votes; £200 and less than £250, five votes; and if amounting to or exceeding £250, six votes.That was the precise purport of his Amendment, and it was that he proposed to substitute for the sub-section as it stood, which said that no parochial elector should have more than one vote. When he brought forward the question before in connection with Parish Councils his proposal was rejected by the Government, and he forgot whether he went to a Division; he believed he did not. The question of the election of Guardians was a very different thing to that of the election of Parish Councils. The duties of the Guardians differed altogether in 384 principle and kind from those of Parish Councillors or any other public administrators, therefore this class of administrators should be differently constituted to any other class. Other public administrators dealt with local improvements or local Government, but the Guardians were really the dispensers of the national bounty to those meritorious persons who deserved it. It might be said that this principle of plural voting was just that which now existed. Of course, that was no objection from a Conservative point of view. They still believed, notwithstanding what hon. Gentlemen opposite might say, in the wisdom of their ancestors, especially such ancestors as brought about a reform of the Poor Law, from which the country had benefitted up to this very day. Therefore, his proposal had the immense advantage of the condition of precedent and of following on lines laid down by some of the greatest reformers who had dealt with the Poor Law during the present century. He had listened to what was said by the hon. Member for Shoreditch just now, to the effect that Members on the Opposition side of the House never agreed to the principle that the people should be trusted to deal with the peoples' money. But the money which would be distributed under the Poor Law in many parishes would not be the peoples' money. The people might, no doubt, be trusted to deal with their own money, but this particular money was not their own. It was the money of the ratepayers. And who were the ratepayers? Why, not always "the people." If they were, half the objection to this clause of the Bill would disappear. In most parishes the ratepayers and the electors would not be the same persons, and he positively denied that many of those electors who did not pay their rates directly would pay them indirectly in their rent. They had not done this; they did not do it; and there was no hope that they would do it. That fundamental objection lay at the root of most of the objection to the clause on that (the Opposition) side of the House. The money of the ratepayers should he distributed by persons who had a stake in the rates and an abiding interest in the parish. That was the principle on which the Amendment was founded, and he submitted that it was a sound one, what- 385 ever might be said to the contrary by Her Majesty's Government. He submitted that so long as the responsibility of distributing the rates was borne by persons who did not contribute to the rates so long would pauperisation and demoralisation in the administration of the Poor Law result. It was on this broad principle—which he would not labour—that he founded the Amendment which he now submitted to the Committee.
In page 13, line 1, to leave out sub-section (4), and insert the words, "The election of Poor Law Guardians shall be conducted according to the provisions of Section 14 of 7 & 8 Vict. c. 101."—(Sir R. Temple.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'each elector' stand part of the Clause."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
I must congratulate the hon. Baronet on having shown the courage of his opinions by proposing that the Committee shall in the last week of 1893 put upon the Statute Book the principle that voting power is to be given to the voter according to the property he possesses. I am not sure that the hon. Baronet will not be prepared to extend the principle to municipal and Parliamentary elections, and, in fact, to our whole system of democratic popular elections. I cannot perceive any distinction that can be drawn between the administration of the fund for Poor Law relief and any other fund to which the ratepayers contribute. I will not go over all the old ground as to compounding that we have discussed so many times in these Debates, but the hon. Baronet positively denied that any tenant whose rate is compounded for pays that rate in his rent. He forgot the able speech delivered from his own Front Bench in the course of this Debate, which pointed out that one of the evils which would result from the passing of this Bill would be an exorbitant rise in the rents of cottages in country districts, on the ground of increase in rates. I know a class of property to which that will not apply—[Sir R. TEMPLE: Hear, hear!] Yes; the right hon. Gentleman opposite put that very clearly to us, and I am ready to admit that there are close 386 estates and close parishes—great landed estates—where very likely no difference will be made in the rents on account of the increase of rates. But the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that there are large quantities of cottage property which have been acquired as investments for the purpose of making money and as to which not only will care be taken to raise the rents in proportion to a rise in the rates, but the right hon. Gentleman's point was that the rents would be raised to a much higher amount than the rise in the rates, and that, therefore, the Government were not wise in not rating the cottagers directly. I will not raise that controversy again, but I do not think the Committee, or even the hon. Baronet's own Front Bench, will endorse his Amendment. As a matter of historical accuracy, the hon. Baronet was wrong in supposing that this scheme he proposes was laid down in the Act of 1834, although those were the days of plural voting and of anomalies in our Electoral Law which have been swept away. I would point out that the Poor Law Act of 1834 only gave a man a single vote up to £200. Under £400 he had two votes, and over £400 he had three votes. No doubt that principle was altered by subsequent legislation, but I do not know under what circumstances that took place. The hon. Baronet stops at six votes for £250. Why should he not go on and say that £500 shall give 12 votes, that £1,000 shall give 24 votes, and so on? There are many men in the country whose property is rated at even a larger amount than that. The Government cannot accept the Amendment, and I do not think I should be justified in occupying the time of the Committee in further discussing this matter, having regard to the fact that, according to the hon. Baronet's own admission, the subject was discussed and decided in the case of Parish Councils.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the Committee will feel that whatever may be the strength of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, we are allowing a part of the machinery of the Poor Law, which has had an enormous effect upon the character of the distribution of Poor 387 Law relief, to be abolished in a very brief period of time. I do not desire to have a prolonged discussion on this subject, but I wish to say that the right Iron. Gentleman opposite in so boldly assuming that the whole stream and current of public opinion is set against plural voting does not rightly read the signs of the times. I admit that in this Assembly the stream is flowing against plural voting; but if the right hon. Gentleman looks across the Atlantic, I think he will find that many reformers are coming to the conclusion that you cannot assume that a vote should be given for national affairs on the same principle that it is given for local affairs, and that when you get to certain topics and areas you really ought in administering local affairs to make some approach towards the principle which is universally accepted when you are dealing with a company— namely, that those who are most interested in the financial success of the undertaking should have a considerable voice —I will not say a preponderating voice, but a very considerable one—in the administration. The distinction is based on this: When you are dealing with national affairs, you are not dealing purely and solely, or even mainly, with questions of finance; but when you are dealing with the distribution of local rates, it is almost entirely a question of finance, and there is more justification in the latter case than in the former for saying that those who pay the whole cost of the piper should have some special privilege in regard to calling the tune. However, I largely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and it is one of my objections to the policy of the Government that if you were going to remodel your Poor Law machinery and deal with it as a whole this is one part that it would be almost impossible to maintain. But until such time as the Poor Law is dealt with in that way, I think the plural voting system might have gone on unquestioned and even salutary if the Government had let it alone. I am bound to say that my hon. Friend has, after all, only taken a highly practical course after seeing how the existing system works. He has seen that the results of plural voting have led to great economy, and he has clearly seen, what the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not appear to have observed, 388 that when the plural vote is destroyed you will bring into existence a now constituency which may, for anything we may expect to the contrary, embark in a very different and much more costly system of Poor Law relief than is in vogue at the present time. I do not know whether my hon. Friend thinks it necessary to press the Amendment to a Division, but I have entire sympathy with the object he has in view, and with many of the arguments he has placed before the Committee.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I agree with the proposition of the hon. Baronet, and I must say I regretted to hear that he does not propose to take a Division on it.
