HC Deb 20 February 1893 vol 8 cc1929-43
SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I have to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law in Scotland relating to Registration of Voters for the purpose of Parliamentary, Municipal, and County Council Elections, and for other purposes.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


When Scotch Members compare the size of the English Registration Bill with the size of the Scotch they will have reason to congratulate themselves on a contrast which is very favourable to Scotland, and with very good reason, because the compactness and brevity of the measure which I am going to lay before the House, in a speech which I will try to make as brief and compact as the measure itself, is a testimony to the good sense of our predecessors—the Scotch Members of old in this House, who enacted the present excellent system which we enjoy, and a testimony to the good sense and selfcontrol of the nation which for 30 years hail worked it with the most practical success. The laws which regulate Scotch registration date from those happy days in this House when, by no Standing Order, but by an unwritten law of Parliament, Scotch Members were allowed to deal with Scotch businesss in obedience to Scotch needs, without being unduly interfered with by Members who did not understand those needs, and to whom the Very terms in which Scotch Legislation was couched Were altogether Void of meaning. The Scotch system, therefore, we do not need to reconstruct; we only require to complete and perfect it. The Valuation Act of 1854, the Registration Act of 1856, and the County Voters Act of 1861 have long ago given Scotland all, I think I might say more than all, that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton will be able to give to England by means of his Constructive Clauses. In Scotland we have an officer in every constituency or group of constituencies, who is administratively responsible for the preparation of the List of Voters. He is appointed by a superior authority—the Local Authority which can call him to account, and I am quite satisfied that the Scotch Members who heard the cheers of English Members just now when it was intimated that the appointment of the Registration Officer should be made by the Local Authority, must have smiled when they recollected that their own registration business has so long been conducted by an officer freely appointed and freely removed by the Local Authority itself. The assessor has under him a recognised and paid staff of trained subordinates, thoroughly acquainted with the circumstances of every locality and every house in the locality. He and his employép;s can collect the rates, draw up the Registration List, and make up the Valuation Roll. It is a matter of great advantage that the Valuation Roll, which is the list of civic burdens, and the Registration Roll, which is the list of civic privileges, should be drawn up by one and the same hand. When he has drawn up the valuation roll the assessor sits in review of it quietly, with closed doors, and—can English, still more Irish Members, believe it?—who are his adjutants and agents in drawing up this roll and settling the list of voters for the future? They are the agents of the two parties, who sit quietly on each side of him making suggestions, not quarrelling, but helping forward the general work of the community, and it is at their suggestion that the assessor strikes off the names of the dead, alters the qualifications and does rapidly, quietly, and cheaply all that in less happy countries is done publicly, noisily, and at much expense. I have been a Scotch Member for 25 years, and in none of those years have I paid one single half-penny for registration, and I am certain I have not allowed any one to pay a half-penny for me. Hon. Members, speaking for England are afraid of the expense of a new system. I have got a Return of the expenditure in 32 Scotch counties containing 42 seats, and the whole expense to the public of that admirable system, including the assessors, cost of printing and payment, of all subordinates was in 1890–91, £10,400, or as near as possible £250 a seat; £250 to the public, nothing at all to the individual is a very good show already, and now I am going to explain to the House how we intend to make it more economical to the public than it was before. I need not go deeply into these matters; Scottish Members understand registration, and the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Shiress Will) brought in a capital Bill last Parliament, backed by eight other Members, and they are all with us, which shows how the Scottish Representatives are interested in this question. In the first place, we alter the period of qualification from 12 months to three, and in the next place we alter the date of the end of the qualifying period from the 31st July to the 3rd September. Now as to the first, the three months, I shall say nothing on this occasion, but if it is attacked I will defend it on the Second Reading. It is the essence of the Bill that when a man has naturalised himself locally by three months' residence, he should become a naturalised citizen with full citizen's rights. But as to the change of date, I want to point out two very remarkable advantages. In Scotland the change of residence takes place to a large degree at the Whitsuntide term, that is in the latter half of May. I believe May 28th is the actual term of removal. Every man who changes house before the end of May has completed by the 3rd September three months, and the date chosen is the date that was in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Shiress Will) and will square with the habits of the Scotch people, will not do violence to those habits, and, therefore, avoid a great deal of discomfort and discontent. In the next place, a very great advantage will be gained by the public at large. It is a good thing that the Valuation Roll and Registration List should be drawn up by the same man, but it would be better still if the same inquiries, and the same labour expended, enabled that man to compose and construct them both, and so it will be under our Bill. The Valuation Roll must by Statute be completed on the 15th of August in each year, and it includes all owners and occupiers who were in their present position at the end of the previous May. The roll of voters will he made up on the 4th of September, and