§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."
MR. FORSTERSovenoaks) (Kent,
The terms of the Amendment I have placed on the Paper make clear the grounds on which we on the Opposition side of the House mean to do what we can to refuse a Second Reading to the Bill now before the House. We object to the Bill not so much on account of the merits or demerits which its provisions may contain. We object to it on higher grounds; on grounds of principle. We have heard much during the last few years, both inside and outside the House, of the imperfections and anomalies of our registration and electoral system. Some hon. Members lay stress on one point; others lay stress on another point; but there seems to be a general consensus of opinion that the time has almost, if not quite, arrived when we must submit the whole of our electoral system, if possible, to amendment. The question that arises on this occasion, it seems to me, is the question whether 209 or not we are to proceed with this matter piecemeal, or to deal with it by some wide and comprehensive measure. The Amendment which I now beg to move embodies the opinions which have been consistently held and consistently expressed by those who sit on these benches; viz., that the whole matter of our electoral system is so closely interwoven—one point is so closely connected with another—that it is impossible to take out one point and deal with it by itself. You must deal with the system as a whole. The Bill deals with one so-called anomaly; one flaw in the distribution of electoral power, but leaves out of account other flaws and other anomalies which are of equal importance, and some which are of far greater importance than the one selected. We oppose this Bill because it is founded on the assumption that undue weight is given to nonresident or property voters. The argument on which the Bill is founded seems to be that it is unfair that a voter who is qualified by the accident that he is the owner of property in more than one constituency should be allowed to exercise more than one vote. It is said that one individual should not have more electoral power than his neighbour owing to the accidental distribution of property. That argument implies an imperfect appreciation of the principle on which our electoral system is based. Hon. Members who use that argument treat the matter as one relating to the individual. I think it is generally recognised and known that the whole of our electoral system is based not so much on the representation of individuals as on the representation of localities. Individuals exercise the franchise, but they do not exercise the franchise because of their being individuals; they get and exercise the vote because they have a property qualification within a given locality. The qualification on which they have to give a vote is based in every case on property. A man does not give a vote because he is a man. If he did we should have the system which finds favour among hon. Members on the Ministerial and Labour Benches, viz., manhood suffrage. What are the qualifications of a voter? He is either an owner of freehold property of a minimum value; or he is a lease-holder; or he is an occupier. He does not get his vote 210 as an individual or because he is a man. The latter gets his vote in respect of the property he occupies. Property is, consequently, the essence of every vote given in this country. If, therefore, I am right, there is neither sense nor logic in the contention that a man should not vote in one constituency in which he is properly and duly qualified merely I because he can vote in another constituency in which he is also properly and duly qualified. If I vote in constituency A no injustice is caused to other voters in that constituency merely because I am also qualified to vote in constituency X. It seems to me that the electoral power in every constituency, taken by itself, is of equal value. If our system is, as I believe it to be, a system of representation of localities, there is no suspicion of injustice to the other voters if in each locality the voter qualified to vote exercises that vote. The position of the plural or outvoter, if I may use the general nomenclature, is no new and unwholesome growth upon our electoral system. It has been clearly recognised for many years past. I know that mention is made of certain constituencies where plural voters exist in very large numbers, and it is represented that a distinct hardship is suffered by the resident voters. Mention has been made of the constituency of Wimbledon, where there are 4,000 plural voters who, so it is said, swamped the opinion of the resident voters. But I would remind the House that that was done deliberately when the last Reform Bill was passed in 1884. It was recognised at that time that those plural voters had a distinct right to record their vote, to which they were entitled, and that it would be an intolerable hardship if they were prevented from so exercising their vote. The boundaries of the constituency were consequently so adjusted that those plural voters should exercise their votes without injustice to themselves or others. The purpose of this Bill is, however, entirely to alter the arrangement of the Bill of 1884. You intend to establish a mere numerical representation instead of a local representation as at present. If the view of the Government is to prevail, and if it is to be laid down that every voter should have the same fraction of electoral power, that opens a far larger question than that with which this Bill proposes to deal.
211 The First Commissioner of Works, in introducing the Bill, said that the Bill did not propose and made no effort to establish a system of one vote, one value; but that what it did establish was one man, one value. But if one man is as good as another, surely one vote should have the same value as another. If that contention is to prevail, surely we should have to alter the existing boundaries of the constituencies, and a large measure of redistribution would have to be brought in. There can be no real equality of voting power until that is done. I do not want to weary the House by giving illustrations of existing anomalies, but I shall give one or two instances of the unfair way in which electoral power is at present distributed. I take three of the largest constituencies in the country and compare them with the three smallest. Romford has 45,000 electors and Kilkenny 1,533; and I ask whether the electors of Kilkenny have not greater electoral power than the electors of Romford. Walthamstow has over 35,000 electors and Newry under 2,000. Wandsworth has upwards of 31,000 electors and Galway an electorate of just over 2,000. I do not think any hon. Member can seriously contend that in these instances there is an equal or equitable distribution of electoral power. As long as you have anomalies such as these you cannot have equal electoral power, and no tinkering Bill of this sort can give it. I understand that the voter will have to make a selection before the proper authorities as to the constituency in which he proposes to vote during the coming year. But supposing he does not do that? Supposing for some reason or other, from forgetfulness or from being abroad, he forgets to send this intimation to the authorities. Then I suppose he is to be disfranchised. Is that a fair way of dealing with the question? It is, moreover, made an offence if, after a voter has sent in his first notice to the effect that he proposes in the ensuing year to vote in a particular constituency, in a moment of forgetfulness four or five years later, he alters the constituency in which he means to vote, and while sending a notice to the new constituency he has selected, he omits to withdraw the notice of intention which he had previously given. Then, again, who is to know if lie has withdrawn his notice in regard to a particular constituency? Is 212 there any machinery provided in the Bill by which you can readily and easily ascertain where the voter is qualified to vote? Suppose a man is qualified to vote in Northumberland and also in Essex, and he notifies that he is going to vote in the latter county, have you any machinery for finding out whether he has withdrawn that notice. It seems to me that there is a loophole there which will give people who do not want to act in a boná fide manner an opportunity of exercising more than one vote. It appears to me that there will be great difficulty in finding out those voters who have two qualifications, especially if they live half of the year in one place and half of the year in another. If a man goes on the register as an occupier of a house in the locality in which he lives, you have no means of knowing whether or not that voter is qualified for one or two or even half a dozen constituencies in the country, and so far as I can ascertain the only means by which you can find out whether or not the voter is qualified in other constituencies is by means of the complicated and additional question which you purpose that the presiding officer should put to him in the polling booth. If that additional question is to be asked of every single voter on the occupation list I think the task will prove to be a very difficult one. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been in a polling booth during the hour immediately preceding the closing of the poll. If he has and has seen the rush at the moment I wonder what value he thinks these additional questions will prove to be, and whether he realises how much longer it will take for each voter to record his vote if this long and complicated question is to be addressed to him. It seems to me that this Bill will bring into existence a large body of unstable voters who will be here to-day and gone to-morrow. An hon. Member said something about gerrymandering the constituencies, and, while I accept the hon. Gentleman's disclaimer as to his intention on that point, I must point out that under the provisions of this Bill you will do a great deal more to increase rather than to diminish the chances of gerrymandering. You will have voters being requested and urged, and, so far as the Party and political agents are concerned, almost compelled to register their votes in one constituency or another 213 according to the exigencies of the different Parties. You will have a possibility, at any rate, of voters taking a strong and active part in securing their votes at by-elections in one place, while at a general election they will vote elsewhere. It seems to me that it will be necessary for the political equipment of a Party agent that he should be also almost an expert in the business of life insurance. Hitherto Party agents have kept their finger upon the pulse of the constituency and their eye upon the Member, but in future they will have to keep their eye upon the constituency and their finger upon the pulse of their Member, and the moment they see any danger of that failing, and the possibility of an election in a year or two, they will have to induce every plural elector to get himself registered in the constituency in which the contest is expected. Moreover, my hon. friend the Patronage.Secretary will have a good deal of added power thrown upon his hands by this Bill. At certain times of the year certain lists of honours are published which cause both satisfaction and dissatisfaction to hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the Patronage Secretary. These are looked forward to with pleasurable anticipation. My hon. friend the Patronage Secretary has unexampled opportunities of acquiring an intimate knowledge of the many virtues and undoubted qualifications of those Gentlemen who sit behind him, because he is able to obtain his knowledge at first hand. With the knowledge which he possesses he would be more than human if he did not make use of the power which is given to him. He would be able to breathe a word of warning to the local agents in those constituencies which were likely to be affected, and the agents would be more than human if they did not take advantage of the warnings which they received. I believe that if this Bill is passed it will lead to ceaseless intrigue and great instability. My view is that the Bill which the Government whose boast it is that they were returned by the workers and not by owners of property, have introduced is in reality a Party measure which is designed to give them even greater influence than they possess at the present moment. My suspicion is confirmed by a speech which 214 was made some years ago by my hon. friend to whom I have just alluded, the Patronage Secretary. It was delivered in his unregenerate days in 1894, and, speaking of a Bill which would have had the effect of abolishing plural voting, he said it seemed to be not a Registration Bill but an attempt to dish the Unionist Party. It seemed to him that it was a cardinal principle of the Gladstonian Liberal Party that they and they alone were fit and proper occupants of the Treasury Bench, and that if the constituencies did not agree with them so much the worse for the constituencies, and they would have to be altered. Further, my hon. friend said that he believed that if the Gladstonian Party had not thought in their inmost hearts that the Bill if carried into law would be of service to them very little would be heard of one man one vote.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. GEORGE WHITELEY, Yorkshire, W.R., Pudsey)
I will reply as the hon. Member for Manchester did. He stated that he did a great many silly things when he was a member of the Conservative Party, and that he left the Party in order that he might cease from doing them. That is my case.
§ MR. FORSTER
My confidence in the hon. Gentleman is rudely shaken by the confession he has just made. I think all the arguments that may be adduced in support of this Bill might or might not be good if they were used in support of a proposal for manhood suffrage, but they are without force and without value when used in support of this paltry and Party coloured measure. In my opinion the Bill is illogical in its conception, fantastic in its methods and proposals, and unfair in its incidence. If you are going to deal with this matter at all you ought to deal with it in a wide and comprehensive manner, and if you insist that every man shall have but one vote you are bound in logic and in equity to see that every one shall have an equal value. I beg to move.
