HC Deb 02 March 1898 vol 54 cc425-32

On the order for this Bill—

MR. H. H. MARKS (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)

said: Mr. Speaker, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

MR. F. E. V. KNOX (Londonderry City)

Sir, in rising to oppose this Bill, which is now in its second year, I am reminded of the fact that the hon. Member who has looked after it has not thought it necessary to put the House to the trouble of a division. The Bill proposed to confer suffrage on a single class of the community who are now excluded—namely, shop assistants. Apart from shop assistants, I am in favour of the suffrage, and in favour of giving it to all classes. But the Bill proposes, I understand it, to confer the vote upon anybody who is the occupier of a dwelling-house, notwithstanding that the dwelling-house he occupies is merely the apartment of a room, and notwithstanding any restrictions, conditions, or disabilities whatsoever under which he holds that occupation. Now, Sir, it surely is ridiculous to keep up the farce of household suffrage at all if the house is to be the compartment of a room. What possible claim has a man who occupies an apartment of a room over the man who sleeps in the open air? But, as a matter of fact, this Bill does not propose to make an apartment of a room a house fur all purposes; it is only proposed to make an apartment of a room a house for the purpose of the service franchise. Just think what ridiculous results there would be. In one case, a man has a shop assistant; he occupies as such an apartment of a room, he is bound to be in at 11 o'clock at night, and is subject to all sorts of restrictions. And then another man in a lodging-house pays for his apartment of a room night by night, occupies generally the same apartment throughout the year, but, in the case of a lodging-house, is not entitled to vote. Why should a man who does not pay for his apartment of a room have a vote, while the man who does pay for an apartment of a room does not? I venture to think that would be an absurd anomaly. There are many absurd anomalies in the registration laws now; to add this to the ones which already exist is surely ridiculous. I understand the Bill is solely designed to give the franchise to shop assistants; but even so far as the shop assistants are concerned, it is. I think, an invidious thing, because, as I have said, to qualify for the service franchise under this Bill, you must occupy a compartment of a room under a different roof from that occupied by your master. Now, what is the effect? There may be 100 shop assistants under one roof, and they might have the franchise, but even if the employer himself resolved to live under the same roof should the assistants not vote as he likes, they would all be disfranchised. That, I venture to say, is an absurdity, because it gives to the shopkeeper a power which no man ought to have over the votes of a large number of others. That, I think, is one of the peculiar effect of this extraordinary Bill. If the hon. Member, who is in favour of removing the household restriction to some extent in the case of shop assistants, will bring in a Bill next year, and get a day for it—or bring it in this year by common consent—giving the vote to every person who has resided in an apartment or a room, or in the open air for six months previously, then I, and, perhaps, many others in this House, will back that Bill; but if he proposes to bring in a Bill simply to enfranchise, without the present household qualification, a single class of the community who usually vote Conservative, then, I submit, this Bill is a sort of Bill which is sometimes smuggled through the legislature in some of the States of the American Union, without sufficient consideration, at the end of a Session. I venture to say that such a course of procedure is impossible in this House. It is not likely that a Bill like this, proposing to confer the vote upon a single class of the community—that is to say, shop assistants, who happen to have a master who does not insist in living under the same roof as themselves—can be regarded with favour by this House, however much it may be desired by the hon. Member opposite. Let us have fair play all round in this Bill. Let us abolish the absurd household qualification of residence. Let us state the qualification of residence—if you like residence—over a reasonable period of residence. But, as it is, I know in my own constituency the present system produces an absurd anomaly. For instance, there is a system in Londonderry by which a number of people live in the same house, but one of these people pays the rent direct to the landlord, while the others pay indirectly for the quarters which they occupy. For a long time it has been the case that the person who pays the rent directly to the landlord has the vote, until others who paid indirectly have established their claims as tenants, and proved that they have as much control of the room occupied as the person who pays the rent, and an elaborate inquiry is instistuted every year as to whether all the tenants have the full control over the staircase and over the ashpit, which are the test of the premises used for apartments. As far as the staircase is concerned, there is not much difficulty, as there is no doubt anybody can go out by any of the doors, but, as far as the ashpit is concerned, it occupies the time of the Revising Barrister for several days. Now that, I submit, is an anomaly which ought not to exist. I should like to see a provision in this Bill which says that this vote is to be given notwithstanding any restrictions, conditions, or disabilities whatever of occupation. I should like this applied to the household franchise as well as to the service franchise, but to give the benefit to a single class, and not to the whole community, is, of course, an anomaly. I daresay this Bill, if it is carried, will make the seat of the Mover absolutely secure. It would make my seat absolutely hopeless. For that reason, if for no other, though I quite understand the action of the hon. Member in proposing the Bill, he, I hope, will understand mine in opposing it.

MR. M. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)

I regret that a Measure of broader and more just lines is not introduced. I am, and always have been, and always will be, a strong advocate for giving to women the same political privileges and rights which men possess, and whether a Measure is brought into this House proposing to confer those rights on women by instalments or in full, then I welcome it as I welcome every attempt that is made in that direction.

MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

May I call the attention of the hon. Member that this Bill has nothing to do with Women's Franchise?


Oh, I beg your pardon. I am on the wrong Bill.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I did not know my hon. Friend had concluded his remarks upon this subject. I have many reasons which I might give for the rejection of this Bill. I will not trouble the House at length, but state very briefly my main objection to the proposals contained in this Measure. This Measure picks out a particular anomaly in the existing franchise, and tries to remove it, in doing which it creates a far greater anomaly than that which it tries to remove. The service franchise was a franchise introduced in order to give to shepherds, carters, and coachmen mainly, and a few people of the same class—people who came very near being included in the occupation franchise, but were debarred by being in service—a right to vote. This Bill applies to, I think, a very small portion of shop assistants, and it gives them the service franchise because they occupy, in a way which would not, under any circumstances, give them an occupation franchise. It picks out a very small section.


The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. This gives a franchise—


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman shall have an opportunity of replying.


This is a highly technical matter, and I repeat that the service franchise was intended to prevent the hardship of anyone being debarred from the privileges of the ordinary occupation franchise, because of a technicality. Now, this Measure picks out a few persons who would not have had the franchise if they were not servants, and it picks them out especially and gives them the franchise because they are servants. It is a most unfortunate and anomalous way of treating a small branch of the question of franchise, and I do protest against tampering with the franchise with these tinkering Bills. It is absurd to attempt to deal with the franchise except by a wide Measure. If the promoter of this Measure will come before the House with a sweeping Measure of reform, we will support it; but we cannot support him when he picks out a particular class and fives them a franchise which they otherwise, if they had not occupied the position which they do, would not have had. I think the time has come when the Conservative Party can afford to make a new departure. I am convinced that, if they look further into this matter, they will find they will have no interest in not trying to deal with the franchise. One of the anomalies of the present franchise is that, while it includes within it many persons in great towns, it, at the same time, disfranchises in other portions of the country, out-side great towns, persons in a similar position, and who would, if they were allowed to vote, undoubtedly adhere to the Conservative Party. The Government have nothing to lose by trying to place the franchise on a larger basis, and if, in place of the fragmentary Measures, they would bring in a Bill dealing with the franchise in a large and intelligible Measure, I should be glad to support it.

SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)

I beg, Sir, to ask the House to accept this Bill at once. This Bill was read last year a second time without a Division. It is a very important Bill, and it is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say we ought not to urge it, but, under the present law, hundreds and thousands of men are disqualified from voting because they cannot use the occupation franchise which is in force, and it is those cases which this Measure proposes to meet. I hope the House will proceed at once to read the Bill.

MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

This Bill confers quite a new power upon the employer, a power which he could exercise over these people who are proposed to be enfranchised. It will be entirely in his hands whether some of his employees are to be enfranchised or others disenfranchised. What is a compartment of a room as mentioned in this Bill? There is no definition in the Bill is to that. I suppose a large number of pupils occupying a large dormitory would constitute a compartment of a room? Would a movable screen drawn round a bed constitute a, compartment of a room? Would a line drawn on the floor constitute such a compartment? I think we ought to have this thoroughly explained, and I think we have a right to know exactly what we are voting upon before we come to a decision upon this Bill. If a small, movable screen put up in a room suffices to constitute a compartment of room it will be in the power of an employer to enfranchise all those of his servants who happen to hold the same political views as he did himself, and at the same time to disenfranchise all those who were politically opposed to him. Now that is a power we ought to be very careful of conferring upon any section of the community. I do not suppose many employers would care to take upon themselves the responsibility of deciding which of their employees should vote and which should not; but it is a dangerous power to put into the hands of anyone. Until it is clearly shown that there is no danger of employers having any such power I shall certainly vote against this Measure.

SIR R. S. REID (Dumfriesshire)

Are we not to hear from the Government any explanation of this Measure? This is a Bill which is open to the objection of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, that it will confer upon the employer a power which he ought not to possess. It is open also to the objections stated by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and many others. I think it is very remarkable. I do not think the hon. Gentleman who promotes the Bill gives any explanation at all as to its objects, and we ought to have something from the Government in the nature of an explanation before we are asked to vote upon it.


I think the object of the Bill is this. It was generally supposed that shop assistants were included in the service franchise, but the matter being taken to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal upset that view, Lord Justice Rigby, however, dissenting and taking the view that they were included. The object of this Bill is merely to give effect to the views of Lord Justice Rigby of the law.


Is that the only effect of the Bill?


As I understand, that will be the only effect.

MR. MCKENNA: (Monmouthshire)

The Service Franchise Bill now proposed—


I move that the Question be now put.


The original Franchise Bill excludes men of this class.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, South)

I move that the Question be now put.


was still speaking at 5.30, when, by the rules of the House, the Debate stood adjourned.