so that, too, will include the owners and occupiers who were in their present position at the end of May. Therefore, the Registration List will be a reproduction of the Valuation Roll. The labour of the assessors will be greatly reduced and will be confined to removing from the roll the names of corporations, partnerships, awl factors, and, I am bound to say, women, and others incapacitated as voters, and adding the names of the service franchise and the lodger voters, and in that respect the labours of the assessors will be much diminished by the provision common to this and the Bill of my right hon. Friend, that householders are now to he bound to return the names of all those, either in their employment or living under their roofs, who are entitled either to the lodger or the service franchise. The public cost will also be sensibly reduced, and Scotland will at last get a system which she has deserved by the skill and judgment with which Scottish officials and politicians have made the best of the system they have already. Now I will say a word about what I may call the minor proposals of the Bill. At this present moment there are very great inequalities between the various Scottish constituencies, and still greater inequalities between the Scottish and the English constituencies in the number of occupiers in each. Taking the constituency of Glasgow, in the Blackfriars constituency there are 123, in Bridgeton 201, in Camlachie 302, in St. Rollox 403, in Tradeston 568, in the Central Division 770, and in the College Division 1,277. This is largely due, no doubt, to the fact of the £10 qualification, and so far it is a franchise question. But it was likewise due to registration; to the fact that in some cases the lodgers do not claim, and in others they do. I think it is clearly proved when I tell the House that I have been informed—I should say these figures I have given I have received from a private source, but I have been informed that among the four seats of Dundee and Aberdeen there are hardly more than 400 lodgers. That is because the representation of Dundee and Aberdeen is, if I might say so, so one-sided that there is no great excitement on the question of registration, and therefore the lodgers do not claim. Consequently they are kept out of their rights, but this Bill will remove that condition, and enact that the landlord will be responsible for returning their names, and the assessor will be responsible for placing them on the register. The lodger franchise is much too narrow, but we are determined by this proposal to see that those who, under the present figure, ought to have a vote, shall get it as far as registration is concerned. Then there is a very important clause which enables a man to claim successive occupation, even though he has carried on that occupation under various franchises. For instance, if a man has spent part of his three months as a lodger and has then set up horse for himself, or has spent part of the three months as an occupying tenant and has then bought his freehold, he will be allowed to claim successive occupation. But there is another very great grievance. If a man, having secured the franchise, moves to a great distance he is practically disfranchised, he cannot generally spare the time to go, he cannot spare the money to go, and under the very proper provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act no one can help him with the money, but under the 7th clause or our proposed Bill, if by fulfilling the terms of the Act by residing three months before the 3rd September he has gained a vote anywhere, then he shall not be disqualified by removing to another and distant constituency. When for three months he has occupied premises in the new constituency, if those three months come before the 31st of March, he may apply to the sheriff, and the sheriff, if satisfied with the evidence, will transfer the voter from the constituency in which he lives no longer to that in which he now lives. Hon. Members may perhaps ask me why that should be done by the sheriff and not the assessor. For this reason, because on the 31st October in each year the roll of voters passes out of the hands of the assessor into the custody of the sheriff who becomes responsible for it. And there is another reason, because if the assessor is to be brought in to make this change—and we have gone very carefully into this matter—yon cannot stop short of a second registration with all its expense and labour, and against the second registration in the same 12 months, not only do the assessors protest, but so far as we can gather, the working and fighting politicians on both sides in Scotland are averse. But our proposal does away with the most troublesome features of elections, the tracing of removals, the mention of which causes a shudder to every one who has fought or managed an election. Then we propose to do away with the obligation of payment of the rates as a qualification, a condition which is grossly unjust in principle and full of anomaly. The failure to pay rates for himself does not disqualify, the failure of occupying tenant does disqualify. We think it is an injustice and therefore ought to go. Besides that it has very great disadvantages. I am informed that in one community of 26,000, 4,500 lost their votes by the obligation to pay the rates, and I take it that that is the proportion that prevailed in other places. The Parliamentary franchise had nothing whatever to do with the question of the payment of rates, and, moreover, the system was liable to abuse for political reasons; and I think, in this respect, the power of Local Authorities to exempt from the payment of rates lays those Local Authorities open to a temptation to which they ought not to be subjected. Now, Sir, the only other matter that I have to speak about, because I do not wish to travel over the ground gone over in such masterful strides by my right hon. Friend beside me, the only other matter I have to lay before the House is the dates of qualification. The qualification is to date back from the 3rd September; the list of voters is to be made up and presented on the 12th September, to be open for inspection, not as now for five days, but for a whole fortnight, from the 12th to the 26th September, and to be atfixed—not to the church doors, towards which the footsteps of a portion only of the population naturally turned in a country where not going to the parish