HC Deb 26 January 1897 vol 45 cc554-65

moved the following Amendment, to add at the end of the Question the words:— And we humbly express our regret that no Measure is announced by your Majesty for a simplification of the registration laws for Parliamentary and local government elections. The hon. Member said that, in moving the Amendment, he wished to confine his remarks to the anomalies which prevailed in the working of the Registration Laws as they at present existed, and he had no intention or desire to introduce the larger question of enfranchisement. His object was to induce the Government, if possible, to undertake the work of simplifying the laws of registration in regard to both Local Government and Parliamentary elections. At present there was great confusion and difficulty in dealing with them. For Parliamentary and Local Government Board elections there were no fewer than eight kinds of qualifications, and 22 different ways of becoming qualified. He thought that a mere statement of the anomalies and inconsistencies of the present system would justify the course he had taken in moving the Amendment. The existing Registration Laws, in fact, were so complicated that many persons did not at all understand them, and in consequence neglected or declined to place themselves on the register. In other cases fully-qualified men could not get on the register unless they were looked after by skilled Party agents on either side. And even if a man got on the register he might not be safe, for a change of overseers under present conditions might lead to his removal from it. Indeed, in the absence of any paid official who should be held responsible for seeing that a proper and complete register was kept in every town, no man was safe from being removed from the list at one time or another. A glaring anomaly was that while in a county it was necessary for freeholders to have only a six months' qualification, in a borough twelve months were necessary. Then as regarded succession to freehold property in counties, at the present time a man who succeeded to such property before the appointed day might, if the list was open, be put on the register immediately, although his qualification as to residence was only that of two or three days. This had happened over and over again in the case of beneficed clergymen in the Church of England, though his occupation of the benefice or incumbency had been only a few days. He thought it very unfair that those special facilities should be given to a certain class of freeholders; but he should not complain if similar facilities were given to the ordinary man, provided that he was qualified to vote. Then, in the case of leaseholds in counties and leasehold boroughs, there was great anomaly as to the respective times required for qualification. Again, a man possessing a freehold in a county might live in America if he liked and still retain his vote, but if his property was in a borough he would have to live within seven miles in order to do so. Then as to the ordinary electors, most of whom were householders, in many cases they were unable to get on the register under two years and five months. This state of things could not be defended, and he hoped the Government would be inclined to deal with the question generally, with the view of putting the Registration Laws in an intelligible and reasonable condition. ["Hear, hear!"] Speaking in a Debate on a Registration Bill introduced in March 1893, the first Lord of the Treasury spoke on the matter, and said he sympathised with the effort to reform the Registration Laws, particularly in relation to the two points of transfers from constituency to constituency and of the right of successive occupation, the right hon. Gentleman said:— The next two points connected with the reform part of this plan to which I wish to allude relate to transfers from constituency to constituency and to the right of successive occupation. Let me say at once that with regard to both of those I sympathise absolutely with the wishes of the Government. My objection is not to the object, but to the machinery by which the object is to be carried out. The right hon. Gentleman had now an opportunity of carrying out his views on the subject and of providing machinery of his own, and if he would take advantage of it he would get rid of a state of things under which at the present moment a man might be kept off the register for two and a half years. Another anomaly in the present state of the law was that there was no succession from one borough to another, or from one county to another. That might perhaps, prove a somewhat complicated matter to remedy, but certainly there could be no difficulty as to succession in the case of a man moving from one constituency to another in the same county or borough. With regard to succession from the lodger point of view, great difficulty and hardship arose. Directly a lodger became a householder he lost his vote. If a young man who was a lodger married and became a householder he was disfranchised and kept off the register for two and a half years. That was not only an anomaly, but a great injustice and hardship. He hoped the Government would deal before long with the lodger franchise. At the present time the law with regard to it was in a most unsatisfactory state. There was nominally a £10 qualification, but it was time after time evaded. The declaration made by the lodger was regarded by the revising barristers as primâ facie evidence of qualification, and it had also been held to be primâ facie of value. In some cases the barristers had said: "If you have any grievance, lay the matter before the Treasury." That was not a satisfactory state of things, and he could see no reason why the lodger should be in a, better position than the occupier or freeholder who had to prove his claim. He ventured to think that the onus of proof should be put on the lodger, and not on those opposing his claim, to prove that he was not qualified. Then he thought it was very desirable that the powers of revising barristers should be increased, and that they should have power to inflict fines in cases in which it was proved that the case presented to them was of a fraudulent nature. At present they were powerless to check fraud. He now turned to the question of the dates for making claims and objections. At present claims and objections had to be made on the same day. That was very undesirable in the interests of a good register. In boroughs it might be easy to make objections on the day on which claims were sent in, but in the case of counties it was very different, and it was very desirable that claims should be sent in a few days earlier than the last day for making objections. Then, with regard to the register, there was now a register for Parliamentary elections, for County Councils, District Councils, Parish Councils—in fact, four or five divisions. It would be much better if, instead of having all those separate lists, there were one register only. Of course, it would be necessary to star those electors who were entitled to vote for all, but there would be no difficulty in that. It was done at the present time. He had already quoted one expression of opinion by the First Lord of the Treasury showing that when a Liberal Government was in office he had no objection to registration reform. He now had the opportunity of bringing in a Bill embodying machinery he could himself approve. He would now quote another expression of opinion by the right hon. Gentleman. Speaking on the Second Reading of the Registration Bill in 1893, he said: The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Storey) and I both appear to have approached this Bill, certainly with no desire to find fault with it, but to recognise, as I believe every man, in whatever part of the House he sits, recognise, that the existing law with regard to registration prevents certain classes of people, whos under a better law would be voters, from being voters. It was quite clear from that and the previous quotation that the right hon. Gentleman had no objection to the principle of the Amendment. He (Mr. Strachey) approached this question and moved this Amendment in exactly the same spirit and with exactly the same object. He did not want to raise a party controversy on the matter. All he desired to do was to ask the Government to find time to introduce a Bill to carry out the views the First Lord of the Treasury had expressed, so that a larger number of electors who were now kept off the register by the unsatisfactory state of the law, should be no longer kept off. It was quite clear the right hon. Gentleman viewed the question as not one of party controversy, and if so, what difficulty was there in the way of his undertaking to legislate upon it? He ventured to express the hope, therefore, that the Government, even at this late hour, would recognise the necessity for reform, and would attempt to deal with the question in order that men who were now kept off the register should be put upon it.

