§ On the Motion to go into Committee of Supply—
MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs), rose to move:—
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that provision should be made for a
second ballot at Parliamentary elections in all cases where no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes recorded.
He said it would be admitted that the central idea governing our representative system was that a majority of the electors in a constituency should have the power of selecting a representative in this House. It would not he denied that in a certain number of constituencies, through the multiplicity of candidates, it had been impossible to secure the representation of a majority of the electors. In the Parliament of 1874 there were no less than 13 members who represented a minority of the electors who took part in the contest in their respective constituencies. In the present Parliament there were 12 members who represented a minority of the electors who voted at the election. The constituencies were South Salford, West Bradford, Middlesbrough, Camlachie Division of Glasgow, Tradeston Division of Glasgow, City of Perth, St. Stephen's Green Division of Dublin, Halifax, Mid Lanark, and the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield. Upon the existing facts the question, was one deserving the attention of Parliament, but in addition to that it had a very important bearing upon certain promised legislation. He would say nothing in regard to the payment of Members. He was afraid the attitude of the Government hardly justified him in assuming that that reform would become law within a short space of time, but a Bill was promised for the purpose of placing the expenses of Parliamentary elections upon the rates, and when that Bill became law it would be much easier for a man to become a candidate than it was at the present time. He did not himself believe that the payment of Members and of returning officers' expenses would add to the number of candidates, but many Members did not share his view, and his proposal must therefore be considered not merely with regard to the grievance which existed, but with regard to the legislation which was promised during the present Session by the Government. In single-Member constituencies his proposal would only apply where there three or more candidates. If there were three candidates, and the first received 2,000 votes, the second 1,500, and the third 1,000, the candidate at the head of the poll had no claim to represent the
constituency, and what he proposed was the candidate at the bottom of the poll should stand out, and that another election should take place between the first and second candidates. In the case of a double-member constituency a second ballot would operate in practically the same way. If there were five candidates, and if one polled as many as three others, of course he would be returned, but if the second candidate did not poll as many as the three others, a single election would take place between him and the candidate next to him. Though the question was new so far as this country was concerned, it was by no means new in foreign countries. In Germany the exact proposal which he now made had been in force since 1869. The clause in the German Act of that year providing for a second ballot was as follows:—
Election is direct. A candidate is elected if he has obtained an absolute majority of all the votes recorded in his constituency. If no single candidate obtains an absolute majority of votes, the two who have most votes must be balloted for again.
Of the Members of the German Reichstag at the present time, 180 were elected after a second ballot, but they knew that in Germany parties were split up much more than they were in this country, and he could not conceive that it would be necessary to have so many second ballots here. In France the second ballot had been in force since 1875. It operated in two different sets of circumstances, first where a candidate did not obtain an absolute majority of the votes given; and secondly, where the highest candidate did not poll one-fourth of the electors on the roll. The system also operated in Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy. In America the different States settled the matter according to the wishes of a majority of the electors there. But with regard to the election of the President and Vice-President this principle was in force. It might be objected that a second ballot would increase the cost of elections, which were quite costly enough at present, but he believed that in present circumstances, and without reference to the promised legislation to which he had referred, the increased cost would be comparatively small. It would not be necessary for candidates to hold
any additional meetings, and the only extra expense would be the postage of some election literature to the electors. It might be urged that electors would not go to the poll a second time, but they could only differ as to whether the carrying of this proposal would have that effect. It certainly had not that effect abroad. Certainly in Germany there had been notable instances of electors not taking part in the second contest, but he thought there had, in those cases, been local circumstances to account for their want of action; and in some cases in Germany the number of persons who voted at second elections had been in excess of the number who voted at the first ballot. Then, it was also said that the proposal would increase the number of candidates, but, for his part, he welcomed a greater number of candidates. He thought he had mentioned the more formidable objections. There was, he knew, an alternative proposal, which was, that, without resorting to a second ballot at all, the object of a second ballot could be met. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) had suggested that, in the case of three candidates the electors should be instructed to mark opposite the name of the candidate whom they most desired the figure "1," and that they should mark with the figure "2" the name of the candidate whom they next preferred. That was a very ingenious proposal, but he doubted whether the electors could be made to understand it with sufficient clearness to get at the real mind of the constituency. For his own part, he thought it better to let all the candidates go to the poll at the first election and then to have a fair and square contest between the two candidates at the head of the poll, and rest the election on the result of the second contest. This was not a party question. It was not for him to go into the domestic differences of Conservatives and Liberal Unionists, but he thought the proposal might commend itself to them as well as to Liberals. If a Conservative and Liberal Unionist were fighting a seat, it might be possible, by a split in the Unionist vote, for the Radical candidate to be returned for a Unionist constituency. He therefore asked hon. Members opposite and those
behind him to support the present proposal, especially in view of the light of possible contingencies in the future. He had an authority in his favour which those hon. Gentlemen would regard with great respect. The Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had fully committed himself to the principle of the proposal now before the House. Writing to the Secretary of the Romford Liberal Association, the right hon. Gentleman had said:—
I am entirely in favour of the second ballot as practised in France, and should like to see it tried in this country. I have never heard any objection to it, and it is, of course, the best way of ascertaining beforehand the opinion of the majority.