church does not mean that you do not go to church—to every post office and telegraph office in the electoral area. There the voter can always have this list at hand, instead of having to travel miles to see it. The notice of objections must be given before the 26th September, and the list of them, I believe, must be printed on or before the 30th September. I do not want any hon. Member to think these dates follow too closely upon each other, and, therefore, the proceedings cannot be properly done. We have gone into this matter most carefully, consulting the small number of assessors we ha ye in Scotland, and they say, almost unanimously, that there will be ample time to go through all the various processes. The Valuation Roll will henceforward be the same, to all intents and purposes, for registration and taxation, and with this before them the assessors say they will be able to complete the registration at the dates fixed in the Bill. And then, Sir, we come to October, when the Sheriffs' Courts will sit. These, unlike Revising Barristers' Courts in England, often do not sit for a whole day, and seldom exceed two days' sittings, and, therefore, by the 1st November a better, a fuller, and in the highest sense a much more accurate roll of Scottish voters will be complete and authoritative. That is our system and those are our proposals. They have been carefully thought out, and if Scottish Members can amend these proposals we shall readily acquiesce, but hon. Members must remember this—that this is a Registration Bill, and that improvements in our electoral system, which are justly clear to them, can only be admitted if they come within the meaning which is covered by the title of a Registration Bill Parliament has decided that every resident householder in town and country should have the vote, and should have that vote without trouble, without worry, without delay, with less cost to the public, and no more cost to the candidate than he has to pay now. We confidently believe that that this Bill will give.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law in Scotland relating to Registration of Voters for the purpose of Parliamentary, Municipal, and County Council Elections; and for other purposes."—(Sir George Trevelyan.)


Sir, although' this Bill is introduced as a sister and auxiliary Bill to that which we have already discussed to-night, I think it must be apparent that it is viewed with a vastly different Opinion in the case of Scotland to what it was viewed in the case of England. The right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Trevelyan) who has just sat down has ended with what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. H. H. Fowler) began, that he has in the strongest terms deprecated the idea of this being in any sense a franchise Bill. I think it has been already pointed out by my right hon. Friend beside me that there are certain points where franchise and registration arrangements necessarily overlap and underlie. In this Bill we have a conclusive proof of that statement. All will agree that undoubtedly the existing cause for the introduction of the Bill at all in the case of England has been the defective condition of the English registration arrangements, and I think that the House will have seen already, from what the right hon. Baronet said, that at least in Scotland we have had no cause for complaint as to our registration arrangements for long past. I think he perhaps scarcely did justice, though he did ample justice to the prescience of those who have been before us, because, I believe, he left out of the account—which, after is the basis of the whole system—the Valuation Act of 1854. At any rate, I believe with him that when the present Bill for England passes into law they will in the end have a system inferior to the system we have hitherto enjoyed for Scotland, because, at least in one respect I could mint out in Scotland we are enabled to dispense with at least one officer which has been proposed under the arrangement explained to-night. If I caught the right hon. Gentleman aright there were two officers, one called the District Superintendent and the other an assistant, and those two officers only find their counterpart in one officer in Scotland. But, Sir, we are reduced to this rather peculiar result, that so far as Scotland is concerned we are discussing, upon a Bill which its introducer says is not a Franchise Bill, points that have to do with franchise and franchise alone. I think there is one matter on which I might perhaps enlighten the House a little, because, though I believe quite unintentionally, the view given by the right hon. Gentleman did not quite strike English Members as it ought to; I mean the position of Scottish assessors. It is scarcely the case that the Scotch assessor is a gentleman who is appointed at the will entirely of the local authority. In one sense he is appointed by the local authority, but to make it quite plain it should be stated that the choice of the local authority is entirely limited. In Scotland we possess a system of valuation by which the valuation roll of the whole of the land in burghs and counties lots to be made up year by year, and by the Statute it was provided that if the local authority chose to take the Government official as their assessor they would have this advantage, that the same assessment would be applied to both Imperial and local taxation. I need scarcely say a practical country like my countrymen were very willing to avail themselves of that, mid accordingly when it came to the Registration Act it was provided that the already existing assessor should be taken by the local authority as the registration assessor, so that the House will see that. the right bon. Baronet's words do not exactly represent the state of affairs. As regards expense, the right hon. Baronet said that he had never paid a single penny during, the many years he lots sat as a Scottish Member for registration. In these days one is rather careful to say who pays for what, but at the same time I think the right hon. Baronet will remember that he described with admiration the position of the two political agents sitting on each side of the assessor's table, and I take it that, though the right hon. Baronet did not pay for the agent's services, that that gentleman's services were not altogether given for love, but somebody or other remunerated than gentleman for his