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, and add the words 'this
House declines to consider a change in the franchise unaccompanied by a scheme to remove the serious anomalies now existing in the distribution of electoral power.' "—(Mr. H. W. Forster.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
The hon. Member who has just moved the rejection of this Bill has divided his speech into two different parts, of which one alone is mentioned in his Amendment. The first half of the speech of the hon. Gentleman supported the Amendment; the second half dealt with the difficulties of the system which the Bill sets up. I am entirely opposed to the views expressed in the first half of his speech, and we shall have to deal with the second part in Committee, although I propose to-day to make some reference to the complexity of this subject. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's speech put forward the view of the Party to which he belongs. He dealt with this Bill as one which makes a change in the franchise. The whole complexity in this form of Bill, which differs entirely from the proposals on the subject of the previous Liberal Administration, is caused by the fact that it does not deprive any voter of the Parliamentary franchise. It is to that that the complexity of the Bill is due. The Bill, in the opinion of many of us, is far too tender to the Party opposite who support the present condition of things—but before I come to that I should like to deal with some of the general arguments adduced by the hon. Member for its rejection. At the end of the first part of his speech the hon. Member asked whether he had made the Conservative view of the question clear to the House. He said he hoped he had made it clear to the House. He put only too clearly to the House, with a clearness absolutely crude, the intense desire that actuates every person who has any sort of property qualification to vote for each such qualification. That is an argument in favour of plural voting on every qualification in any district. The hon. Member asked us whether we thought an undue weight was given to the owners, and when he repeated the statement 216 at a later stage he asked a slightly different question. He asked us whether we thought undue weight was given to property and he mentioned the great properties held by the great families of England. We do think an undue weight is given to the owner not only under the system which this Bill seeks to alter, but also in all the extraordinary advantages that are given to him in the registration system. But with regard to property, the class of person who comes within this Bill is not so much the great owner of property as the small city man; the man who has the ordinary city qualification of occupation and who at the same time enjoys the privilege of voting all over the country in respect of small investments in land, cottage property and the like. The hon. Gentleman says, and says rightly, that the whole of our electoral system rests on the basis of property, and that the franchise is regarded as a local rather than as a national right. When it suits hon. Gentlemen opposite they do not take that view. When the decision of the country upon a particular point is in question they instantly add up the figures and count every voter as if he were a different person. You never hear anything of the plural voter when it is a question of a South African War. Technically, as the hon. Gentleman says, the franchise in this country is local, and the fact of its being local has led to an enormous amount of plural voting. The changing of counties into single-Member districts has vastly added to plural voting in its most abusive form. In some of those counties where the division was made much smaller than before we have the greatest amount of plural voting. The division is entirely technical. The hon. Member speaks of it as a county vote, as if a Surrey man desired to have a Surrey vote. I can quite understand the hon. Gentleman's view because he is a cricketer, and the old counties exist only for cricket. For all other purposes except for cricket the old counties have disappeared. These divisions are absolutely technical. Take, for example, the illustration he gave of Wimbledon. He took Wimbledon as a strong case, but who are the ownership voters in Wimbledon? Who are these 5,000 who exercise this ownership qualification? The 217 fact is they are the whole of the 80-called Surrey voters who are within the county of London. They are not in the county of Surrey at all except for the Parliamentary vote. But these London freeholders are all put into the Wimbledon Division because they must be put somewhere. They have not even to go to Wimbledon to vote, and those of us who have London occupation—who live in London houses —and have London freeholds, however small they may be, are put artificially in Surrey or Middlesex or Kent and go to vote in the same parish in which we are living when we hold the vote for other property. What becomes of the beautiful local theory? The whole thing is technical, and if we left the system alone in the Bill of 1885 which was an agreed measure of the two Parties it was in the belief that it was impossible to treat, the matter in any other way under the circumstances of that moment. I proceed to deal with the definite allegations in this Motion. To the extent of the alleged change of the franchise I do not admit it; and whether it involves a redistribution of seats we shall see in the illustrations to which I shall allude. I agree that this Bill is somewhat complicated. It is a most ingenious Bill—as ingenious in its drawing as was the speech of my right hon. friend upon the First Reading, upon which I trust he will accept the belated compliment of one who has known him almost all his life. The admirable speech on the First Reading and the drawing of the Bill are complex because of the tenderness shown towards the existing system. The Bill does not change the franchise; it docs not take the vote from a single Parliamentary voter who now has a vote; and it does not give a vote to anyone who does not vote at the present time. It makes no change in the franchise. It prevents a person voting in more than one place and that is all. As to the words of the Resolution alleging a change in the franchise such as involves a redistribution of seats; if the effect of this Bill were to increase the disparity of which the hon. Member was speaking I should imagine that there was some strength in his contention, but the effect is the exact opposite. The effect of this Bill is largely to reduce those 218 disparities, and to take a step towards one vote, one value. The reason of that is obvious. These votes are most numerous in a suburban constituency into which they are put artificially, and in those cases, such as Wimbledon, Ealing, and Pudsey, the constituencies are much above the normal electorate of those adjoining them. The effect of taking off all these votes would be to bring those constituencies to a more reasonable value and more akin to those which they adjoin. The Bill also tends in the same direction in regard to England as compared with Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. There are far fewer of these votes in Scotland and Wales than in England, and there are virtually none at all in Ireland. Therefore the reduction is a reduction in the English numbers of the Parliamentary electorate, which are at the present moment unduly swollen by these plural votes. I do not know whether the House will think it necessary that I should prove what I said just now, that the Bill tends in the direction of one vote, one value. It is easily proved by figures, and I know that the House is easily bored by figures, but I can take two or three localities, where there are the largest number of such votes, which are personally known to myself. In Gloucestershire the effect of taking off this great number of votes from Gloucester and Cheltenham would be to reduce the Northern or Tewkesbury Division to the same level as the Stroud Division, the Cirencester Division, and the Forest of Dean Division, which adjoin it. Take the Stretford Division of Lancashire. If the ownership votes were taken out of the Stretford Division it would greatly improve the condition of South-East Lancashire as regards the distribution of seats. The Stretford Division has over 23,000 electors, the Heywood Division 10,000, and the others lie between those two. Take out the whole of those ownership votes, and the divisions in South East Lancashire would be more akin to each other than they are now. So with the county of Leicester, and so, without exception, the county of Lincoln. The same, too, is the case as regards Middlesex. It would bring Ealing to the same rank as the adjoining divisions of Brentford and Uxbridge. I have found only one slight exception going 219 through the whole of the counties, and that one so slight that it can be hardly said to break the rule. Therefore on the whole it cannot be said that this Bill either changes the franchise in the sense of giving it or taking it away, nor is it a Bill which touches the redistribution of seats except that it makes the anomalies less great than they have been up to the present. I think that that part of the case strikes at the root of the Resolution which the hon. Member for Sevenoaks has made. The terms of i the Resolution are incorrect because it makes the statement that there is a change in the franchise by this Bill, and that it necessitates a redistribution of seats. The hon. Gentleman attacked the machinery of the Bill. I admit to the full that the machinery of the Bill is complicated and that its working will be costly, but the whole of the complication and cost are caused by a tenderness for existing interests. If we adopted a single and simple franchise instead of the seventeen different franchises as at present, it would do away with all this complexity and reduce the cost. With regard to the machinery in this Bill, let me try to make my exact position clear. It is a very technical and difficult matter. There is a pernicious practice, of which I believe I was the unfortunate inventor, known as the practice of starring, the different systems of which finally became so complicated that a change was made by Order in Council. Now there are these extraordinary complications, and this Bill has to find its way through the mess and tangle because we will not disfranchise a single man. There are, of course, the most obvious difficulties in its course. Those difficulties caused the present Secretary of State for India and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in their Bills to take a much simpler course, but one open to objection on another ground. In this Bill the most scientific machinery has been set up for getting round those difficulties. There are the voters with unknown qualifications in other parts of the country. Many of those qualifications are illegal. I possessed a vote in a Metropolitan Division for a long time through a trusteeship, and I did not become aware of the fact until I received 220 a polling card in connection with a by-election. I was without knowing it a voter in South Hampshire up to 1885 in respect of a qualification I never owned, which my father never owned, but which I believe my great-grandfather owned. The whole position of the ownership voter is anomalous in the extreme. The ownership voter never dies. There is really no revision of this-list, even in the constituencies where the greatest trouble is taken to revise them. There are numerous people who remain on until the names become those of their sons. The father dies, the son succeeds, and the Christian name is altered to correspond with the facts. The revision of the ownership lists is scandalous, and no change of the system of revision will do, because the votes are not local votes. I have said that many of these votes are illegal. A late Member of this House had thirty-seven borough votes, although he was not, I believe, entitled to more than two. Admitting all this difficulty and that the whole of the difficulty is due to the absence of a single and simple franchise, is there any way that the difficulty can be met? I fear that if the House insists on not changing the franchise at all in this Bill it is most difficult to improve the machinery. If the House were prepared to go so far as to cause the voter to remain on the list, qualified for the place where he resides—that is to say not for his property but for the constituency in which he resides—the difficulties would be greatly lessened, the Bill would be much shortened, and the inquiries much less; but I admit there might be disfranchisement in that case. The Bill uses the words, "the constituency which he has selected." The House must make up its mind that there will be no real selection in the great majority of these cases. The selection will not be the voter's own, but it will be a selection made for him, and there is an enormous possibility that fraudulent selections will be made—such frauds, for instance, as accompany the making of lodger claims, and the declaration given by owners that they desire to vote at a particular polling station for which they nave no local qualification. If we take residence and say that the man should vote in the constituency where he resides we should considerably simplify 221 this Bill, but we should disfranchise a few people—the gentleman, for instance, who has a University vote and lives with his parents in London. A few people of the great landlord class also might be disfranchised, but are you going out of exceeding tenderness for these classes to continue to confine elections to rich men only, by reason of the enormous cost? Radicals must take the Bill as a text for the necessity of a simple and extended franchise. Because the House will not accept a national suffrage like that adopted in Australia we are driven to accept the complicated machinery of the present Bill. Personally, I cannot but urge on the Minister in charge of the Bill to take his courage in both hands, and try whether he cannot alter the Bill in Committee into a simpler measure.