MR. JOHN BRIGG (Yorkshire, W. R., Keighley)

, in seconding the Amendment, said that the Amendments hitherto brought before the House on the Queen's Speech had been very much of a local character. This Amendment was national in its character and bearings, and he believed, was the only one on the list which was indeed truly national, and so interested the whole nation. There were thousands of people to whom Reform Acts had been of no practical value, because, though the spirit of Reform had been granted the machinery for carrying out Reform was imperfect. The work had been undertaken, but there were not the tools for the purpose. Recent circumstances had brought to his mind the fact that popular feeling on this subject was strong and widespread. Even in Manchester, where it might be assumed people were well able to take care of themselves, they were obliged to employ costly agents to obtain for themselves the opportunity of voting. He would not pursue the various anomalies of the registration system, for Members must have knowledge and experience gained in the endeavour to comply with some 118 Acts of Parliament supposed to regulate their conduct; but he asked how many Members in the House could at once tell the nature of the qualification for the vote they were entitled to exercise? Very few, he thought, could do so. There was one particular qualification readily remembered, and that was the "property qualification," and it was interesting, in looking through the many curious anomalies, to find the property qualification occupying a very singular position. Though the owner might be away from home in Spitzbergen or Somaliland, studying an eclipse or hunting lions, no matter where he travelled the qualification still attached, and he could be placed in offices of trust and responsibility in the neighbourhood, the envy of those around. The simple possession of the forty shilling freehold gave the franchise, and nothing could deprive him of it. He would not carry the matter further, and spared the House the attempt to show the great need of a change. A long list of well-known names from either side of the House was the record of attempts made to reform the registration system. It should be as easy for a man to exercise his vote as it was difficult for him to escape the payment of his rates, and he hoped that a promise would be forthcoming from the Government that they would endeavour to do something on this subject. He believed it was the universal opinion of those who had fairly considered the matter that it would not be expedient to refer the subject to an ordinary Committee, but he suggested that a small expert Committee might consider the subject, and report to the House from time to time, and in that way endeavour to make clear to every man his qualifica- tion for a vote. The trouble, expense, and time, now so often necessary, had disgusted many working men, and on their account he pressed this matter on the attention of the Government.

MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, East)

acknowledged there were grave and great anomalies in our system of registration, but with the long list of measures to which they were already pledged it was impossible that the Government could be expected to give any promise on this subject for the present Session. The suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that consideration should be relegated to a small Committee was one the House would surely not entertain. Constitutional changes such as would be involved must be considered in the House, and Debates would probably be long and contentious. He would venture to say that an alteration of our system of registration would probably require a whole Session. When the Liberal Party were in power they never did more than bring in Rills on the subject of registration. Those Rills never became law, because Members who represented county divisions and Members who represented boroughs could not agree. Now the law should be changed. There were grave anomalies in our registration system, but the Rills introduced by the late Government were practically Reform Rills dealing with many things outside registration and with matters not germane to registration. There was, for instance, a proposal to so reduce the period of qualification that the door would have been opened to any amount of "jerrymandering" of constituencies. To some extent he agreed with the principle that a man who paid his rates should have a vote, but the Rill of the late Government did not introduce that rating qualification. The lodger franchise did not make a man pay his rates, and the tenement franchise only did so indirectly. It was an anomaly that when a man ceased to be a lodger and became a householder he did not at once get on the register, and there were anomalies in relation to the Service Franchise whereby in the constituency adjoining his the action of the Liberal agent had disqualified the votes of 300 or 400 employés in a large industrial establishment.

MR. REGINALD. McKENNA (Monmouth, N.)

claimed for the Liberal Party that they had endeavoured to carry out registration reforms in the period between the years 1868 and 1874, when no less than five Bills on the subject were introduced, and would be law now but for the action taken in the other House. In 1878 a Bill was introduced by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, but, it was so mutilated in the other House as to be vitally impaired. The hon. Member opposite had said it would be impossible to tarry through in the present Session such a wide reform as registration. But if he had considered the matter in the proper light he would have realised that it could be dealt with quite simply. Their Registration Laws were a mass of absurdities and anomalies, but they could be very adequately dealt with by introducing a simple system of franchise. If they once did away with the different varieties of franchise which now existed they would have no difficulty in dealing with the Registration Law. The obvious solution was to adopt adult suffrage with a certain period of occupation solely fur the purpose of identification. By taking occupation as necessary for identification they would satisfy the requirements of local elections that every voter should have some interest in the locality where he voted. An immediate and very simple reform in registration law might be effected by striking out column four in division one of the Register. The fourth column might be of some use in the ownership part of the list, and possibly also in the service franchise, but in division one and three it was unnecessary and misleading. That was an immediate reform which he believed the hon. Gentleman would not find it impossible to promise on behalf of the Government, and if he could not give any further promise to the House he trusted he would at any rate go as far as that.


hoped the hon. Member for Somerset would not expect on an occasion like this that he should go into the question of the imperfections and anomalies of the Registration Laws. Everyone who had considered the question at all was quite ready to admit there were anomalies and imperfections, and a great deal could be said, on the question of the period of residence, about the lodger franchise, and about succession claims. All those questions were fair matters for consideration; yet, surely, it did not follow that because of these imperfections and anomalies the Government were to be censured for not bringing in a Bill at once in their second Session to deal with them. The hon. Member proposed to censure the Government for not bringing in such a Bill, but the hon. Member for Keighley had frankly declared that this would not be at all a small question, that, on the contrary, it would be most contentious, and he had advised that the whole law should be swept away and an entirely new Code produced. Whilst admitting these anomalies and imperfections existed, he would like to point out that the Session did not last for an indefinite time, and he thought the Government had acted wisely by, instead of throwing a large number of Bills on the Table, making a selection of those measures they intended to pass rather than including a number which every Member knew could not possibly be passed within the limits of a Session. ["Hear, hear!"] The question, as he had said, was full of contentious points; it was one which would occupy a great deal of time, and, after all, the Government must have the discretion as to what they should name in the Queen's Speech and press forward during the Session. ["Hear, hear!"]