§ MR. DALZIEL
It was in 1885.—[Cries of "Oh!"]—Well, of course, he admired a statesman who spoke, not for the moment, but for all time. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would not vote against his proposal. The reasons on which he grounded it were that under the present system, without a second ballot, it was possible for the minority, and not the majority, in a constituency to be represented in Parliament, and that, in order to have a majority representation and Government, it was both desirable and expedient that a second ballot should be brought into operation. He concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ *MR. W. H. HOLLAND (Salford, N.),
said, although his hon. Friend had made it clear that there was need for a second ballot, he had made it equally clear that there was no need for a second speech in its support. There used to be an old electioneering rule which said that a voter ought to vote early and often. This Resolution would not require that a voter should vote often, but that he should vote twice in certain cases. He felt certain that there was, at the present time, a large volume of public opinion in favour of second ballots. He had been privileged, last year and this, to introduce a Bill dealing with this question, and all the newspaper comments which he had seen were entirely in favour of its provisions. He had also mentioned the subject at public meetings, and it had been eagerly taken up by the audience and had met with their hearty 1087 approval. A week ago the Solicitor General attended a meeting at Manchester, at which he was privileged to take the chair, and, in the course of the few remarks which he offered at the opening of the meeting, no question mentioned was so eagerly caught up and approved by the audience as the second ballot. If he were asked how this question had made such rapid progress in the last few years, he would say that it was because the independent labour movement had so increased. They found the Independent Labour Party were in favour of the second ballot, and it had also been approved by the Trades Union Congress, he believed, at their annual meeting. Although he had had to withdraw his Bill in favour of this Resolution, he hoped it would not be withdrawn for long, but that the Government would see their way to incorporate it in their programme. Some persons disliked the principle of the second ballot on the ground, as they had put it to him, that one ballot was enough, in all conscience. That would be true, if the convenience of Members of Parliament were the chief concern; but hon. Members' convenience was absolutely of no account in comparison with making the House of Commons more truly representative than at present. It was extremely desirable that the wishes of the constituencies should be mirrorred in that House as accurately as possible. In some cases there had certainly been a distinct failing to have that correct mirroring, and he thought there was a prospect of this occurring more frequently in the future. In 1882, a Bill dealing partly with this question was introduced, and received the sanction of the House of Commons by a majority of two. In the interval, many changes had occurred. The franchise had been greatly enlarged, and education had also made very rapid strides. He thought that, with a wider franchise, they could not fail to have a wider interest taken in political questions, and, that the better educated an electorate were, the more intelligent must be their views on political questions. He thought it reasonable that electors holding diverse views should be anxious to know to what extent their own views were supported in their own constituency; and yet, without a second ballot, 1088 it was a ruinous price to pay when that could only be ascertained at the cost of putting in a political opponent. He did not suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite—there were not many of them present—would favour the principle of a second ballot, because, from the figures already presented to the House, he thought they would see that their position would probably have been weakened in this Parliament if a second ballot had been in force. He thought that the Resolution now before the House was one that might be readily justified on broader grounds than the interest of any Party. When they considered that the running of surplus candidates in a constituency meant the throwing away of a large number of votes, and that the franchise was a valuable possession, he thought hon. Members would admit that it was not a thing to be lightly squandered. As lists of candidates lengthened a winnowing process became necessary, and that would be the function of the first ballot. On that occasion an elector might vote for a person whom he considered to be an ideal candidate i.e. if one were nominated; but on the occasion of the second ballot it would be open to this elector, if he could not get an ideal candidate to vote for, to vote for a candidate who approached most nearly to his standard of the ideal. Neither did he think that the introduction of the second ballot would have the effect of multiplying candidates. He could not quite agree with his hon. Friend in the view he had taken of the effect of the payment of Members and of Returning Officers' charges. It was reasonable to suppose that if it did not cost a man anything in a constituency to be nominated for Parliament, the chances were that there would be a good many nominations handed in; and, therefore, to cheapen the cost of election, and to sanction the payment of Members would, in all probability, enormously multiply the number of candidates at elections. And, the introduction of the principle of the second ballot would enable the constituency to deal with that surplusage of candidates. Another objection to the multiplication of candidates was that when the Member was elected, coming from a constituency where there was a large number of candidates, it was clear that he must have received the support of but a small fraction of the constituency. 1089 He thought, therefore, that the second ballot would supply a kind of automatic machine to rectify the errors of the first ballot. The second ballot would also do something to prevent a needless multiplication of Parties in Parliament. The number of Parties in Continental assemblies was in spite of the second ballot, and not because of it. He rather thought that the cause might be traced to the wide electorate on the Continent, and in all probability the sub-division of political parties there would be much more numerous than now if the second ballot were not in operation. In this country they wished to avoid the needless multiplication of political Parties, because, the more political Parties were multiplied and created the necessity for coalitions, the more they gave scope for the forces of intrigue to play, culminating in the eventual instability of Government. On all hands this result was considered to be undesirable, for the consequence was, that, with the existence of many political Parties, Governments were found to have very short lives, and political crises were of frequent recurrence. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be disposed to ask, "why should we import our politics from continental nations?'' He did not think, however, that was the attitude assumed by hon. Members on the Resolution which had been moved the previous week on "Home Rule all round." Then the example of foreign nations was elevated on a high pedestal indeed, and it was held up for their admiration and imitation. He thought that the drawbacks resulting from the adoption of this Resolution were trifling and temporary compared with the gains which would result. The second ballot would lead to a truer representation of the people in Parliament, a result permanent and abiding in its character and likely to add to the strength of our representative institutions.