§ MR. LANE-FOX (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)
I do not wish further to allude to the speech made by the hon. Member for Pudsey in his unregenerate days beyond stating that in the speech already quoted he said "that this was entirely a great disfranchising measure." He has told us that his reason is that he has joined another Party and he has ceased saying foolish things. I hope that will be the result in regard to many other hon. Members who have joined the Party opposite. There are numberless cases in Yorkshire where men have two distinct interests. There is the business man in the town, who lives in the country, and who takes a prominent part in the affairs of the country. Surely he is entitled, as belonging to some great business firm in the town, to have that business represented. He may be a very good man in his own place in the country, a good agriculturist, and a large employer of labour, and surely he is entitled to have a voice in the representation of the district in which he lives in the country. I do not contend that there are not anomalies that would be better done away with, but I say that this Bill only sweeps away the lesser anomalies and allows greater ones to stand. We have reason for believing that this is being proposed with a distinct Party object, and that an advantage is expected to accrue to the Party opposite from the passing of this Bill. We have been told that this is not a change of franchise. If this Bill does 222 not propose a change of franchise why is it brought in? Clearly its object is to effect a change in the franchise in the interests of the Party opposite. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean stated that the suburban districts contained the very worst cases of inequalities under the present system which ought to be dealt with. I can give a case of inequality which is not in a suburban district at all. As a case of anomaly I may mention that of my own constituency of Barkston Ash, where there are over 10,000 voters, while near it there are two small boroughs, with 3,000 voters, with the same electoral power. I think also there is a strong argument against the Bill in the tactics it will introduce into electioneering. Every Member knows how heavy a burden registration., work already is on those who attempt to obtain seats in this House, and I think it will be a great, mistake to do anything to make it more difficult for a poor man to enter Parliament. There is no doubt that the Bill will make the tactics of a clever election agent more effective and more valuable than at present. Under it constituencies may be carefully prepared, and one constituency placed at a disadvantage as compared with another, and one Party as compared with another. Hon. Members opposite are pledged in principle to Home Rule for Ireland, and Home Rule for Wales; may I put in a plea for Home Rule for Yorkshire, which is certainly as intelligent as Ireland or Wales? If this were carried out there might be a case for the Bill, but until this is done think there should be, as at present, full representation of localities. I hope, in the interests of his own Parliamentary career, the right hon. Gentleman will withrdaw the Bill and bring in a larger and more statesmanlike measure, which will not be open to the reproach of having been conceived in the interests of one Party.
§ MR. MORRELL (Oxfordshire, Henley)
May I, on this occasion, claim the indulgence of the House and the kindness which is always extended to a new Member? The Party opposite know that they have no case against this Bill. They do not say that plural voting is a good thing, or that the abolition of it is a bad thing; they only say that they 223 decline to consider this proposal unless it is accompanied by some other change, by which they mean an alteration in the system of the distribution of seats, which simply amounts to this: that the passion of the Opposition for reform is so great that they cannot take a simple reform by instalments. They ask for two loaves or no bread, for two reforms together or no reform at all. It might be interesting to know how far they are prepared to carry that argument. If this Bill is carried, and assuming that the Government next year introduced a large scheme of redistribution, would our hon. friends opposite then tell us that they would not support redistribution unless it was accompanied by a measure for manhood suffrage, and then if manhood suffrage was introduced, would they say that they were unable to consider that unless it was accompanied by a reform of the power of the House of Lords? What I want to know is whether there is any necessary connection between the question of redistribution and the question of the abolition of plural voting. At any rate I do not think that last July hon. Gentlemen opposite considered that there was any such necessary connection as they now claim. When we had those interesting exercises in political mathematics we did not hear much of the necessity of abolishing plural votes. Everybody knows that some men never see a key without thinking of a prison. There are some gentleman who cannot hear a bell without thinking of dinner. In the same way I think it may be said that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whenever they hear the very necessary cry "One man, one vote," respond to it by the cry "One vote, one value." They seem to think that there must be some connection in nature between these two reforms. I do not think we are going to be deceived by such a juggling with words. The fact that one locality is better represented than another is no reason why one man should have ten votes while another man has only one. Plural voting is a class privilege. That is the real reason why the Liberal Government object to it. It is enjoyed by the rich at the expense of the poor. No working man had ever more than one vote. He thinks himself fortunate if 224 he can be sure of one. Hon. Members opposite say that this is a Party measure, and that it is proposed for motives of Party advantage. If that is so, I suppose hon. Members opposite will agree with me that those who are opposing it may be subject to the same weakness. According to their doctrine if you oppose a necessary reform it is a virtuous and laudable action, but if you try to bring forward a reform which may he of some advantage to your Party, then it is a heinous sin. If a rich man wants to have his property represented, as he is perfectly entitled to do, he has the town council and the county council representation. If he has property in more than one area he has votes in the different areas. This House ought to be a national assembly. The nation consists of men and women; it does not consist of houses and landed estates. I admit that I am a gross offender in this matter. I think I am represented by something like five gentlemen on the other side of the House. The two right hon. Members for Oxford University, the noble Lord the Member for the city of Oxford, the hon. Member for Westminster, and the hon. Member for the Holborn division of London, are I believe, all my representatives in this House at the present time. It is a consolation to me, if I propose to sever ray connection with all these Gentlemen, that there will not be much love lost between us. I think I may say that they would as cheerfully disclaim me as a constituent as I am willing to renounce them as my representatives. I should like to state one more personal reason why I believe this measure to be necessary. In my own constituency of South Oxfordshire we have in all only 500 out-voters, or one in eighteen of the total electorate. Hon. Members are aware that that is a very small proportion as compared with what may be found in many constituencies. Although so small, I believe it is.perfectly true that on two occasions these 500 voters have been quite enough to turn the scale at elections. Except for this anomaly of plural voting, not only in 1895 but in 1900, the hon. Gentleman who is now Member for the Cleveland Division, and who holds the office of Under-Secretary 225 for the Home Department, would have been Member for South Oxfordshire. I am sure my constituents must sometimes feel in their hearts that they have been cheated of their Under-Secretary. He was their first love, and I am at the best a second attachment. I am aware that I cannot change places with the hon. Gentleman, but at any rate I can do my best, and I intend to do it by supporting this Bill, to see that no such calamity occurs again.
§ MAJOR ANSTRUTHER-GRAY (St. Andrews Burghs)
I regard this Bill as an attempt to deprive certain citizens of this great nation of their just political rights. From time immemorial the Parliamentary franchise has been based on possession or occupancy. I cannot see the fairness of taking away votes from the landowner because he has land in two or more constituencies. If you take, for instance, the proprietor of a property in the north of Scotland who succeeds to property in the south of England, I cannot see why he should be deprived of a vote for one of these places. I quite agree that if there is any grave scandal arising out of men buying small holdings with the object of getting votes, that ought to be stopped by the introduction of a Bill to amend the law. It is not proposed to deprive individuals of their votes for parish councils, district councils, county councils, and school boards, and I cannot see why, unless for a small party advantage, it is considered necessary to deprive proprietors of their plural votes. I shall therefore oppose the Bill.
§ MR. GULLAND (Dumfries Burghs)
After listening to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am forced to ask why it is that when you try to do some good thing someone always asks why you do not do something else? This is a very good Bill to abolish plural voting, but right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite want to know why we do not go in for a scheme of redistribution and the extension of the franchise to women. Personally I should be in favour of a very much stronger franchise Bill than this. We should have a shorter period of qualification, the lodger franchise should be extended, and 226 other reforms should be introduced so that we might have not only one man one vote, but every man a vote. I am sure that our system will not be on proper lines until these reforms are brought about. The line on which this I Bill proceeds is already in force in some cases. For instance, I may take my own case. I happen to have in the city of Edinburgh a qualification in three different divisions, but I am not allowed to vote in each. I must make my choice of the one in which I will vote. In the division in which I vote I am misrepresented in the most graceful way by the hon. Member for West Edinburgh. On the other hand, I have a friend in Edinburgh who has qualifications in three parts of the municipal area of the city and he has three votes. He has one vote in Edinburgh, one in the Leith burghs, and one in Midlothian. There is a small anomaly near my own door which will be cured by this Bill. I will have one vote, and my friend will have one vote. The right hon. Gentleman kindly allows is to choose which vote we shall have. Personally I should have preferred that he had made the votes according to residence, but I know how difficult it is to put salt on the tail of voters who have several residences, and to say where the real residence is. The vote at present is given too much, as I think, on the ground of property. As a matter of fact, there is a tremendous difference between the franchise for local bodies, such as town councils, parish councils, or county councils and for Parliament. The local bodies impose rates on property, whereas the Imperial Parliament does not. The taxes imposed by the Imperial Parliament are for different matters altogether. That is a reason why something on this line should be carried out. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has proceeded in the way he has done. He has taken the line of least resistance. I do not mean resistance by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, because they would resist very strongly whatever line was taken. I mean the least resistance in regard to the existing law. He has adopted the system which will be most easily worked. There are one or two points in regard to Scotland which I should like to mention. There we have in every county 227 constituency a large number of out-voters. Some of them are, under the present system, quite justifiably entitled to vote in the particular constituency. We have what is called in Scotland faggot votes. That is a qualification manufactured for out-voters. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said that the representation of this country was based in accordance with locality. That is exactly what it is not. According to the present system, what we object to is that these plural voters swamp the opinion of the locality. I remember a case which came before a registration court at which I was present. A young man claimed to be put on the list of voters, and he was asked on what qualification? He replied as a lodger; and produced a document signed by his mother to the effect, "Received from my son the sum of £10 for the purpose of giving him a Parliamentary vote." I could give the House other cases where votes have been deliberately manufactured for the purpose of swelling the chorus which drowns the voice of the local residents. Take Peebleshire: It is notorious that so unpopular has been this' faggot vote system that special police protection had to be provided to guard these undesirable aliens during their temporary residence in the county for the special purpose of voting. My hon. friend the present Member for Peebleshire has managed to overcome the thraldom of the non-resident faggot voters. The right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, said that the Scotch system of registration was better than that of England, inasmuch as the new register came into force on November 1st, as soon as it was ready, instead of being delayed till January 1st, as is the case in England. In regard to the special provisions for Scotland, I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might make a slight alteration in the clause by which an extra star has to be put between November 1st and January; 1st. I do not think that any hardship would be done if the right hon. Gentleman made the alteration that the; time for making the selection was during the currency of the register. Generally; speaking, I think the House may congratulate itself that it has got before it a valuable measure, though not compre- 228 hensive or covering all the injustices and iniquities. That will come all in good time. We all hope that the present Government will not go out of office until they have extended a larger measure of the franchise than that which we at present enjoy. But this Bill brings us a stage nearer a true representative system.
