§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. A. J. SHERWELL
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I think there will be no need for me to trespass upon the time and attention of the House. The Bill is really restricted to two main proposals, one of which has already been discussed and sanctioned by this House in a previous Parliament, and the other is a proposal which I understand does not of itself sharply divide political parties in the State. Put very briefly, the first main proposal of the Bill is one to end what I think I may call an admitted anomaly in our electoral law and our electoral system by the abolition of plural voting. The other main proposal of the Bill seeks to mitigate to some extent some, at least, of the necessary evils now attending upon a General Parliamentary Election. The anomalies which are connected with the plural vote are tolerably familiar to members of this House, but perhaps I may be allowed by the indulgence of the House briefly to recapitulate some of them. The plural voters may be divided into four principal groups. There is first of all the group of the ownership voters who have properties in several county 1600 constituencies. There is a second group known as the out-voter group, voters who reside at some distance, very often a considerable distance, from the constituency in which they register the vote.
Then there is the borough pluralist, who in some respects may be regarded as perhaps the most formidable type of pluralist, the man who is on the spot and votes in the borough in which he resides and a day or two afterwards votes in the same place for the county in which the borough is situated. And then there is the fourth group of pluralists represented by the occupiers' vote, men occupying a tenancy of £10 value, who reside within seven miles of the borough in which their occupation vote obtains, and therefore getting a residential vote in addition to the occupation vote. These four classes altogether represent a duplication and reduplication of voting strength, which, I venture to submit to the House, is neither rational, logical, nor equitable. I would like just to briefly illustrate the way in which this anomaly works. I would take for that purpose first of all the out-voter, I have before me here a list of six constituencies in different parts of the Kingdom in which the number of out-voters ranges from 1,000 to 3,500. In two of these six constituencies the out-voters represent one in fifteen of the total electorate; in another, one in nine of the total electorate; in two other of these six constituencies they represent one in eight of the total electorate; while in one of them the out-voters actually represent one in six of the total number of electors in the constituency.
Our elections are presumably to elicit an expression of opinion on the part of the residents or inhabitants of the locality in which the election itself is held; but I venture to ask, how can such a fair and clear expression of opinion be elicited when the result is so materially affected by the out-voter as is the case in the instances which I have quoted? Then there in the ordinary ownership vote in the county. I believe that the ownership voters in Great Britain number a total of just over 643,000. I find that in the counties of Wales the ownership voters represent 13 per cent., in the counties of Scotland they represent 14 per cent., and in the counties of England actually 15 per cent, of the total electorate. It is quite impossible and quite conjectural to attempt to estimate how far this ownership vote actually affects the results of particular 1601 elections, but we know that there are sixty-nine county divisions in England now returning Conservative Members to Parliament where the ownership vote exceeds the actual Conservative majority. In those sixty-nine constituencies no fewer than forty-one constitute what are known as "gains" at the recent election. The total Conservative majority in those sixty-nine constituencies is just under 80,000, but the total number of ownership voters is over 156,000, or practically double the entire Conservative majority. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. Staveley - Hill) I notice is to move the rejection of the Bill, and in his particular constituency—I believe this statement has not been contradicted—there is an ownership vote which very greatly exceeds the very handsome majority by which the hon. Member was fortunate to be returned to this House at the recent election. Let me turn to the other group, those whom I may call the occupier pluralists—those who occupy an office or shop of £10 value in a borough and themselves reside within seven miles of the borough. There are, I believe, between 300,000 and 400,000 of those occupier pluralists. The House will understand something of what it means when I mention these facts, that in the City of London to-day there are only 3,865 inhabited houses, but there are no fewer than 23,500 occupation voters. It is possible for a man to live in the centre of London and by occupying a. shop or office in every one of the Metropolitan boroughs to have no fewer than twenty-five occupation votes by reason of his occupation of those particular shops for which he votes. There was a case which attracted some attention at the recent General Election of two brothers who between them voted thirty times, one voting seventeen times and the other thirteen. I believe those two brothers were really entitled to fifty votes. Those thirty votes count in our electoral results as expressing the view of thirty separate individuals; they really count as thirty voices for or against the Government. But that is not the worst case that I can put. There is actually the case of four brothers who are in business together and who own a large number of offices and depots in the various Metropolitan boroughs and the Home Counties. Each of the brothers is registered as a partner on the register, and they together cast no fewer than 120 votes 1602 at the recent General Election. Those 120 votes really speak in our electoral returns and in the representation in this House as 120 separate voices for or against the Government, and yet the actual expression of opinion is an expression of opinion by four individuals and four individuals only. I venture to ask can anything be more absurd as an anomaly in our electoral law and our electoral system?
I venture to submit, moreover, that such an anomaly as that cannot be defended or justified on any ground of reason, logic, or common equity. I am a little curious to know the grounds on which hon. Gentlemen opposite will move and support the rejection of this Motion. I believe the hon. Member who is to move the rejection of the Bill declared himself, in 1907, as opposed to the principle of the Plural Voting Bill which passed this House in 1906 on the ground that it was a revolutionary measure. He said:that it sought to create an absolutely new principle in the political world in doing away with the old Liberal idea that representation and taxation should go together.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am surprised that anyone on the Opposition benches can cheer the suggestion that the abolition of the plural vote is a revolutionary proposal introducing a new principle in our electoral life, and I venture to think that it could easily be shown to be entirely consistent with a long course of political procedure in this House, and certainly to be entirely compatible with every extension of the franchise over the last century. It certainly is not novel in this sense, that the principle is in successful operation in other countries. I need only quote the cases of Germany, the United States, the Commonwealth of Australia, and of the Dominion of New Zealand. Moreover, there is an old law, since repealed, of Henry V., which actually provided that no one could vote in a constituency unless he were an actual resident in it. That law was allowed to become obsolete, but it was not actually repealed until as late as 1874. I am a little surprised to find the hon. Member for Kingswinford put in a plea for the old Liberal tradition that representation and taxation go together. We, on this side of the House, fully subscribe that view. I personally am prepared to carry it to a greater length than some, but how far is the hon. Gentleman who makes use of that suggestion prepared to carry it logically? Pressed to its logical conclusion the principle that representation and taxation go together carries at least something 1603 like adult suffrage, because there is hardly a man or woman living who does not contribute in some form to the taxation of the country. Indeed, it carries us beyond adult suffrage, for it certainly, if admitted as a principle, would let in as voters a large number of minors and others contributing to the taxation of this country.
But there is what on the face of it is a more formidable indictment of the proposal to abolish plural voting in the suggestion that to abolish plural voting would very materially restrict if not virtually destroy the property franchise. I confess I would abolish the property franchise. I agree that it would tend largely to restrict the property franchise. But while that is true, the ideas upon which the property franchise is founded have long been losing force and weight. The principle really received its death-blow with the first extension of the franchise. What is the foundation of the principle of the property franchise? As I understand, it is that only those who have a large material stake in the country shall be admitted as electors; but that means, if we are to be consistent, a permanently limited franchise. Once lower the property qualification, and one of two results inevitably follows. Either we renounce the principle upon which the property franchise rests, or, in order to save the principle, we commit ourselves to a graduated scheme of electoral qualification which would give a man a number of Votes in proportion to the value and number of his property interests. So far as I know, such a graduated scheme of electoral qualification has never been seriously contemplated in this country. On the contrary, the whole stream of tendency in our political procedure and legislation has been in the opposite direction, until we have been brought by successive extensions of the franchise to what is not very far removed from manhood suffrage at the present time.
I quite agree that a man who is to be qualified as an elector should have a substantial stake in the country, but not the sort of substantial stake that hon. Members opposite suppose—not necessarily a substantial, material or economic stake. The highest stake in the country after all, as I think, is the possession of simple human life. I am not at all sure that the poor man has not a greater claim to, certainly he has a greater need of a vote than the rich man. He is less self-governed and 1604 independent. The laws and arrangements of the State necessarily more directly and intimately affect the interests of the poor man than they affect the interests of the rich man. The poor man has not the same material protection against the effect of the law. I will take the illustration, if Members opposite will believe that I do not use it in any controversial sense, of the proposal to increase the taxation of food. Whatever may be the merits or demerits of an increased tax on food this I think is not disputable, that the pressure of such increase must fall with far greater severity on the poor man than on the rich simply because the increased taxation of food must necessarily press more severely upon the man who spends a large proportion of his total income on food than it does on the rich man who spends a negligible portion of his income on it.
But there is another objection which is often suggested to the proposal to abolish plural voting. If we are to have the abolition of plural voting we must have at the same time a redistribution of seats. If it is suggested that we are to have one man one vote we must necessarily have one vote one value. Why should an elector in, say, the borough of Durham-have a one two-thousand-six-hundredth share of a representative while an elector in the borough of Wandsworth has only a one thirty-nine-thousandth share of a Parliamentary representative? Or, turning to the counties, why should an elector in Sutherland have a one three-thousandth share in a Parliamentary representative-while an elector in the Romford division of Essex has only a one fifty-three-thousandth share? I agree that the argument for the redistribution of seats is, in my judgment, answerable. [Cheers.] But hon. Members opposite who cheer must not think they have an exclusive interest in a redistribution scheme. At present the supporters of the Government in England are in a minority of thirteen in the representation of England despite the fact that supporters of the Government polled 51,000 more votes at the General Election than did the opponents of the Government. So at least we may claim to have some interest and concern in a redistribution scheme. But is the plea for a redistribution scheme strictly relevant to the precise point at issue in this Bill? It could only be made relevant on the assumption that there is a strict and necessary relation between the number of plural voters and the size of the constituency. There 1605 is no such strict or necessary relation between them. Plural votes exist in connection with small constituences just as they exist in connection with large constituencies. Apart altogether from this, does the plurality of votes rectify to any substantial extent the inequalities of the present system? I say not. A one thirty-thousandth share of a Parliamentary representative in three separate constituencies does not balance a one three-thousandth share of a Parliamentary representative in one constituency, therefore while I am quite prepared to admit that there is an irresistible claim for redistribution, I deny its strict relevancy to the proposal embodied in this Bill.
There is one other objection which may conceivably be used and has been used before against this proposal. It is that we on this side who seek to abolish the plural vote are really seeking to obtain a mere party advantage. Let me examine that objection. Is it necessarily an indictment of a particular proposal that it confers an advantage upon one of the great parties of the State? Let it be assumed that there is in existence some substantial anomaly in our electoral law or system, not necessarily the plural vote, some anomaly involving prejudice on the one side and advantage on the other. Is it necessarily an objection in the nature of things to a proposal to abolish that anomaly that the abolition of the anomaly will serve to equalise matters as between the two great parties in the State? If hon. Members opposite are inclined to press that objection, an effective retort is very obvious. If we on this side of the House are seeking to abolish plural voting because it at present works unjustly against us, hon. Members on that side of the House who oppose this proposal and seek to maintain the existing anomaly are equally open to the indictment of seeking a party advantage. But it is not on this ground that I advocate the abolition of the plural vote. I advocate it simply because I believe it is absolutely necessary to the real effectiveness of our existing Parliamentary system. The whole success of Party government in this country requires a broad equality of conditions as between the two parties and certainly requires that the verdict of the electors, to be emphatic and decisive, should be a clear expression of the opinion of the people of the country. But it cannot for a moment be pretended that the result of a General Election is decisive and really effective from a Parliamentary point of view when the opinions 1606 of some of the inhabitants of the country-are duplicated and reduplicated, while the opinions of others are left entirely unexpressed. There are those on this side of the Housie and elsewhere, who, I believe, seek to modify, and, as they think, substantially modify, the anomalies of this plural voting system by providing, as this Bill provides in the second part, for the holding of elections on one day. I have no doubt that such a provision would modify to some extent, but I believe to a very limited extent, the evils of plural voting. It obviously would not touch the case of borough pluralists. I believe the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Harcourt) is himself a pluralist of an objectionable kind. He admits that the holding of elections on one day would not in any way affect an elector's capacity for mischief. There was one case at the recent General Election of a gentleman who voted in six separate constituencies on one day, the first and last of which were 276 miles distant. I believe that Mr. X. lent him a motor car and in that way this pluralist was able to get in the whole of his votes on one day. That is an astounding physical feat, I admit, but it is not one that redounds very largely to the credit of our electoral system.