MR. J. LOWTHER
Then we are quite in accord in considering this a matter on which the opinion of the Committee ought to be expressed. This is one of the most important questions that has been submitted to the consideration of the Committee. Hon. Gentlemen talk about the spirit of the times being against plural voting, but I believe they are wrong. Not only has the system been embodied in the case of Public Companies, but also in the case of Charities and Friendly Associations formed for charitable purposes. These are things that show that, so far from being an anomaly, it is universally recognised as a principle of equity and justice. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board twitted the hon. Baronet with not having the courage of his convictions, and not carrying his proposal out to its logical conclusion. He said—"Why does not the hon. Baronet propose that a man rated at £1,000 should have 24 votes, and so on ad libitum. "The reason is obvious. Last time the hon. Gentleman brought his proposal forward he embodied in his Amendment the provisions of the Statute of 1819. He found that that ancient Statute was the object, I will not say of ridicule, but of disrespectful observations on the part of some hon. Members. The days of Queen Anne are not particularly sacred to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I think "The good old days when George III. 389 was King" form a period to which they are even less likely to be respectful in their observations. The proposal now before the Committee is one which, in its day, was considered a very valuable amendment of the law. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite refers to the great Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. He turns on my hon. Friend and says—"Oh! but the Act of 1834 did not give relatively as great voting power to certain capitalist voters as was contained either in the Act of 1819 or 1844." In the Act of 1844 the principles of the Act of 1819 were adopted again by the largest Liberal majority which ever sat in this House. The present Prime Minister sat in the Parliament of that day, and was, if I mistake not, a Member of the small Conservative minority. The Liberal Party predominated in the House in that day to a greater extent than it has ever done during the present century, so that if there is any Act which can be said to have been thoroughly enforced by the Liberal Party, and for which the Liberal Party is responsible, it is the Act of 1844. In that Act the principles laid down in 1834 were made plain and amplified, and it is that amplification that the hon. Baronet now claims consideration for. I have shown that this is a principle which has been repeatedly sanctioned by Parliament irrespective of whether the House contained a majority of one particular Party or the other, so that it is not a novel principle, and that it is not obsolete and antiquated, and opposed to the spirit of the times is shown, as I have said, by its being adopted by private companies and charitable organisations. There are, no doubt, many alternative schemes which have been already submitted to the notice of the Committee in connection with another part of this Bill, which some persons may prefer to this—schemes with the same object in view—namely, the object of affording, I will not say adequate, representation, but some representation to the minority on the Electoral Body. I am not going to anticipate discussion on these alternative schemes, but I unhesitatingly say that this alternative is the one which has best stood the test of experience, which has been repeatedly accepted by Parliament, and which has received a large amount of 390 outside public support. The principle of plural voting, the right hon. Gentleman tells us, has not been embodied in any electoral arrangement with regard to municipal elections, or with regard to the return of Members to this House. I say that is a fact to be greatly deplored, and I do not shrink from expressing the opinion that both Parties have been to blame in that respect. It I am told that the late Government omitted to embody a provision of this kind in the Local Government Act of 1888, I say so much the worse for that Act and for the late Government. The fact that a provision of this kind was not contained in the Act of 1888 has done more than anything else to dim the popularity of the legislation of the late Government in regard to local affairs. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side must not run away with the idea that the large ratepayers have not a strong feeling on this subject, for a resolution has been adopted by the Central Associated Chamber of Agriculture which strongly endorses the principle. Since I last addressed the House on the subject the same body, after communication with all the affiliated bodies, passed another resolution drawing attention inter alia to this serious blot on the Bill of the Government—namely, that no provision is made for enabling those who contribute the larger share of the rates to have some adequate voice in the disposal of these rates. The omission to include any fair scheme of this kind in the Bill is the more remarkable, from the fact that Liberal writers of great authority and repute, including John Stuart Mill, have expressed strong opinions that a great injustice is inflicted on those who contribute the larger share of the taxation of the country if they have not a voice adequate to their contribution in the disposal of the Revenues. The Government, of course, can by means of their battalions force a decision counter to this scheme, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will take the sense of the Committee on it. We are rather anxious to know who support it and who do not, because I am glad to say that if the farmers of England were to be questioned on any point on which they feel more strongly than another it would be on this; and 391 they would say that this time-honoured principle which has been so repeatedly sanctioned by Parliament, and which has been found to work so soundly, should stand in our system of Poor Law administration.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, he did not expect the Government would give way on this Amendment, because the principle they had acted on all through had been that of preventing owners of property from having what was considered fair representation on the new Councils. It was remarkable to notice how the opinion of Radical Poor Law reformers had changed of late. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had referred to John Stuart Mill. He (Mr. Jeffreys) would read a few words from that great authority. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite might laugh now at the name of Mill, but not so long ago they considered him their great prophet. He was the Leader of a large section of their Party. Well, John Stuart Mill, in his Representative Government, wrote—The representation of minorities should be provided for in the same manner as in the National Parliament, and there are the same strong reasons for plurality of votes. Only there is not so decisive an objection in the inferior as in the higher body and making the plural voting depend on a mere money qualification; for the honest and frugal dispensation of money forms so much larger a part of the business of the local than of the national body that there is more justice as well as policy in allowing a greater proportional influence to those who have a larger money interest at stake.There was the whole point, very well put in a few words. He did not propose to address the Committee at any length upon the subject, because he knew they were not likely to get anything from the Government. The few remarks he had made were directed merely to securing a fair representation. The men who paid the largest portion of the rates were entitled to proper representation. That, however, was not secured to them under this Bill. The supporters of this Amendment merely wanted that view carried out. What was now proposed?—that those who paid the larger amount should have the larger voting power was simply what was done every 392 day in Limited Liability Companies. He thought a good case had been made out for the Amendment, and, if a Division were taken, he would support it.
§ MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
said, he had no intention of intervening in the discussion but for the high tone which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had assumed with regard to the course that the Government intended to take in connection with this subject. He seemed to twit the hon. Member who introduced the Amendment with not having the courage of his convictions, and he dealt with it as if the proposal was something extraordinary. The fact was, however, that the hon. Member who moved this Amendment only asked that the status quo should be maintained, and the onus probandi lay with the Government, who should show good grounds for making the proposed alteration in the law. The Government had been unable to point out a single case in which the Guardians had been in default in their administration of the Poor Law. He challenged anyone upon that point—let them show, if they could, where there had been wastefulness and extravagance. They merely wanted to maintain the system that had worked so well for 50 years past. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not allude to another argument; but, while admitting the right hon. Gentleman's uniform courtesy in dealing with these matters, he thought they should ask him to admit the principle for which they contended. There was the question of rates. The hon. Member who introduced the Amendment had challenged the Government regarding that. He (Mr. Ambrose) challenged them, too, and he said there was no real ground for their contention. The landlord, they might be sure, would get as much rent as he could, and the tenant would have his rent as cheaply as he could. Those who had to find the money should have some greater voice in the management of the funds than the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman would give them. The onus of proving his case lay upon the right hon. Gentleman, as he had said; and he hoped he would reconsider his position. He did not think this was a forlorn hope. There 393 was no right why this important class should be overriden; there was, in fact, no ground for departing from the established principles of taxation and representation.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
rose amid cries of "Divide!" He said, he claimed the right to say a few words in reply. The President of the Local Government Board made allusions to him, which he was unable to allow to pass unanswered. What argument, or shadow of argument, had the right hon. Gentleman brought before the Committee against this proposal? He said that in the year 1893 he (Sir R. Temple) had the audacity to—what? Why, to maintain the law under which they had lived during the whole term of their natural lives. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would understand, as previous speakers had said, that the onus probandi lay with him and not with supporters of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman questioned his (Sir R. Temple's) historical accuracy in relation to the administration of the Poor Law. What he said, and what he maintained, was that the principle of plural voting was sanctioned by the great Poor Law reformers, and he could not admit that he was incorrect. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked him why he had stopped at the limit of £250. The answer was, because the law stopped there, and because that limit had been recognised in a Statute passed so recently as in the present year. He thought his proposal was a very moderate one. He only asked adherence to the existing law. As a parish man, connected with parish affairs, he said that if an attempt were made to raise rents they would raise a question which had better be allowed to rest—[Cries of "Divide!" during which the hon. Baronet was indistinctly heard]. He had a right to reply; he thought he had been twitted with not having divided the Committee on a former occasion, but the reason for his not dividing was that his lines had fallen on empty places—it was the dinner hour. [An hon. MEMBER: So it is now.] With regard to the present Amendment, if it was to depart this Parliamentary life, he hoped the Government would pay more deference to a subsequent and more im- 394 portant Amendment, standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 119; Noes 34.—(Division List, No. 400.)