§ MR. JOHN ADDISON (Asbton-under-Lyne)
condemned the proposal as a mischievous one. Anyone who was acquainted with the political history of this country, and cared to compare it with the political history, past and present, of foreign countries, must be aware that the great force and strength of our Parliamentary institutions lay in the fact that there were only two Parties in the House and in the country; and it 1090 was because the country was so divided that Parliamentary Government was possible at all here. Those who took an interest in foreign politics, as he did, knew that at the present time in Hungary, Italy, and France, Parliamentary Government was in a condition which filled its admirers with a great deal of apprehension, and the danger was due to the large number of divisions and to the number of faddists of all kinds who claimed recognition and representation. The result was, that no Government could endure either in France or in Italy. It was clear to anyone that one of the first effects of the second ballot would be to cause candidates to enter upon a contested election with a feeling that the whole affair was a sham, without any spirit, energy, or feeling of real fight now prevalent. The second ballot would induce every person possessed of a hobby or a fad to put forward his own particular candidate, with the intention to gauge the strength of support obtainable from the preliminary contest. This would destroy any chance or hope of a real fight taking place. At present, all those persons who had fads or fancies must say to which Party they incline, and they must throw in their lot with that Party. His hon. Friend said that they could not persuade the Independent Labour Party to throw in their lot with the Liberal Party; and, having been beaten, the Members of the Liberal Party wished this Resolution to be passed. But if his hon. Friends were fairly beaten, they were beaten because the Independent Labour Party could not be persuaded thai the Liberals were better friends to them than the Tories. If the proposal were carried out the Collectivists, Fabians, New Unionists, Independents, or whatever they called themselves, would not only be able to test their strength, but would be able to do it without putting their hands in their pockets, which after all, was a great cheek on bogus candidates. Perhaps they would have as many as twenty candidates, and, after they had had a sham election, they would come to the real election, to which at least a fortnight must be devoted, as in France and Belgium. What would be the result?—the introduction of the very manœuvring and intriguing which the hon. Member himself had deprecated. 1091 What would happen when they had half-a-dozen candidates with 300, 400, or 500 voters behind them, all representing different fads and different sections of the community. It would lead to a course of agitation, manuœuvring and intrigue which would destroy entirely the simplicity of elections. He hoped this elaborate system would never prevail in this country. All these elaborate systems were deemed a failure, aud were very inferior to our old-fashioned simple method. He had seen, three or four months ago, an election in Belgium, and one man had to vote for sixteen members of the Lower House and nine members of the Senate, and he might have one, two, or three votes, and it took him an hour-and-a-half to make up his ballot paper, and then he was puzzled as to what he had done. He hoped this attempt to pat the faddists on the back would not succeed, and that there would be no sham elections at all, but that each party would do its best to secure as their representatives those who were content to waive some of their fads.
§ *MR. A. CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said he belonged to that class of Members who had been anathematized by the hon. Member below him. He did not succeed in polling the majority of those who went to the poll, but he supposed some of the statements which had been made must be treated, as many other statements made on Friday evenings, as an excellent jest. It had been admitted that the purpose of the Motion was to thwart the Labour Party, the hon. Member who seconded it said the Motion was inevitable, because the Labour Party had become strong in this country.
§ *MR. HOLLAND
submitted that he said simply that the Independent Labour Party were strongly in favour of the principle of the Second Ballot themselves. The hon. Member for West Ham had introduced a Resolution precisely on the lines of his Second Ballot Bill last Session.
§ *MR. A. CROSS
said, he would not say anything against the authority of the hon. Member for West Ham. His hon. Friend had said that the question had been before the House some time ago, he believed in 1882. But, when the proposal on that occasion was 1092 carried, it was by the magnificent majority of two in a small House, and that could hardly be called a very pronounced expression of opinion; besides the main proposal then was concerning the payment of the Returning Officer's expenses: a great many Radicals and Liberals took exception to the principle of an addendum in favour of the second ballot, and, although voting for the Second Reading of that Composite Bill, distinctly disclaimed having anything to do with the second part. The proposal to-night was being put forward as a Party move. He thought it was neither fair nor proper for hon. Members to use their positions for the purpose of promoting legislation in the interests of one Party, and when a motion with such an object was proposed, it was their duty to oppose it on the broad issue that they were there in the interests of the whole country. He entirely concurred in the argument that the House should be the mirror of the country, but majorities were not a perfect guide—it might well happen that they could have a few thousand voters distributed in such a way that they could command a majority of the House, whilst by no means representing a majority of the country. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs had now taken up the rights of majorities, but he imagined in the next Parliament he would very likely advocate the rights of minorities instead. The vote given at the second ballot would not be a real expression of the convictions of the voters, but log-rolling. The broad ground on which Parliamentary government in this country rested was government by Party, which this proposal would stultify. He objected to the prolonged turmoil and distraction of the constituencies which such excitement as that proposed would involve. Hon. Members knew what a serious distraction on the country a General Election was—how it prevented the flow of commerce, and checked trade. It was proposed now to add seriously to the inconvenience that already resulted from the disturbance of trade during a General Election. The expense of Elections would be greatly increased, as would also the strain of personal exertion thrown upon candidates. Then the expense of Elections would be almost doubled. It appeared from the 1093 Returns which showed the effect of the proposed system in Germany that, at the last election there, nearly one-half, had to be repeated in consequence of the second ballot. In France a second ballot took place in one out of every four constituencies. The system would greatly increase the labour and expense which would fall on candidates in a large proportion of contests. Even if the Returning Officers' expenses wore paid, the expenses of candidates would still be large. Such expense would have the effect of more or less diminishing the class from which candidates at Parliamentary Elections are drawn and limiting the choice of the electorate. He regretted that the Liberal Party should be so continually tinkering with the question of reform. After many years of struggle we had obtained a broad electorate and a very adequate distribution of power in the hands of the people. It was said that only 12 out of the 670 Members of the House of Commons would be affected by the proposed change. He deplored that the question of the machinery of election should be eternally before the country and the House, and thought the time and energy devoted to the advocacy of proposals dealing with the constitution of the country might be more profitably employed in many other ways. He trusted the House would see that whatever questions might be considered when they were on the eve of a new Reform Bill it was only a waste of time to debate subjects of this sort which were only of academic interest, and affected a very small number of members.