It is not on these grounds that there is included in the second part of the Bill provision that all elections shall be held on one day. It is rather included on grounds which, I believe, are of common interest to all political parties in the State. I should like to refer first of all to the serious and substantial dislocation of trade and commerce which is inseparable from our present system when you spread elections over a period of a month. It must inevitably follow that this must result in a disturbance of trade and commerce. I take the figures of the last six General Elections, and I find that they have averaged twenty-seven days. The matter becomes very greatly aggravated when, as is presumed to be the case at the present time, there is a prospect of repeating the General Election within a short period of time. It is interesting in this connection to notice that the Associated Chambers of Commerce have repeatedly passed resolutions in favour of this reform. But that is not the only ground on which I advocate the wisdom of decreeing that elections should be held on one day. I would recommend it on the ground that it would substantially cheapen the cost of contested 1607 elections, and at the same time contribute something to the purity of our General Elections. The present system undoubtedly favours the wealthy candidate, and notably the wealthy party. Everybody knows that the cost of an election is largely in proportion to its duration. It would help to purify elections by at least mitigating or modifying a recent deplorable feature of our General Elections. I refer to the interposition of outside wealthy and powerful organisations in bringing influence to bear on particular constituencies. It is suggested, I know, that this matter is one which can be dealt with by an amendment of the Corrupt Practices Act. I believe it would be a matter of extreme difficulty to get rid of the evil by an amendment of that Act, but it could undoubtedly be substantially modified by requiring that all Parliamentary elections should be held on one day. The proposal is not novel. The practice is almost universal in Europe. It is the practice in Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, and Spain. It is the practice in the United States, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Dominion of Canada, and it is provided for in the recently established Commonwealth of South Africa. There may possibly be objections raised to it. The only objection to it that I have met with is not a very considerable one. It is said that it would involve some increase in the cost of returning officers' expenses. I do not think that is a very substantial objection, because, after all, that would be limited to the provision of more ballot boxes. It would be first cost which could be averaged over a number of years. There is the mere serious, or, at all events, more plausible objection that to hold the elections on one day would greatly embarrass the police. As against that, I may quote the answer which the Home Secretary gave the other day, in which he said he was advised that no such consequences need be feared from the adoption of the system. I would also point out that the elections in the nine divisions of Manchester, the nine divisions of Liverpool, and the seven divisions of Birmingham polled in each case on one day without any detrimental effect to public order. I will not presume to suppose that the proposal will be opposed by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House because they fear that it would give a party advantage to this side. I do not for one moment 1608 suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite would consent or subscribe to the view that their election supporters in the country are a mere stage army, requiring to be shifted from constituency to constituency in order that their full weight may be felt. It is on these broad grounds that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill. I do not pretend to claim that the Bill is perfect. Everyone knows the disadvantages under which a private Member labours in drafting a Bill, and it is perfectly possible that in committee imperfections in details or machinery may be pointed out. I ask the House to give it a Second Reading on the bread ground that its provisions, if carried into law, would make the system of Parliamentary government more real, and certainly more effective, than it is under the anomalies which exist at the present moment.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I beg to second the Motion. I am sure that the House is much more anxious to hear any arguments which can be offered against the Bill than to hear those which can be adduced in support of it. I am very glad that my hon. Friend dealt with the question of taxation without representation. There is no phrase that has been more abused on the Opposition side of the House. It has been used for the purpose of reproaching the Liberal party generally. We had it trotted out by the hon. Baronet opposite as a reason why we should retain another place with all its rights and privileges, and why we should not interfere with its prerogatives. We have had it trotted out in connection with other measures. I think that after the remarks made by my hon. Friend, we shall hear no more of taxation without representation as a reason why a large number of people should vote in different constituencies as they do at the present time. There is no doubt that at the present moment we are face to face with the serious expense and trouble connected with a series of elections following with extreme rapidity one after another. There is nothing which is more calculated to insure that the mind of the people is properly represented in this House than by doing away with this plural voting. Nothing can be more irritating than for a constituency to find a Member returned to Parliament by the votes of outsiders, people who do not live in the district, and who have no particular interest in it except a small piece of property, and who 1609 come in and swamp the votes of the persons who live in and take an active interest in the local affairs of the district. That alone is one very good reason why we should pass a measure such as this at the present time. My hon. Friend has alluded to foreign countries which have passed a law similar to this, and has referred especially to our dominions over the seas. Anyone coming from, our dominions over the seas must be exceedingly careful not only in this House but in the country to avoid reasoning too much from the state of affairs which prevails in those countries, because there is an extreme sentiment I think here that it is not altogether worthy of hon. Members coming from those countries to attempt to teach the Mother of Parliaments how to carry on her affairs. But as my hon. Friend has alluded to those countries, with one of which I am acquainted, I would like to carry his argument further, and to say that at any rate in New Zealand the property qualification has been absolutely and entirely done away with. There is only the one vote, the residential vote in that country, and as far as I know there has never been any great complaint against it. On that point I submit a very great improvement which has long been in force in that country in this matter of voting. That is this. It must be specially in the minds of every hon. Member in this House, more especially in the minds of representatives of the English constituencies as opposed to Scotch, that there is enormous expense entailed on the candidates in reference to the register, finding out whether people are living or dead or have moved, and so on. In the Dominion of New Zealand they have long ago got over that difficulty by the simple and satisfactory expedient of striking every person off the roll who does not vote. If he does not vote his name is simply removed from the register and he has got to get on again as soon as ever he can. Meantime the effect is to purify the roll without any expense to the candidate or to any association being involved. This is a reform which might very readily be carried into effect here, and it would save the enormous expense of fees to the revising officers and also the great expense entailed on candidates in this connection.
The special interest that I have in regard to this matter is one which is not exactly personal to myself, but I think should be shared by the whole House of Commons, and that is with reference to the peculiar 1610 practice under which the election law in Orkney and Shetland is carried out. It seems that by Statute of the 2nd and 3rd of. William, the election in Orkney and Shetland cannot be carried out for some considerable period after the dissolution of Parliament, and the consequence of that is that on more than one occasion Parliament has actually had to be hung up. If it had not been for Orkney and Shetland, quite recently I believe, it is common knowledge that the House of Commons could have met a week or ten days before it did. In the previous Parliament it actually met without the Orkney and Shetland election having taken place. There is a serious constitutional question in this. If Parliament can meet without one representative surely it can meet without fifty or a hundred. There is this further objection. I have been told that no less a legal authority than the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government on this occasion has laid it down as his opinion that in the deplorable event of the demise of the Crown before the Parliament is completed, as a matter of fact the previous Parliament would have to be summoned, and enormous expense would have to be gone to. That is one strong reason why elections should always be held if possible on the one day. This would be effected by Clause 3 of this Bill, which provides that all writs for the election of Members of Parliament to serve in a new Parliament to be elected after the passing of this Act shall bear the same date and shall be issued on the same day, and that the elections shall take place on the same day. It would be out of place for me to dwell on the points already made. [HON. MEMBERS: "GO on."] No, because the more I talk the more you will want to talk after me and give reasons for not being able to come to a decision tonight. I say most emphatically that the result of this proposal would be to cheapen the cost of elections very much and to do away with some of those outside associations that come in and not only work themselves but run gramophones. In my own particular case I think there were seven or eight individuals, and there was a variety of those talking machines. It is therefore with extreme pleasure that I second the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. STAVELEY-HILL
moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
1611 The hon. Member for Huddersfield, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, was good enough to refer to a speech which I made in this House in 1906. It may interest him to know that I am still of the same opinion as then, and that when I said taxation and representation should go together I mean the same to-day as I did then. Possibly the hon. Member for Huddersfield has not been of the same mind, and has brought into his consideration the idea that rate-paying and taxation are the same thing. The expression has been used and the principle has been adopted for many years, that taxation and representation should go together. That does not apply to local rates; it is applied exclusively, in my opinion at any rate, to imperial taxation. I do not agree, and I have no hesitation in saying, so far as the hon. Member's argument is concerned, the mere fact that a person is living is not a ground for putting him in the same category at all with that which comes under the principle of taxation going with representation. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to allude to the fact of my presence in this House and accounted for it. He spoke of ownership voters, and he gave us certain figures in order to show that a large majority of plural voters are ownership voters. The hon Member probably forgot to inquire whether those ownership voters were resident ownership voters, or whether they were voters outside the district altogether. That is a fact which hon. Gentlemen opposite during the last election, and since and before that election, frequently forgot. Freehold voters are often ownership voters in the county constituencies and reside on their property, and if they were not on the ownership list equally they would appear on the occupation list to a large degree. I am not going to deal with every case— I could not do that in the time at my disposal—but in answer to the hon. Member I will before I sit down give him shortly the facts as they apply to the constituency which I have the honour to represent, and to which he referred. But when he speaks of the necessity of a Redistribution Bill, we on this side of the House are in entire accord with him. We do not arrogate to ourselves any particular reason why redistribution should be regarded as part and parcel of the policy of the Unionist party alone, though the hon. Member remarked that we on this side of the House took to ourselves credit for the 1612 idea of redistribution. I would remind him that it is possible in this House, and it is possible in the country, to adopt and promulgate a policy that one believes to be for the public good, and for the real curing of anomalies, without caring very much from what party the proposal emanates.
The Bill, as the hon. Member observed, can be divided into two parts. The first part is for the abolition of plural voting. That is a proposal with which we were familiar when it was in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) in 1906. Perhaps I shall not be considered offensive to the right hon. Gentleman, or to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, if I say that this measure is more crude than that which was submitted by the right hon. Gentleman, but it is in a more simple form as regards some of its requirements. It is, in a sense, the reintroduction if the Bill of 1906 in a shorter form. The second part deals with the necessity for holding elections on one day, and I believe that is the first legislative appearance of such a proposal in this House, although it has been much talked of in the country for many years. But I ask with all sincerity why is this Bill introduced on the eve of the election? It is a Bill which deliberately interferes with the complicated historic question of our electoral system. If you are going to interfere with the historic question of our electoral system, you must be actuated by some good motive, and at any rate not by a purely party motive. In introducing this Bill in the belief that some anomalies may be swept away by it, you are not really getting at those anomalies about the removal of which the people of this country feel great anxiety. You are depriving a certain class of voters—enemies of the Government—of a legally acquired right established by long usage to vote where they have freehold interests at stake.
At this particular time, when one has the recent Budget proposals in one's mind, taxation of land being the principal part of those proposals, it does seem to me that it is hard to deprive those persons who have an interest in land of their vote, at the very time when you intend to tax them more heavily than they were taxed before. I say nothing whatever about the merits of the question of the taxation of land, but I say that it is a much worse case of robbery with violence when the person has no means of protecting himself, or at any rate 1613 has not the same capacity for self-protection if you take away his vote. You take something from him and he has no possible means of retort. In regard to the drafting of the Bill, I am well aware there are difficulties under which private Members labour; but there are certain canons upon which I think we are absolutely agreed in all parts of the House, one of which is that in all the disadvantages of legislation the worst disadvantage is that which is known as legislation by reference. This is a short Bill of only five clauses, and in it there are references to no less than four Acts of Parliament and one Statutory Order; so that in order to follow this measure one really needs to have in one's hand a manual of the election law. I think the House will agree that that is a form of legislation which is not in any sense desirable. Though this Bill is introduced for the purpose of dealing with certain anomalies, its foundation is disfranchisement and not enfranchisement. You are disfranchising people who are entitled to a vote, and whose qualifications to vote have never caused any demur or any question. If you are honest about this question—[An HON. MEMBEB: "Oh! Oh!"']—I am not suggesting personal want of honesty in hon. Gentlemen opposite—but if you are politically honest in this matter you will deal with this question as a whole and not by halves. You would recognise that there is a false distribution of electoral power. I do not want to go into the familiar cases of Romford and Walthamstow, Newry and Kilkenny, which are so familiar to hon. Members. There is the root of the evil If you wish to deal with this question, deal with it by redistribution, and give equality of electoral power basing, as you must base it, upon the population of the place, and not upon its electoral numerical strength.
The division of Kingswinford, which I represent, was referred to by the hon. Member for Huddersfield as one of the glaring cases in which plural voters exercised more or less supreme sway. I should not have, of course, referred to my own division were it not that the hon. Member has drawn attention to it. I was, I admit, prepared for it. I have often heard it mentioned as one of the glaring cases of the present plural voting. I may also say that is really the reason I put down a notice of rejection of this Bill, because I knew that this case would be attacked, and I like to be able to defend my own 1614 case myself. The electorate in the division of Kingswinford numbers 14,076 voters. At to the first point that hon. Members opposite find fault with, there are 5,194 ownership voters, and 1,868 of them reside in the rural districts, and would be on the occupation list, if they were not on the ownership list. It is worthy of notice that many of those persons have become owners, not through any bequeathed wealth, but through their own thrift. This is not always an attack on what are called the rich classes, but an attack on those people and an attempt to deprive them of something they have gained by their own thrift, and which they feel to be a great honour; that is, to be on the ownership voters list. The boroughs of Wolverhampton and Dudley come into the division to some extent. There are something over 3,000 persons in those boroughs who vote in the counties, a large majority of whom live outside those boroughs in the Kingswinford Division, and are not plural voters but have a double qualification in the same constituency, which, of course, they can only exercise once. With regard to those voters, to whom the hon. Member referred, who have no interest whatever in the constituency, I have taken the trouble to make inquiries, and the information which I have received this morning is to the effect that in the division there are certainly not more than 800 or 850 voters from outside, and it has got to be remembered that those people are not only taxpayers but also that they pay local rates for the improvement of the district. I think that, so far as that division is concerned, the hon. Gentlemen opposite have somewhat unintentionally exaggerated, and I think my friends in the division have exaggerated the present plural voting strength.