observed that whether there might be Divisions or not on this subject he thought no one could fail to see the value of taking some opportunity of entering a protest against the present state of the Registration Law. He thought the working classes especially had a real grievance in this matter, and he knew the great waste of time which they incurred, the trouble they were put to, and the disgust with which they were filled by necessary attendances at the Courts, the adjournment of their cases, and the ultimate omission from the register of people who might have lived and had an interest in the district for a very long time, constituted a great political evil. It might be that the Government were not, able to deal with this matter at once—and he, for one, should hesitate to take part in what might technically be regarded as a vote of want of confidence—but he did urge upon them that they should take the first opportunity of remedying what was at present a most abusive system and most unjust to many classes of the people. What should be the principle of dealing with the matter? The franchise was a great right which belonged to anyone who sought to maintain his political position. It ought, therefore, to be an easy duty to get upon the register, and when once a man's name was upon it, it ought to be difficult to be removed. He ventured to say the reverse was the case under their existing system. The only remedy for the present anomalous condition of things was one franchise, and a reform of the registration was an easy corollary of that. Again, the want of adequate powers of amendment on the part of the revising barrister gave rise to technicalities and injustices often of a gross character. That power ought to be extended. A wide registration measure giving a short term of residence would, in his opinion, be a Conservative measure, because the more they widened the existing household franchise, the more facilities they gave for the admission to the register; and the more obstacles they placed in the way of removals from the register, the more they made a barrier against mere manhood suffrage, which was the demand of one political party in the State. He regretted nothing more than the waste of time to political parties which was involved in the work of registration. That work ought to be done for them automatically by some responsible officer, so that instead of their energies being devoted to the drudgery of registration they might be devoted to political teaching. He hoped the Government would realise what he believed to be the firm

determination of a very large class of voters, that these iniquities should no longer remain on the Statute Book.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

believed the difficulties which had been pointed out would never be grasped by the House so long as they were treated as registration difficulties, and one reason why he could not vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend was because he was convinced the hon. Member was wrong in believing it was possible to obtain the single register of which he had spoken until the country had made up its mind to have a simple franchise. The anomalies of the present system were enormous. He was convinced that it was not worth keeping up all the extraordinary divisions in the present franchise, which ought to be replaced by a single franchise which must not be narrower than the present. He hoped the country would sooner or later come to the conclusion that it was desirable to establish a simple franchise—either manhood or universal—but until it came to that view they would never be able to get rid of the existing anomalies. He agreed with, his hon. Friend next him (Mr. McKenna), as to the simplification of the franchise being the root of the whole question. The Amendment, however, was a registration Amendment, and not believing that that simplification was possible under the present franchise conditions, he found himself unable to vote with his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset.

Question put, "That these words be there added."

The House divided:—Ayes, 59; Noes, 141.—(Division, List—No. 6—Appended).