§ *MR. BILLSON (Devon, Barnstaple)
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down showed great ingratitude to the Mover of the Resolution, because if the Resolution were law the hon. Member would obviously and ostensibly represent the majority of the electors of the Camlachie Division instead of, as appeared from the figures, the minority. As to what the hon. Gentleman had said about the desirability of postponing these matters until some new Reform Bill was brought in, was the hon. Gentleman not aware that a new Reform Bill must always be worked up to by what he called academic discussions of various theories? It would be utterly impossible for the House of 1094 Commons to set itself deliberately to a really comprehensive measure of registration and electoral reform until there had been previously decided by the House one by one the various controversial points that entered into the consideration of the problem. His hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Addison) spoke of the natural division of the electors of the country into two historical parties. But there had been a great change in that respect. In old days no one thought of having a second ballot, because either the expense of a contest was so enormous that only rich men could enter upon it, or, as in the case of some historical elections, the contest was less between political parties than between two rival families in the constituency. All that was changed since there had been admitted to the electorate a larger number of people, and new conditions had come into operation to meet their views. It was also said by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Addison) that, if the system of second ballot were in operation, the first ballot would not be carried out with any spirit. Why? It would be of the utmost importance to every one interested, that his candidate should, if possible, be at the head of the poll in the first ballot, because it would be only the two candidates who were at the top of the poll who would take part in the second ballot. Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that If there was the proposed system in force, a man would go to the poll with a light heart, because he would have nothing to lose. He apprehended the Resolution referred only to the particular points at which it was aimed, and when it was brought into operation it would be associated with some method by which, whilst the expenses of the election were placed on the public fund, there would be a provision that those who only polled a small portion of votes, and therefore had no real ground for being a candidate, should pay their own expenses. Furthermore, there was the bugbear that frequency of election would produce a great deal of unnecessary turmoil. In old days elections lasted a considerable time—sometimes two or three weeks. Now, however, we had done away with public nomination, and so arranged matters that elections were considered in the light of an 1095 ordinary and every-day occurrence. Although what was suggested would be a new departure it was impossible not to believe that the electorate would soon become educated up to it, and would enter into the spirit of that which was intended, and would go into the succeeding ballot as a matter of course, without any particular fuss and without probably any great expense. Looking to all these considerations, remembering that we were not quite so rigidly divided into the two historical parties we once were, and knowing how important it was that constituencies should have the opportunity of returning men in whom the majorities believed, he heartily supported the Motion.
§ *MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Wilts, Devizes)
said, there was one advantage in an academic discussion of a subject of this sort, and that was that a member like himself who might feel some objection to a particular plan for arriving at a second ballot, found himself free to vote in general approval of the principle of a second ballot. The arguments which had been advanced to night against the principle of second ballot seemed to him to be so very trivial as merely to touch the fringe of the question: certainly he had not heard any reason given why a Member of the House should not approve of the principle. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said that in Belgium a voter found himself called upon to vote for 16 or 18 persons. That was no novel experience in England, because in the recent Vestry elections in London some voters had had to grapple with no less than 300 names. It had been argued that people would go into the first fight feeling there was really no fight at all, and that the proceedings would have to be repeated another day. He thought the possibility of a second ballot would have a most stimulating effect upon any person who offered his services. It had been said that this Resolution had been put forward on behalf of the 1096 Party. He was sure that hon. Members who went into the Lobby in support of it would do so, not from any motive of Party advantage, although he saw no harm in that, but because they felt that anyone who sat in that House should have a clear majority of the votes of the electors whom he represented. The only serious argument put forward against the Resolution was that of the increase in expense. No doubt that might result, but did it necessarily follow as a consequence that an increase in the number of candidates at an election increased the expense? He doubted that very much. Of course, it there was a second ballot, there must be a certain amount of extra expense, but it would be small in comparison with the amount that was already spent. But even if the expenses were doubled or trebled, he ventured to think that, looking at the average length of Parliaments now, a few thousands or hundreds of thousands more might well be spent in order that the Members of that House should truly represent the wishes of the electors of the country, and that the majority of the Members who really directed the Government for so long a period as four or five years should, at all events, be representative of the wishes of the people, and if they had to pay a little increased charge to arrive at that result, he, for one, should not be inclined to demur to it.
§ MR. T. SNAPE (Lancashire, S.E., Heywood)
said, that the proposal of his hon. Friend, which he very cordially supported, was a very different proposal to that of 1882. This proposal was that the candidate elected should receive, not a majority of the voters on the register, but an absolute majority of the votes recorded. That was a very different thing to the proposal of 1882. A good deal had happened since 1882. If they looked at the Debate in 1882 they would see how different the aspect of Parliamentary affairs of that day was. One hon. Member, who was not now a Member 1097 of the House, stated in that Debate that as a rule it was not desirable that a working man should represent a large body of his fellow-countrymen; and another Member of that Parliament. who was then a Member of the House, contended that men who aspired to a seat in the House of Commons should have independent means and plenty of leisure, and that he was utterly unable to see how a skilled artisan or bonâ-fide workman could come down to the House and sit up all night. In the present Parliament there was a very large number of skilled artisans, and they confuted by their presence the statement made by that hon. Member. What were the objections of Mr. Fawcett to the proposal in 1882? He said he could not support it, because it was difficult of application to double-member constituencies, and because it would lead to a drifting into single-member constituencies. Since that time they had drifted almost entirely into single-member constituencies, and he rather thought that if they had the advantage of Mr. Fawcett's presence that day he would be found to support the Resolution, because the main ground of his objection had been removed by the changes which had taken place in the constitution of the country. Mr. Fawcett went on to say that he thought there should be three or four-member constituencies in order that minorities might be represented in the House. Then, again, Mr. Fawcett would have discovered that what had taken place since 1882 had shown that no better method of securing the representation of minorities could be found than that of single - member constituencies. The present fair distribution of representation between the two Parties was evidence that there was no minority in the country that had not the power of asserting itself at the time of an election, and of securing representation. When the hon. and learned Member for Ashton told the House that the first election 1098 would be a sham, he could not have taken all the circumstances into account. Instead of the election being a sham it would be much more real and earnest than the second election. If it was true that a second appeal would be disliked by a candidate, that it would involve additional expenditure and cause additional turmoil, it might be expected that a candidate would make most strenuous efforts to secure an absolute majority at the first election in order to avoid further trouble. They had been told that the Liberal Party was constituted of groups. The Party opposite was not absolutely homogeneous either. It was only reasonable that the test of a second ballot should be offered to the various groups in a constituency in order that they might arrive at a satisfactory decision as to which of those groups was dominant. He should himself be quite prepared to abide by the decision of the ballot box if any one group in his constituency, whether he was in sympathy with or differed from it, could proves by that means that it could command a majority of those who took a sufficient interest in the affairs of the constituency to record their votes. Therefore, on the ground that different groups ought to be able to determine satisfactorily which of their candidates commanded a majority, it was desirable that they should be given the opportunity of a second ballot to be used in cases of need. Then there would be very little doubt that groups of electors who voted for a first or second candidate as against a third, but who found that their candidates were rejected by a majority of the constituency, would unite at the second ballot in support of one of the unsuccessful candidates. The real opinion of the constituency would then be expressed. He knew of course, that a prolonged contested election was not a very agreeable process, but "there was no making of omelettes without breaking of eggs." The best way to make the entrance to Parliamentsmoother than it had been in the past was by 1099 letting the constituencies see that the wish of their representatives was that they should exercise to the fullest extent their right of choice among candidates. The House had decided that there should be payment of Members, and it followed as an absolute consequence of that decision that the opportunity of returning candidates whom the real majority approved ought to be assured to constituencies.