When we take plural voting I wonder why it is that hon. Gentlemen opposite during their election speeches, and in their speeches on this subject in the country, do not take the trouble to explain to the electors what a plural voter really is. I am sure I shall be borne out by the experience of hon. Members of this House on both sides that very often the idea that is in the mind of the elector is that a plural voter is a person who goes on voting all day. I am prepared to back that statement up by a story which is thoroughly authenticated and applied to myself. I know where it was said and when it was said. It was reported to me in the recent General Election at Kingswinford 1615 that I had voted four hundred times myself, and that a friend of mine in the same polling district had voted twelve times. I pointed out to those who told me that story that if it were true instead of trying to represent a constituency in the House of Commons, I should have been living very cheaply in the county town. Those are the sort of stories that get about, and it is just as well we should understand that ownership voters are not necessarily plural voters, and that people who live in a borough and have two qualifications in the county are not plural voters, and though they may be on the list of ownership voters they do not come into the category referred to by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will not go into the question that came before the House two nights ago, that of Proportional Representation; but surely there is the field for the energies of hon. Gentlemen opposite and for those who desire electoral reform by which you should be able to have your votes and your representation based upon equal force and equal representation. That is the way to aim at equality. The plural voter is looked upon on the other side of the House with antipathy, but I am not sure that you do not do him an injustice. I do not believe he always votes against you. I do not believe he invariably does so. If the hon. Member for the Stretford Division of Lancashire (Mr. Nuttall) is in his place, I do not think he can share in that animosity because the Stretford Division includes a great many of the freeholders of Manchester. Judging by the size of the hon. Member's majority, I think a good many of those freeholders must have voted for him. Therefore it is not fair to say that the plural voter has always supported Members on this side. Very often they do not. But why is this sudden desire to run away from and forsake the ancient principles of the party adopted. I know political memories are short, but why run away suddenly from the principles of the late Mr. Gladstone, who, after all, was the greatest Parliamentarian of his time. He said, speaking in this House upon the Parliamentary Franchise on 28th February, 1884:—Shall they or shall they not be made subject to the condition of residence? We are of opinion, Sir that, upon the whole, it is not necessary that they should be subject to the condition of residence. There is a sort of show about the old English electoral law, as if its original principle made residence a condition of the property franchise which was then exclusive franchise, but we do not think that that idea bears scrutiny.1616 I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were in his place, because he has recently become President of the Gladstone League, which is. I have no doubt, to carry out the, principles of the late Mr. Gladstone. Therefore, with that principle, with regard to electoral law before him, I am not sure whether we should not be favoured with the presence of the right hon. Gentleman in our Lobby on this occasion. There is another question in this Bill we are discussing, the question of machinery, to which I refer later. There is a most peculiar distinction drawn between a by-election and the General Election. According to the Bill it is necessary for an elector to live in his constituency to vote at a by-election, but no such restriction is placed upon the voter in a General Election. He may only vote once, but he may vote anywhere he likes. I see on the other side the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, who knows very well that sometimes elections result in narrow majorities. When an election has resulted in a narrow majority, I ask the House to consider what, under this Bill, would be the result at a General Election? The very grievance that the hon. Member and his Friends have against plural voting would be intensified, because from all parts of the country people qualified to vote in a constituency which had been won or lost by a narrow majority at a by-election would be dragged in to swamp the small minority or small majority at the next election.
There is another point in connection with the drafting of the Bill. The Bill refers to the Registration Order of 1895, and makes that Order a condition of the franchise. On looking up that Order, the conclusion to which one undoubtedly comes is that it applies only to England and Wales. Its references are primarily to the County Councils Act of 1888, which is an English Act. Throughout the whole of the Order you will find the words, "the clerk of the county council." At that time there were no county councils in Ireland, and apparently the Order does not refer in any way to Scotland. I know that Scotland and Ireland did very well for the Government at the last election, and it may be that they are quite satisfied, and are prepared to disfranchise them at all succeeding by-elections; but I leave them to reckon with their Scottish supporters when it comes to a question of heckling as to why the Scottish people are not to have a by-election. Under the Bill they will 1617 not, because, if the Registration Order applies only to England and Wales, in the event of a poll at a by-election in Scotland nobody could vote, unless perhaps it was the returning officer, if he did not happen to be an elector. It may be a mistake in drafting, but the promoters of the Bill cannot think much of the principles involved if they make such a glaring error as to disfranchise two parts of the Kingdom. Another point of machinery is that a person is to be asked, "Have you voted in any other constituency?" Does any hon. Member with experience of elections think that it is possible to have an accurate answer to such a question put in the congested state of the polling booths during the last hour or two before the close of the poll? Although the question is to be asked, there is no machinery for ascertaining whether a man has voted elsewhere, except the penal clause.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
The hon. Member has overlooked the fact that there are two statutory questions which may be asked now. This is not imperative; it is a further question which may be asked.
§ Mr. STAVELEY-HILL
If it is only permissive you do not carry the question any further than it was before. You have no machiney for ascertaining whether persons have voted elsewhere or not. Then with regard to all the polls being on the same day. There is nothing whatever to prevent polls being on one day now. Why are they not? Because the people in the districts affected find that particular days of the week are more suitable than others. The holding of all elections on one day would cause great injustice in some towns or divisions. Local persons after long experience are able to fix the most convenient days. I agree that the period over which a General Election extends might conceivably be shortened, but to fix one day would give rise to much inconvenience. That day might be a market day or a local holiday, and under the Bill not even Bank Holidays are excepted. This part of the Bill would result in the maximum of inconvenience and the minimum of consideration. Taking it all round, the proposal can only be described as an attempt to jerry-mander the present condition of things. If you are fair and politically honest in a measure of this sort, put into it provisions to cure those evils of which everybody com- 1618 plains, but do not seek to try to obtain a party advantage by, at this hour of the day, disfranchising those who are as much entitled to record their votes as anyone else. At any rate, it is unfair to deal with the matter in the manner proposed by this Bill.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Anyone who has studied the speeches made by Members of the party opposite after the last General Election will have seen that two reasons were given for their defeat. The first was drink and intimidation, which are always coupled together, as though a man were first made drunk and then intimidated, and the second was plural voting. It would not be in order on this Bill to discuss the first of those causes, but I very much hope before the short life of this Parliament comes to an end we may have an opportunity of discussing it, as I think we shall show that the case is very different from that portrayed in Radical prints. The second cause is put forward equally strongly. It is a curious fact that a man never puts down his defeat as having anything to do with the poorness of his case or the poorness of his candidature. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) said that he did not think Members on this side of the House would be so bold as to put forward the argument that if plural voting was abolished we should lose very heavily at the poll. Of course we shall not, because a great number of us, including myself, hold the view that plural voting does not assist us as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite think. In the discussion of this subject there has never been, as far as I know, any real attempt to discuss the merits or demerits of the system of plural voting. Nothing has been said about its value from the point of view of the historical continuity of electoral law. It has been held by many of the best authorities that the system of local representation and property qualification is based upon a historical continuity of electoral law which goes back many hundreds of years. I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Huddersfield when he says that that continuity has already been broken by different Franchise Acts. Nor have I ever heard the system discussed from the point of view of its value as an aid to good government. The only point brought forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite is, "The plural voter votes against us; let us do away with him." He is like beer, the bishops, and the House of Lords. He is in the way 1619 of schemes of hon. Gentlemen opposite; therefore let him be done away with. Never discuss his value or the merits or demerits of the system, merely abolish him because he is not of your way of thinking. That is the reason why this Bill is put forward now, and why we are discussing it now, and for no other reason.
On the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield as to whether or not the plural voter does assist the party to which we on this side of the House belong, and is that great hindrance to hon. Gentlemen opposite they pretend, I would venture to quote some words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles W. Dilke). Speaking on the Second Reading of the Plural Voting Bill, which was introduced in the last Parliament, in 1906, he, in a very interesting and weighty speech, said:—With regard to property, the class of person who comes within this Bill is not so much the great owner of property as the Final] city man: the man who has an ordinary city qualification and occupation, and who at the same time enjoys the privilege of voting all over the country in respect of a email investment in land, cottage property, and the like.I think that view of the right hon. Gentleman is really the view of most people who have studied the electoral conditions of this country. I believe that a very large number of plural voters are formed from that class of successful tradesmen in the county towns who have their businesses, their shops, in the town, and have purchased for themselves a small property adjacent to the town where they may spend week-ends or their holidays. I think it is quite true, too, that a very large number of successful artisans have got some savings invested in town and landed property. In the South of England there are many cases of that kind. I could mention one village in my Constituency. It is a very small village. I suppose there are not more than fifty or sixty houses in it. Of these no less than a dozen separate houses are owned by separate owners, non-resident in the place, or even in the county. Some of the owners are small retired tradesmen. In two cases they are successful artisans. I think it is a great mistake to suppose that this particular class, to whom I have referred, in the past necessarily were opposed to the policy of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are often told that the middle class vote ought to be organised. I myself think that the vote of what is 1620 called the middle class, in the South of England, has been very largely given to the Radical party. The vote of what I might call, I hope without offence, that admirable class, the grocer class, was very largely given to hon. Gentlemen opposite; or at all events was largely given to them until within the last few years. [A laugh.] Well, I gather what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea means by that laugh —till within the last one or two years. I do not think it was given to them so largely at the last General Election. There was a simple reason for that. The class is very largely made up of those who have risen from working men to be employers of labour on a small scale, and they look with concern at the legislation which the Radical party has brought forward in the last eighteen months. They are the people who look bravely to the fruits of their own industry rather than to that State assistance which the Government offer to give them. I quite agree that that class during the last few months, or the last few years, have turned against hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I would ask the House to recognise that in this Bill a very serious blow is being aimed, not at the large landlord, but at the small owner of property. Why is it being aimed at him? Because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite detest the class of small property owners quite as much as they detest any man who has a stake in the country. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh. Some of them are doubtless new Members. When they have had a further experience of this House they will realise that what I say is the case. The man who has something to lose will lose it if these schemes of Radical legislation are passed. I admit you have lost his vote very largely during the last few years. Therefore, you are anxious to abolish his chance to vote. I ask whether at such a time, when we have several very grave questions to discuss, questions which are so important that they must be discussed within the next few months, it is the time to bring in a Bill like the one the hon. Member for Huddersfield has brought in. We do not yet know whether it is going to be supported by the Government. I imagine the question as to whether or not the Government will give it their support rests on the point as to whether they think it may be used as a lever against the House of Lords. If so, I think, there is not the slightest doubt whatever that they will support it. It is a monstrous thing that we should be 1621 asked, not to deal with a comprehensive scheme of electoral reform, not to do away with the anomalies in the constituencies, and those connected with the question of Proportional Representation; that we should be asked to deal with the matter, not as a part of a general scheme of electoral reform, but merely in order—as the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has frankly said—to give to the party opposite a pull when the General Election comes along in a few months or a few weeks time.
No real case has been put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite for passing this Bill. I pass on to what has really not been touched upon in the course of this Debate. That is, that this Bill undoubtedly in theory, though perhaps not in practise, abolishes the property qualification and local representation. I suppose that is really admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I say of both these things that they are an essential part of the British Constitution. The introducer of the Bill used a sentence in which he said:That the property qualification in this country— the idea that a man should have a large material stake in the country—had long ago been abolished.I deny that the property qualification itself in these days means that a man has a large material stake in the country.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not altogether agree that historically he had either. Certainly it does not mean so to-day. But my point is this: That the different Franchise Bills passed during the last sixty or seventy years never attacked the root idea of the property qualification. It is true that they may have made it harder for those concerned to attain to that qualification. This Bill does attack it most distinctly, as if the hon. Gentleman had brought in a One Man, One Vote Bill. The other point I make is, that while there may be some reason for introducing a One Man, One Vote Bill, there can be no logical reason for introducing this particular part of it. From the beginning of electoral law in this country, in the time of the Saxons, I think, through the ages, the idea has been that the depositories of power should not be the electors at large throughout the country, but the electors grouped in a particular constituency. That has never been lost sight of in the Franchise Acts which have been passed later. Now the hon. Gentleman proposes in fell swoop 1622 to abolish that idea altogether. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman opposite, if, as the Member for Huddersfield admits, this Bill practically abolishes the property qualification, why you do not propose manhood suffrage?