attendance. However perfect the improvement of the system may be, there would still be work for party organisation, which would call for party money. I have pointed out, I think justly, that really so far as Scotland is concerned in this matter we are discussing questions of franchise rather than questions of registration. Therefore, although I do not want to trespass on the time of the. House or repeat what has been said in the Debate already, I may be allowed a few words upon these very important and vital questions that form the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. I will take first of all the payment of rates, and there, again, I think by the form of expression used by the right hon. Gentleman he has conveyed a Wong impression to an English audienee. Rates in Ireland, I understand, mean rates of every sort; but "rates" when used in Scotland as a condition of the franchise mean poor rates alone, and, whatever may be said upon principle, I do not think the abolition of the poor rate clause will be effectually defended upon the grounds upon which the right hon. Gentleman put it—namely, that there was inequality between different persons. It is quite true that some of the older franchises were not chargeable upon the condition of the payment of the poor rates, but it is also true that for all practical purposes these older franchises have been merged and swallowed up in the newer franchise of inhabitant occupier, which is always founded upon the payment of poor rates. I respectfully enter a protest against the proposal of the Government, and seeing how little is to be put upon the voter in this matter, seeing that along with these you must take the Scotch provision that in holdings under £4 you are allowed to put the poor rate upon the owner and not upon the occupier, there is a great deal to he said in favour of those not enjoying the benefits of citizenship who show they are utterly unable to realise its burdens. I pass to the question of the period of qualification, and I heard with some surprise that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to alter the date from the 31st July to the 3rd September. Upon this matter I should like to call attention to a point which was mooted, but I do not think satisfactorily solved, in the discussions that took place on the Excise Bill. It was assumed by the right hon. Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) that to the period of qualification of three months you necessarily add a period of five months more, because, as he said, the completion of the registration roll would not be over in the English case until September. I do not think that can be assumed at all. It depends to a certain extent upon phraseology, and we have had practical illustration of this in cases that have been actually decided in Scotland, because, as a matter of fact, in the older franchises there was a difference of phraseology used. If the phraseology used is that a period of three months up to a certain date is to qualify, then I take it to mean that a three months' residence up to that date will qualify. It does not matter if after that the man goes away; he will have a vote for all the ensuing year, even although during all the time the machinery for making up the register was going on he had left the place never intending to come back again. The qualifying period is, I think, too short. A real grievance we ought to recognise is this: that although you may prescribe that the qualifying period of residence shall be 12 months up to the 31st July, as before in Scotland, or some date in June as in England, if you have the Register only made up once a year you will get individual instances of men qualifying just after the time you made up the register, and when, instead of having to be resident one year, he has practically to be two before he gets his vote. That difficulty will always arise if you only make up the Register once a year, and it does seem that in order to get rid of the difficulty you swing the pendulum far too much the other way if you reduce the qualifying period to the small term of three months and then take no notice if a man goes away after three months and never comes back to the constituency at all. Something has been said about flooding constituencies. May I point out the extraordinary danger of this there would be in taking the dates as they exist in Scotland. My own constituency is a sea-side constituency. The rigours of winter may be enough to keep persons away for the English dates, but if the date is to he fixed for the 3rd September, every man in the West part of Scotland who goes down to the sea-side for summer lodgings will find himself a voter for that constituency. And in these pushing times when we are entreated to buy one article in an establishment by being told we shall be given another, I do not think it fair that a gentleman should find himself suddenly a voter of the constituency because he has given three months' continuous attention to a bathing machine. I do think the period of three months is too little, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether they are going to do something like transferring voter from one constituency and another—in Other words, going to introduce the principle of recurrent application to the registration authorities—whether there does not lie the true solution of the question by having a longer period than three months, and perhaps giving a second chance by allowing people who had been left out to come in some other period of the year if their period of six months had not exactly suited when the Roll was made up. The other points are more of detail. I forbear to speak of the question of successive occupation, because I should like to see precisely what the Bill provides. I do not propose to go into the question of dates or the proposal to have the lists put upon the post offices instead of the Church doors. I can only say when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned one-fifth I do not know where he got his figure from. I doubt if one-fifth of the population of Scotland goes to the post offices, and if he means that only one-fifth goes to the National Church, I deprecate that statement. But I think these matters may be left until we come to the details of the Bill. All I wish to make clear at present is this—that upon the question of a three months' qualification I, for one, think it necessary to make a decided stand.