§ *MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
did not think that this Resolution, if passed, would be likely to affect materially the constitution of Parliament. He objected to the proposed change because it was wholly unnecessary for all practical purposes, because it would inflict a great deal of unnecessary trouble upon candidates, and because it would cause a great deal of unnecessary commotion in constituencies. The constituencies certainly did not want prolonged election contests, and it was not desirable that the country should be kept too long in a convulsed state. Instead of an election lasting two or three weeks as at present, it would, under this system, last four or five weeks. Then a large number of candidates would often be proposed, for the system would encourage a multiplicity of candidates, real and unreal. The faddists would avail themselves of the opportunity to trot out their particular fads and to embody them in candidatures. After a first election there would be all sorts of negociations at headquarters, and bargains and all kinds of manœuvres and political arrangements in a constituency with the object of ousting the man who had obtained the largest number of votes, and of putting the second or third man in his place. Then the expense would be greatly increased. For instance, the returning officer's charges would be doubled. He could not think that that would conduce to the advantage of constituences, to the advantage of politics, or to the efficient represesentation of constituencies in Parliament. Candidates 1100 found it quite troublesome and costly enough to undergo one election. Prolonged electoral contests would deter a great many men from coming forward who would be most desirable candidates for Parliament. He had a good deal of experience of contested elections, for he had engaged in Municipal elections, School Board elections and Parliamentary elections. What good was to be obtained? It was said that sometimes under the present system a man got in who represented a minority; but if so, he represented a majority of the people voting who knew tbeir own minds at the time of the election. Was it to be a majority of the whole constituency or only of those who voted? He could understand a proposal that a man should not sit in Parliament unless he represented a majority of the voters, but he could not understand the logical consistency of this proposition, which dealt only with those voting in a particular election. The truth was, their present system worked very well. It practically carried out the principle of representative government. It was consistent with their Parliamentary history and Party Government, and there was no necessity whatever for a change. The only effect of the introduction of the plan suggested would be that they would prolong elections and cause increased trouble and expense, and under these circumstances he hoped that the House would pause before passing the crude and unnecessary Resolution under discussion. The state of the House showed the feeling with regard to it. As far as he could see the scheme was impracticable and unnecessary.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central)
said, as the House did not appear to desire to debate the question at any great length, he might say that the Government would leave the matter to the determination of the House; and for his part, in supporting this Motion, he 1101 did so in his individual capacity. The subject, which had been brought forward in an able speech, possessed great interest of late in the constituencies, but it had not hitherto been much discussed in the House of Commons. In 1882 it formed a portion of a measure proposed by Mr. Ashton Dilke, but it did not form the main subject of Debate. The main subject was the payment of Returning Officers out of the rates, but there was a clause in the Bill proposing a second ballot, and the House came to a decision, in favour of the second ballot. Mr. Fawcett supported the Bill, but stated his strong objection to the second ballot proposal, but it appeared that the reason which influenced him was connected with redistribution. He rather gathered from the general drift of Mr. Fawcett's speech that, if the country decided in favour of single-member constituencies, he would not have objected to the second ballot. Since that time the House had decided the point, and in 1884 it adopted the single-Member constituencies. Then arose the danger of a Member being returned, not by the majority, but by the minority of the electors—of those, that was, actually voting. Almost every other country in Europe had adopted the system of a second ballot. The system of single Members had been adopted, and apparently on that account the principle of a second ballot had been hit upon. It was so in Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Hungary, and Belgium, and it might be almost said that it was universal. There was a very interesting Report upon the second ballot in Germany presented some two years ago, and in that Report it was explained that the system adopted in Germany was very much the system adopted in every country in Europe. It was stated in that Report that if one of the candidates obtained an absolute majority he was declared elected. If there was not an absolute majority there was a call for a second ballot. The Report went on to 1102 say that the system of a second ballot was specially important in view of the number of parties into which the Reichstag is divided, and the slight difference which constitutes the distinction between certain parties. In the last Reichstag there were eight acknowledged parties, besides the Alsatians and 17 Members belonging to no party. In the Reichstag which has just been elected, there are 13 acknowledged parties and about six independent members. There are 397 members in the Reichstag. In the last election 217 were elected in the first ballot by an absolute majority; the remaining 180 had to undergo a second ballot. They had nothing like the number of groups and sections in that House that found a place in the German Reichstag, but they must recollect that, while the House was divided into these main parties, each party had an annexe, or offshoot, or some independent group attached to it. There was always then the possibility that, when an election took place in a single-member constituency where there were so many groups, a minority of voters might return the Member. This was not a matter which affected the Liberal Party only. It might affect both parties in the State. He was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow state as a reason for not adopting the Motion that it was likely to break up the two great Constitutional Parties, and that it would probably result in the destruction of the great Liberal Party. If he was rightly informed, the hon. Member himself belonged to a group which had separated itself from the Great Liberal Party, and had done its best to break up and destroy that great party.