The hon. Gentleman opposite is ready to undertake to answer a good many questions on behalf of his party. He says they will. I do not know whether he is in the confidence of the Government, or whether they are going to bring in such a Bill. Why do not hon. Gentlemen opposite boldly introduce a Bill for manhood suffrage? The First Commissioner of Works, speaking upon a Bill he introduced, said, "Much might be said for such a method of procedure. I believe the franchise is rightly founded upon manhood, and not upon property, and I regard residence and ownership as only convenient methods of qualification." Why do not the party opposite boldly bring forward a Bill for manhood suffrage? There are two reasons why they do not bring it forward, and are bringing in this Bill instead, which, in my opinion, is a much worse Bill. The first reason is that it would open up a controversy which they are only too anxious to see closed. That is the question of the franchise for women. If any such Bill was brought in it would reopen the whole of the question, and we should be once more' witnessing those scenes of attacks, both personal and otherwise, upon Members of the Government. There is another reason why they should not dare to bring a Bill for the full granting of manhood suffrage, and it is this: Experience has shown hon. Gentlemen opposite that such a Bill would not be popular in the country. I know manhood suffrage is the policy of the Labour party, but it would not be very popular in the country. I do not believe that the respectable artisans in towns or agricultural labourers in the country having a home and having a stake in the country would be willing to see the vote given to every tramp and loafer without any stake in the country at all. I believe that the vast majority of the best class of working men do not desire to see manhood suffrage. Yet there is every bit as much logical reason for introducing manhood suffrage as there is for introducing this Bill. You strike at the very roots of the proper qualification and of local representation in this Bill. You are afraid to bring in the whole, and you only bring in a part which is even worse than the whole. I have not the least doubt that this Bill will be supported by hon. Gentle- 1623 men below the Gangway opposite. They are supporters of manhood suffrage, and they stated in speeches in the last Parliament that they would not accept a part of this reform, and must have reform of the whole of the electoral law. They will support the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill now. They are wise to do so. I recently saw a speech of the hon. Member for Methyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) in which he said "in the present House of Commons the Members of the Labour party have ceased to count. Cabinet Ministers make concessions to the Tory party and to the Irish party oblivious to the fact that there was a Labour party. He wanted a far more militant policy." The hon. Member will no doubt support this Bill. But I venture to suggest that no one can logically support this Bill without being in favour of a fuller measure being introduced for fuller electoral reform redistribution, manhood suffrage, and so on. By this Bill you are only attempting to remove what is a very small anomaly in the general electoral system. Why? Not because you want to make elections pure as the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill in a characteristic vein said. He spoke three times of the purity of an election. We are as anxious on this side of the House to see purity in an election. Does any hon. Gentleman deny it? We have denials in the Press and on the platform, but will any hon. Gentleman get up on the other side of the House and say that the Tory party want to see anything else but purity in elections? We do not believe that the electorate will be purified by piecemeal legislation of this kind which is introduced for party purposes, and to make it easier for the party opposite at the next General Election. This Bill is a silly effort which is intended to enable the party opposite to go into the General Election with marked cards. I hope the House will not pass this Bill, and if it does pass it I hope it will be thrown out in another place.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Harcourt)
I must first of all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield on his good fortune in securing so early in such a crowded Session an opportunity of obtaining a declaration of the opinions of this new Parliament upon the two general propositions which are contained in this Bill; and I must also congratulate him, if I may, upon the lucidity, clearness and moderation with which he has stated his case. To both of the 1624 propositions contained in the hon. Gentleman's Bill the Government will offer their warmest sympathy and support. I regret that what I may call the major of these two propositions relating to plural voting failed in the last Parliament to obtain legislative effect; after it was introduced in this House in the first year of that Parliament, when we were fresh with a great majority from the polls, and when in this House there was a great majority pledged to their constituents to carry that policy into law. It failed through the action of another place. It is refreshing to realise that if the proposals at this moment under the consideration of this House as to the relations of the two Houses of Parliament had been in operation during the last Parliament, the Plural Voting Bill would have been put upon the Statute Book.
If I venture upon any friendly criticism of the methods of my hon. Friend in his Bill they must not be understood as derogating to any extent from my support, and the Government's support, of the main principles of the Bill. I shall make a few observations first upon the policy of simultaneous polling for all elections upon the same day, and I will look at some of the alleged disadvantages—I call them alleged because to none of them from my own experience do I attach any great importance. The question has been raised to-day which has been raised before as to police difficulties in connection with simultaneous elections all over the country. I understand that the Home Office do not feel that there is any danger or difficulty in that. I noticed in the Press a short time ago that one or two returning officers of experience giving evidence before the Royal Commission now sitting upon the electoral system, said that they saw no-difficulty in the police arrangements for simultaneous election. We have, as has been pointed out, elections for nine seats in Liverpool, Manchester, and Salford, all taking place on the same day. They have, of course, there a borough police force, but I do not think they find it necessary on these occasions to seek for outside assistance, and I feel quite confident that the county police throughout England would be perfectly able to get over any difficulties experienced in any of our modern elections. The fact is that electioneering to-day is much more peacefully effected than-many of us can remember even in our own experience.
1625 If any difficulty were to arise at all, it would be much more likely to arise from disturbances at the declaration of the poll rather than during the progress of the polling. It must be remembered that the disturbing forces are generally concentrated at the place of the declaration of the poll, and, therefore, the police there could be easily concentrated. For this reason I dismiss those suggested dangers altogether. It has also been apprehended that the returning officer's staff and ballot apparatus will be more expensive in consequence of the simultaneity of elections. That may be so, but if it is, then it is only an additional argument, to my mind, for the association with such a proposal as this of a proposal of which we on this side of the House are certainly all in favour— namely, the payment out of public funds of the official expenses of the returning officer. I do not believe those expenses would be appreciably increased by the proposal of my hon. Friend. Many returning officers now charge the unfortunate candidate for the loan of ballot boxes and apparatus sums of money which are based upon the assumption that the apparatus is new each time, although a close inspection reveals it is obvious that they have been in use since the Ballot Act was passed. It is also a fact that all county council elections in the country are taken on one day, therefore, presumably, the apparatus is in existence and can be used. It is true there are fewer contests, but nevertheless the arrangements have to be made, and the apparatus is therefore Available.
Another objection is that a fixed day of the week, whatever it was, would be inconvenient in some places, and that is possibly true. I believe that Saturday is on the whole the best day for the poll in the provinces, but I gather it is not the best day for a poll in London. I am not speaking from a party point of view, because the object in every case should be to obtain the largest percentage of voters, whatever the result to a particular party may be. If you have a fixed day in the week there will be special circumstances and local circumstances, such as the market day, or the necessary absence of railway or fishermen, which may make a particular day undesirable on account of their absence during certain periods of the week. I know this is a fault inherent to any fixed day. I can imagine the inconvenience it would be to the Doncaster Division if the day happened to coincide 1626 with that of the race for the St. Leger. In other countries they adopt the solution of taking the polls on a Sunday. But that is a solution we cannot and would not look to in this country.
There is a possible cure, and that is the cure of the polling day being declared a public holiday. That need not be done by statute, because it can be proclaimed by an Order in Council. I am afraid that a compulsory holiday of that kind would be resented by some people who do not wish to lose a day's work and wages merely for the sake of recording their votes, when they can very well do their work and vote on the same day. I know there is a desire in some parts of the country to have a holiday on polling day. In Lancashire, where there are a large number of people employed in cotton mills, almost invariably they "play," as it is called, during part of the polling day. There are some trades which in the middle of the week involve continuous processes, and you cannot intermit those processes for a whole day. We have also to consider the opinion of a large number of non-voters in the country who would lose their wages for that day if you make it a public holiday.
Another point to be considered by those acquainted with the facts is the interval of twelve days provided by the Bill between the issue of the writ and the polling day. Is that interval too long or too short, or is it both in different places? I know the proposal of the hon. Member for North Somerset allows a variation of this period by an Order in Council, but it is not really a very different proposal to that provided for in this Bill. The Executive can always, of course, lengthen the period of preparation for a dissolution by the date at which they choose to fix the Council proclaiming the dissolution. I think a period of twelve days may be too short in some counties, and it may very easily be too long in some boroughs. To provide a period of twelve days would be to decrease the cost of the candidature in county constituencies, and to increase the cost in boroughs. In boroughs it is possible to regulate the cost, and reduce it if the candidates will commence their campaign operations at a later date than the issue of the writ. That has not always been a very easy agreement in view of great political stress and excitement. It failed of attainment in 1885, when the date of the dissolution was known about six months before, and the country was involved in a prolonged 1627 election campaign for nearly the whole of those six months. This hardship in a county constituency would press more upon a new candidate at a time of unexpected dissolution, although it would not affect so much the sitting Member, or a long selected candidate. On the other hand it might be a serious thing in the case of a sudden by-election being sprung upon a large county division when both candidates would be new men. That could be met by an agreed postponement of the issue of the writ in this House.
As to the advantages of having all elections upon the same day, I think all of us agree that they outweigh the disadvantages which have been put forward. By far the best of the advantages of this proposal is the diminution of the disturbance to trade—I mean by that mainly the disturbance to retail trade. I do not mean a disturbance in the great productive or export trades because they are very little affected by our great political disturbances, but no one will deny that the retail trade is greatly affected. Many of the great daily newspapers in London during the progress of the polls at the last election lost from ten to twenty-five columns of their ordinary advertisements during the progress of the polls, and that shows the value which traders attach to advertisements during an election contest. The second advantage which has been mentioned to-day is the limitation of the mobile or transferable activity of outside organisations from which all of us have both suffered and profited. I am not sure that many of us would be sorry to be relieved of both the profit and the suffering in this respect. With regard to the simultaneity of the polls sometimes we profit and alternately we suffer. When we suffer we are anxious to dam the flowing tide. When we profit we do not say very much about it. This will not, of course, affect what is called the swing of the pendulum. The swing of the pendulum is the transference during the sitting of Parliament of the balance of the electorate. It will, however, deal with the desire—human, but perhaps unsound—of a considerable number of people to be upon the winning side, and I think in that way you would get a closer balance of opinion throughout the country. You will also get, let it be remembered, smaller majorities in this House. I am a House of Commons man, and I do not think 1628 small majorities are desirable things even when they are majorities against myself. I would on the whole prefer that when the country had made up its mind on the subject, that its declaration and the power of putting that declaration into force in this House should be undoubted. Therefore that advantage in one direction may become a disadvantage in another.
The last of the advantages, I think, claimed for this proposal is that it would prevent plural voting. I confess to being a student of the subject, and, in my opinion, the simultaneity of elections would have practically no effect whatever upon plural voting. It is quite true it would affect the case of the rare individual who has qualification in Caithness and Cornwall. It would not, however, prevent a man voting in London and in Edinburgh on the same day. I have a friend who possesses seven votes in different districts, and he can give all of them with the greatest ease in the same day, by the use of an ordinary fly and the ordinary train service. He possesses one in the New Forest, two in London, three in Oxfordshire, and one in Berkshire. In order to exercise those votes he probably stays the night with relatives in the New Forest, and, after a late breakfast, he votes on his way to the station. He travels up to London, where, after a comfortable lunch at his club, he gives two votes. He then goes to Oxford by a train in the early afternoon, and he exercises his votes in the three divisions there and in the one division in Berkshire, arriving home in time for an early and comfortable dinner. This simultaneity of elections is not apparently going to affect my friend in any way, and I ought to say on his behalf that at the last election he had political engagements in the North of England which prevented him exercising more than one vote.
Probably the weight of the plural vote is accounted for by the freeholders in Parliamentary boroughs who have also votes in contiguous county divisions. Freeholders, for instance, in the Borough of Christchurch all have a vote in the New Forest Division, and there they exercise their county vote actually in a polling booth in the Borough of Christchurch. I am not going to discuss the theory of plural voting to-day, but what an absurdity it is that, because a man happens to occupy a freehold house in Christchurch, he should have two votes, one for Christ- 1629 church and one for the New Forest, whereas, in the neighbouring town of Lymington, a man occupying a freehold house of the same size and character has only one vote, because it does not happen to be a Parliamentary borough. It is the freeholders of the great towns like Manchester and London voting in contiguous county divisions of Lancashire and Middlesex who constitute the real weight of the plural voters in the country, and I think therefore my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield would be very wise to deal with plural voting by other methods.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that a freeholder occupying a house in London also has a vote in the contiguous county division?
§ Mr. HARCOURT
No, I did not say that. I am not going to restate the whole case for the limitation of plural voting. That was admirably done by my hon. Friend, and it has been in my place to do it more than once in this House, though not in this Parliament. The views of the Government are well known on this subject, and they are represented by the Bill to which I have referred. If I am at all critical of the hon. Member's methods and of his Bill it is not due to any undue feeling of jealousy. My bantling is dead, strangled in all the joy and beauty of its youth in another place, but I still live in the hope of a glorious resurrection. In 1906 I was instructed to draft a Bill which should stop plural Toting and yet disfranchise nobody. My Bill would have done that. It deprived no man of any qualification, nor does the Bill of my hon. Friend, but it did insist that he should select once a year which of his qualifications he was going to exercise during the currency of that year's register. The result of that was that he would have been starred or specially marked upon the register of the place at which he had selected the vote. In that way we avoided a multiplicity of those questions which have been referred to to-day and which undoubtedly, if very numerous, may lead to grave delay in the crowding hours of the poll towards the end.
Under my proposal the personation agent of the candidate attending in the booths on behalf of the candidate would have marked his register beforehand with a query against the name of any man not starred to vote in that constituency, but 1630 who had in a second column of the register an address other than that of the qualifying property, because he would be a man who presumably had a plural vote. It was only to those people who turned up, which it was extremely unlikely they would do, that the dilatory questions would have had to be put. I am afraid my hon. Friend's Bill as it stands, although no doubt it is capable of amendment, might lead to many of these questions being put, because, when a voter is starred nowhere, the question would have to be put wherever he gives the vote, and the Bill, I think, rather undesirably leaves the selection of the place of voting to the voter until the very last moment. That means that there would be throughout an election a contest over the body of the plural voter by the agents in every constituency where his name appears. That would be-hard work for the agent, and probably unpleasant to the plural voter. There is another disadvantage. There would be no certainty as to the real size of the electorate in a particular constituency, because you would not know how many plural voters might come into it at that time. Therefore I venture to submit that my plan would be the best, because it secures less uncertainty as to the result, as under it the individual voter would only vote at the place which he had selected in the previous year as being his voting constituency. The plan of the hon. Member for Huddersfield would allow a man to vote for his occupation qualification at a by-election. That plan gives him the option of being, able to select among varying occupation qualifications, and these could be many in number. I think it quite possible that a single qualification would be the best thing in the end. If we had a single qualification, then probably it would be said that, it ought to be a residential qualification; but there would be always many difficulties; in applying it. A man may have several residences. If you want a definition giving him a vote for only one residence, which has extended over, say, six months and a day in a particular place, it may be any one of several places. If we had to qualify in that way I do not know how many Members of this House would have managed to have qualified last year by six months' residence, if it was a place where you had slept for six months. In that case I am afraid many of us would be qualified to vote for this House.