§ MR. WALLACE (Perth)
If at present the representation of this country were based on the number of electors in particular districts there would be great force in the Amendment, because if the number of electors in different districts was to be altered we should have to alter the boundaries of those electoral districts. But that is not the basis of representation in this country. We have never considered the number of electors to be found in a particular district. Population is the basis of representation. If this Amendment were approved of, a Commission would have to be appointed to revise our representation, and the effect on our boundaries would be absolutely nothing. Therefore I say frankly that this Amendment is purely dilatory, and not intended to create a change except by resistance to the measure itself. Some hon. Members seem to consider that representation is based on property, and that property is specially recognised in this respect. As a matter of fact, anyone acquainted with the present representation must be aware that those who own the most property have the least representation. A man may own half a county, and have property in different divisions of a county, but he gets only one vote. On the other hand, a man may own in each of thirty counties only a quarter of an acre, which has been acquired for the specific purpose of getting a vote in each of those counties. A man may be a land jobber, or a house broker, or a fag-goteer, and by that means may acquire thirty or forty votes in different constituencies, while a man who owns 100,000 acres in one county has but one vote. The opposition to this Bill is really not meant for the protection of property owners at all. Many years ago it was my lot to act as revising barrister in one of the divisions of Middlesex and in London, and I there saw the differences which 229 arise in connection with the claim for votes. In London there are a large number of shopkeepers who have a great variety of small shops throughout the Metropolis. If they own shops in the different London boroughs they get a vote in every one of those boroughs. I myself have put such men on the register, giving them ten, twelve, fifteen, or even twenty votes, not because they were great property owners, but because they occupied small shops in different constituencies. If a man owned a shop in each of the seven divisions of Tower Hamlets he would get only one vote, but if he owned a shop in Tower Hamlets, one in Hackney, and another one in Marylebone, he would get a vote in each of them. Where is there any proportion in regard to such representation as that? There are divisions in London divided by a road. An owner of shops on one side of the road might have only one vote, and if he owned shops on the other side of the road he might get fifty votes. The anomalies of the present system cannot be defended. It is not a question of property. I could understand it if our friends were prepared to stand boldly for the doctrine that the value of a vote depended on the monetary or land worth of the man. I can understand a system that if a man owns a large amount of property he should have votes according to the value of that property. That is an intelligent system, although nobody would suggest for a moment in these days that it should be adopted. Now, as all are agreed that we must have a measure of this kind—[OPPOSITION Cries of dissent]— Yes, I say that not a single Member of the House has addressed us to-day who has attempted to attack the general principle underlying this Bill. I can understand a man saying that property has its rights and privileges; but then this Bill does not affect these. It deals only with the ridiculous anomalies which are degrading our electoral system at the present time. I regret that my right hon. friend has not seen his way to go a little further. I realise one of the difficulties that will come up in regard to this measure. It must enormously increase the cost of preparing the electoral lists. It will undoubtedly 230 throw a very heavy additional burden upon hon. Members in connection with the revision of the lists. I believe that the ultimate end will be, which many of us will regret, that these votes will be claimed by the agents on behalf of particular electors rather than by the electors themselves. A man will not consider the variety of places in which he holds a qualification; but if he is a I strong Party man—I do not care whether he is a strong Conservative or Liberal— he will desire that his vote shall be so placed as to yield its greatest Party utility. That is Party loyalty; but the result will be that the political agents; throughout the country will have to meet and calculate how they will readjust these votes. There is no doubt that the cost will be very great, and that the work will be heavy and difficult. But I recognise that notwithstanding all that, it will be much better than the existing system. The true remedy is: let us not disqualify any individual, but let us insist that whatever qualification a man has, the place in which he shall exercise his; qualification shall be that in which he resides. I have heard in these debates about the feeling of locality; that a man should be allowed to vote in the district in which he is most interested. I consider that the district in which a man resides is that in which he has the strongest interest and that therefore he should be a voter there. I regret that I have taken up the time; of the House for so long, but this is a subject which I have studied and have a great deal of experience of, and I urge my right hon. friend to consider the questions which I have brought forward. I believe this Bill can be improved, but I would rather have it as it is than not at all.
§ MR. ARNOLD FORSTER (Croydon)
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken that the result of this Bill, should it become law, will be enormously to increase the complications and expense of elections, and I entirely agree with him that our electoral law is entirely unsatisfactory and anomalous in many respects. I do not, however, draw the same conclusions from these premises as does the hon. Member. It is 231 a curious fact that the zeal of hon. Members opposite for the rectification and purification of our electoral law has been displayed in one direction and one direction alone. I wish to test this desire for electoral purity and electoral equality, and I want to ask whether the end in view will be attained by the course which is being taken. I must confess that this Bill seems to me to savour much more of what I may call a Tammany Hall device than of a measure calculated to redeem our present system from anomalies. What I mean by that is, that if it had been the desire of hon. Members opposite to promote a Bill which had for its object wholely and solely a Party advantage, then they would have drawn it almost line for line in the same way as the Bill which is now before the House. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] I think I can show that, but I would point out that in taking these steps hon. Members have not the merit of following even their own principles in dealing with this Bill. It may be that it would be a very logical thing to abolish these plural qualifications, but that is not the proposal which we are discussing. Hon. Gentlemen are not proposing to do anything of the kind. They are seeking to limit those qualifications by bestowing a right of choice upon those possessing them. But why should that right of choice be forced upon them? We are told that this is not a disfranchising Bill. But if a man has five shillings in his pocket and you take away four shillings, that, of course, may not be robbery but it certainly means that you deprive him of a certain amount of his property, and similarly if a man has five votes and you take away four, the measure which does that must be a disfranchising measure. I repeat that if hon. Members had desired to pass a Bill solely for the purpose of benefiting their own Party and their own interests they would have drawn this Bill in its present form. We are told that the Bill will be inoperative in Ireland and Scotland, and I do not think that it will be operative in Wales. It will therefore apply almost entirely to England, and to which parts of England will it apply? We have had three classes of constituencies mentioned. In the first place we have had the City of 232 London, which is represented by my right hon. friend who is sitting beside me, and who leads the Opposition in this House. Then we have had mentioned the Wimbledon Division, the Member for which belongs to this Party. Next the University constituencies will be affected, and those also, every one of them, are represented by Members of this Party. It is no doubt an accident, but it is a very remarkable accident that the direct effect of this Bill will be to remove an electoral anomaly which will touch England in the first place, the Unionist Party in the second place, and many of the most distinguished members of that Party in the third place. I think it was Dr. Johnson who said that a man might shoot at him and say that he intended to miss him, but the Judge would order him to be hanged all the same. Therefore when I see these tendencies I distrust this Bill. Can it really be merely an accident that the Party opposite are unable to do all they desire in the direction of reform at once? It is all very fine to say that we must take what we can get by instalments, but if an authority comes into a street and says "We are going in the interests of public improvement to pull down your house and that of your friend, but we are going to leave all the others untouched until we have completed our scheme," it may be a consolation to know that the action of the authority may ultimately result in the removal of the other houses, but it is no consolation at the time. It is rather an illustration of the old proverb that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." If the Government desire to relieve electoral inequalities why do they not deal not only with this question but with many other obvious cases? Hon Members cannot deny that the Bill is directed against this Party, and Members of this Party. It is perfectly true that one of the anomalies of our electoral system acts in favour of this Party. I think that is true of the City of London, where you have a large number of persons who live outside, an enormous majority of whom are adherents of this Party, but I do not accept the doctrine of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last that you can always judge where a man 233 ought to vote by assuming that his residence is his chief point of interest. In the case of the City of London there is a corporate body and large interests, and, as the votes of the workers in the city may be disseminated over half a dozen counties, if this Bill passes the corporate interests of the city may not be represented. Then as my hon. friend who initiated the opposition to this Bill said, having regard to our electoral system as a whole, it is not an intolerable outrage that the workers in the City of London should, in addition to voting in the City of London, also have some influence in the counties in which they live. If this is an anomaly is it not also an anomaly that whole communities should have their electoral strength multiplied by ten, twenty, or thirty as compared with other communities? Where is the justice of that? You are crying out for justice, but take the case of Newry. We have the borough of Newry, with 2,000 electors, while in the City of Belfast the smallest Division has from four to five times as many voters. Are you going to alter that? You say no. Why not? It may be an unfortunate accident, but it is the fact that you expect to get support from the borough of Newry, and you do not expect to get it from Belfast. We have small towns in England and we also have enormous constituencies, such as are to be found in the neighbourhood of London, all represented by one Member. Are you going to take no steps to remedy that inequality, and do you tell us that there is no analogy at all, and no connection at all between a man having greater electoral power than another, and a man having two votes instead of one? The two things are intimately bound up together, and if one man has thirty times the voting strength of the other it is not, I think, unreasonable to be cautious about rigorously enforcing the rule that no man shall be entitled to have more than one vote. We shall probably come to one man vote, but is it fair to get it by perpetuating the anomaly which is advantageous to one's own Party and removing the anomaly which may be of advantage to one's opponents? The whole thing seems to be part of a policy of which there has been a great deal this session—the policy of directing efforts 234 against one part only of the United Kingdom. There are proposals before the House for dealing with education in England in a way which no one would dare to attempt in the case of Scotland or Ireland. Examples have been cited of advantages given to Ireland in connection with taxation which are not given to England. Why does the Party opposite always direct their penal legislation against England? They allow gross anomalies to exist in Ireland, whilst they apply their virtuous sponge to wipe away anomalies in England. I trust that this Bill will not succeed, as it must be regarded as a Party and a partisan Bill. In its title it pretends to remove an inequality and an injustice, but its intention will, I think, be obvious to everyone. Injustice will not be removed but increased by the Bill.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. HARCOURT, Lancashire, Rossendale)