§ *MR. A. CROSS
said, he should regard it as a great misfortune to this country if the great Liberal Party were broken up.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he was very glad to hear the hon. Member say that, but he did not think it affected what he had already said as to the hon. Member's connection with a group which had imperilled the existence of a great 1103 Constitutional Party. But, as he had said, this was not a matter which affected one Party more than another. The Party opposite had an independent group attached to it, and they had seen quite recently in what had taken place in the constituency of Leamington the difficulties in which it found itself. If the second ballot were adopted the matter would be simplified. The Tory Party would present their candidate and the Dissentient Liberals would present theirs, and they would both be nominated. The first election would take place, and this would show whether it would be the Tory or the Dissentient Liberal candidate who would remain in for the second ballot. He would commend that to hon. Gentlemen opposite, for he thought they would then find their difficulties very much less than they were now in the matter of the selection of candidates. The advantages of the second ballot were these, that in a constituency where there were sharp divisions of opinion on subordinate questions in a party, it prevented the minority obtaining a victory in consequence of divisions in the camp of the majority; it protected the majority of a constituency against the mistakes of a small committee of selection, and secured that they should be duly represented, and it also offered the best and readiest measure of the real importance of opinions as factors of current politics. It would, no doubt, increase somewhat the expense of elections, but possibly some small addition might be made to the allowances of a candidate in respect of expenditure in the event of a second ballot becoming necessary. But the main expense would be undoubtedly the Returning Officers' charges, and one could hardly expect that the second ballot would be adopted unless they had also adopted the principle of the payment of Returning Officers' expenses out of public funds, so that that portion of the additional expenditure would not in future fall on the candidates. It had also been suggested as an objection that 1104 it would increase the trouble of elections. That, of course, would depend very much upon the number of second ballots which might take place, and, if they had to look forward to there being as many groups in this country as there were at the present time in Germany, that, perhaps, might be a serious matter. But he did not think they need look forward to anything of the kind. He had no doubt himself that the great Constitutional Parties in this country would remain as they were now, and he did not look forward to the further multiplication of groups and sections and independent members. Undoubtedly there was a considerable danger resulting from the growth of groups and sections, and there was the danger that at the elections in the immediate future they might have the misfortune of members being returned by a minority of those voting. It was for the purpose of preventing a result of that kind that this scheme of the second ballot had been devised and had been adopted in almost every country in Europe. On the whole, he thought the advantages of the scheme considerably outweighed the disadvantages, and he was therefore prepared to give his support to the hon. Member in the Motion he had brought before the House.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
thought the discussion could hardly be considered in a very serious light. They were told by the hon. Member for Salford that great interest was taken in this question both inside and outside the House, but the state of the Benches in the House, and the anticipations in the public journals, certainly did not point to any deep interest being taken in this grave constitutional question. He preferred rather to look upon it as one of those academical exercises, one of those debating society opportunities which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had afforded the opportunity of taking part in on successive Fridays. The hon. Member had been extremely fortunate 1105 in his experience of the ballot, and he supposed that on the principle that one good turn deserved another, the hon. Member wanted to do something for the ballot seeing what the ballot had done for him. What was the object sought to be attained by the Motion? He understood it to be that the representative of a majority in a constituency was to be returned to this House, and that the minority of the constituency was not to have the power of sending its representative to this House. Now, in his opinion, this Motion, if carried, would have the precisely opposite effect. If, by a second ballot, they gave an opportunity for two sections or two parties to unite and to defeat the mail returned at the first ballot, the Member so returned by the combination of the two parties was not a representative of the majority at all; he was merely the representative of the coalition of two minorities. Take the case of Middlesbrough at the last election. At Middlesbrough a Labour Representative was returned at the head of the poll with 4,600 votes. Next to him was a Home Ruler with 4,000 votes; and the lowest was a Liberal Unionist who polled 3,000 odd votes. It seemed fair and just to say that in that constituency the Labour Party had a majority. He maintained that with a second ballot it would be perfectly possible for the Home Ruler and the Unionist to combine, and, by combining, force the defeat of the Labour Member. ["No!''] Perfectly possible. Would that Member be the representative of the majority? He denied it. He would not be the representative of the majority, but he would be the Member of a coalition arrived at under all sorts of arrangements and agreements of two minorities. When returned, which Party would he represent? He would come as an anti-Labour man, returned by a combination of two Parties for the purpose of defeating another Party; but he could not be said to represent any particular principles, or any particular Party, 1106 or any majority in the constituency. The interval between the first and second elections would be an opportunity for all sorts of intrigue, for log-rolling, and for making those arrangements which were as derogatory to the Member who accepted them as to the parties who endeavoured to bring them about. It would be a very dangerous thing to encourage this system, which already prevailed to a limited extent in our elections. He believed that the system of second ballots would give an enormous incentive to these arrangements, and to what had been called "squaring," which would not conduce to the honesty and straightforwardness of the vote hon. Members gave in the House. He admitted that splits in a homogeneous party sometimes occurred, but he did not think that these occasional splits were a reason for altering the whole of our electoral system. If the internal arrangements of any party were so bad that they could not agree as to who were to represent the principles for which they fought these elections, then that party fully deserved to lose the seat. As far as he could see there was only one case at the last election—that of Perth City—which could properly be quoted as an example. There the Conservative Member polled 1,300 votes; the highest Liberal 1,100; and an Independent Liberal 900. It was obvious that if the Liberal Party could have agreed on their representative they might have carried the seat. But that was the only case. Of course he was not now reckoning the Labour Party as a portion of the Liberal Party. They themselves had always maintained an independent attitude, and many attempts had been made by prominent leaders of the Liberal Party to induce the Labour Party to abandon that independence. He agreed that one of the objections to this scheme was the enormous number of candidates