Such a qualification would also lead to a mass of inquiries at every Registration Court every year as to the life-history of 1631 the voter during the previous twelve months. Therefore, I regard with some affection my own plan. If I have ventured to make some friendly criticisms—intended only to be friendly—of the scheme of the hon. Member as it appears in this Bill, I desire again to affirm my strong adherence and the strong adherence of the Government to the principles which are put forward in this Bill, and if my Friend goes to a Division at this stage I shall support him in the Lobby.
§ Sir CHARLES W. DILKE
Until near the end of my right hon. Friend's speech I was afraid that new Members would not be allowed to have experience of his special form of wit, which has been so much applied in former times to this subject. It is impossible on this occasion to discuss his Bill, which was a complicated measure of detail. It is not before us now, and is hardly known in its details to many Members of this House. But I should like to enter a caveat against the extreme complication of some of the details in its original form. Generally the principles on which my right hon. Friend dealt with this matter are those on which the majority of people on our side of politics desire to see it dealt with, but they also would like to see the complication reduced. That complication, as a matter of fact, was somewhat reduced during its passage through this House, and he has admitted, or at any rate he will not deny, that there could be further modifications if we were willing to run one risk, to which he frequently alluded in the course of the Debates, and which I think he would not be unwilling to run. I put in a plea before any such Bill is again introduced that the question of smoothing down its lines should be considered. The question before the House, the form of the Bill, and the statements made in the Debate, are such as I think may be well considered by those of us who have taken part in these electoral discussions in the past so that we may throw any light we can upon it. So far as the simplicity of taking all the elections on one day is concerned, quite apart from getting rid of the complications of plural voting, I am a strong supporter of the proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has proved the first part of his case, that on the whole it is well to aim at getting all the elections on one day. The dangers which are looked for in that process are small as compared with the exaggerated statements made to the 1632 House. It is said that there is a police difficulty. In spite of the interruption of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, I should like to point out that many counties all over the country, in rural county divisions, were nearly all fought at one county council election after the passage of the Education Act.
§ Sir CHARLES DILKE
There was an interruption. No doubt that was a fair test—there was a large number of contests —as to the police difficulty as to riots if elections were held on one day. In that case the elections were hotly fought and there was no difficulty. Everybody I think will admit that the time of excitement at elections with which the police have had to cope is generally at some other time or place than on the election day or at the polling stations. It may be some few days before the polling. I know most hon. Members will admit that there is no physical difficulty in taking all the elections on one day. Of course, as has been shown, that does not deal with the control of certain counties by the voters of county towns who are plural voters. There are certain counties which are always very closely fought and where there are a certain number of persons who possess a double or triple or quadruple qualification, in the county towns and in the county divisions, and these are sometimes large enough in number certainly to turn the scale in some of these divisions. To defend that upon any theory of the electoral franchise is indeed difficult. The town voters have been the subject of a great deal of talk to-day. The town owners in the Redistribution agreement of 1884 had to be put somewhere, for it had been decided by both parties that they were not to be abolished, that the redistribution was to be apart from franchise, and that no one should lose any qualification. They were shovelled by agreement of the parties in thousands into certain divisions arbitrarily chosen with which they had no connection. Many of us in this House know of cases of that kind in our own persons. In the case of London an hon. Member suggested that residence in London in a freehold house did not give a man two votes. Who is resident in London in a freehold house? [An HON. MEMBER: "I am."] Very few. The majority do not own their freehold, and 1633 the mass of them live in leasehold houses, and vote in suburban county divisions of Surrey, Middlesex, and Kent, which they never see and never visit. That, of course, Cannot be denied. It should be remembered that the connection of many of us who are plural ownership voters with the constituency in which we vote is a purely artificial connection. We have no business, no property, nothing of what is commonly looked upon as an interest in the constituency, but we are there because we have in some way been technically put into that constituency, and in some cases we overcome the opinion of those who live in it and pay their rates on their occupation there. This Bill has been discussed all through as though it dealt with plural voters only, but I am sorry to say, and that is why I have risen to speak, that it deals with a number of persons who are not plural voters at all and disfranchises a considerable number. That is, of course, no argument upon the main question which we are discussing here to-day, but, as far as my own vote goes, it is conclusive against this Bill. I cannot support it because it is a disfranchising measure which disfranchises a considerable number of men in my own Constituency. On the general question I am entirely with my right hon. Friend and in accord with the admirable speech of the Mover of the Bill, which, I agree in thinking, was as clear and as perfect as could be conceived. He stated the four main classes of the plural voter, but there is another class which he ignored, and it is one in regard to which we used to have little differences with my right hon. Friend. A careful examination of the county registers has shown me that it is a more numerous class than my right hon. Friend was inclined to believe.
Of course, he and I, and everybody who has studied the matter, agree that it is very difficult to argue as to principles and proportions, because there is such infinite difference between the registers for different parts of the country. In the Rhondda Valley you have a population similar to that in adjoining mining constituencies. In the one there are no ownership voters at all, and in the other there are several thousands, many of them belonging to the working classes. These differences are so great that it is almost impossible for anyone to state how many duplicate or plural voters there are, or how many non-resident voters there are, because you have no means of testing them in a particular county. [An HON. MEMBER: 1634 "The number is exaggerated."] Oh, no. I venture to say, after a good deal of research, that the highest number of persons having more than one qualification on the register which has been brought forward is very far short of the reality. You can never, taking county by county and parish by parish, find out the enormous number of duplicate electors which exist. One of the reasons why at the last election there was so enormous a poll in some agricultural parishes, where the ordinary tests failed to prove that there was any personation, and where 94 per cent, of the full register was polled, not reckoning everybody who is dead or gone away— one of the reasons was that for the first time motors were provided, and in some instances too lavishly provided. There was in some cases a motor for each elector, and they succeeded in polling all the wastrel, tramp, and unknown voters, who were on the register for the rural parishes. That is the plural voter to whom I am referring, and in the rural villages the wastrel or tramp is sometimes on the register three times. The agricultural labourer who shifts and moves about is very often not known, and he is not objected to, and there are plural and triple voters who have given more trouble to those who try to trace them than any other class of elector. This election they were all polled. Each of them had a motor to himself, and the consequence was that 94 or 95 per cent, of those who were on the register were polled in some rural parishes.
I will not attempt to speak at any length of the full effect of the double vote in regard to local voting, but personally, I do not think my right hon. Friend will ever truly cure this difficulty until, as he was invited by Members, not always, perhaps, with a desire to help him, he deals with the subject as a whole. He said himself, that franchise is the key, but as to the residential franchise most of us on this side desire to see a franchise which is based on human life and stake in the country, although agreeing that it may be limited in some way by residence, but residence is not the basis. Whenever you have residence as the basis of franchise, as part of the citizenship, or that which entitles to a vote, then of course you have all these difficulties of structural severance, several residences, and so forth, and you have the perplexing complexities of the existing system.
§ Sir CHARLES DILKE
Yes, I know, but the difficulty of that is the clashing between the principle of manhood suffrage and adult suffrage. In Australia and New Zealand every grown-up man and every grown-up woman has a vote. It is not in order for us to discuss that at all, but that is the root difficulty. Let me also enter another caveat in passing against the suggestion of the local nature of the old franchise being such that it encouraged the idea of plural voting. The old franchise in this country—the old county franchise— is still represented by an existing institution, and that is the Shire Court of the county. Up to the county councils coming the Shire Court was a court of freeholders, but it was of the freeholders as representing the solid inhabitants of the place; but I imagine that in the old days there were very few of those freeholders who had freeholds in different parts of the country. They were substantially inhabitants—the free inhabitants of the district. That old court still exists in two counties possessing Royal Forests, and if anyone had the archaeological interest to like to spend a large sum of money in a contested election on that basis he might, if it were possible, hire every motor in the whole country to do so, and poll the owners of freehold graves, whatever the smallness of the value of those graves might be. This Shire Court still exists, and still elects verderers, though no longer coroners.
This Bill contains a clause which has already been selected by two hon. Members opposite for some animadversion, and was mentioned by my right hon. Friend. As to that clause, the mover carefully avoided saying a single word about it. It applies to by-elections, which, as we: know from experience, are fought with greater pertinacity and more closeness on the whole than General Elections. Therefore the enfranchisement or disfranchisement of voters at by-elections is perhaps more important than at a General Election. One of the complexities of the Bill of my right hon. Friend was his provision as to by-elections, although it was a very good provision; but no treatment of this subject can be so dangerous as the fourth clause of this Bill. The Bill is supposed to apply to plural voters, but the fourth clause of this Bill would disfranchise at by-elections great numbers of persons of all classes who have only one vote and who are not plural electors.
When I found this Bill was coming on I went through my own register in order 1636 to see what that number would be, so far as I could judge, and it is undoubtedly very large. I have, I think, about 2,000 freehold working electors. When contests go on between sides of the House as to the property vote, I smile with the recollection of the extremely advanced politics of my freeholder supporters, who are numerous and are more advanced than my occupation voters as a rule. But many of them are persons who have no other vote. These are of many classes. The freehold voter who goes to America for work—I generally have 200 in the United States—the freehold voter who goes to Yorkshire, Northumberland, or Rhondda, or mid-Glamorganshire, these men have no qualification. They do not stay long enough to obtain a qualification in the place where they work as a rule, and some of them would not lose the occupation or residential vote because their wives and families remain at home and are ratepayers in the place. Many of them are unmarried men who have not the property to make them joint occupiers or lodgers. They have not the 5s. clear which is necessary for the lodger or the joint occupation franchise of £10 a year. Those men are numerous, and, taking them out, I find that I can put my hand on thirty freeholders who would be disfranchised at a by-election, possessing no other franchise at all in the constituency; and there probably are a great many more who are actually known to be in that position. I do not think we ought to deal with this question of the plural voter in such a way as to disfranchise. In this country it is a practical objection against the possibility of passing such a Bill. When we come to the point we never disfranchise. That you should run the risk of some possible disfranchisement is, of course, the ease with the whole practice, of starring; but that is a risk which Parliament will run if theoretically there is no destruction of a qualification, and if in practice that destruction is not one in a thousand cases.
The country is divided between the desire to have a residential franchise, to have a manhood suffrage, and to have a suffrage of men and women, but all, I think, now desire to have it free from pure technicality, and desiring, as they do, a wider franchise which would give simpler elections in a cheaper form. I think there would be a universal objection to so change your law as actually to disfranchise those who have no other franchise at present. That is an insuperable objection 1637 to this particular form of Bill. If there is any chance of going forward with such a plan it would be necessary to point out that to base the whole definition upon a forty-page long Order in Council, as is done in this Bill, is to tempt Providence. It does not apply to Scotland or Ireland. In Ireland the law is wholly different— there is no similarity whatever—and although to Scotland it would be possible t-o apply it by simple amendment, it would be impossible to apply it to Ireland or to the Universities. The Universities, of course, are constituencies which most of us would desire to disfranchise. Their whole existence is inconsistent with the modern theory of representation. There is, I believe, no one this side, and there are not very many seriously on the other side who would dispute that fact. I think that is so because, when we argued it here with the Conservative party officially in 1884 it was admitted chat if we could go as far as I wished, and a good many on that side wished, as an approach to one vote one value then they would be prepared to yield University representation. It is contrary to our modern theory, as held on both sides, and of course we desire to do nothing to pre serve University representation. But when you ask the House to pass a Bill of course you must look at facts as they are, and, of course, these clauses are wholly inapplicable, and no lawyer could say what would happen to Universities if this Bill was to pass in this form. It leaves them aside. But the case of Ireland is obvious. The legislation in Clause 4 is based upon a definition as given in the Registration Order of 1895. In the Registration Order, forty pages long, there is incidentally that definition. There is no legal power whatever to define the franchise in the Registration Order. The franchise is defined by law and not by the Order. Such as it is that Order applies to England, and a similar Order applies to Scotland, but no such Order could be made in Ireland. The law of Ireland is wholly different. Therefore the Bill could not possibly be accepted in its present form, although, as regards the principle of a large portion of it, we are all agreed on this side of the House.