*MR. SIIIRESS WILL (Montrose),

thought the speech they had just heard was an augury that the Bill would be received in a fair spirit by Gentlemen opposite. He gathered that they all felt that the anomalies in the present system of registration ought to be got rid of. The main feature of the Bill was first of all to reduce the period of residence; but the hon. and learned Gentleman who had last spoken objected to that on the ground that, if the period of qualification was made too short, people would go and, reside at sea-side places and qualify themselves. Perhaps there was something in that, but the hon. Gentleman forgot that there was another measure on the Notice Paper which, if passed into law, would prevent the exercise of a double qualification for electoral purposes. It was the working classes who were principally affected by the requirement of a long period of residence precedent to being placed on the register; which period sometimes extended to two years or even more. By the exigencies of their employment they were often compelled to move with their work, and thus it was impossible. for many of them to obtain a vote. Under these circumstances, it was considered that while the period of residence should be long enough to prevent gerrymandering or the influx of voters at the times of elections from one district to another for the purpose of disturbing, the balance of voters in a particular constituency, it should be short enough to enable people who were entitled to vote to be placed on the register, and accordingly three months had been fixed upon ins being sufficient for the purpose. Objection was taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was proposed by the Bill to do away with disqualification for non-payment of rates. But what was the purpose for which that provision as to the payment of ratites was introduced into the Reform Bill of 1832. Lord John Russell in February, 1832, stated that the object of that clause was not to encourage the payment of rates, but was entirely for the purpose of having evidence to prove that the person seeking to vote was a plan who had occupied as a £10 holder. They had done away with the £10 qualification, and now that they had got the household qualification these ratepaying restrictions should be removed entirely. Was there any reason why a man should be disqualified for not paying his rates when he was not disqualified for not paying his rent? One advantage in shortening the period of qualification was that those would get on the voters' roll who removed at Whitsuntide, which was the principal removing term. He rejoiced that there was to be another principle introduced into this Bill. At present when a man removed from one constituency to another he had to begin over again to qualify himself as a voter, and it might be he had to reside another two years in a place before he could become a voter. Why should that be so? Surely a man who moved from one county or borough to another did not cease to have an interest in Imperial politics or a stake in the country; and why should he therefore lose his right to vote for a Member to represent him in that House? He thought the measure went a long way in the desired direction, and he trusted the House would give the Bill a First Reading, and ultimately pass it into law.

*SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

expressed the hope that this would not be treated as a Party question, but would be dealt with in a fair and, straight forward spirit. He could not help thinking that the period of three months suggested in the Bill was far too short a term. He would be in favour of a period of six months, and for this reason: that they would get a large floating population corning suddenly, say to work on a railway; or take the case of a work like the Manchester Ship Canal. What did these men care about the local rates or the School Boards in that district. If a lot of navvies came to work in different districts they would all acquire votes. They would not care two farthings about School Board elections, and if they were whipped up to vote they would vote for whatever party got hold of them first. That was not a fair proceeding, and would operate prejudicially to the community and districts where such School Board elections were held, and it world operate equally prejudicially in Parliamentary contests, where, no doubt, the issues were broader and greater, but which did not affect the persons who were located in the district but for a very short time. There was another point which must strike hon. Members who had been in America. In America personation was extremely difficult to prove. The old story of "vote early and vote often" had been repeated over and over again as a warning to the House, but it was not the less true that that was tire system adopted in the American States. They could not identify people who were coming in hundreds or it might be thousands to some large city by a three months' qualification of residence. Therefore he did hope and trust that a longer period of residence would be substituted for that in the Bill. He quite agreed that the present tenure for qualification was far too long, and that many well deserving men who ought to he on the Register were debarred from being on. He did not know what the lodger qualification was to be, but some steps ought to be taken to secure that sons who worked in the same business as their fathers—and who therefore were not able to vote, although quite capable of an intelligent exercise of the franchise—should be allowed to get on the Register. As to voters' lists being placed on church doors, this was done because the churches were supposed to be on some highway, and formed some centre where the population gathered. Why was it now proposed to limit such posting of the lists to the post offices? There were many parishes in Scotland, miles and miles long, where there was perhaps only one post office, so that many people would never see the notices. If these lists were posted on every church door, every public-house door, or shops, or other public place in the parish, all t he parishioners would know what was going on, and would he able to challenge what vote they chose. He, for one, would endeavour to make the Bill an instrument for rendering noire perfect, more efficient, and cheaper, the system of registration for Scotland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir George Trevelyan, The Lord Advocate, and the Solicitor General for Scotland.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 216.]