which it would produce. The opportunity which it would offer for men to air their particular fads and to indulge their vanity by posing as 1107 Parliamentary candidates, though they had no chance of being returned, would be largely made use of; and that would be very detrimental to the general position of the House of Commons and to the state of Parties. He did not desire to see the two great Parties split into a number of sections. The right hon. Gentleman had said that there were already six Parties in the House. He did not agree with that. On the great questions which divided hon. Members there were only two Parties; and it would be an evil day when we, like our Continental neighbours, found the Legislature divided into a number of sections, who were very often quarrelling violently among themselves, and whose differences it was very difficult, if not impossible, to diagnose. At the first ballot the struggle would be not between the two great Parties, but between the two leading sections into which the Parties were split up, each of which would try to head the poll. The real power would then lie in the hands of the minority. It would be very bad for us if we fell away from our present practice, and he should prefer to see the election taken upon the great constitutional questions which divide us, instead of having our energies expended on an endeavour to get the particular representative of a section of a Party into the first place. Then it was doubtful whether, in a second ballot, the defeated Section would vote at all. Supposing there was a serious split in a Party, it was quite likely that the defeated section in the first election would show their resentment against their erstwhile friends by abstaining from voting in the second election; so that the second election would leave matters precisely where they had been left by the first election a few days previously. The Report on the operations of the second ballot in Germany instanced the case of an election in Berlin, in which there had been seven candidates. In the first election the 1108 Radical got 7,000 votes, the Socialist 4,000, the Conservative 2,000. In the second ballot it was true the Radical remained at the head of the poll by an increased majority, but the Socialist also considerably increased his number of votes. The Socialist must have got this additional support from voters who voted against him on the first election, because they did not agree with him, and as it was not possible that they changed their opinions in a few days, he thought the only result of the second ballot was the introduction of a very unhealthy state of politics. Then, if this system was good for Parliamentary elections, it would have to be applied to all elections. But the general public opinion was that there were already too many elections in the country. The Party opposite had been in favour of triennial Parliaments. Evidently they had changed their minds on that question, for this was the fourth Session of the present Parliament, and what had become of the Triennial Bill? They must have come to the conclusion that frequent elections were not so desirable as they had previously thought. Then there was the increased expense supposing a second ballot was enforced. One hon. Member had said that would be a very trifling matter, but was that so? A Member would have to retain his committee-rooms, to continue his chief agents and his sub-agents; he would have to issue polling-cards again to all the constituents informing them of the date of the second poll; and, very likely, he would have to issue a further address, especially if he entered into intriguing arrangements with other parties, or had changed his views with the object of securing his election. The question of expense was a very serious consideration. Again, he said, it was not desirable to duplicate and reduplicate these elections all over the country, and to prolong them over a considerable period of time. The tendency, he thought, was, on the contrary, to have all the elections on one day. What had become 1109 of that? Had it been lost sight, of? It was true this system of a second ballot prevailed very largely abroad; but it must be remembered that elections abroad, for the most part, took place on the Sunday, and were looked upon as part of the holiday. They took their pleasures more sadly in this country, though he did not know that an election was a pleasure at any time either for the electors or for the elected, and it certainly was no pleasure to the non-elected. But if they were going to repeat this dose it would be nauseous, and he doubted very much whether they should not find great difficulty in getting the electors to come to the poll at all. They had experience of the difficulty there was in polling the full strength of the electorate at the present time. Look at the recent elections in London. How small a percentage of the mass of electors registered recorded their votes on that occasion. He had thought it his duty to place these reasons before the House to induce them to pause before committing themselves to so great a change in the system which had prevailed with such satisfactory results in this country for so long. The burden of proof in this matter rested with those who desired to produce a change, and he maintained that the hon. Member and those who supported him had not shown that the present system had in any way broken down. At the last General Election, out of 646 elections held all over the country, there were absolutely only six in which the principle of a second ballot would have had any effect at all. [Mr. DALZIEL: "There were 12."] He had gone into the question very carefully, and he could only discover six. Out of these six there were some in which a second ballot could have had no effect whatever. Take the case of St. Albans, for instance, where the Conservative Party was split. The Conservative Member who was returned, they might assume, would have polled a considerable section of those who supported the Conservative Member 1110 who was defeated, and if he had polled any reasonable percentage at all he would have defeated the Liberal. In that case, therefore, a second ballot would have had no influence even if it had come into operation. When there were so few cases in which it would be necessary to resort to this plan, they might fairly say, De minimis non curat lex; the grievance was so small that it was hardly worth consideration. He feared that, as in foreign countries, so in this country, this process would result, to use a geological term, in the lamination of parties—the splitting of them up into a number of small sections; and that would be a great evil for this country. He much preferred that we should go on under the old Party system. The broad floor of the House which separated the benches of the two sides was an emblem of the broad line which divided one Party from another. He believed that this demarcation was unique among the Chambers of Europe; others were divided by many smaller lines like the gangways between the rows of benches on each side of the House. He preferred to see a broad line of distinction; and he endorsed the following words of Mr. Disraeli in a celebrated speech which he delivered at Manchester:—Gentlemen, I am a Party man. I believe that without Party Parliamentary Government is impossible. I look upon Parliamentary Government as the noblest government in the world, and certainly the one most suited to England.