§ Sir PHILIP MAGNUS
After the two speeches to which we have just listened the Mover and Seconder of this proposal would be well advised not to press the Bill to a division. It is quite certain that the Bill does not find favour with those even who are prepared to support the 1638 general principle of objection to plural voting which underlies it. It is perhaps somewhat a coincidence that just at present when we are discussing the most vital constitutional changes in the organisation of Parliament we should have had two discussions introduced which have reference to the constitution of this particular House. It would almost seem desirable that this House should be perfectly certain that it was what it professes to be, a true representation of the people of this country, before it takes upon itself to consider in what way another House should be changed. It seems a little remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) should have stated with some satisfaction that if the Bill which he introduced in 1906 had been introduced after the Resolutions now before the House had been passed, that Bill would certainly have become law. I think that very fact is a very good illustration of the serious consequences which might arise if these Resolutions ever came to be passed, because it is almost certain, as he has stated, that that Bill would have been passed in 1906 if there had been no Veto of the House of Lords, and I think it is equally certain that we should not be prepared to pass that Bill at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] An hon. Member says "Yes," but I think anyone who has listened to the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, will recognise that whether the principle underlying the Bill was right or wrong, the complicated machinery by which that Bill was intended to be carried into effect would always have prevented its successful working; and I think there can be no doubt whatever that, whenever we come to consider this Question over again, we shall certainly never desire to adopt a Bill with such complicated machinery and with such heavy penalties attached to it as were to be found in the Bill introduced by the First Commissioner of Works. I remember that on the Third Reading of the Bill I suggested that a much simpler proposal would be to have all the votes taken on one day, and I further ventured to suggest that on the occasion on which an elector gave his vote he should be required to give a declaration absolutely in the words suggested in the Bill now before the House. Consequently I feel a little more disposed to approve of this Bill than I did to approve of the Bill which the First Commissioner of Works brought in, for one reason that it is more easily under- 1639 stood. But although I recognised some of the difficulties which would have attended the general voting on one day, I must own that I did not appreciate at the time when I made that suggestion all the difficulties which have been brought out in the two speeches to which I have referred. All I can say is that the present Bill seems to be as little worthy of the attention of this House and of being passed as was the previous Bill introduced by a Member of the Government. The reason generally brought forward against the principle of plural voting is that it is essentially anomalous, and I think we are all agreed on both sides of the House that there is some anomaly in plural voting. Personally I have always maintained, when I have had an opportunity of speaking on this subject, that if plural voting is to be permitted at all, it ought to be permitted under distinct conditions of a very limited character.
Although we recognise that there is some anomaly in plural voting, still I think at the same time we recognise that there are other anomalies in our whole system of franchise, and that the arguments against them are so much more numerous and so much stronger that it would be a most unwise thing to attempt to interfere with the one anomaly of plural voting without at the same time dealing with the whole question of the redistribution of seats. When this question comes to be considered, and when we are able to distinctly see that one vote has one value, then we may consider under what conditions plural voting should continue to exist. It is one of the peculiarities not only of our system of voting, but, at the same time, of our Constitution, that they both contain anomalies, and that these anomalies counterbalance one another to some extent, and that if you interfere with any one you do so by increasing the disadvantageous effects of the others. We all know that the equilibrium of bodies subject to different forces can be maintained when these forces operate together, but if you remove any one of the forces you destroy the equilibrium, or you alter the direction in which the body is moving. I think the academic discussion of particular phases of our Constitution ought to be discontinued until the time comes when we will be in a position to consider this important question of the franchise from a broad and comprehensive standpoint. That we are not able to do at present. I ventured to say that I thought there were 1640 conditions under which plural voting, and certainly dual voting, might be allowed to continue, and one of these is the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) will later on refer. It is the case of the man who has different interests in two different constituencies. That is the case in the City of London and other cities where a man carries on business in one city and resides in an outlying district. His interests are absolutely divided, and one of these places would be certainly disfranchised if he were not allowed to vote in both. That is distinctly a case where dual voting might continue. I see no abstract reason why a man should have only one vote. I do not think any political philosopher has ever said so. We know that John Stuart Mill strongly affirmed the principle of plural voting. He thought it was necessary and incidental to the general conditions under which the franchise was held in this country. I am quite aware that four years ago I read a passage in this House from Mill's "Representative Government." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean told me then that Mill, after he wrote that passage, altered his opinion. I venture to say that it is quite possible he would have altered his opinion again if he had lived up to the present time, for the conditions now are far more different than they were four years ago from what they were at the time when the opinion was first expressed. Indeed, if one studies the reasons he gave for considering that plural voting was on the whole an advantage, one will see that they apply with greater force to the present conditions of the franchise than at the time he wrote. For these reasons I think no good case can be made out against the general principle of plural voting. But if it is thought desirable to make any change in the conditions under which a man holds more votes than one, these conditions should be altered under some general Redistribution Bill by which the electoral value of one vote will be the same as the electoral value of another vote. Until that scheme can be discussed it is absolutely idle to be tinkering with the question in the way suggested by the Mover of this Bill. Let me further point out, not as a partisan, that, the difficulty of dealing with one portion of the question only arid refusing to consider the whole question in its general bearing is that it exposes those who make the proposal to the suspicion that they are acting from party spirit rather than with the object 1641 of promoting electoral equality. And I should be sorry to assume that that is the case. I have always desired to prevent myself introducing any personal element into any speech which I have made in this House, but at the same time it is necessary to warn hon. Gentlemen on the other side that when they bring forward measures here to deal with the conditions of the Constitution or some of the conditions only under which the franchise is exercised, they are liable to be charged with having regard to the interests of their own particular party rather than to the interests of the country generally. There is one word more which I wish to say in the interests of the Constituency that I have the honour to represent. Reference to that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I do not think any reference was made to the fact of which I wish to speak by any previous speaker, and that is that this Bill, if it would not entirely deprive universities of the franchise, would render it almost impossible for the electors of the universities to exercise the franchise, because it is quite clear that the university polling cannot take place on one day. At the present moment five days are allotted for the polling in university constituencies, and although we would be all very glad if that period could possibly be reduced, still it is quite clear that all the votes could not be recorded in a single day. Therefore, this Bill would practically disfranchise universities, and it would do so in another way, because an elector can only vote in one constituency.
§ Mr. JOSEPH KING
Might I interpose to ask the hon. Member how this Bill will disfranchise the universities? If by the machinery of the Bill provision is made only for asking a personal question, how can you, of a written proxy, ask a personal question?
§ Sir PHILIP MAGNUS
My answer is that in the statement which I have just made it is almost impossible for the polling in the universities to take place on the one day only. If I am to understand that this Bill is perfectly consistent with the Bill under which university elections are now held, of course I have nothing to say on that point. But I put it to the Mover of this proposal whether that is the case. There is no clause in this Bill itself which distinctly states that this Act can exist concurrently with the Act under which university elections take place. What I wish distinctly to point out is that if this Act comes into force and that elections of 1642 all kinds must necessarily take place on the one day, then, of course, universities would be to that extent disfranchised. And it is important to bear in mind that Clause 5 says, "The expression constituency in this Act means the county borough or combination of places or university or universities returning a Member to sit in Parliament." Therefore I think I am justified in supposing that this Bill does refer to university constituencies, which are here distinctly included in the definition. I do not propose to argue the question which I had the opportunity of arguing on a previous occasion of the desirability of university representation. The right hon. Gentleman considers that both sides of the House are practically agreed that under a Redistribution Bill, at any rate, universities would be disfranchised. I venture to differ with him. I think opinions change with times, and I venture to think that in any Redistribution Bill which might be passed by this House instead of the universities being disfranchised the number of universities returning Members to Parliament would be increased. I look forward to that as being a very great advantage and a help to the whole system of university franchise; but I do not think that at the present time it is either necessary or opportune to argue, as I should be quite prepared to argue, the question of giving: to our universities, to the men and women who certainly have had some considerable education, the opportunity of recording an extra vote in consideration of that additional education which they have received. I can only express the hope that this Bill will not be adopted, and that the whole question may be reconsidered.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
As a new Member, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few remarks in support of the principle contained in this Bill. There has been a great deal of discussion from both sides of the House as to the machinery of the Bill, but I do not propose to touch on that subject. That can be left to the Committee stage. As one who is in favour of manhood suffrage and adult suffrage, I have pleasure in supporting the principle contained in this Bill. I cannot agree with hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, some of whom seem to maintain the position that, admitting there are great anomalies connected with plural voting, we should not remove those anomalies until we can by one large comprehensive measure take away all the 1643 anomalies contained in our rather extraordinary and complex franchise law. That does not seem to me to be sound reasoning. I am prepared, as representing a large constituency in Scotland, to go much further than the provisions of this Bill, for this good reason, that if we who are favourable to the extension of the franchise and to the broadening of the basis of the franchise can in any measure brought forward secure some extension we should assent to that extension. The hon. Member who moved that the Bill be read six months hence made some remark regarding this Bill as a breach of the historical continuity of the franchise law. I do not understand that phrase. I do not know whether he wished to imply that the basis or the idea at the foot of franchise law is the property qualification. I am not sure that this is so. I rather think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that what is at the basis of the franchise law in this country is the household qualification. That principle was adopted by a Conservative Government in 1867, and it was extended in 1884 By a Liberal Government to the counties. In the one case it was adopted by the Conservative Government, and in the other it was extended to the counties in 1884. I submit that the household qualification lies at the back of our franchise law. I do not suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite wish us to talk about the old faggot votes, because they were abolished, and I do not know whether they would be a property qualification or not. When it is said this Bill is aimed at the destruction of the franchise of small property owners, I take exception to that statement very strongly. The Bill is aimed at destroying plural voting.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
I differ from the right hon. Baronet, though I do not wish to argue the point. I think the Bill does not apply in that way at all.
§ Sir CHARLES DILKE
The franchise law in Ireland is different from the other two, but in Scotland a similar order would apply. There would be disfranchisement.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
I accept the information conveyed by the right hon. Baronet. At the same time, I submit that 1644 the abolition of plural voting is not aimed at any class of electors. The object of the Bill is, as far as possible, to ascertain the will of the people of the country. We have heard in recent Debates from speakers on both sides of the House of the intense earnestness and burning desire that exists to ascertain the definite mind of the people of this country. How is it possible to do so in view of the facts stated by the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill? He gave the instance of four brothers who between them at recent elections were able to exercise no fewer than 120 votes. There are hundreds of thousands of plural voters on the electoral registers of the country, and if four men can exercise 120 votes how is it possible to ascertain the mind of the electors of the country when a certain limited class of electors are registering and re-registering five, ten, fifteen, and even fifty times? For that reason I submit we are entitled to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite to give their support to this Bill, because it will help to make more clear the mind and will of the people of this country.
The last speaker said something about university representation being increased. In my view universities are largely over-represented as it is. Most Members of the House have in their mind the universities where they received, at any rate, a part of their education, though they do not come here directly to represent those institutions. It cannot be otherwise than that they remember their universities, so that in fact the universities-, instead of being under-represented, are over-represented. In the same way, in regard to popular schools, they may be said to have rather a larger number of representatives in this House.
The anomalies of plural voting are really quite absurd. Take any popular centre you like, such, for instance, as Glasgow or a place like the City of London, where there are many thousands of voters with a double qualification. They have their own business place in the City and they reside in the suburbs, thus getting two votes. If a man has his business in the City and resides in the City he only gets one vote. I can quote the case of a friend of mine who is a voter in the city of Glasgow, and who has five or six other qualifications to vote. In the city of Glasgow he can only vote once, but when he steps across an imaginary line along a street he finds himself in East Renfrewshire, where he is an 1645 owner of property and has a vote. If he goes into West Renfrewshire there again he has property and a vote. If he takes a few steps along a street into Particle he has a vote there, and so on. Why should a man who is in a large way of business in the City have only one vote, while a man with a business in the City and several properties in the suburbs may have five, ten, or twenty votes? That is not the only geographical absurdity of the position, for it sometimes happens that the boundary line of two counties passes through a small property, and that gives the owner of that little bit of property two votes. Surely it is not necessary to dwell upon the anomalies of plural voting; they are so well known. We understand from the Debate that the property qualification is considered to be the basis of the franchise. I think it is the manhood of the nation which should be the basis of the franchise. On this side of the House I am satisfied that it is held that the manhood of a nation should be the basis of a franchise, and not the property qualification. If it be the property qualification, then, on the one hand, you may have an owner of thousands of acres in one county with only one vote, whereas another man may have thirty separate quarter-acres in thirty different counties, and thus have thirty votes. The hon. Baronet seems to accept that.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
Is a quarter of an acre in each separate county to give a voter the right to a separate vote?
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
I cannot follow that line of reasoning. I would like a word regarding the great advantage of having the election on one day. It would limit greatly the dislocation of the business of the country as a whole, because the period would be short. It would limit the expenses at elections, because the period would be very much shorter for the election. It would help to abolish what has really become somewhat of a misuse in election of motor cars, which give extraordinary advantages to those who are able to command their use at elections. What is the difference between paying a man's railway fare for ten or fifty miles in order to convey him to the poll and convey him in a private motor-car to the voting place, probably from his own dwelling and 1646 back again? It would limit in a large measure the use of motor cars. It would keep the organiser, what one may call the political professional politician, largely in his own constituency, which would be a distinct advantage to the electors, and would enable each constituency to make up its mind for itself on the great questions of the day. Another great advantage would be that all the elections on one day would largely do away with canvassing, which I look upon as unfortunate.
§ Mr. L. SANDERSON
I think every Member of this House, whatever his views may be about the particular question we are now discussing, must agree that our electoral system requires to be simplified. If this Bill were directed to that object I do not suppose there would be any opposition to it from any quarter of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works congratulated the hon. Member who introduced this Bill on his good fortune in having obtained the opportunity to present this Bill. I join with him as to the good luck in the ballot, but I cannot congratulate him in his choice of subject. I should have thought if he was going to touch or deal at all with the question of the franchise in the piecemeal way in which he desires to deal with it, that there were many injustices which are perfectly well known to everybody, and which could have been dealt with on such an occasion as this. Take, for instance, the question of removals. We all know how often it occurs, and how hard it is upon the working man, who has got a residential qualification in one constituency, and who has to leave it, in order to follow his occupation perhaps, and go to another constituency. We all know how long it takes him to get his residential qualification in that other constituency, and that if he is not fortunate as to the time it may take him more than twelve months. We all know, too, how difficult it is, when an election comes round, for that man to go back to the constituency from which he has removed to record his vote. I should have thought that was the kind of injustice which could have been very well dealt with upon such an occasion as this in a very small Bill of one or two clauses, and we all should have been only too glad to have supported it. Here you have an entirely different kind of Bill. That Bill of the kind I have mentioned would have 1647 been a Bill for the purpose of enfranchising people, and giving them the opportunity to vote while this Bill is just the opposite, and is a Bill to disfranchise the people. I heard that statement doubted just now, but surely it is so.