I am afraid that in introducing this Bill under the ten minutes rule I outraged what Milton would have called the "cloistered virtue "of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University, who complained of the course I took in introducing so important a measure under that rule. If so, I offer a humble apology to the right hon. Gentleman, and ask him to attribute the fault to the inadvertence of inexperience rather than to any inherent vice. The fault is mine alone. I thought that in a measure the principle of which is obvious and the machinery of which only is novel, hon. Gentlemen with accurate and academic minds would wish to master the text before they indicted their commentary. The simple and single principle of the Bill is that no plural voter shall exercise more than one of his votes in the same year, and that the place of voting shall be selected by him by notice given to the proper authorities before the completion of the register. That is a principle which I believe will commend itself to at least three-fourths of the present House of Commons. As to the dissent of the remaining one-fourth, it will probably be useless for me to attempt to overcome their objections by any arguments of my own, or to offer to them any of those reasons which make this measure appear to me to be a desirable, though 235 long-delayed, measure of equity and justice. I hope, however, there are few Members of this House beyond the right hon. Member for Croydon and the hon. Member for Uxbridge who will oppose this Bill upon the grounds set forth by the hon. Member for Uxbridge at the meeting of the National Union of Conservative Associations in November, 1898. The hon. Member then said "he supported plural voting as a most valuable thing; that there were several constituencies where, if the plural voter did not exist, the Conservative Party would have no existence in Parliament." I do not suppose there are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who base their defence of the present system on such grounds as this; nor has His Majesty's Government introduced this measure on any assumption that the facts are as stated by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. What does that argument amount to? It amounts to nothing but this, that certain constituencies are to be compelled by the operation of the existing law to return individuals to Parliament who do not represent the opinion of the majority of the residents, and that they shall be compelled to do so by the votes of non-residents possessing some property or other qualification but living outside the district. I will do hon. Gentlemen opposite the justice to believe that they possess some better motive and some more presentable argument than that for wishing to maintain the present anomalous state of affairs. They think that property has its votes as well as its rights, that in fact votes are its rights. I understand that argument, though it does not appeal to me personally, but if they believe it, surely they ought long ago during the long years they held plenary power in this and another House to have carried some scheme for the proportional representation of property—somo plan of now votes for old acres. They ought to have provided that a man with a 1,000 acres should have at least ten times as many votes as the miserable squatter with only 100 acres. I should like to ask them how it is that they limit their anxiety for the increased representation of wealth only to those who happen to hold land. Are not the large shareholders in great industrial companies, engineering works, and cotton mills just as much interested in the good government of the country 236 as the ground landlord? Are they not subject to local rules, and have they not equal interests therefore in what the hon. Member for the Oxford University calls "locality"? Are they not as much interested in the welfare and the employment of the inhabitants of the district as the more favoured class? But to them there has not been given and it was not proposed to give additional votes in proportion to their wealth. You say to a man of this class if he is the owner or part owner of the fabric, the structure of a private mill and that mill lies within a county division he shall have a vote for it, but if it lies within a borough constituency he shall not. If he lives in a house near his mill in the same constituency he shall have one vote only for both; if his house is a few miles away in a county constituency he may have a vote there where he is only a villa resident, but none for his freehold mill if it is in a Parliamentary borough where all his interests lie. If he turns his business into a limited liability company in which he holds shares only, then he has no vote at all. The absurdities of the existing system are beyond belief, almost beyond laughter. Why do hon. Gentlemen opposite talk of plural voters as if they are all property owners? That is very far from being the fact. There are thousands of duplicate votes all over the country which have no relation to property at all. Take the common case of a man who lives in the suburbs and has a vote for the county division in which he lives. He rents a business office in the town and then votes for the town, not on account of his wealth or his stake in the country, but on account of his technical occupation, an occupation which may at some time have to be established by the proof that he has a begus bedroom in the attic. We regard this Bill as an alleviation and an amendment of an anomaly. It is far more a question of geography than of property. The present anomalies are the result of the ancient confines of our counties, the mobility of our municipal boundaries, and the fanciful areas created by redistribution. Of course it would be impossible to keep allusions to Wimbledon out of this debate. It is not surprising that Wimbledon should always trip to everybody's tongue in discussing this question. I think the right hon. Baronet rather exaggerated the numbers of out-voters there; he took the figures no doubt from. 237 the old register and he is probably not aware of how active we have been in the home counties during the last year or two. In Wimbledon I believe it would be true to say there are now 3,350 non-resident property voters to whose intelligent activity we owe the charm of the continued presence of its hon. Member. I admit that to that extent we owe Wimbledon a debt of gratitude in that it has saved from the golf course one who was meant to adorn Parliament. But there is a far more remarkable fact about the Wimbledon voters. It is that of those 3,350 nonresident voters, 1,700—more than half of them—own no property in the division at all. They Note there on the strength of freeholds or long leaseholds in London— in Battersea, Croydon, Lambeth, and Wandsworth—and these voters are not even compelled to visit their constituency at an election, because polling booths are put up for them in London where they can register their votes in the place at which the property in respect of which they vote is situated. It will therefore, I think, not be surprising that there is a sense of grievance among the real residents of Wimbledon when they find their representation dominated by these "dumped" voters. Now I do not intend to use the figures I am about to give to the House as an argument, but as an illustration, though unlike some with which we are acquainted they might be used for both. The Tottenham Division is also afflicted like Wimbledon, with a similar class of voters—men who have no land in the division. The number there is 1,400. They have neither land nor residence in the Division, but are drawn from Bethnal Green, Hackney, Shoreditch and Tower Hamlets. The other case is Hornsey, with 2,500 non-resident property voters, 1,000 of whom have neither property nor residence there, and are allocated to that division from Islington and the City of London. I do not think anybody will deny that these facts establish a case which demands reform. It may be said that the Bill does not specifically deal with the particular abuse I have instanced. That is perfectly true, but I believe it will do so in effect. After all, it is permissible to read human nature into an Act of Parliament without putting it into the schedule. Voters are essentially human, and I believe that when they are compelled to select their place of voting they will in the majority of cases 238 select their home or the property on which they reside. Therefore I think we shall obtain from the Bill when it is passed an almost completely residential suffrage, but we shall obtain it without that legal compulsion which always leaves some bitterness of resentment behind. Some reference has been made in the Press and in the House to University representation and the effect the Bill will have upon it. The great Universities have been greatly favoured by Parliament in the past, and they will receive no exceptional disfavour under this Bill. We propose to treat them with what twenty years ago was the declared policy of the Tory Party—the policy of similarity and simultaneity. I am not personally a great admirer of University representation. I think they signally failed to rise to the height of their opportunities this year and justify their right to exceptional electoral existence. [OPPOSITION cheers.] Yes, but not upon the ground which hon. Members opposite appear to think, but because they afforded no refuge to a derelict Prime Minister or even to a stranded Viceroy. What is the argument that has always been used for the continuance of the University vote, and as a justification of their position in the past? We have always been told that it secured to the country the representation of bruins, and that it was greatly valued by the intellectuals who were privileged to exercise it. I accept that argument. But the Government are leaving in existence the right to vote for the University to every graduate who wishes to make the choice and who has paid the fees, which is the principal qualification. Are we to be told that the Universities are going to be bled white of voters by the disloyalty of their own alumni? Is it to be contended that the country clergy, who form the bulk of that electorate, are going to prefer the polling booth next to the rectory, where they are only temporary lodgers, to the glory and the sentiment associated with their alma matter? I cannot imagine it for a moment. I am sure the country curate will spend his last stamp on the proxy which will secure the present representative of Oxford University to the House of Commons as an ornament to its debates. But if unhappily, unthinkable, the contention is right that the graduates are going to be unfaithful to their intellectual trust, and ungrateful for their special 239 privilege, it may fall to the Party opposite on some future occasion to enforce against the depleted Universities their theory of one vote one value. Some fears have been expressed as to the effect of the Bill on the City of London. I do not think the Leader of the Opposition need have any fear for his newly-found constituency. I cannot imagine that the men of business in the city would count any sacrifice too great in order to retain the commercial experience and the fiscal detachment of their two present Members. The hon. Member for the Sevenoaks Division opposed the Bill by waving, timidly waving, the old way-worn flag of "one vote one value." It was not until last year that the country was privileged to know what exactly was the meaning attached to the phrase by the Party opposite, when they exposed, in all its nakedness, the skeleton of their redistribution scheme. Their plan was laughed out of court when it was discovered that their idea of one vote one value was the fixing of a limit of population which retained all the small English boroughs that were supposed to be then favourable to the Conservative Party, absolutely without regard to any quality of value. Redistribution is a measure which rightly and necessarily belongs to the end of a Parliament. The Government do not feel it to be their duty unnecessarily to cut short the life of this very young Parliament by the introduction of a such measure at this moment, nor do they think that this modest Bill should be postponed until the time is ripe for a larger measure. No one will deny that the electoral and registration systems want overhauling, and such overhauling I hope they will receive during the life of the present Parliament. The right hon. Baronet said that there was a danger of declarations being made for voters by other persons. I cannot believe that that will be the case. I believe every individual will make his declaration of selection for himself and is likely to adhere to that selection. I am altogether unable to agree with the suggestion that this is going to lead to enormous cost in registration. I shall be very happy, of course, to consider any suggestion of amendment of machinery at a later stage. It has been said that the Government would have done better by abolishing the property qualification altogether. I should not have hesitated myself to 240 take such a course. But even if we had done so, all the provisions of this Bill would still have been necessary in order to deal with the duplicate occupation vote, and we should have had to set up a complicated machinery to enable somebody to settle what was a man's real residence. The Bill leaves to the plural voter the right to select from among his qualifications the one which he desires to retain. It will enable the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to select whether he will vote as a Liveryman of the Cordwainers' Company in the City of London for the Leader of the Opposition, or as a resident in East Worcestershire for his right hon. friend the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will exercise his choice for the good of the Empire, uninfluenced by any petty motive of personal preference. It has been said that provision ought to be made in the Bill for "starring" the voter in every constituency where, by his own selection, he is not to be allowed to vote. I think the labour and inconvenience such a course would entail outweigh its advantages. I myself have no fear that the law will be broken except in the very rarest instances. The class from which plural voters are mainly drawn is a class which desires, above all things, to keep within the bounds of the law, especially when it realises that to step beyond those bounds would entail the severest penalties. I shall, however, be ready to consider in Committee any Amendments to the machinery of the Bill. As for the principle of the Bill, I have no hesitation in recommending it to the House for acceptance. I confess that it was not without qualms of memory that ten days ago I saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham go into the lobby against the introduction of the Bill. I trust it was only a momentary aberration, to which even the youngest of us is liable. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to beware of the academic blandishments to which he finds himself sometimes exposed on the front Opposition bench. They are only intended to seduce him from the virtues of his salad days. I cannot bear to see the right hon. Gentleman joining the modern Mrs. Partingtons in an attempt to sweep back the Atlantic of progress with the mop of privilege. I had. looked with hope and confidence to the support of the right hon. Gentleman. 241 After all, convictions may survive the vicissitudes of Party. I learnt my Radicalism at the knees of the right hon. Gentleman twenty years ago, with the result that I "lisped in programmes, for the programmes came." At the general election of 1885, whilst he was adorning the platform, I laboured in the committee-rooms, and as I ticked off' the out-voters on polling days I said to my friends (they were our friends then), "Be of good cheer. Look to Birmingham. He will save us from these undesirable aliens." I am still too young to have forgotten the teaching of my master. Even now I sometimes revel in the recollection of his discarded truths. Lest admiration should have exaggerated memory, I have referred to the litera scripta which alone remain to us of the right hon. Gentleman's Radical Programme. I find in a speech made at Birmingham in January, 1885, the right hon. Gentleman used these words—I am in favour of the principle of one man one vote. I object altogether to the plural representation of property. I will take my own case. I am a terrible example. I have three votes in as many borough constituencies. I use them all on the right side (that was our side then) but I know many of my friends who have ten or twelve, and I have heard of one reverend pluralist who has twenty-three. I consider that an anomaly altogether inconsistent with the principle in which we stood, the principle that every householder at all events has an equal stake in the good government of the country. His life, his happiness, his property, all depend upon the legislation which he is equally entitled like every one else to assist in framing. If we are to make that distinction I am not quite certain whether it is not the poor man who ought to have more votes than the rich man, for individually his interests are more direct than the rich man. If you have had legislation it may lessen the income of the one but it may destroy altogether the means of subsistence of the other.Since that time we have had bad legislation. Although it has not tended to lessen the income of the one, there have been grave attempts so destroy or make dearer the subsistence of the other. Looking at the right hon. Gentleman's record and recalling his opinion, I venture to say to him in the words used by Lord Randolph Churchill to Lord Hartington —" Come over and help us."
§ MR. HARCOURT
I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that there will be no tests for a repentant teacher. Surely the husks of the out-voters cannot be a very satisfying diet. The fatted calf of the fully-qualified resident is awaiting the prodigal's return.
§ MR. SALTER (Hampshire, N.)