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said, he did not see that in a second ballot there was anything con-to Party or to Parliamentary Government, in Lord Beaconsfield's praise of which he cordially concurred. There was, however, a broad aspect of the question which had not been dealt with by the representatives of a Party whose members often fulminated against the caucus system. This plan would deal a heavy blow against the worst features of the caucus system. Of course, we 1111 must have organisation by Party, without which it would be impossible to have a fair and square fight. But when a small and by no means representative caucus had in its hands the duty of selecting a candidate, then there was evil in the caucus system which could be got rid of only by a second ballot. There was caucus in his constituency in 1885, and, if it had been allowed to have its own way in the selection of a candidate without any protest, the newly-enfranchised electors would not have had an opportunity of expressing their will. It was because he protested against this, fought against the nominee of the caucus, and ran the risk of being branded as a rebel, that the newly-enfranchised electors had the chance of making their voices heard against the domination of the old clique. He based his support of this proposal upon the broad general principle that it was most desirable a constituency should have an opportunity given to it of electing whatever candidate might be able to obtain the greatest amount of support. The most weighty objection urged by the last speaker appeared to be that upon examination he could find only six cases in the last general election in which there would have been any need of the second ballot. The arguments of the hon. Member opposite destroyed each other. At one time he said the second ballot would find so little place in our institutions that it would do exceedingly little harm, and at another time he spoke of it as a monstrous evil which could not be tolerated. The hon. Member had appealed to the House on the question of cost, but he had also pointed to the fact that in all probability election expenses would soon be placed on the rates or on the shoulders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His own view was that the business of the country should be carried on in the way most conducive to all the interests concerned, and if it was necessary to impose greater burdens on the taxpayers 1112 in order to get a more adequate representation of the people in the House, he was sure they would raise no complaint. The hon. Gentleman had not shown that the numerous sections into which Continental Parliaments were divided was the result of the second ballot. He suggested that the interval between the first and second ballot would be devoted to all sorts of log-rolling and intrigue. Well, it would not be the first time they had heard of log-rolling and intrigue in connection with elections. If they were to believe all they read there was not a little intrigue going on in connection with the approaching election at Warwick and Leamington. They heard about bartering, and about the particular terms upon which two parties would divide certain seats among themselves. He did not think there could be anything more derogatory to the high tone of politics in this country under a second ballot than the difficulties with which they were familiar in the relations between the Liberal Unionist party and their tory allies. It did not lie with either of these parties to make suggestions of logrolling or political intriguing in connection with a proposal for the second ballot. A second ballot in his opinion would be a very material improvement of our electoral system. It would be a further step towards democratic progress, by enabling all parties and sections in the State to have the fullest opportunity of obtaining their share of representation in the House of Commons.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he must confess that he felt not more than a languid interest in this discussion, and if he might judge from the aspect of the House during the course of the evening he might say that those feelings were not confined to himself. The front Opposition Bench was nearly empty, and, as for the Treasury Bench, they might estimate the interest of the Government in this subject from the 1113 fact that the one Cabinet Minister who was present and had spoken had told the House that the Government had no opinion upon the matter. The Mover of this Resolution had been extremely fortunate in finding subjects for Friday nights, but he was not sure that on some broiling afternoon later on he might desire to take the sense of the House on the execution of Charles I. He did not think the present subject of great practical importance, but it did not follow that because there were only six cases at the last election to which this principle would have applied, that therefore they would not have more than six at the next general election. In his view there would be a multiplication of such cases if this resolution were acted upon. They knew that Mr. Disraeli had said that we adored party Government simply because we were used to it, and in the illustration quoted by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough they saw the advantage of not having a second ballot. Since the operation of the present system, it did allow a little power of breaking down party organisation, and it seemed that it did bring out elements of representation of opinion which otherwise would not find representation. He did not agree about changing the machinery, but if a change were made it would not dissipate present party organisation. The second ballot did not tend to multiply parties, but to reduce everything to two parties. It might be asked, how, then, had they seen a multiplication of parties in France and Germany? In the latter country the multiplication of parties arose from the variation of local interests. In England they had had three great parties for a long time, because of the intense diverse of Irish interests. In a country like Hanover, and in working-class centres in other parts of Germany, they got in the representative Assembly a diversity of parties, because in each there was a party which had not a controlling voice 1114 through the whole of the Empire. The second ballot did not create, but rather restrained, these diversities of parties, which arose from want of homogeneity. They had passed rather an instructive evening. They had been learning; and his object in rising was to show how hon. Members might get what they wanted in another way. It had been said with truth that the second ballot meant the prolongation for a week of agony, and all the bitter feelings involved in having a second election a week after the first. The object of the second ballot could be attained in one and the same election without any postponement, and without all the expense and anxiety entailed by such postponement. It was a manifestation of the interest which he felt in the matter that he volunteered a suggestion. How was it to be done? They were dealing with a single-member system, and three or four candidates might be running for one seat. Under the present system the representative of a minority might get elected. Take the case, however, where A received 900 first votes, B 600 votes, and C 500 votes; no one had a majority. Then take the 500 votes and see who was the second favourite of the 500 voters who voted for C. Let the voters do their second balloting straight away; let them take the 500 votes and distribute them among A and B. By this means they obtained at one and the same moment the elimination of what hon. Gentlemen professed to desire—namely, the opinion of the majority of the electors—without trouble, without expense, and without exasperation of feeling. He doubted whether it was worth while, but he would make this suggestion as a present to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. The only doubt suggested was whether the electors could understand the system. He was amazed to hear his ultra-democratic Friends express distrust of the capacity of the elector to master the principle of selecting the man whom he 1115 considered to be second best for the purposes of representation.
§ The House divided:—Noes 132; Ayes 72.—(Division List No. 42.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved,—That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that provision should be made for a Second Ballot at Parliamentary Elections in all cases where no Candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes recorded.
§ Supply,—Committee upon Monday next.