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
rose to move—In page 13, line 1, to leave out from the word "elector," to end of sub-section, and insert the words "shall be entitled to a number of votes equal to the number of persons to be elected, and may give all such votes to one candidate, or may distribute them among the candidates, as he thinks fit.The circumstances were, perhaps, not favourable to the presentation of the Amendment, which he felt bound to offer to the consideration of the Committee. It differed from every Amendment which was calculated to moderate in some degree the proposals of the Government, insomuch as it was entirely free from any suggestion of privilege, whether associated with position in life or the possession of wealth, and it gave no greater weight to the judgment of any man than it did not give to the judgment of another. It maintained that the votes of any class of electors appointed to elect Boards of Guardians in the future were entitled to the same attention and weight; it made no difference either in the quality of their judgment or the soundness of their opinion, holding that one man was as good as another. The proposition started from that basis, and what it proposed to realise was, that the different shades of opinion amongst the electors should, as far as possible, be reflected accurately on the Board of Guardians itself; or, in other words, the proportional representation of each difference of opinion, each interest, each mode of thought, each way of thinking amongst the electors in the body charged with the administration of the Poor Law. If it were important—as in his judgment it was—that they should obtain on all Governing Bodies elected to represent a body of electors a true reflection of all the opinions in that body of electors, it was most important in reference to the administration of the Poor Law. He wanted to secure—and he thought it would be admitted that it was desirable to secure—on the Administrative Bodies 395 of the future, not merely the presence of sympathy, but the presence of reflection —the power of motion and the power of forethought. In a word, his proposal aimed at the representation of all divisions—he preferred that word to classes —of the electors, and was not in favour of one Party or another, or in favour of one way of thinking or another. His right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill had admitted more than once that if the Bill passed, the mass of electors who would control the Boards of Guardians would develop in those Boards of Guardians qualities of frugality and parsimony in the administration of the Poor Law—that they will not tend in the direction of excess or lax expenditure, but rather in the way of frugality. Let them accept that. Did he not see that, whatever forecast was made, it was desirable that Boards of Guardians should, in the future, contain all possible elements of character which could be occupied in dealing with the most difficult and hazardous question of relief, which was, undoubtedly, one of the most delicate works anyone could undertake? It was a very simple problem he laid before them. The Amendment was free from any taint or suspicion of privilege. It was based on the recognition of the absolute equality of all the electors who might bring together the body which was to administer the Poor Law. It was only by bringing together all the wit and endowment of mind and character in a given locality that the Committee could expect the future administration of the Poor Law to prove a blessing to the masses of the people. He was sorry that his side of the House was so badly represented; but his plan was one that might be considered. It had been already tried in connection with the School Boards; every elector might vote for a particular person, or he might distribute his votes as he pleased. Thus there was the possibility and the probability of securing representation corresponding to the division of opinion and policy among the electorate; and, with one exception, it might be said that the result of this cumulative system had always been that the majority of the electors had obtained the majority on the Board. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] In one case undoubtedly that had not been 396 the case. Generally speaking, however, the majority of the Board represented the majority of the electors. In the case of Loudon, for instance, the result had been to bring to the Board all classes—the working classes; women, who had done good work; advanced Socialists, strong temperance men—every part, in fact, had been represented. If the Government did not like this plan, there were others which might be tried, such as that of the simple transferable vote. He had embodied an abstract principle in a particular plan; but that plan might be modified after the principle had been considered. The hon. Member for Dorset had an Amendment which embodied the same principle. This Amendment proposed that each elector should have as many votes as there were persons to be elected, and that he should accumulate or distribute them at his pleasure. The hon. Member for Dorset proposed that each elector should have one vote for one candidate, a plan which would work out in the same way as the other. The plan he submitted was not untried, even in relation to the administration of the Poor Law, because it had been adopted in several counties in Pennsylvania in the administration of the Poor Law, and it had been in operation for 20 years. He submitted that they should grapple with the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman himself seemed to realise. They were making great changes—they were entering upon a now epoch. There were admittedly perils before them. Here was a method by which they might try to avoid risk. It was compatible with the strictest ideas of democracy; it gave no privilege to wealth, education, or numbers; it allowed all elements to work freely, on the basis of equality, side by side. It would do something to invest new bodies, charged with the moulding of the character of the working classes, with the qualities of experience, caution, benevolence, sympathy, and prudence, and to secure a wise solution of this most difficult problem.
In page 13, line 1, to leave out from the word "chosen," to end of sub-section, and insert the words "shall be entitled to a number of votes equal to the number of persons to be elected, and may give all such votes to one candidate,
or may distribute them among the candidates, as he thinks fit."—(Mr. Courtney.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'may give one vote and' stand part of the Clause."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he need hardly assure his right hon. Friend that any suggestions made by one of his experience were entitled to the most respectful consideration of the Government and the Committee. But he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the question of minority representation had been already raised and fully discussed on this Bill, and the principle had been rejected by a majority of upwards of 70. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman was quite entitled to raise it again on this part of the Bill. He quite agreed with all the right hon. Gentleman had said as to the supreme importance of just, wise, and economical administration. The Government were not going into this matter with a light heart. They were not making an experiment for the sake of doing so. They had looked upon the situation as a whole; and they were firm in the conviction that they were not running any risk of an unwise administration of the Poor Law. The dangers that were pointed out as probable in the future were really possible in the present. The evils likely to result from the want of sympathy, on the one hand, and the absence of economy on the other, had been recognised by all Poor Law authorities. It was admitted that ex officio and nominated Guardians could not be retained; and it was, therefore, suggested that the representation of minorities should be adopted in the election of Guardians. As to distinguishing between principle and plan, he was bound to deal with the Amendment which had been moved; and that Amendment was simply the cumulative vote. It was said the plan had been tried and was a success; but he could not admit that, because nobody had proposed to extend it. They had tried it in School Board elections; but Parliament would not have it in Parliamentary and County Council elections. It was not proposed in 1888. [Mr. COURTNEY: Yes.] Yes; he believed it was; but it 398 was rejected. In School Boards it had given excessive minority representation, and in many respects it had impaired the efficiency of School Board administration. In the earlier School Board elections it had given representation—no doubt, justly—to certain shades of religious opinion; but later Boards had shown a preponderance of faddists on the one hand, and, on the other, of groups, small in number, but working together and wielding a power out of all proportion to the voters they represented. The greatest Member who ever sat for Birmingham denounced the proposed method of election very strongly, and said that the School Boards required a healthful breeze of public opinion, which they lacked through the operation of the cumulative vote. By this Bill the rural Council and the Board of Guardians were to be the same body; but they could not have one mode of election for Rural District Councils and another for Urban District Councils. And if other Urban Councils were elected in that way, why should not Town Councils also be so elected? The proposal, he submitted, would not bring about what his right hon. Friend desired. The right hon. Gentleman said he wanted to secure the element of character, and wanted to include the impulsive man, the economical man, the thoughtful man, and the man of action. But did they get all these men? No. All the impulsive electors would not vote one way, and all the thoughtful electors would not, and they would not get any guarantee that they would secure exactly what his right hon. Friend wanted. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded on the assumption that the electors voted for the Union quâ Union; that there were a certain number of Guardians who constituted the Union, a certain number of Guardians who constituted the District Council, and that the electors voting for them, scrutin de liste, would have the power of accumulating their votes, and securing this minority representation and variety of opinion. That was not the case. The voting was by parishes and not by Unions, and the figures in his possession showed conclusively that, in the overwhelming majority of cases of elections for Poor Law Guardians, the 399 Amendment, if carried, would not apply. He would give the Committee figures taken out for him in the Statistical Department of the Local Government Board, relating to four counties selected from the north, south, east, and west of the county, in order to show how the Amendment would work if the Committee saw fit to accept it. In those four counties there were 1,691 parishes; of this number 1,289 elected only one Guardian, and, therefore, those 1,289 or three-fourths would derive no advantage whatever under the system suggested by his right hon. Friend, and the advantage would be confined exclusively to something like 400 parishes. He would give the Committee the figures relating to each of the four counties, taking first the County of Durham. The County of Durham was a fair specimen of a county combining rural, manufacturing, and mining elements. In Durham there were 270 parishes which returned Guardians to the Unions; 181 of them only returned one Guardian. Therefore, at once 181 were out of the running altogether. There were 52 parishes which returned two Guardians, 13 returned three, eight returned four, four returned five, six returned six, and one returned seven, eight, nine, and so on; therefore, taking Durham, he thought it was not a very encouraging example. He went from Durham to his right hon. Friend's own County of Cornwall. In Cornwall there were 203 parishes which constituted the Unions of the county. Seventy-eight of these, or practically one-third, returned one Guardian, and these 78 would not, of course, be entitled to the boon which the right hon. Gentleman wished to give them. Seventy-four returned two, 28 returned three, 14 returned four, three returned five, five returned six, and there was one parish which returned seven; and no doubt in that case his right hon. Friend's experiment could be fairly tried. Then he went to Somersetshire, as an agricultural county in the West of England and North of Cornwall. In Somerset there were 486 parishes returning Guardians; 370 of them returned one only, 84 returned two, 19 returned three, five returned four, three returned five, three returned six, one returned seven, and one returned eight. And then, to trouble the Committee with one illus- 400 tration more, he went to Lincoln, which was one of the largest agricultural counties they had and a very fair type. In Lincolnshire there were 732 parishes forming the Unions of the county, and of these 664 only returned one Guardian, and would have no advantage whatever