This Bill, if I understand it rightly, involves one principle, and it is this, that one elector shall have one vote and no more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I rightly interpret the intention of the promoters of the Bill. According to our present system, the basis upon which our franchise goes is that a man, in certain cases, has the right, at all events, to have more than one vote. You may think that right or wrong, but if the object of this Bill is to make it impossible for an elector to register more than one vote you are disfranchising some people, you are taking votes away from some people. Therefore, I think I have made good the point that this Bill is for disfranchisement rather than for enfranchisement. Am I right in saying that it has always been accepted by all those who have really considered this question that if you are going to deal with our electoral system at all you ought to deal with it as a whole, and that you ought not to deal with it piecemeal in such a way as is proposed by this Bill, and especially in a Bill proposed by a private Member, who has difficulties with regard to drafting and with regard to other matters which have been so properly put before the House. Not only ought the question to be dealt with as a whole, but you would have great difficulty in dealing with such a matter as we are now discussing without perpetrating great injustice. It was said just now by the Noble Lord, who spoke from this side that the depositories of power in this country have not been the electors in general, but that the electors have always been divided into constituencies. The qualification for having a vote has either been that the man resides in the constituency or else that he has some interest in it, or what some people call a stake in it, and in consequence of residing there or having some interest he has been looked upon as a proper person to have some voice in the election of the man who should be recognised as their spokesman. That is the principle, if I understand it correctly, on which our elections have been hitherto conducted. It has never been the manhood vote, and it is not now the manhood vote, as an hon. Member opposite seemed to suggest, that is the 1648 principle on which votes are given. If that were so there might be something in the Bill now before the House, but if you are going to keep your system of electing Members to Parliament by means of constituencies, let me ask the House to consider another question. How are you going to get correct representation of opinion in a constituency if you are going to eliminate a large number of individuals who happen to vote elsewhere? There is the case, for instance, of a large employer of labour or a resident who happens to have a place of business elsewhere, and many other people of importance, and whose opinion is valuable upon political questions. How are you going to get correct representation of political opinion in that constituency? It comes to this, that if you are going to abolish what is called the plural vote it follows as a necessary consequence that you must abolish voting by constituencies. I should like to know how many hon. Members in this House are prepared to go down to their constituencies, and how they would be received, if they pointed out that the abolition of plural voting involved the abolition of the constituencies. Another point that seems to me to be made perfectly plain by this Debate, although it has been disputed by the other side, is that if you are going to abolish plural voting, and give one voter one vote only, are you not going contrary to the principle that taxation goes with representation? Surely you are. Supposing, as a matter of fact, a man has two votes—one for his place of business and another in the county where he resides. He is taxed because of the property that he has in the county, he is also taxed in the town in which he carries on his business. He pays taxes in both places, therefore he is entitled to two votes. If you take one of them away you go quite contrary to the principle that taxation should go with representation.
I think it is admitted on the other side that if you adopt the principle that one man should have one vote and one vote only, each vote ought to have an equal value. How are you going to get at that under the existing state of affairs? After all, we have to recognise the existing state of affairs and to take facts as they are. Take a borough with 2,600 electors returning one Member and a county constituency with 45,000 electors also returning one Member. Can anyone contend that the vote of an elector in the county constituency has the same value as the vote of an 1649 elector in the borough? Of course it has not. Unless you put right such anomalies as that, to my mind it is absurd and unjust to say that one elector should have one vote only. Or take some of the Irish counties and some of the English counties. I understand that there are five English counties which exceed in population fifteen Irish counties, and yet those five English counties return only five Members, while the fifteen Irish counties return, I think, sixteen. Can anyone say that in these cases the vote of the English elector is of the same value as the vote of the Irish elector? Of course it is not. I do not pledge myself to the figure, but it has been stated that there are cases where one vote has ten times the value of a vote in another constituency. These are real anomalies. I do not agree that plural voting is an anomaly. As long as you have the qualification upon which the franchise is based at the present moment, which is not manhood suffrage, plural voting is not an anomaly. A man is simply exercising the rights which he has in consequence of his interest in different places. I think I have established that you cannot, unless you bring in further legislation, provide that one vote shall be of equal value with another; but unless you do, it will not be right to do away with plural voting, because it is one of those matters which to a certain extent counterbalance the inequalities to which I have referred. It was stated the other day that at a General Election not long ago a minority of the votes east in the country returned a majority of Members to this House. It was pointed out that in Wales something like 97,000 voters were able to return to this House only two Members, and those two Members got in by the skin of their teeth, their majority being about twenty votes. While you have such 'anomalies and injustices, is it not perfectly ridiculous to deal with a little bit of our franchise system in the way now proposed?
The First Commissioner of Works made some very interesting statements about the holding of elections on one day. There is no doubt a great deal to be said for that proposal from some points of view, but, looked at from other points of view, there are strong arguments against it. I am not sure that it is right to say that under our present system you can have all the elections, both in boroughs and in counties, on the same day. As regards boroughs, I suppose you could, and you might have all the county elections on the same day. As 1650 a matter of fact, however, they do not as a rule take place on the same day. Why is that? Because those who have the responsibility of fixing the dates of the elections find that it would not be convenient or just to the electors to have the elections all on the same day. My short experience of returning officers has been of an agreeable kind. Every Member will agree with me that, whoever the returning officers may be, their only object is to fix the best possible day for the convenience of the electors, of the candidates, and of everybody else concerned. A very good instance of this is afforded by my own county, where the elections for both South Westmoreland and North Westmoreland took place on the same day. That was done for the sake of convenience. As a rule, those two elections have not been held on the same day, also for the sake of convenience. What suits South Westmoreland does not always suit North Westmoreland, but on this occasion the same day suited both. I think it is very wise that there should be some latitude allowed in these matters. Those who sit for county constituencies know perfectly well that if you have the election, say, on a Tuesday, it may be very convenient for the majority of the electors, whereas if you have it on a Wednesday or Thursday it may be very inconvenient, and that the result of having the election on one of those days might be to inflict a great deal of injustice, inasmuch as a large number of people might not be able to get to the poll because the election was on a Thursday, whereas if it had been on, say, a Tuesday they could have recorded their votes. Am I not right in saying that, as a matter of fact, you can now have the elections on the same day? If you want to have them on different days for the sake of convenience and for the sake of doing justice to the electors, is it not advisable to leave it in that way? At all events, has there been any real case made out for altering the system and having a hard and fast rule that throughout the length and breadth of the country all the elections should be held on the same day? Personally, I think not. I want to make myself clear upon this matter. I intend to vote against this Bill, and for two or three very good reasons. I think if you are going to deal with electoral reform you certainly ought to deal with it as a whole. You ought to try to remedy some of the glaring injustices which are staring us in the face at the present time, such as the 1651 one I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. I think this is a question which really is a small part of a very large question. If you entertain it you are bound to entertain other questions which are closely connected with it, and upon which it bears. There are other questions which are of infinitely more importance and more urgent. I think, without making any imputation whatever on the hon. Gentleman who has brought in this Bill, but having regard to the circumstances of it, and that there are other glaring injustices which ought to be first dealt with, that it does, at all events, lay itself open to the suspicion, that it is not really brought in with the object of bringing about any real electoral reform, but for party purposes and with party interests in view. It is brought in to disfranchise a certain class of voters, the majority of whom are thought— thought, mind you—by the party opposite to vote against them at General and other elections. My final reason is this: That I think it would hit very hard—as has already been pointed out by the Noble Lord and other speakers—the property owner, who is by no means always the large landowner—and there is a very large class of small property owners, who have saved their money up and put it into property. They would be very hardly hit indeed by the provisions of this Bill. They are people who are very valuable assets to the country, and whose opinion upon the political questions of the day is of the very greatest importance.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
As a new Member "of the House, innocent of the exact value of political utterances, one cannot help but note the particular interest that is attached to the phrase "the will of the people." The earlier stages of this week saw a Motion from this side of the House which was most bitterly opposed from the other side. The one reason underlying every speech on the other side was that they were opposed to the Motion in order that the will of the people might be given effect to. On Thursday night there was an effort from this side to discuss what is called "Proportional Representation." Again, we had speeches delivered opposing this suggestion, because under the new system proposed the people would be incapable of expressing their will. Therefore, said the opponents, we must defend them against that. To-day, when an effort is made to simplify—and, if I may say so, to purify—the method of conducting elec- 1652 tions,, we find again the same objections raised that this measure must be opposed because of "the will of the people." What ought it to be the duty of any Government calling itself democratic, so far as possible, to do, not only to simplify, but to put within the reach of everyone the opportunity of saying who the elected representatives shall be? I do submit that at the present time, not only by the law as it stands, but because of other disadvantages, that opportunity is to-day denied to thousands of men who otherwise would have the opportunity of voting. The Noble Lord, speaking from the other side, referred to the position that the Labour party took up on this question. If I may say for myself—and I am satisfied I am speaking for the whole of those sitting on these benches, the great difference between our methods and those of other parties is that we do not employ election agents to attend the revision courts, not for the purpose of putting men on the register, but of raising objection to them and having them struck off. Our position is that we desire, so far as it is possible, everyone on the register, not because he happens to be our supporter, but because he happens to be a man qualified to have the choosing of his representative.
There is a fundamental difference between the Members on this side of the House and the Members on the other side of the House as to what is a "stake.'' Various speakers have said that the qualification for the vote should be a "stake" in the country. Admitting for a moment that everyone should have a stake—even allowing for the large number that are deprived of a stake—I do respectfully suggest to the House it should be sufficient that a man's life and health should be the stake. No greater should be needed. A man who is fortunate enough to be a large property owner and who is living in a large house, with all the advantages attached to that particular position, is not so largely and immediately interested in, shall I say, sanitary laws or Public Health Acts as the man whose limited wage and limited income compels him, if you like, to live in the slums of a city. The difference between the two stakes in that particular instance, is the stake of on? man is that he has property alone in the place with all the advantages I have just enumerated, and the stake of the workman is perhaps the health and the life of himself and his family. I submit that from that standpoint even the workman has at least as great, if not a greater, 1653 stake than those who have only the stake o? property. There have been objections raised to attempting to interfere with what is called plural voting. I will not attempt to differentiate the various classes of plural voters—let us agree that there are thousands of people who have two votes. We need say nothing about those who have ten or eleven votes. There are thousands of people, or tens of thousands of people, who have got more than one vote, and the object of this Bill, apart from any objections which may be entertained towards particular clauses, is to prevent any man voting more than once. There are numerous counties and boroughs in which there has been a vast amount of plural voting. Take a place like North Wilts. I understand there was a larger number of plural voters in North Wilts than the majority by which the hon. Member who now represents it was returned. A remarkable fact in connection with North Wilts is this—that there was one town in that district that was purely an industrial centre, whose interests were distinct and separate from the immediate interest of the surrounding district. Let me assume for a moment that the Gentleman returned was a Tariff Reformer, returned by plural votes—he represents a portion of a constituency whose vital interest as a railway centre would be Free Trade. Therefore, from that standpoint, not even is it a disadvantage that plural voters should exercise such privileges, and the exercise of them is detrimental to the best interests of some portions of the constituency. I do not think that full advantage is taken to give effect even to our present electoral system. One can understand people being motored into a constituency to vote against a particular candidate. One can appreciate the fact that men at considerable expense come a long way to vote against a candidate. But I think most people would disapprove of dead men being polled against them, and the remarkable thing is that under our present system a large number of dead men vote at elections. The system of personation goes on to such an extent that it is practically impossible to stop it. While I personally am in favour of adult suffrage, personally I will support every method that has for its object the simplifying of the present electoral system.