Allen, Wm.(Newc. under Lyme) Davitt, Michael Hogan, James Francis
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Dillon, John Jameson, Major J. Eustace
Baker, Sir John Donelan, Captain A. Kilbride, Denis
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Doogan, P. C. Knox, Edmund Francis Vesey
Caldwell, James Ellis, Thos. Edw. (Merionethsh.) Lloyd-George, David
Causton, Richard Knight Farrell, James P. (Cavan, W.) Logan, John William
Channing, Francis Allston Flynn, James Christopher Macaleese, Daniel
Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.) Gibney, James M'Dermott, Patrick
Clough, Walter Owen Goddard, Daniel Ford M'Ghee, Richard
Collery, Bernard Gourley, Sir Edward Temperley M'Kenna, Reginald
Crean, Eugene Hammond, John (Carlow) M' Leod, John
Crilly, Daniel Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale- Murnaghan, George
Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal) Healy, Maurice (Cork) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Daly, James Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth) O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary)
O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal) Sheehy, David Wilson, Frederick W. (Norfolk)
O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath) Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Paulton, James Mellor Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.) Wilson, Joh. H. (Middlesbrough)
Provand, Andrew Dryburgh Tanner, Charles Kearns
Roberts, John H. Tuite, James TELLERS FOR THE AYES, Mr. Strachey and Mr. Brigg.
Roche, John (East Galway) Tully, Jasper
Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees) Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Finch, George H. McKillop, James
Arrol, Sir William Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Maxwell, Sir Herbert E.
Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis Fisher, William Hayes Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Fitz Wygram, General Sir F. Mildmay, Francis Bingham
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Flanncry, Forteseue Milward, Colonel Victor
Bailey, James (Walworth) Forwood, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur B. Mouckton, Edward Philip
Baird, John George Alexander Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Monk, Charles James
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r) Fry, Lewis Muntz, Philip A.
Balfour, Gerald William (Leeds) Galloway, William Johnson Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute)
Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin Garfit, William Myers, William Henry
Beach Rt. Hon. Sir M. H. (Bristol) Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans) Nicol, Donald Ninian
Bemrose, Henry Howe Giles, Charles Tyrrell Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Bethell, Commander Gilliat, John Saunders Pierpoint, Robert
Bhownaggree, M. M. Godson, Augustus Frederick Powell, Sir Francis Sharp.
Bigham, John Charles Goldsworthy, Major-General Pretyman, Capt. Ernest, George
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith- Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Pryce-Jones, Edward
Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn) Graham, Henry Robert Purvis, Robert
Brassey, Albert Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Richardson, Thomas
Brookfield, A. Montagu Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury) Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir Matthew W.
Butcher, John George Greene, W. Raymond-(Cambs.) Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson
Cavendish, B. F. (N. Lancs.) Hamilton, Rt. Hon Lord George Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Cecil, Lord Hugh Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm. Sidehotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Charrington, Spencer Heath, James Simeon, Sir Barrington
Coghill, Douglas Harry Holder, Augustus Smith, Abel H. (Christehurch)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Hill, Lord Arthur Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Howard, Joseph Stanley, Edw. Jas. (Somerset)
Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle Stephens, Henry Charles
Combe, Charles Harvey Hudson, George Bickersteth Stewart, Sir Shirk J. McTaggart
Compton, Lord Alwyne (Beds.) Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.) Stone, Sir John Benjamin
Cook, Fred, Lucas (Lambeth) Jebb, Richard Calverhouse Sutherland, Sir Thomas
Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe (Heref'd) Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Thorburn, Walter
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Johnston, William (Belfast) Thornton, Percy M.
Curzon, Rt. Hn. G. N. (Lanc. S W.) Johnstone, John H. (Sussex) Usborne, Thomas
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks.) Kenny, William Valentia, Viscount
Dalryraple, Sir Charles King, Sir Henry Seymour Verney, Hon. Richard Greville
Dane, Richard M. Laurie, Lieut.-General Warr, Augustus Frederick
Davenport, W. Bromley- Lawrence, Edwin (Cornwall) Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)
Dilke, Lit. Hon. Sir Charles Lawson, John Grant (Yorks) Webster, Sir R. E. (Isle of Wight)
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Lees, Elliott (Birkenhead) Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.
Donkin, Richard Sim Llewellyn, Evan H. (Somerset) Wharton, John Lloyd
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Doxford, William Theodore Long Rt. Hon Walter (L'pool) Williams, Joseph Powell-(Birm.)
Dnneonibe, Hon. Hubert V. Loyd, Archie Kirkman Willox, John Archibald
Fardell, Thomas George Lucas-Shadwell, William Wilson, J. W. (Worc'sh., N.)
Eurquhur, Sir Horace Macartney, W. G. Ellison Wyndham, George
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward Mecdona, John Clumning TELLERS FOR THE NOES, Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.
Field, Admiral (Eastbourne) McCalmont, Maj.-Gen (Anr'm N)
Fielden, Thomas McIver, Sir Lewis

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,