from this cumulative vote. There were 43 which returned two; 11 returned three; one returned seven; one returned eight; one returned 10; and one returned 15. The Committee would recollect in looking at these figures that in the Bill provisions were contained, which he had no doubt the County Council would put in force, for dividing these parishes which returned large numbers into wards. He thought these large groups returning seven, eight, and ten Guardians were undesirable, and so far as the Local Government Board were concerned he was wholly in favour of dividing such parishes into wards whenever application was made to him to that effect. Even if the Committee were prepared to accept the principle of minority representation or the cumulative vote, he had, he submitted, shown that his right hon. Friend's Amendment could not be applied to three-fourths of the parishes in England. He did not see how they were to secure minority representation if only one member was returned. That seemed to him an impossible problem to solve. If they wanted to secure on the Poor Law Boards the presence of persons of experience, knowledge, sympathy, and economy, he did not think that result was likely to be brought about by the mode his right hon. Friend had suggested, nor that it could be effected by any system of minority representation at all. He thought the solution he had submitted to the Committee as an Amendment to this clause which would come up later on, and which, of course, he should not attempt to discuss now, would be worthy of some consideration. With all respect to his right hon. Friend, whilst appreciating the motives which had influenced him, and not at all detracting from the force of his argument, he was bound to say that the application of the cumulative vote to the elections of Boards of Guardians, that was to one-fourth of the parishes in this Kingdom, would not be a judicious or a wise application of that principle, and would not, in his 401 humble judgment, secure the results his right hon. Friend anticipated.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
said, the President of the Local Government Board, in his opening remarks, rather seemed to complain of the number of Amendments which had been moved to the Government proposals upon the abolition of the ex officio Guardians. What was the position? It was really one the President of the Local Government Board bad made himself. The Government, through the right hon. Gentleman, Lad never for a moment found any fault with the existing administration of the Poor Law as wanting in economy, wisdom, or humanity. They did not pretend, and the right hon. Gentleman had never for a moment pretended, that the alteration which the Government proposed to make in this Bill by the abolition of ex officio and nominated Guardians, and the abolition of plurality voting, would render the administration of the Poor Law better in any of these particulars. It was simply a wanton proposal for the abolition of a system which worked, by their own confession, admirably well, and for which they proposed nothing whatever instead in its place. The Opposition had made proposal after proposal—they had been bound to make them—by way of alternative to that of the Government, which, in their belief, would be a distinct change for the worse, and the last proposal was now under the consideration of the Committee. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin believed, as he believed, that it would be possible by the adoption of the principle of this Amendment to secure a more varied representation on the Boards of Guardians, and, therefore, a more economical, wiser, and more humane administration of the Poor Law than was likely to be secured by the uniform level to which the President of the Local Government Board proposed to reduce that administration. The right hon. Gentleman, however, opposed to the proposal his old answer of non possumus, and nothing else whatever except that argument. The right hon. Gentleman told I them that these were the proposals of the Government, and with the exception I of an Amendment in his own name which 402 was on the Paper, the Government could not consider any alternative that had been hitherto proposed. The right hon. Gentleman said that the existing system of election of Poor Law Guardians was not a Union but a parochial system, and that therefore the proposal of the Member for Bodmin would not be applicable in the vast majority of cases where only one Guardian was returned. He admitted that was perfectly true, and he admitted also that they could not, without a change in the Poor Law system—which, he believed, would be most objectionable to the parishes—abolish that system of parochial representation on Boards of Guardians which had existed since the foundation of the new Poor Law. But the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that the new Boards of Guardians he proposed to institute by this Bill would be, in many cases, less than half the number of the existing Boards of Guardians. If the right hon. Gentleman could bring his mind to accept the principle of the proposal of the Member for Bodmin, surely he might consider whether it would not be possible to utilise the vacancies which the abolition of the ex officio Guardians would leave on the existing Boards of Guardians by substituting for them a certain number of elected Guardians, elected by a system of cumulative or minority voting over the area of the whole Union. He threw out that proposal as one which successfully met the objection which the right hon. Gentleman bail put forward as a practical objection to the proposal of his right hon. Friend. It was not as if the existing Boards of Guardians were too numerous, and, looking to the work they had to do, he believed that, shorn of the ex officio members, they would be much more likely to be found in future too small in number than too large, and therefore such addition as could be made to them by the adoption of this proposal would render them more efficient in the future. He had ventured to make this suggestion because he really believed there was a great deal in the views which the right hon. Member for Bodmin had so ably and repeatedly put before this House. Under some kind of minority or cumulative system of voting they would certainly secure on these bodies a more varied representation than under the present system, and he hoped 403 the Government would consider whether it might not be possible to make some move in the direction suggested in the Amendment of the Member for Bodmin.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 58.—(Division List, No. 401.)
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
rose to move the following Amendment:—In page 13, line 4, before "The," insert "The election in rural districts and also in urban districts, other than boroughs and the County of London, shall be conducted according to Rules framed under this Act by the Local Government Board.Provided that—The object of the Amendment, he explained, was a double one. First, its object was to diminish the number of elections, and, secondly, to curtail the expenses so as to save the pockets of the ratepayers. He believed that nobody who had anything to do with local government in districts could look forward without horror upon the multiplicity of elections which were forthwith to take place. Although ho was a strong supporter of the Hill, and greatly desired that the public should be consulted on all occasions, yet, nevertheless, he thought their own judgment and common sense ought to go in the direction of as far as possible lumping these elections together, and making one expense do instead of three. He hoped in this he should have the support not only of hon. Members on his side, who were always economical, but also of hon. Members on the other side, who were as economical in some things as they (the Liberals) were in others. The Bill as it stood contemplated no less than six elections annually—two in the boroughs for the Councillor and the Guardian; two in the 404 urban district for the Councillor for the district and the Guardian, and two in the rural district for the Parish Councillor and the District Councillor. They ought to provide, as far as possible, that these elections should be held together, so that there should be only the one expense. The Councillors were elected in boroughs on the 1st of November, whereas, on the other hand, Guardians were elected in April. It was, therefore, manifestly impossible within the compass of this Bill to provide that those elections should be held together, and accordingly he dismissed the boroughs from his consideration, and would take the Urban and Rural Authority. The point he wanted to insist upon was that the Urban and Rural Authority were alike in the county, and he submitted, therefore, as to counties where there were urban and rural districts, the elections should be in the same form and according to the same Rules. The Committee had decided that all Parish Councillors should be elected according to Rules, and he gathered that in so deciding the purpose of the Committee was twofold. First of all, it wanted to save the nuisance that existed in boroughs of the nomination of each Councillor by 10 persons, and, secondly, it wanted to prevent the absurdity of a parish with 100 or 60 ratepayers having to open a solemn poll with all the paraphernalia of a returning and presiding officer and clerk sitting there for 12 hours in order to take the votes of 60 or 100 persons. The Bill provided that the Parish Council was to be elected according to Rules made by the Local Government Board, and doubtless that Department would provide in these Rules for a simple nomination and for a very short period of polling. Then they came to the District Council, which was to be elected in the same parishes, and for the same persons. But according to the Bill as it stood at present the District Councillors were to be elected in the same way as Councillors in boroughs, who must be nominated by 10 persons and at whose elections the poll must he kept open for 12 hours. It must be apparent to the Committee that what they wanted was some method by which the District Councillor and the Parish 405 Councillor might be elected together, and under similar regulations. The main point was that, instead of having elections on two days, there should be only one, and thus they should incur only one set of costs for presiding officers and clerks. The expenses of these officials since the Ballot Act extended the duration of polling for 12 hours had become double and treble what it was before. They used to be moderate; but they were not so now. He had got there a Return showing that the cost of the last County Council election for the County of Durham was £2,245, of which the fees of presiding officers and clerks absorbed no less than £1,782. [An hon. MEMBER: How many were there?] There were 36 contested elections and about 150 polling booths; but, even so, the expenditure of £1,782 was enormous. He blamed no one; he merely blamed the system, which compelled every polling booth in every place, small or large, to be kept open for 12 hours. He proposed to reduce the expense in every place whore it could be done with due regard to the convenience of the electors, by diminishing the hours of polling. A saving of £80,000 or £100,000 a year would be effected by this, which, as one who bad taken part in local government for a quarter of a century ho commended to the acceptance of the Committee in the interests of the ratepayers, He hoped it would be accepted, and he believed his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board was not indisposed to meet him on the point. He did not, however, think it right that the Local Government Board should have unlimited power to contravene a solemn Act of Parliament except under the provisions of an equally solemn Act, and he would suggest that the, powers of the Local Government Board should be limited. He proposed that candidates at every election should be nominated in writing by one respectable person. [An hon. MEMBER: What would be the test of respectability?] Every householder might be taken as respectable and trustworthy in the matter. Candidates should not be required to find 10 persons to make their nomination valid. If they gave the Local Government Board these powers of making Rules they should be compelled 406 by Act of Parliament in every ease to provide that the election should be by ballot. Though it might be different in the case of Loudon, with its enormous area and population, a four hours' poll would be quite enough in the case of little parishes and small villages, but he would stipulate that it should be open in I he evening from 6 to 8 o'clock. It was no part of his desire that there should be an annual election of either Guardians or District Councillors. Once in three years would be ample for all practical purposes. He did not believe the world would go mad about Parish Councils, and he did not see why one day should not suffice for the elections. He asked hon. Gentlemen opposite to credit the Radicals on his own side of the House with being as keenly anxious as they wore regarding the policy of giving effect to local government without additional cost.