After the speech to which we have just listened, if I venture to say a few unstudied words about the Bill, I do so because it appeal's to me that it is not only in itself a measure of considerable importance but also one which is concerned with principles of the utmost possible moment. I will not argue with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean as to whether this Bill is a disfranchising measure or not. The Bill has been drawn with skill so as to make it possible to say that it is not a disfranchising measure, but in substance and in truth it is a disfranchising measure. Whilst reducing the number of electors in England, it is said that it would not reduce the number in Ireland. I am not aware of any way in which you can reduce the. number of electors in England unless you either kill them or disfranchise them, and as this Bill does not propose to kill them it appears to me that it proposes to disfranchise thorn. We have been taunted with not seeking to defend plural voting and confining ourselves to the retort that there are other anomalies which more urgently require the attention of Parliament. That is not the ground upon which I desire to oppose this Bill. I would like for a few moments to defend the position of the plural voter upon his own merits. I deny that the plural voter is an anomaly. If the principle of a property qualification be sound, if the principle of local representation be sound, and if the principle that taxation and representation should go together be sound, then the position of the plural voter is logical and unassailable. What I contend is that you cannot logically destroy the plural voter unless you destroy one, if not more, of the three principles which I have enumerated. Upon the last occasion when this principle was placed before the House the attack was based upon the principle of manhood suffrage, but the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has not taken that 243 course. If he had done so he might have taken up a logical position, but if you take up the attitude the right hon. Gentleman has now adopted, he has no logical position at all. Our electoral system has always been based upon property. [An HON. MEMBER: It is time it was done away with.] I cannot understand the right hon. Gentleman, while retaining and leaving operative this main principle of our franchise, asking us at the same time to sweep away plural voting. If you do away with the plural voter you must also sweep away another important principle, and that is the representation of localities. After all, the property qualification is only a temporary expedient, and we all look forward to the day when no man will be excluded from the franchise. Some look forward to the time when no adult will be excluded, but I venture to say that deeper down than the principle of the property qualification you get the principle of the representation of localities under which the elector does not vote for a Parliament, or Party, or a programme, or a measure, but votes for a man. They unite to select a man who shall be the spokesman for the whole of that community. He is elected for reasons of which some hon. Members appear rather to lose sight. He is not elected to represent any particular trade or interest, but to represent all classes and all interests in a particular area, and it is his duty not merely to take part in the management of national affairs, but also to defend and protect the local interests of his constituency where they conflict with local interests of other constituencies. If you sweep away plural voting it may be true to say that you do not disfranchise a man in regard to his national interest, but you do disfranchise him in regard to his local interests which the law now secures to him. It appears to me that in order to show that the position of the plural voter is unjust, you must in logic sweep away not merely the property qualification, but also the fundamental idea of the representation of localities. The hon. Member for Perth spoke as if this were a question of a man who owned much land having one vote whilst a man with small holdings would have two or three votes. That argument is a curiously unconscious admission that electoral.qualification ought to depend on property, but it 244 is not in any way inconsistent with the principle which I have just described. A man who has property, be it much or little, in one constituency is taxed and rated there, and he ought to have a voice in the election of the man who represents that area. As regards movable property it counts for nothing with respect to the franchise. That which gives a man a right to vote is not his wealth or property; it is his local stake in a particular place, and if the principles to which I have referred are sound and just, you are bound to give him the protection of his interest wherever he has a local stake. If you truly desire equality of electoral power you should deal with the great and gross inequalities with which everyone is familiar. If this Bill becomes law it will be costly and intricate, and it will lead to gerrymandering and manœuvring. I venture to urge that this House will stultify itself if they sweep away plural voters while leaving unchallenged and in active operation those three principles upon which, if they are sound and just, the position of the plural voters is logically unassailable.
Mr. W. JOHNSOX (Warwickshire, Nuneaton)
May I suggest to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are very ungrateful? I think they ought to be very thankful for what this Bill leaves them. They have complained that their lot is a very hard one. Many of us think that they should have been hit much harder many years ago. An hon. Gentleman on the other side said that hon. Gentlemen on this side who support this Bill are open to reproach. Do you think that hon. Gentlemen on this side could introduce a Bill free from reproach on the part of hon. Gentlemen on the other side? First of all the Bill will leave you your choice as to where you shall vote. That is a privilege which I do not possess under the Bill. I shall have no choice where to vote. Hon. Gentlemen who have at present more than one vote, though in future only able to use one vote, will be able to choose where they shall go and use that vote most effectively, and you may depend upon it they will use it in that way. They have also complained of the expense they will be put to. Surely that is not a great, matter to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. 245 They have wealth and they will be able to spend in order to obtain the advantages of this Bill. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon that this is a Tammany Hall Bill. If that is so, I say it is due to the introduction of the principle by the Party opposite, They were responsible for the Local Government Act of 1888, which destroyed the property Vote for County Councils, and gave the occupier only one Vote. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, was that an accident? Surely if the local interest that they contend for now is of so much value in Parliament, it is equally great in the counties. You introduced the principle you are now condemning. It is plain that the Party opposite are prejudiced in this matter. We have boon told that the Bill is aimed at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. If it hurts him in the City of London he must go back to Manchester. There is something dearer to many in this House, and to millions in the country, than the representation of property, and that is the vote of the man with a family. His interest is greater than that of the man who has property. I believe that opinion is shared by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because with all their property and all their wealth, their wives and children are dearer to them than the property they possess. That is a principle in the human breast which you cannot get rid of. We want to base the representation of the people on the principle "one man one vote." We have been told on many occasions that the majority of the people have willed this or that. It is done by the majority which includes the men who have five, ten, and twenty votes. That is how right hon. Gentlemen have gained their power in past years. That principle is to be destroyed. I am very pleased that this Bill has been introduced to destroy that principle, I hope the Bill will pass into law, and the sooner the better, not only for the Party opposite, but for the whole country and the whole Empire.
§ MR. CAVE (Surrey, Kingston)
I wish to remind the House of what happened the last time a measure of this kind was 246 brought forward. In 1892 a Bill called the Plural Voting Abolition Bill was introduced by Mr. Shaw-Lefevre. At that time an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for South Tyrone in these terms—That it would not be just or expedient to carry out the principle of one man one vote 'involved in this Bill unless the number of representatives allotted to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland respectively were previously settled in proportion to the population of each of these parts of the United Kingdom and the principle of equality thus secured.The hon. Member moved the Amendment in an eloquent and convincing speech. Among other things, he said—All I contend for is this. If we are going to take the constitution to pieces in order to correct anomalies, let us correct some other anomalies which are equally patent and flagrant while we are at work.…On what principle is a Galway freeman to be counted as six times more influential than a Belfast artisan in this House? If that is not an anomaly greater than the dual vote, I do not know how to weigh the comparative merits of questions.I am quite sure that what the hon. Gentleman found it convenient to say when out of office he will find it equally convenient and reasonable to say when his Party is in office. And surely what the hon. Gentleman said in 1892 is a strong argument against tin's Bill. If you are going to do justice do justice all round. Do not correct an anomaly which operates in our favour without correcting far greater anomalies which operate in your own favour. Let me give an illustration of that. I have two occupation votes—one for my own division, where there are 17,000 electors, and another in a part of London where there are over 8,000 electors. Even with these two votes I do not count for so much as a Galway freeman who has a vote in a very small constituency. If you are going to deprive me of one vote, put me on an equality with the Galway freeman who has a much greater voting power.
§ MR. CAVE
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. You have not plural voting in Galway, but you have a much smaller constituency. The one vote of the Galway freeman has, therefore, a much greater value than the votes which I have in 247 this country. I wish to say a word or two on the merits of the Bill itself. The argument that the community should be represented has been already urged, and I will add one illustration. Is it right that the City of London, or the City of Liverpool, or any other great community should be represented simply by the votes of what is called its 'night population,' that is to say, the caretakers and others who dwell in the city by night, and not by the votes of those who do business in the city by day? No one would say that the city was properly represented in that way. Again, the right hon. Gentleman practically admitted that this Bill would seriously affect the University representation. I was glad to hear that admission, because when an attack is made I prefer that it should be an open attack. And let the House consider what would happen if this Bill became law. The greater part of the University voters would elect to vote where they reside, and there would be very few voters for the University other than those who reside there. That, of course, would lead to a demand from hon. Members opposite for the abolition of University representation. I do not think that hon. Members who attack University representation can have studied the history of their own Party. A great Liberal, John Stuart Mill, thought that the franchise ought to be based as far as possible on education. This University representation is the last vestige which we have of a franchise of that kind, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite seek to abolish it they are doing what they will regret in the future. Further, I do not see how any hon. Member sitting on the Ministerial benches to-day can form an unbiased opinion on this question. The whole of the University representation is on the Opposition side of the House, and knowing that to be so how can hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches be in a position to form a fair opinion on it? They run the risk of being charged with voting for their Party, and not on principle. I also take exception to the form of the Bill. The last Bill introduced into the House dealing with this question had a simple provision that no one should vote in more than one place at an election, so that if a man had two votes he might choose down to the very day of the election in which constituency he would vote This Bill is entirely different in that respect. It compels a man to say 248 before September 1st in which constituency he will vote during the following year. But on September 1st the revision is still going on; and it may well happen that after a voter who has, say, three votes has elected to vote in one of the three constituencies his name may be struck off the register in the constituency which he has selected or he may become disabled from voting in it, and the result would be that he would have no vote at all. Take another point, a man may not know that he has a double vote, and therefore may omit to make his selection in September, or while knowing of his double qualification he may forget to make his selection in time; and in either case the result will be that he will find himself in January nominally with two votes, but actually without a vote at all. I say that is not fair. This Bill is a measure of reform, but of partial and not real reform. If you want to abolish the ownership vote, you should do it directly in a Bill for the purpose, and not seek by a side wind to abolish not only the ownership vote, but also the double occupation vote, and the University vote. If the Government would bring in a fair, all-round measure of reform, we on the Opposition side of t he House would gladly support it.