- (a) the candidates at every election shall be nominated in writing; and
- (b) the poll shall, so far as circumstances admit, be conducted as the poll at a contested municipal election is directed by "The Ballot Act, 1872," to be conducted; and
- (c) the poll shall be open during such hours as the Local Government Board may fix, either generally or as regards particular classes of cases, so, however, that the poll shall be open for not less than four hours, and shall always be open between the hours of six and eight in the evening."
In page 13, line 4, before "The," insert "The election in rural districts and also in urban districts, other than boroughs and the County of London, shall be conducted according to Rules framed under this Act by the Local Government Board.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he appreciated the manner in which his hon. Friend had brought this question before the Committee. If was desirable that the Committee should look at the question as a whole, and ascertain the best mode of carrying out what both sides, be was sure, were anxious to secure—namely, that these elections should be conducted as simply and inexpensively as possible. Under the Bill as originally drawn, in Clause 35 it was contemplated 407 that there should not be two elections for Parish and District Councils, but that the elections should be taken together, and also that the poll should be taken in accordance with prescribed Rules. Therefore, so far as that was concerned, the Government were quite at one with his hon. Friend. In this clause they could only deal with the election of Guardians. At present these elections were everywhere conducted according to Rules prescribed by the Local Government Board, and he saw no reason to depart from that course. He would, therefore, suggest that they should strike out of the hon. Member's Amendment the wordsin rural districts and also in urban districts, other than boroughs and the County of London.leaving it to read—The election shall be conducted according to Rules framed under this Act by the Local Government Board.It was, he thought, much better that the elections should be conducted under those Rules than that anything should be prescribed by Act of Parliament; but he agreed with his hon. Friend that no Government Department ought to be allowed to do everything in contravention of any Act of Parliament. The throe great principles laid down in the Amendment must be settled in Clause 35. He accepted them himself at once. Ho thought a candidate must be nominated in writing. With regard to the suggestion that he should be nominated by one elector, there was an old-fashioned notion in this country that everything should have a mover and a seconder; and, while he agreed as to the utter absurdity of having 10 signatures, ho thought there might be two. The polling must be conducted under the Ballot Act. With regard to the third point, he hoped the House would express its opinion very clearly. He agreed that in small districts, and even in larger districts, it was not necessary to have the poll kept open for 12 hours. He regarded it, however, as a vital point that the poll should be open in the evening, and, subject to that condition, he was quite willing that the House should fix a minimum time. It was necessary, however, that there should be some elasticity in the Rules. In Loudon and in the larger boroughs he did not think the time should 408 be altered; but in the smaller areas the arguments in favour of condensing the hours of voting were conclusive, both on the ground of public convenience and of expense. If his suggestion was adopted he would undertake to make proposals for incorporating in Clause 35 the three principles embodied in the Amendment. He thought, however, this was a convenient time to discuss the question and to come to some understanding as to the principles the Committee wished to see carried out, in order that the Government might proceed on safe and sure ground in introducing their Amendments to Clause 35.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, the speech they had just listened to was extremely interesting, and no doubt the points raised by the Amendment were of great importance; but he could not help thinking they were not of greater importance than some that had been suggested by Members of the Opposition; and ho could not help being struck with the difference in the tone with which their suggestions were received by the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared to meet the hon. Member for Sunderland at every point with suggestions made by the Government, whereas, with regard to subjects such as that raised by the right hon. Member for Bodmin, no suggestion came from the Government Bench. With regard to this particular Amendment, he had always been to a large extent in favour of the views advocated by the hon. Member for Sunderland. It was, however, somewhat strange to hoar the representative of a Radical Government saying he was prepared to shorten the hours of polling. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman should have seen reason to think that it was unnecessary to give the apparently unlimited opportunities now afforded to those who desired to register their votes; but it might be doubted whether it was sufficient that a candidate should be nominated by two persons. While agreeing that the number of 10 was excessive, he thought it was worthy of consideration whether four or five names should not be required in order to prevent a contest 409 being forced by bogus nominations. Whether the number should be two or not less than two, or whether four or five should be required, was a matter worthy of consideration, but certainly some provision should be made to prevent bogus candidates being run. But he had risen mainly to call attention to a practical question which would be important if the course the right hon. Gentleman suggested w-ere adopted. He quite understood the objection the right hon. Gentleman had so frequently expressed, when sitting on the Front Opposition Bench, to allowing any Department or delegated authority to do anything which ought properly to take the form of legislation, and he (Sir R. Webster) was reminded of these expressions of opinion when the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of allowing a Government Department, tea large extent, to prescribe Rules and Regulations. True, the right hon. Gentleman said that a Government Department ought not to make any Rules contradicting any Act of Parliament. That was a matter which he (Sir R. Webster) should have thought did not admit of argument; but the right hon. Gentleman used to go much further, and say that they should not allow anything to be prescribed by an Order in Council or by the Regulations of Public Departments which could be considered at the time of the passing of a Bill, and he had protested against the proposals of the Opposition that Ministerial matters might to a large extent be intrusted to Public Bodies. But now the right hon. Gentleman seemed prepared to say that under Clause 19 elections should be conducted according to Rules framed by the Local Government Board. He (Sir R. Webster) understood that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to stop there, and to propose that the hon. Member for Sunderland should not insert in Section 19 any of the Rules and Regulations contained in the Amendment. Had the right hon. Gentleman considered whether that would be a very convenient way of dealing with these matters? There would be in Clause 19, if the Amendment were adopted, a simple provision that the elections should be conducted according to Rules framed under the Act by the Local Government Board, and then in Section 35 there would be 410 the conditions which were to guide the Department in dealing with elections. He should have thought, from the point of view of drafting, that it was not wise to put these conditions in a separate section. It might be a good suggestion that the hon. Member for Sunderland should not move the whole Amendment in Section 19, but ho was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman suggest that there should be some direction in Clause 19 as to the elections being conducted according to the Rules and Regulations framed by the Local Government Board, and yet that the limits upon the power of the Board in respect of elections generally should appear in Clause 35.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
No; the Government had inserted this condition in the case of Parish Councils, and if the words were inserted in this clause they would have to be put in again in the clause dealing with District Councils. He was not sure also that they would not have to be put in with reference to rural parishes. The draftsman considered Clause 35 was the proper place.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
said, he knew the immense pains the right hon. Gentleman had taken with the matter, and did not suggest that he had not considered it. But let the Committee consider the position they would be in. For his own part, he still thought it was unfortunate that the restrictions upon the powers of the Local Government Board should not appear in the same clause which dealt with the Rules and Regulations. However, he had entered his protest—if what he had said could be called a protest. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board could make what suggestions he thought right to the hon. Member for Sunderland, and the Committee would see what alterations were made, and if they were not on the Paper could, if necessary, raise the matter again on Report. Speaking for the great majority of the Opposition, he 411 was sure they wished to make elections cheap, and did not desire to make them too frequent, for continual elections would be by no means a blessing to rural parishes. They considered the proposed limit to the hours of polling reasonable, always provided the Local Government Board should not he able to lay down Rules which might prevent the inhabitants of particular districts from recording their votes.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said, he had nothing to say in regard to the suggestion as to the time at which the election should take place, or as to the nominations being iii writing, though, of course, the object in having the recommendations signed by a considerable number of persons was to prevent frivolous candidatures. He hoped, however, that the Committee would pause before it countenanced any limitations on the hours of polling. The extension of the hours as much as possible would be the greatest security for enabling the working classes to record their votes. In some of the smaller parishes those hours might reasonably be shortened; but in the ease of large industrial communities, and especially in such eases as the miners of Durham, who were released from work at different hours during the day, it would be absolutely impossible for the Local Government Board, even with the fullest local information, to define the hours of the ballot so as to suit the convenience and necessities of workmen so employed. A large number of men were confined in collieries from 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. They had often to travel a considerable distance from their own homes, very often leaving home al 6 or 7 in the morning, and not being released until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Again, a shift would goon at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and would not be at the surface again until 10 or 11 o'clock, or even an hour or two later. How would it be possible in such districts to limit the hours of polling to four hours per diem in such a way as to meet the convenience of the miners?
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, he wished to say a word or two by 412 way of friendly criticism on this, which was one of the most important practical points in the Bill, as he believed he was the first Member to raise the subject on the Notice Paper. He was glad the hon. Member for Sunderland had moved in the matter. They would all agree with the two excellent objects the hon. Member had put forward—namely, the saving of expense and of multiplicity of elections, though, with regard to the latter, he thought there were proposals before the Committee which would tend still more to effect that purpose. The hon. Member for Sunderland proposed that boroughs should be excluded; but did he think it was possible to exclude them in the matter of election of Guardians, considering that the areas of Unions overlapped them in every direction?
§ MR. STOREY
said, he had only proposed to exclude boroughs from the proposal to have the elections on the same day. The Amendment ho had accepted from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would make it necessary that the election of Guardians in boroughs should be the same as the election of Guardians out of boroughs.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, he understood that the hon. Member had waived that point, though it was part of his Amendment as it stood on the Paper. Then the hon. Member was anxious, as they all were anxious, that the cost of the returning officers and the presiding officers should be diminished as much as possible, and one of the proposals for securing that was that the district elections should be amalgamated with the parish elections. Did he remember that under the orders of the Local Government Board the clerks of the Guardians, wherever possible, were made returning officers for the Unions, and that under the Bill that was to be enforced in all eases where these amalgamated elections were to take place? Did he not think that in the case of ordinary parish elections the cost would not be diminished, but materially increased, by a provision of that kind? In the limited areas of parishes officials might be obtained to conduct the elections for nothing, or next to nothing, whereas under the present 413 proposal no doubt it would be necessary to employ professional men and to pay them considerable fees. He imagined that the same consequences would follow in this ease as followed in every case in which a Central Authority was charged with the duty of laying down a scale of charges. They would fix a maximum scale, which would become I in the majority of cases the ordinary scale, and that would tend to raise rather than diminish the expenditure. There were other difficulties, with regard to holding the election on the same day, which might probably arise. There might be a lack of presiding officers and clerks. There would undoubtedly have to be separate ballot-boxes for every parish in the country, and he did not think they could rely on parishes only having contested elections once in three years. They might have unnecessary contests sprung on the parish by a few individuals, and more especially would that be the case if a single person was able to nominate candidates. A great deal of money had been wasted in connection with County Council elections through unnecessary contests, and that would also be the case in connection with these new local elections unless they took the precaution to guard against bogus candidates. The expenses of presiding officers depended entirely on the length of the hours of polling. In this he agreed with the hon. Member for Sunderland; lint he would go further than the hon. Member. In ordinary parishes he would provide that the poll should be open from 6 to 8 in the evening. Certainly in the smaller parishes, of winch there were many in his county, and in which there were only from 60 to 100 electors, two-thirds only of whom wore likely to vote, it was quite unnecessary that the poll should be open for more than two hours in the evening. If that arrangement were made it would make a most material difference in the cost of the election. It would he easy to get competent men to sit for a couple of hours in the polling-place; but when they asked people to sit there for eight or ten hours with little or nothing to do a substantial fee would he demanded. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had accepted the principle that the Local 414 Government Board were to make Rules for the regulation of the elections, and he presumed that as long as certain conditions, such as voting by ballot were observed, the Local Government Board would have a free hand in making the Rules, as it already had in regard to Poor Law Acts. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that the Local Government Board or the Local Authorities ought to deal with the question of expenditure? The Department should be able to lay down a settle of hours according to the number of electors, with a minimum of two hours, and in all minor matters, such as nomination papers and giving notice of election, and publishing lists of candidates, the Rules of the Department should override or supersede the Lilies of the Ballot Act. The Rules in the Schedule of the Ballot Act, as the right hon. Gentleman was aware, went largely into detail, and he would suggest that if a few matters of principle were laid down, the Rules of the Local Government Board should supersede those of the Ballot Act, which were too complicated for small elections, and which were intended in the first, place for Parliamentary elections and elections in municipal boroughs. As to the matter of drafting, he agreed with what had fallen from the late Attorney General. He regarded it as bad drafting to lay down in a subsidiary part of the Bill Rules which should override the Rules made by the Local Government Board. He should have been glad if this matter could have been dealt with as a whole under this clause or under some later clause.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
said, he rose to make a suggestion. He thought that it would be very unwise to lay down hard-and-fast Rules that would have the effect of hampering the action of the Local Government Board in this matter. The conditions of elections in sparsely-populated and extensive parishes were very different to those of elections in Loudon and large populous towns. Rules which might do very well in London might be simply ridiculous as applied to rural constituencies. Every one who had had any experience of elections must have 415 frequently known occasions on which unfortunate presiding officers and clerks and personation agents hail had to sit for hours in a very small room with no one coming to tender their votes, and occasions on which these officials, when an elector did make his appearance, were so glad to see him that they rushed round him and almost mobbed him. Another thing to be remembered was that the present mode of electing Guardians was one of the best modes of election in the country. It brought the poll, without any exertion on his own part, almost to the door of the voter. [Laughter.] No doubt with the corrupt districts with which the hon. Gentleman who laughed was connected this system led to corruption, but in unsophisticated country districts, where the voters did not receive bribes and were not treated, the ballot-boxes were brought to the doors of every one, and it must be remembered that this Bill was going to be applied especially to rural districts, to people who had been accustomed to being under the benign treatment of the Local Government Board. Why should these people be driven to walk, perhaps, three or four miles and to lose half a day's work in order to record their votes? He was justified in saying, in spite of the mockery of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that in regard to this matter the election of the Guardians was more advanced and more consistent with the ultimate results of civilisation than the more clumsy form of election with which they were acquainted in Parliamentary contests. He hoped this subject would be taken into consideration by the Local Government Board. He had always thought that in rural elections, particularly in parishes where the distances were very great, and the hamlets were very scattered, that the polling-booth might be brought to every man's door by means of a peripatetic ballot-box. [Laughter.] Yes, a perambulating ballot-box. If the ballot-box could not be brought to the door of every elector it might be brought into his neighbourhood, so that, instead of walking it might be three or four miles across the moors to a remote place where there was a fixed ballot station, he might record his vote at a certain time in some small room near his home, or the place where he was working. For these reasons and 416 because the variety of circumstances of different parishes was infinite he hoped that a fairly free hand would be left to the Local Government Board in making Regulations. The Regulations would not necessarily be uniform over the whole country, but would be applied in a common sense manner to the circumstances of the different districts. There were certain principles, such as the election being by ballot, that no one would object to see engrafted upon a new Statute; but having conformed to those principles, lot them, as men of business, leave a free hand to the Local Government Board, encouraging them to try and make the exercise of the franchise as easy and as little costly to the labouring classes whom they wanted to get to vote as they possibly could. To these people voting was sometimes not only a question of trouble, but also a question of half a day's work, and a part of their wages—and, certainly, wages in the country districts were not so high at present that they could expect people to sacrifice them in their patriotism in order to vote in the elections for Boards of Guardians.