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I do not object to the hon. Gentleman referring to the Amendment which I moved to the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by Mr. Shaw-Lefevre in 1892. In some respects it is a disadvantage to have been twenty years in Parliament, for, during such a long period you are pretty sure to have been on both sides on more questions than one. I might plead that when I was a child I spake as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things. However, I do not take that attitude. I do not say that there is no connection between one man one vote and one man. one value. I say there is a connection, and I would like to see both questions dealt with in one Bill. But we live and learn, and one thing I have learned in the House of Commons is that we cannot get everything at once. We must be content to move slowly. The question of plural voting is not a burning one in the ordinary type of Irish constituency. In the south and west of Ireland there is very little chance of a man having the 249 privilege of exercising his vote at all. But the case is different in ten or twelve constituencies in Ulster. Three years ago I wont to conduct an election in South Antrim. It was a bitter contest, and we found there on the register 1,400 freeholders and leaseholders of the city of Belfast who voted in their different divisions in Belfast, and also in South Antrim, although they had no connection whatever with South Antrim. That was bad enough; but we found another thing which was worse—that the freeholder was immortal. We found that out of 1,400 names on the register, 600 had been dead, many of them for thirty years, and that, in other cases, the qualification had long since ceased to exist. In fact it was the interest of nobody to revise the register, and therefore it contained the names of 1,400 freeholders and leaseholders who were altogether unconnected with the constituency. We were beaten largely by these plural votes, and I say that that is an abominable state of things of which we have a right to complain. The same thing might be said in regard to North Derry and South Dublin where large numbers of people vote at an election who have had no property connection whatever with these constituencies. I tell the hon. Member for Surrey that I still retain the conviction I had in 1892. I think it would be fairer to deal with this question as a whole; to give one man one vote, and also get something like one man one value. But, if we do not get these reforms by degrees we will never get them at all. I consider that it is monstrous that men who are practically foreigners—I do not use the word in an invidious sense—should be allowed to come into a constituency and defeat the wishes and intentions of the resident voters. Although not an English Member, I have some title to speak in regard to this question as it affects English constituences. I have seen all the machinery at work. There was scarcely an election I did not attend in the old days between 1886 and 1895, and I feel bound to say that there was scarcely an election which was not largely influenced and controlled by out-voters coming from hundreds of miles away to defeat the intentions of the resident voters in the locality. Therefore, though I cannot get all I could 250 wish, that is no reason why I should not support the present Bill.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
I am one of those who hold the old-fashioned idea that if a man has a property in a division he ought to have a vote for it. These "aliens" are to be disfranchised because the greater number of them happen to hold Tory principles ! This Bill has been introduced in order that hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House may gain a Party advantage from it. I admit that there are glaring anomalies in the representation of this country which ought to be swept away. I had placed in my hands the other day a most excellent pamphlet; which I hope hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches will study. I believe it is a pamphlet issued by the Proportional Representation Society. In that pamphlet I find that on the total vote in Warwickshire the Conservatives have a majority of something like 400, and yet the county is at the present time represented by three Liberals, and only one Conservative. In Salford there is a considerable minority of the electors who have no representation. Then, again, take the case of Wales. At the present moment there is not a single Conservative Member returned from the whole of Wales, while there are some 90,000 Conservative voters there. Surely, if we come to consider the question of rectifying what are called the anomalies of our electoral system on the other side all these anomalies should also be looked into as a matter of common justice. We hear a great deal about property and privilege, but I do not see how the privilege comes in if you have not a right to vote in regard to the principle upon which you are to be taxed. On what grounds of common sense is not the large owner or occupier of lands in a division of a county and who pays a large amount of wages there not to have a vote? It seems to me that if this Bill is agreed to we shall depart from the old sound principle of representation and taxation going together. This principle of plural voting is the last vestige of that great old principle and this Bill is not founded upon justice. It is brought in in order 251 to gain a little advantage, and until the whole question is dealt with a great injustice will be inflicted upon electors.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid)
The debate shows that hon. Members opposite are rather chary in dealing with the merits of this question, as the hon. Gentleman who first spoke moved an Amendment of a dilatory nature, but in the course of the evening the spirits of hon. Members have risen and the noble Lord and others have appealed to the principles which were relied upon by their predecessors in opposing the Reform Bill of 1832. The hon. Member for Basingstoke came out as the Champion of the plural voter. The hon. Member is a young Member of the House. He failed at the general election, and if there had not been a number of out voters in the Basingstoke Division he would not be here to-day. What does it matter whether or not we are going to deal with the whole question of electoral reform? It is no use bandying accusations across the floor of the House. The point to be considered is whether the proposal is right and the time opportune. Of course it is a Party measure. Nobody is frightened by saying that. All the great Reform Bills have been Party measures. Does anyone assert that it is right that one man shall have four, five, six, ten, or twenty votes? [OPPOSITION cries of "Yes."] Then you ought to give the votes to the property, proportionally, not to the population, but to the acreage. If we could base representation upon real intelligence, I should be prepared to do away with all reference to property in dealing with electoral matters. When I say intelligence, I do not mean, in the ordinary sense of the term, education. It is quite true there is a great deal of education in a university, but the intelligence of the universities is not on a par with the education. Most certainly the political intelligence of the universities is not to be measured by the degree of education in literature, mathematics, or classics, possessed by the graduates. There are nine seats in the House of Commons occupied by representatives of universities. If the same basis of representation were applied throughout our electoral system, 252 we should have had the people's food taxed, we should have had the Education Act of 1902 made more stringent, and we should have had all the things carried which the Liberal party have been opposing for fifteen years past. Why? Because every representative of the universities is a Conservative. We have, therefore, the solid representation of what is called intelligence and education opposed to what everybody will admit to be right. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] Do hon. Members opposite think I am entitled to seven votes? [An HON. MEMBER: No.] As a matter of fact, I have them. I have a vote in the city, and I voted with a great deal of pleasure against the junior Member for that constituency. I have a vote in the Strand, where I am like a voice crying in the wilderness, and I also have votes for West Carmarthen, East Carmarthen, Gower, and Breconshire, and I am sometimes called upon when I have opposition in my own constituency to persuade myself that I am the proper person to vote for there. I think it is absolutely wrong that I should have seven votes, and I am quite willing to give them up, but not until they are given up all round. I regard myself as a political sinner whenever I exercise my seven votes, but it has to be done in order to balance what is done on the other side. It will not do to talk about redistribution. That is a matter not for a young Parliament in its early and vigorous days. That is a matter which the late Government left to its sixth session, and the House knows what kind of proposals were then made. I am glad the Government have produced this Bill so early in the session. It has been promised for many years, and the Government have shown in this as in other matters that, while their supporters give them the driving power, they are prepared to give effect to the promises made to the country.
§ LORD HELMSLEY (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)
The principle underlying this Plural Voting Bill seems to me to be somewhat misunderstood. The main thing which underlies our whole electoral system is a man's right to vote in different electoral localities in which he has an interest, so that his vote will be in 253 favour of the interest of the locality. If you take away the representation of different localities you will do them great injustice. Plural voting does not seem to me to be such an anomaly as has been described, and I think that a man should be considered as one individual in each place in which he has rights. The hon. Member for Mid. Glamorganshire does not pretend that his interests in the City of London are the same as they are in Breconshire. He may be a large landowner in Breconshire, but in London he may be interested in other matters, say manufactures, though I admit I am raising a very supposititious case. Why should he not have a voice in the representation of Brecknockshire, where he has many interests, as well as in the City of London, where his interests also are? With a Government like that with which we are at present favoured, which has so many schemes on hand of one kind or another affecting every kind of property, it seems to me to be very absurd for them to say that a man who may have two different kinds of interests in two entirely different localities should not have an opportunity of doing his best by his vote to defend his interests in both localities whenever they may be attacked. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works in his profound and literary speech delivered early this afternoon seemed to think it would be quite easy to provide that a man should vote only in the district in which he nominally resided. But what about a man who has two houses in each of which he lives for a certain portion of the year? Many men are fortunate enough to possess two houses, one perhaps in London during one half of the year when they are engaged in their business pursuits and another in the country in which they live when engaged in more pleasurable occupations. I think it would be grossly unfair if such men were not allowed to record their votes in the interest of both residences. I should like to say, as I hope in the future to be a M.A. myself, that I strongly resent the attack that has been made on both the education and the intelligence of the Universities. It seems to me that if there is one constituency that ought to be preserved among the other constituencies of the 254 country it is the University constituency. Because whatever the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works may say as to payment of fees, that constituency is based on the principle of education and intelligence, and no man can obtain that qualification simply by paying for it. It is what I may call a suggestio falsi to say it is based on payment of fees and not upon intelligence. I believe the idea of a local qualification coming from intelligence and not from property hails from China, but that is no necessary reason why the small amount of qualification in existence in this country upon that basis should be done away with, and that from those who have attained the degree of B.A., which contains that of M.A. to a limited extent, should be swept away all qualification for intelligence. I hope that the injustice of that proposal will be admitted by hon. Members opposite who admit that this is a Party measure. I do not know that it is necessarily safe to assume that all these outvoters, these plural voters, are Conservative, but I think it is quite safe to assume that they will be Conservative at the time of the next general election. I think, therefore, we should congratulate the Government on their foresight in bringing in a Bill which will be so much of an advantage to them at the next election.
§ MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
As the representative of the one constituency in Wales which the Conservatives hoped to retain, I was much affected by the remarks that fell from the noble Lord the Member for the Horncastle Division. I am, however, very glad I was sent here to vote for this Bill in spite of the fact that it robs me of a plural vote, which I never exercised. That, however, I must own, was not so much due to the fact that I abstained from voting on principle, but more for the reason that I was out of England. My point is this, that I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill to include another class of electors, I mean the freemen of ancient boroughs. In the ancient and distinguished borough of Montgomery there are "freemen" who exercise the franchise as such. In some cases they do not live there, and have no interests there, and they may not be plural voters, having a 255 vote elsewhere in all cases. They attain this franchise when they attain the age of twenty-one and come over at the time of an election, chiefly, I believe, to vote against the Liberal candidate. Montgomery is a small district which in the last election polled 90 per cent, of its votes. It is very evident that under such circumstances as these to bring over fifty, or sixty freemen to exercise this ancient, picturesque, but absolutely unjustifiable, franchise would be sufficient to elect a candidate for the district who may not represent the opinions of the majority of the electors. It is only natural that those who exercise their right to vote under some ancient privilege of this sort should support the Party in favour of such privileges, and I do think that upon the very first occasion that offers these freemen should be deprived of this vote for which, by common consent, there is not at the present time any justification whatever, no matter which side they may favour in the ballot box.
§ MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
I should like to say a word or two in support of this Bill, particularly with regard to one thing that it does not deal with and in reference to which I should like, if I could, to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to make some change, namely, the law of registration. The qualifications and the registration laws generally, instead of being used to make a perfect register of qualified citizens, are used for the purpose of keeping off, rather than otherwise, those entitled to vote. I think three months residence is quite enough to qualify a man for a vote at a Parliamentary election. I know that it is said it would be almost impossible to make a correct register in three months. But I have made inquiries in districts where compounding of rates does not occur, so far as the question of paying the rates is concerned, and I have discovered that the rate collector at the end of the quarter does not miss any one who is entitled to pay. If there is such automatic certainty for finding men you want to get something out of, there ought to be equal automatic security for his being placed upon the Parliamentary register. One hon. Gentleman who spoke 256 from above the gangway suggested that it would be possible for the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Glamorgan to use his votes, if he transposed his identity in every place. In one he might vote as a householder, and in another as a mechanic, and in another as a lawyer, and in that way it would be perfectly legal and just and meet all difficulties. I do not think that argument deals with the objections in any way. I think we shall never get a proper permanent solution in this country until suffrage rights are based on the manhood and womanhood principle. I think that is the only qualification that will be recognised in the future, and I think this system of duplicate votes is not fair in any sense of the word. It has been suggested this afternoon that the reason plural votes are given is that a man possesses property, that property pays the taxes, and that taxation and representation go together; that it is only those who have property who have a stake in the country; and that the amount of a man's property decides the amount of the stake he has in the country. I deny any such proposition. When you take the facts which affect the welfare of the working population of this country; how violent-changes in the conditions of trade may affect the wealth and prosperity of this country and destroy the opportunity of the working people to get a living; when you consider the useful labour they perform and how much their interest is bound up in the continued prosperity of the country; is not their stake as considerable as that of any man with great possessions? I repudiate entirely the contrary suggestion. I think no man should be entitled to more than one vote under any circumstances. I do not admit the right of any man to give two votes as against his neighbour's one. It is suggested that property gives some special qualification, which really does not exist. It is absurd to calculate the right of a man to manage the country's affairs by his wealth and possessions, as is done at he present time. The hon. Member for South Tyrone said it took him twenty years to discover that if you wanted in this House to get everything you asked for, and accepted nothing until 257 you could get all, you got nothing at all. It has not taken me twenty weeks to make that discovery. And although I want adult suffrage, and, like the Pears' soap baby, shall not be happy till I get it, still I am content to accept this Bill as an instalment, if not of the abolition of the property qualification, at least of the abolition of the plural vote and as a step in the right direction. Therefore, I support this Bill.
§ MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
It seems to me that hon. Gentlemen opposite and below the gangway argue this question entirely from a Party standpoint. They desire equality, and say that this measure is an equitable one, but I do not hear one word as to giving votes to Peers who are at present disfranchised, and surely if this is to secure equality, all should have votes. Is it not possible that there may be many of the electorate who are not so much concerned with a Party majority as with that which may be to their advantage in their own trade or profession? And is it not quite conceivable that someone, for instance, may have a large business concern in Manchester and an agricultural property somewhere in the Midlands, and, without any inclination to be in any way a politician, it may suit him to have a Liberal member to represent him in Manchester and a Conservative or Unionist to represent him in the agricultural constituency? It may be that he has divided opinions upon the question of fiscal reform, and are you, when he pays rates in both places, going to deprive him of votes in both places? This is an entirely revolutionary proposal, because it is the first time that a Bill dealing with the franchise has dealt with restriction and not with extension. The Government are doing more. They are for the first time putting a stop to existing legal rights. There have been alterations of qualifications, but the existing legal rights have always been maintained. Surely hon. Members opposite will respect the views of one who was the greatest Parliamentarian of his day—I allude to Mr. Gladstone—who, speaking upon the introduction of the Franchise Bill of 1884, said—We do not interfere with rights already legally acquired.258 It remains for the Government of 1906 to interfere for the first time with those rights. I should like to call the attention of the House to a speech delivered by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Treasury in 1894 in this House upon a Bill of a similar character introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the member for East Wolverhampton. The hon. Member then sat amongst another Party and was in a position perhaps of greater freedom and less responsibility than now. He then said it was an attempt to dish the Unionist Party, that the cardinal principle of the Gladstonian Liberal Party was that they were the only fit occupants of the Treasury Bench, and that if the constituents did not agree then they must be changed. This Bill is nothing more or less than a combination of terminological inexactitudes. What do you find in it? That the humblest person in the kingdom is not deprived of his vote as a householder, but a person who happens to have two votes has got to undergo what under no franchise has anyone had to undergo before. He has to make a selection, and if that selection it. not made, then because he happens to be a possessor of two votes he is disfranchised for a year. That is not fair, and it is not the policy in which we believe. We agree very much more with that which was advocated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, speaking in Scotland last year, said—Common sense, common justice, the uniform practice of seventy years, require that suffrage and seats should be dealt with together, and form part and parcel of any scheme of constitutional reform.There I leave it with His Majesty's Government. If you are going to ask for some alteration of the franchise, have all your elections on one day, and see how that will work to correct inequality; but do not correct inequalities by creating unfairness and by uprooting those principles and privileges in which we have been brought up, and which we hope will for many years continue.
§ MR. DOBSON (Plymouth)
The Motion moved from the Front Opposition Bench asks the House to reject this Bill because it is unaccompanied by a scheme to remove the serious anomalies now existing in the distribution of electoral power, 259 and hon. Gentlemen, in speaking on behalf of this Amendment, have over and over again taken it for granted that we on this side are opposed to a redistribution Bill. I beg to disabuse their minds of that opinion. I think I may safely say that the majority of us, in addressing our constituents, declared ourselves not only in favour of the principle of one man one vote, but also in favour of a redistribution Bill. But we believe that this Bill, instead of being antagonistic to a redistribution Bill, is really a help to it. It is an undoubted fact that this Bill will reduce the number of electors in some constituencies. Take the City of London. I think I am right in saying that at least 18,000 or 19,000 of its 20,000 electors have also votes in the home counties. Is it not better that in that case and in numerous other cases in connection with our large towns we should first of all pass this Bill so that we can base a redistribution Bill upon some real and tangible figures? The only argument I have heard in favour of the retention of plural voting is that plural voters represent the rights of property, but few gentlemen, and certainly none on the Opposition Benches, have had a word to say in favour of the rights of manhood. It is contended that the property classes have larger interests at stake. To a certain extent, nominally, perhaps, that is correct, but, proportionately, I venture to say it is not so. I am one of those who contend that the small shopkeeper, the clerk, and the working-man have just as great proportionate interest in the welfare of the country as any millionaire or any of the propertied classes. A bad Government by its meddling and muddling policy—and we have heard of such Governments—can very considerably hurt the trade of the country, and although the propertied classes may suffer, what is that suffering compared to that which is inflicted on the working classes? But I contend that the present system of representation is both illogical and unfair. We hear a great deal about the rights of property to be represented, but if a man owns £1,000,000 in Consols, he does not thereby possess a property qualification, though surely he has as great a stake in the country as a man who invests £40 260 in a piece of land. A man may have vast property in one county, like the Duke of Westminster, who may be worth millions of pounds, but he can only have one vote upon it. I repeat that the position of property qualification is altogether illogical. Then consider what privileges are conferred on property for getting a vote. The unfortunate occupier has to wait two and a half years before he can be put upon the register. Do you treat the property owner in this fashion? No; a six months' qualification is considered good enough for him. But although it is difficult for the residential voter to get upon the register, it is easy enough for him to be taken off. Let him once remove from his house and his name is immediately struck off the rate book and the voters' list. How different it is with the property owner. He finds it very easy to get on the register, and it is very difficult for anybody to get him off. The right hon. baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean has referred to the difficulty of ascertaining the qualifications of freeholders, but I do not think it would be such a difficult task if you treated the owner of property in the same way as you treat the lodgers, and compelled him to come up every year and make a declaration. I think this provision ought to be applied to property owners as well as to lodgers. In 1879 I was the registration agent for the old division of East Surrey, and I was struck with the large number of property owners, many of whom appeared to have been on the list for thirty or forty years at least. It appeared to me that probably the vast majority of them had parted with their property qualification, and I sent out a circular to every one of those out-voters without making it known to what political Party or association I belonged. I pointed out to them that they were on the ownership list for certain property. The bait took, and I discovered that out of 700 or 800 out-voters nearly 100 replied that they were no longer qualified. In some cases they said they had parted with their property twelve or fifteen years ago. and one replied that the property in question was his father's and he had been dead for twenty-two years. I think it is fair to assume that for every 261 person who took the trouble to write and admit that he was no longer qualified there were four others who saw through the trick and took no notice. Upon that assumption there would be 450 persons on the list who were not entitled to be on it at all. I think this is a good Bill, and I hope and believe that it will pass. I am sure it is a measure acceptable to the country, and one which will promote the principle of political equality; therefore I shall give it my most strenuous support.
§ MR. CARLILE (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
In the course of this debate we have been told that this Bill is a prelude to redistribution. I am sure we are very delighted to hear that the Government is at once tackling this subject with a view to introducing the whole question of redistribution, because it means that they mean to have an appeal to the country very shortly. That would be a delightful thing to see, and no doubt the Government have been induced to make this hasty preparation in view of the reception which their iniquitous Education Bill has met with at the hands of the people of the country within the past few weeks. If that is so, we shall rejoice on the Opposition Benches at the early prospects of meeting our constituents, and reversing the decision which was arrived at by false promises and misrepresentations in January last. It was quite a novelty to hear an hon. Member on the Ministerial Benches weeping on the neck of a poor millionaire, and it was delightful to hear his wail on behalf of a man who owned a million of Consols. I wish to remind that hon. Member that the man with a million pounds invested in Consols can realise them, move them about, and reinvest them, but the man who has £40 invested in freehold land can do nothing-of the kind, and if he tried to realise his property he would certainly have to do so at a considerable loss. We have heard a good deal lately about taxation and representation going together in connection with education, and the noble Lord who spoke a moment ago referred to the fact that this Bill was diametrically opposed to that principle. Where can the additional tax and rate-bearing qualification be said to be represented 262 in this Bill? The Under-Secretary for the Colonies said that he never heard a single argument against this principle on its merits. The hon. Member is usually very well read and of very excellent mental power, but has he forgotten that the great Leader of the Party to which for the present at any rate he owns allegiance—I refer to Mr. Gladstone —utterly objected to this principle in 1884 and 1885? I might strengthen even Mr. Gladstone's view by quoting others on the Liberal side. I suppose Liberals will be ready to accept Mr. Edmund Burke as an authority on great Liberal principles. In his "Reflections on the Revolution in France" he says—Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a State that does not represent its ability as well as its property. But as ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish and inert and timid, it can never be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be out of all proportion predominant in the representation. It must be represented, too, in great masses of accumulation or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence of property, formed out of the combined principles of its acquisition and conservation, is to be unequal.The great masses therefore which excite envy, and tempt rapacity, must be put out of the possibility of danger. Then they form a natural rampart about the lesser properties in all their gradations.The same quantity of property which is by the natural course of things divided among many, has not the same operation. Its defensive power is weakened as it is diffused. In this diffusion each man's portion is less than what, in the eagerness of his desires, he may flatter himself to obtain by dissipating the accumulations of others.The plunder of the few would indeed give but a share inconceivably small in the distribution of the many. But the many are not capable of making this calculation, and those who lead them to rapine never intend this distribution.The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it as that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice.The possessors of family wealth and the distinction which attends hereditary possession are the natural securities in this transaction. With us the House of Peers is formed on this principle. The House of Commons, too, though not necessarily, yet in fact is always so composed—in the far greater part. Let those large proprietors be what they will, and they lave the chance of being among the best— 263 they are at the very worst the ballast in the vessel of the commonwealth.It is said that 24,000,000 ought to prevail over 200,000. True if the constitution of a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with the lamp-post for its second; to men who may reason calmly it is ridiculous.The will of the many and their interest must very often differ, and great will be the difference when they make an evil choice.And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.