§ MR. H. LAWSON (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)
said, he could not see that there was any particular magic in the hour of 8 o'clock for closing the poll. It would be a great advantage if in some cases the Local Government Board were able to extend the hours to 9 o'clock—an hour which would be far better adapted to the wants of some people. In the Metropolis —which was excepted by the hon. Member—his (Mr. Lawson's) own experience taught him that 9 o'clock would be far better suited to the convenience of a great part of the working classes than the hour of 8, when the poll closed for Parliamentary and other elections at the present time. When he sat for the St. Pancras Division he knew that many men left their residences to go to the East End of Loudon before 8 o'clock in the morning and did not return until a quarter of an hour before the closing of the poll in the evening. He believed it would be a great advantage in Durham and other places if the Local Government Board could postpone the hour of closing the poll, and he was afraid the present Amendment would not allow them to do so. Ho did not know whether 417 the hon. Member in charge of the Amendment would object to leaving out the words referring to the Act of 1872. As the circumstances were various, the greater the discretion left with the Local Government Board the better. In rural constituencies, such as he represented, the hours of polling for these elections might well be from 4 or 5 o'clock to 9. He attached importance to keeping the poll open until late in the evening, the evening being the most important time for the bulk of the voters. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board if the Amendment could not be so worded as to allow the Department to suit the convenience of the electors in this matter.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion on both sides of the House that nominations in writing would be valuable, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would not deviate from the principle he had himself given voice to, of having a seconder as well as a proposer for each candidate, so as to guard as far as possible against bogus or foolish nominations. Ii was desirable to have the nominations as simple and easy as possible, but at the same time to guard against such frivolous and absurd nominations as would give rise to trouble without compensating advantage, with regard to the question of contests some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Sunderland, seemed to think that they were not likely to occur. Well, he (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) hoped and trusted that they would not be frequent; but he thought hon. Members would agree with him that if they were likely to occur in one instance they were likely to occur in the whole of the country at the same time. If there happened to be any question raised of sufficient importance to bring about a contest in one parish it would be likely to multiply contests in neighbouring parishes; and therefore those who were responsible for the arrangements ought to be prepared for a number of simultaneous contests. As to the hours of polling, he understood that it was one of the principles of the Amendment that it should be made as easy as possible for the 418 electors to record their votes. Speaking as the Representative of a rural district ho thought it could not be too thoroughly understood that the bulk of the voters in most villages would have two opportunities during the day in which they could record their votes, once when they came homo to dinner—he saw an hon. Member opposite shaking his head, and that was only significant to him that they were apt in that House to talk from their own special close acquaintance with certain localities, and not to recognise that in other places there might be different conditions prevailing. In the district which he represented it was the custom for the majority of the labourers to go homo to dinner. To suit the convenience of the largest number of the rural voters the poll should be open during the dinner hour and the evening also. He should like to say a word on behalf of a class that were least referred to. The Committee, of course, wished the labouring voters to exercise the franchise, but, at the same time, it was not desirable to disfranchise the voters of other than the labouring class, and the opening of the poll for only two hours, as suggested by an hon. Member, would have that effect. Then, as to the question of costs, no doubt they all desired to see those elections carried on with the utmost possible economy; but was it the fact that they would get-increased economy in the rural districts, by limiting the hours during which the poll was kept open? If it was, his argument would be answered, but his impression was that in many villages some distance from railway accommodation they would have to give pretty nearly a day's hire for a presiding officer, even though the poll was only open for a comparatively short time. He questioned very much whether there would be much practical economy in limiting the hours during which they kept the poll open. They must, of necessity, have as their presiding officer a man of a certain position—and such persons were not multiplied indefinitely—and if they had to take them any distance from their residence, and employ them for only a few hours, they would have to pay them practically as much for the broken day as they would have to pay for a whole day. A suggestion had been made—and 419 he thought it worthy the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board—as to whether the Councils should not have some power of expressing an opinion in regard to what would be the most convenient hours —expressing it to the County Council and through the County Council to the Local Government Board. There were, no doubt, cases where local needs could be met by a certain circumscription of time, and he thought the best way to ascertain the facts would be by the method proposed. In regard to these matters, they should not lay down too rigid a rule, or apply too strictly urban principles in dealing with rural necessities.
* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)
said, that, as representing a mining constituency, he endorsed the views expressed by the hon. Member for North West Durham. It was clear that the polling hours which would be suitable for other portions of the working classes would be quite unsuitable for the miners. He foresaw difficulty in rules being framed by the Local Government Board suitable for the character and occupations of the people in different parts of the country alike; and he would support the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down that some Local Authority should have a voice in settling the hours of polling. The County Council would be a good authority for that purpose, as it would have a ready means of informing itself as to the circumstances of various localities.
§ MR. STOREY
said that, after the discussion which had taken place, he might be permitted to say that he should be glad to omit such portions of his Amendment as would enable the proposal to be adopted as a whole in a form to meet the views of the President of the Local Government Board.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The whole Amendment will have to be withdrawn, and the Amendment of the President of the Local Government Board substituted.
§ MR. STOREY
said that, subject to the Deputy Chairman's ruling, it seemed to him that the proper course would be for the right hon. Gentleman the President of 420 the Local Government Board to move to omit words from the Amendment.
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The usual practice in dealing with an Amendment involving large and complicated alterations is to withdraw it, and have the proposal submitted in a more simple form.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
did not think it convenient that they should discuss the question of hours on the present occasion, and he should not have risen to make these few brief observations if it had not been that the President of the Local Government Board had invited them to express their views now rather than at a later stage, when the subject would more naturally arise. He (Sir C. Dilke) had been Chairman of the two Select Committees which considered the question of polling hours and took a great deal of evidence, and he also had charge of the two Bills by which the present hours of 8 to 8 were adopted under the first Bill in London and under the second Bill in the rest of the United Kingdom. He wished to confirm what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) opposite. The evidence before the Committees conclusively showed that very little of the expense was saved by shortening the hours of polling. The next thing he wished to say was that great weight ought to be attached to the representations which had been made by four Members about allowing local opinion to be heard on the question of hours. It was impossible for a Government Department to fix a uniform hour that would be satisfactory in urban and rural districts alike for all elections of Boards of Guardians in England and Wales. He would point out that there were "urban" districts having a population of only 258 souls, while, on the other hand, there were rural districts having a population of 50,000. That showed that it would be impossible to treat the question from the point of view of urban or rural districts. When his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board came to fix the hours of polling, he hoped he would remember that even in rural districts there were blast-furnace workers and tin-plate workers and manufactories where the 421 men were employed in 12-hour shifts, and, therefore, a few hours in the evening for polling would not meet their case.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, there was some difficulty in dealing with the Amendment, owing to the alterations the Government proposed to make in it. When it was moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland, it applied simply to rural districts, and in that form he (Mr. Bartley) would have had nothing to say about it. As, however, it was proposed to amend it they would be handing over to the Local Government Board the absolute power of making rules for the election of Guardians all over the United Kingdom, including London and all large united boroughs. Now that was a very serious change in the Amendment. Some President of the Local Government Board—he did not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman at present holding the office would do it—might think that the hours from 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon until 8 o'clock in the evening would be sufficient for London. But it must be within the knowledge of the Committee that in London even the present hours were hardly large enough. It was true that during some hours of the day there was not much going on in the polling places. In his own constituency many working men left home for their work just after the stroke of 8 o'clock and did not return until 8 o'clock in the evening. If there was any extension of the hours it ought to be in the direction of opening the poll earlier. It was not desirable to have the poll open later than 8 o'clock in the evening. Ho, as a Loudon Representative, strongly objected to the concentration of this power in the hands of the Local Government Board. In all cases the Local Authority, not the Local Government Board, ought to settle the hours of polling.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that what the hon. Member suggested was the course he (Mr. Fowler) wanted the Committee to adopt. They were now dealing simply with the election of Boards of Guardians—nothing else. At present those elections throughout the Kingdom were under the Regulations of the Local Government Board, and all that his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland proposed was that the Rules 422 Should be framed under this Act. He hoped in Clause 35 to deal with the question of taking the poll with the question of the Ballot Act and with the question of the Corrupt Practices Act. He agreed that it would ho absurd to reduce the hours in London by a single minute. He also thought that if the Rules were to be framed by the Local Government Board there was no reason why it should not say that the hours should he fixed by the County Council. He was most anxious that the County Authority should be brought in, and the matter was one he would ask the Committee to discuss on Clause 35, which would be the clause which would put restrictions on the action of the Government Department. He would suggest to his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment, and it could be brought up again on Clause 35, with the addition after "Local Government Board" of the words, "subject to the provisions hereinafter contained," to show that the Department was to be subject to restrictions.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, he must object to this arrangement. At at earlier stage ho had proposed the same Amendment as the right hon. Gentleman now recommended, and it seemed rather hard that, when at the request of the President of the Local Government Board he had withdrawn his proposal, which was practically in the same words, the hon. Member for Sutherland should have his Amendment accepted by the Government. It was desirable, he thought, that the question of the hours of polling should be kept to itself—that the Amendment should be withdrawn now, and the question should be dealt with on Clause 35. The hon. Member for Sutherland proposed that the poll should be open during such hours as the Local Government Board might fix, so that it was open not more than four hours. That was an important matter for discussion when they came to Clause 35. On this subject he should like to refer to the Local Authorities (Voting and Qualification) Bill, which was backed by such advanced Members of the Party opposite as Mr. H. J. Wilson, Mr. Higgins, Mr. Charles Hobhouse, Mr. Leon, Mr. Logan, Mr. R. Price, Mr. James Rowlands, and Mr. 423 James Stuart. In Clause 13, Subsection 5 of that Bill, it was proposed that the hours should be not less than eight and no more than 12, and that no polling station should be closed earlier than 8 o'clock in the evening. Therefore, they were apparently not in favour of having the hours cut down to four. He hoped the hon. Member for Sutherland would withdraw his Amendment now so that when they reached Clause 35 they could then discuss the question of the hours of polling.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that he had not been responsible for causing the hardship to the hon. Member of which he complained. At the earliest possible moment ho stated that the Government would accept the Amendment from anyone, but the Chairman pointed out that the hon. Member's Amendment was out of place.
§ MR. STOREY
said, he might perhaps be allowed to say a word to put an end to this unfortunate state of things. He was sorry that he seemed to stand in the way of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but his Amendment was on the Paper before that of the hon. Member. The hon. Member had stuck his down in a place in which it would be taken earlier, He (Mr. Storey) was quite willing to withdraw his Amendment, and he would leave it to the hon. Member to move it with the addition of the words suggested by the President of the Local Government Board.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, that as a matter of personal explanation he should like to point out that if the hon. Gentleman referred to Clause 3, Subsection 6, he would find the identical words inserted on his behalf which he had moved that night, and which the hon. Member, after amendment, was proposing to the Government to accept now.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
said, he had no intention of touching on the matter in dispute, but he wished, to comment on the observations of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean as to the shortening of hours. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the shortening of hours would diminish the expenditure, and in support of that he mentioned two Committees with which he had been associated, saying that those 424 Committees evidently held that the shortening of hours would have the effect anticipated by the hon. Member for Sunderland. Most of them looked forward to having these small parish elections conducted, not by an expensive attorney's clerk from the nearest town, but by someone like the village schoolmaster, and he did not, therefore, think the Committee, to which the right hon. Baronet had referred, could have had in mind elections of this nature.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, as the Amendment had been extended, it would apply to the whole country. This was a matter for serious consideration. If, however, the Amendment was withdrawn with the expectation that the Government would deal with the whole question when Clause 35 was reached, he hoped that words would be inserted to make it perfectly clear that the clause would not refer to the boroughs. He would wish, further, to add that in fixing the hours of polling regard should be had not only to area and population, but also to the diversity of occupation among the electors, for with electors occupied in various pursuits a larger number of hours might be necessary for taking the ballot.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On Motion of Mr. H. H. Fowler, the following Amendment was agreed to:—
To leave out all the words after the word "conducted," to the end of the sub-section, and insert the words "shall be conducted according to Rules framed by the Local Government Board, subject to provisions hereinafter contained.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
Under this section elections of Boards of Guardians will for the first time be conducted under Rules framed by the Local Government Board under this Act. All future elections of Guardians will have to be in accordance with those Rules.
§ * MR. PIERPOINT
said, the object of the Amendment he had now to propose was to abolish the facilities given to the illiterate voter. He had nothing to say against the property qualification of the illiterate voter. He had no reason to sup- 425 pose that the mere fact of being able to write entailed wisdom; but inasmuch as a great deal had been said about the influence and power of the squire and the parson, it was highly important to secure perfect secrecy in the matter of voting, especially in little parishes whore everybody know everybody else. Only last year the House of Commons carried a Resolution in favour of the repeal of those clauses of the Ballot Act which dealt with the illiterate voter, and now they had an opportunity to give effect to the principle of that Resolution. His Amendment would deprive illiterate voters of the right to have their papers marked for them; but, as they were under 2 per cent. of the electorate, the exclusion would be insignificant. He moved it entirely in the interests of secret voting.
In page 13, line 5, at the end, to insert the words "but Section 26 of the First Schedule of the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Act, 35 & 36 Viet., c. 38,shall not apply except to voters incapacitated by blindness or other physical causes from voting, and to voters of the Jewish persuasion.—(Mr. Pierpoint.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The proposal of the hon. Member amounts to this: that a man who is unable to read shall not have a vote.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The effect would be to differentiate elections for Poor Law Guardians from all other elections—Parliamentary and Municipal —that are held under the Ballot Act. He saw no reason for such a course. Of all the Amendments moved that evening, none had appeared to him more objectionable than this one.
§ SIR J. GORST
said, the right hon. Gentleman evidently failed to understand the principle laid down by the First Lord of the Treasury in the early part of the Session. The Committee was now making a new departure, it was establishing an entirely new class of elections, and it was giving new sanction to the illiterate voter, although the Prime Minister had specially cautioned the House against doing any such thing. He was ashamed to say that the illiterate voter was invented in 1872 by the Party to 426 which ho belonged. The Liberal Party at that time, with the enlightenment that always characterised its proceedings, then opposed this new creation, and it was only in consequence of the strong pressure of the Leaders of the Conservative Party that the illiterate voter was provided for. But now a change had come over their dreams. It had turned out that the illiterate voter, so far from being an advantage to the Conservative Party, had gone against it, and it had been found that the more illiterate a man was the more certain was he to vote for the enlightened Party that sat opposite him. The Conservative, on the other hand, had been taught by misfortune that the illiterate vote, for which they so fondly hoped, had boon cast against them. Thus both political Parties had executed a complete change of front. The parents and creators were seeking to destroy, and the opponents had become the patrons and supporters. Compulsory education had now existed for many years, and it was high time that people who were not sufficiently learned to be able without help to mark a cross in a particular place on a ballot paper should cease to sway the destinies of this great Empire. What his hon. Friend asked was that the Resolution which the House of Commons had passed respecting illiterate voters should be put into practice at these new elections, and that only those persons should be allowed to vote who were intelligent enough to make without help a mark on the voting paper.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
said, ho agreed with the right hon. Gentleman on the general principle. He did not believe that there was any ground for supposing that persons who were simply illiterate, and not drunken or stupid, would be disfranchised by the abolition of the special provisions relating to the voting of illiterates. He had acted as Chairman of a Select Committee that decided by a large majority in favour of doing away with those provisions, although unfortunately their Report had never been acted upon. Holding the view that they were entirely unnecessary and not consonant with the principle of the Ballot Act he should vote for their omission, as he had voted on previous occasions.
§ MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
said that, seeing the Amend- 427 ment would only affect a very small number of voters, he was surprised the right hon. Gentleman did not give way. He was sure the Vice President of the Council, had he been present, would have supported this proposal in the interests of education. In country districts, he was told, the freeing of the schools had done little to attract children, and there were complaints right and left that the Magistrates were showing themselves unwilling to force children to go to school under the Act. He thought much would be done to strengthen the cause of education if this Amendment were carried, because if illiterates were not permitted to exercise the parochial franchise, young people in the country would strive to render themselves qualified. A great stimulus would thus be given to education.
§ MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, he hoped that the Government would, in the interests of secret voting, accept the proposition, although it came from the other side of the House. It had been found in his part of the world that there was no difficulty in instructing illiterate voters how to record their votes without evading the secrecy of the ballot.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the President of the Local Government Board objected to the Amendment on the ground that it only dealt with a special class of elections. That was a very "official" reply. But how were they going to make a change unless a beginning was made? This was a favourable opportunity for making a beginning. His hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth had said that the illiterate voter was as great a fraud as the bonâ fide traveller, and he entirely agreed with him.
§ SIR WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
held that the secrecy of the ballot ought especially to be safeguarded in connection with these parish elections. There was no doubt that under certain influences persons who were not illiterate desired to record their vote publicly, and therefore the Committee would serve a useful purpose by preventing an improper use of these provisions. The objection had been raised that this would constitute a bit of piecemeal legislation, but the obvious reply to that was that unless the Government were prepared to introduce 428 a measure applicable to all election there was no time like the present to commence a reform which was generally admitted to be desirable. They, at any rate, were determined, to do all they could to put a stop to the profession of ignorance for illicit purposes. He submitted that this was a matter on which the sense of the House ought to be taken.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 107.—(Division List, No. 402.)
§ It being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.