§ Sir HARRY SAMUEL
I well recollect m days gone by, when I had the honour of being a Member of this House, that we had a rule amongst some of us, and that 1654 was: "The no-lobby on Fridays." I do not think the value of that rule was ever better realised than it was this afternoon. I notice no change in the extraordinary sweeping ideas which Gentlemen sitting upon the other side of the House desire to be put into operation on private Members' days. But I notice one thing which has taken place since the time that I had been away, and that is the extraordinary desire for legislation which has characterised the present Parliament. In one afternoon you desire to sweep away the whole basis upon which our franchise is founded, and, that done, you then desire boldly to destroy the whole Constitution. Surely it is not out of place in one who comes back to revisit old scenes to put in a small plea for some slight moderation and delay. If we take the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, we come to what I may call the sane portion of the alteration we could make in our franchise laws. Whether we sit upon the Front Bench as Ministers of the Crown, or upon the Back Benches as private Members of the House of Commons, we realise, when we come to the expenses of returning officers and various other things that trouble us very much, that after all we are of one idea, and that is to try and do something to help us to simplify matters that concern us all very vitally. We recognise with very great gratitude that we have the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. I am afraid, however, when we come to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, we find that he proceeded to deal with what I may call the purely party aspect of the measure before us. If the right hon. Gentleman really believes, and I am sure he is perfectly honest in his purpose, that these things do require alteration, why then not deal with them in one broad comprehensive measure. Rational reform, while doing no harm to representation in this House, would not seek in any way to try and obtain party advantage for one side over the other. What has been after all the foundation of the whole franchise system? Surely it is not the man that has the vote, but the property. This is very simply proved. If you take a house or a plot of ground as long as you reside in the house, or keep the plot of ground you have a vote for that house or plot of ground in the district. It is well known to everyone of us that the moment we give up the occupation of the house, or sell the plot of ground, our 1655 names are removed from the register. [An HON. MEMBER: "They ought to be."] I cordially agree, for no doubt there are times when the register is not made up in the manner in which we should like to see it. At all events, the moment we part with the house or property we cease to be entitled to appear on the register. Under these circumstances I venture to think that those who framed our franchise system were of opinion that it was necessary for the welfare of the district that the property should be properly looked after, and that the man who owned that property should vote out of it. I am not going for a moment to say whether that principle is a right principle or a wrong one. It surely cannot be the intention of this House, on a Friday afternoon, upon a private Member's day, to sweep away the whole principle which has governed our electoral system for generations, and entirely alter the foundation on which our franchise is based. If hon. Members opposite are animated by a real desire to remove anomalies there are many which are now felt as a very cruel hardship. Take the case of a man who moves to the opposite side of the road, which happens to be in another Parliamentary Division, and loses his vote thereby. I think that is a cruel hardship. If hon. Members had been in earnest they could have brought in a measure to deal with that anomaly, and they would not have met with any opposition except on the broad principle that we have always put forward from these benches, that when you deal with the franchise you should deal with it as a whole. Such things as the removal from one side of the road to the other disqualifying a man, and the length of time it takes for a man to qualify for a vote, are real injustices to the people of this country, but there is no injustice to a man who purchases property in some other division, or has a business in the City, having a vote for such property, besides having a vote for the house he lives in. There would be a great injustice if business men of that kind were deprived of the opportunity of seeing that a competent Member of Parliament was returned to look after all his interests.
No less a person than the late Mr. Gladstone boasted of the fact that when he introduced the People's Representation Bill in 1884–5 the one great merit of that measure was that it disenfranchised no man. The right hon. Baronet the Member for 1656 the Forest of Dean was vastly concerned with that Act and the subsequent Redistribution Bill, and I note to-day that he laid stress upon the fact that he could not support this Bill because it was a disenfranchising measure. Mr. Gladstone's. Bill went still further, because it provided that where a particular class of vote was destroyed, if the voter retained his: property for his life, he was not die-enfranchised, although his class was disenfranchised after the passing of the Bill. We are not called upon in this House to, do anything which will tend to deprive the intelligent citizen of a desire to take an intelligent interest in the method by which his country should be governed, not only in the interests of the rural portion in, which his house may be situated, but also in the business portions of the country,, where even far greater interests are affected. I have often heard it contended that the City of London should not have plural voting because there are only a small number of houses in the City inhabited. Surely hon. Members opposite, are not seriously going to talk such absolute nonsense. The business interests of the whole civilised world are centred in the City of London. Is it seriously suggested that the whole voting strength of the City should be vested in an army of caretakers rather than in the men who are engaged in great business negotiations which are of such immense value to the trade of this country?
Hon. Gentlemen opposite declare that they desire all votes should be equal, and so do we. On this side of the House we desire such a reform intensely, but we also desire that a vote in one constituency should have the same value as a vote in another constituency. I do not propose to go over all that ground again, because I do not see that it is possible to give a Second Reading to this Bill to-day. Mr. Gladstone said that there were three kinds of qualifications—copyhold, leasehold, and freehold — and that residence, in his opinion, was not a necessary qualification. There have been no less than seventeen separate Franchise Acts, all of them dealing thoroughly with this Question, and to endeavour to upset the whole basis of the Franchise in this way on a private Member's day seems to me a case of "fools stepping in where angels fear to tread." I think all hon. Members who thoroughly consider the proposals contained in this Bill as they affect the various interests throughout the land will be found in the 1657 same Lobby as myself—the '' No"' Lobby—if a Division is taken.
§ Mr. JOSEPH KING
I am sure this Debate has produced a good many interesting episodes, but possibly the most interesting and entertaining of all is the speech to which we have just listened The hon. Member for the London University (Sir Philip Magnus) argued that if this Bill was passed in its present form it would, by reason of allowing the polling to take place on one day and one day only practically disenfranchise the Universities. I would like to point out, in answer to that that it would only require two or three words to be inserted in Committee to entirely get over any possible difficulty in that way, and if this Bill passes and goes upstairs—as I hope it will—I trust I may have the privilege of moving an Amendment which will amply meet this objection. I admit it is a difficult thing to deal with a great question like that of plural voting in a private Member's Bill, but granted that it is difficult and chat it is even impossible, surely it is admissible to introduce measures of this kind, raising questions which may not immediately be practical politics, and to discuss them in the very fruitful way in which we have discussed this matter this afternoon. I shall not follow the line taken by the Noble Lord the Member for the Horsham Division (Earl Winterton) and several others by making any party attack or introducing any extraneous matter. I feel that plural voting is an anomaly, and that it is one which ought to be grappled with at the same time that we deal with the question of redistribution. I hope, therefore, it will be by means of a Government measure, in which we shall have the co-operation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that, if this Parliament lasts at any rate a few months we shall be able to undertake this question.
With regard to the other question which is introduced in this Bill, the question of having all the elections on one day, it seems to me that it is one which might fairly occupy the attention of the House at the present time with the object, not merely of having an academic discussion, but of doing something really practicable. Apart from the prejudiced politicians who sit on the other side and from a few unfair partisans, I maintain that there is no proposal you could put before the country which would be so popular as that to have all the elections on one day. We prob- 1658 ably all observed with some interest that the Prime Minister, speaking at Oxford just a fortnight ago, made what was considered in some quarters a rather significant allusion to this subject. He said that he thought we should poll all our Parliamentary elections as nearly as possible on the same day, and he spoke of that as a very important instalment of electoral reform. I should like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government this afternoon that, as was said last night from the Government Bench, and as was taken up with applause on all sides of the House, the time for talking on this subject is passed, and the time for acting has arrived. If we are to have a General Election, let it be short, sharp, and decisive, and, as a step to that end, I can suggest nothing better than having all the elections on one day. The fact has been alluded to that the Associated Chambers of Commerce have repeatedly had this subject before them. They have discussed it on twelve occasions, and on six occasions they have unanimously passed a resolution in favour of having the period over which an election is carried very much reduced. On one or two occasions opposition was taken to the subject as being outside the point of view of the conference, and there were also divided votes on different forms of words, pledging that conference to all elections on one day, or allowing two or three days. But, undoubtedly, the chambers of commerce of the whole of the country are almost unanimous, and so far as the principle is concerned, quite unanimous, in favour of having all elections upon one day. There is held out to us the prospect of having a series of General Elections, from two to four, or five, in six months, and on that point the hon. Member for the Walton Division rather let the cat out of the bag the other day. If there is a shadow of truth in that, it is an additional argument for having, if possible, some legislation, even at the eleventh hour, providing for elections on the one day. I should like to refer to a Debate which took place on 8th November last on the London Elections Bill which was brought before the House of Lords. That House, on that occasion, refused to agree to the very proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Norwood to-day, when he argued in favour of one reform at a time. and said that one reform should be on the registration laws, so that a man who lost his vote by crossing from one side of the road to the other might be relieved from 1659 that injustice. Yet that was the principle which was thrown out by the House of Lords last November. I have read the whole of that Debate—a tedious undertaking I admit.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member that he is not in order in referring to Debates in another place, and certainly not to speeches in reference to another Bill.
§ Mr. KING
When that Bill was opposed in another place, was it opposed on the ground that it would have all the London elections held on one day? It was opposed here and elsewhere on different grounds, but on no occasion was it opposed on that ground. Lord Lewisham, who was for many years a Member of this House, used these words: "With regard to polling taking place on one and the same day, that I believe to be good. I should like it to be extended at once, so that every county and every borough recorded its vote on the same day." That is a remarkable view, coming from a Conservative politician who had been for many years a London Member in this House. I think it is a strong indication of the fact that, if a proposal to have all elections on one day were brought in, it would quite surprise right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench to find how unanimously all parties in the House, except a few extreme politicians on the other side, and all classes in the country would be in favour of the proposal. I suppose it is too late to appeal to the Government, after they have already expressed their view in the genial and able speech of the First Commissioner of Works, but I would like to suggest that we might pass this Bill and that it should be sent upstairs to a Committee on the general understanding that the Clause referring to elections all on one day should be pressed and the others dropped, and on that understanding and in that hope I shall strongly support the Motion for the Second Reading.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I hope the House will allow me, very shortly indeed, to give the reasons why I propose to vote against this Bill. The nature of the subject is such that I think it is obvious that it is hardly suitable for a private Member's Bill. The whole subject of the franchise is one of such complexity and of such importance that it is undesirable that it should be dealt with by a private Member in a Bill which necessarily can touch only 1660 a very small part of a great subject which cannot be separated into different parts as though they were independent of one another. All questions relating to the franchise are interdependent, and you cannot touch one part of it without feeling that, while you are at tempting to do what you think right in one particular, you will leave other things undone, and you really may be aggravating the evils which you desire to set right. The Bill itself as drafted, I think, amply illustrates the difficulties which the hon. Member who introduced it expressed as to the drafting by a private Member of a Bill of this kind. I congratulate the hon. Member upon the extreme clearness of the statement in which he introduced the Bill, but I do not think he congratulates himself upon the terms in which the Bill is drafted. The Bill was subjected in that respect to some very trenchant criticism by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, who referred to a Bill of his own, and who naturally very much preferred his Bill to the present. I am not going to enter into a comparison between the two, because I think them both very bad Bills, but the reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave for preferring his Bill struck me as a very odd one. He said he was requested by the Government to prepare a measure for abolishing plural voting, and he succeeded in preparing that measure in such a way that it would disfranchise no one. Does the right hon. Gentleman think his measure would have disfranchised no one? He would have left the names on the register, but he would have compelled every person who was entitled to several votes to choose one of those votes and to exercise that only, and not the others. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that, is not disfranchisement. He says, in effect, "I will leave your name on the register, but I will clearly prevent you from exercising the right. You will have to choose it in advance, and you will be starred for a particular constituency, and you will be deprived of all your votes in the other constituencies." I cannot understand how even parental fondness could have led the right hon. Gentleman to suppose that his Bill was nor a disfranchising Bill. Of course, it was frankly a disfranchising Bill, and I am quite sure it is so in the eyes of everyone except its father. The Bill now before the House is admitted by its parent to be a disfranchising Bill because every Bill of 1661 the kind must be so, and the hon. Member said for his part he would like to abolish the property qualification altogether, and he went as far in the direction of abolishing the property qualification and of disfranchising as he thought was possible. The reason he gave was that he thought the plural vote was an anomaly.
I remember hearing it said a very long time ago that the distinction between Liberalism and Radicalism was that Liberalism wished to reform abuses while Radicalism desired to remove all anomalies. You must have anomalies sometimes, and I do not believe anomalies do any harm at all as long as they are not abused. I defy any man to say that the plural vote is an abuse, and I think I can satisfy the hon. Member that the plural vote is not an anomaly. Everything depends on the point of view from which you approach the question. The whole theory of our Constitution is that you take the representation of the people of this country by constituencies. You desire to get a Member who will voice effectively the opinion of the particular constituency. Will anyone tell me that the effective and real opinion of a constituency is got at by excluding that element which consists of those who are owners of property there, though they do not happen to reside there? The hon. Member seemed to think it was a most extraordinary thing that while there were 3,000 odd residents in the City of London there were 23,000 people who lived elsewhere and who had offices in the City which entitled them to vote. What sort of representation would you get for the City of London if it was only the 3,000 people who reside there who voted? The thing is absolutely preposterous. All that is most representative of the City consists of those who do not reside in the City, and if you adopt any measure which tends to prevent them from exercising the franchise which they at present enjoy, to that extent you destroy the value of the representation. There is, therefore, really no anomaly whatever in the plural vote, and if you exclude from the right to vote those who are owners in the particular constituency you would be excluding an element which is very necessary for giving effective expression to the opinion of that constituency.
I submit that there is another and a fatal objection to this measure, and that is that the subject of the franchise, if it is to be dealt with at all, should be dealt with as a whole. The hon. Member him 1662 self was keenly sensible of this difficulty, because he admitted that there was an overwhelming case for redistribution. Surely it would be a most extraordinary thing if, while you are endeavouring to establish the principle of one man one vote, you overlooked the other principle of one vote one value. I need not go through the instances, but it is notorious that there are a number of constituencies where the vote of the elector has twenty or thirty times the weight that it has in another and a larger constituency. This measure, and any measure framed on similar lines, including even the measure of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt), is open to the objection that it deals with only one part of the subject. The hon. Member disclaims—I have no doubt with perfect correctness and sincerity-having any party motive in introducing this Bill; but some things which have been said in the Debate make me very doubtful whether most of those who are going to follow him into the Lobby could say with the same sincerity what he has told the House, that this measure is introduced simply upon its merits, and is not supported because hon. Gentlemen opposite think it will give an advantage to their supporters.
Speaker after speaker has referred to the fact that in his opinion plural voting tends to help the Unionist party. They may be right or wrong in that view, but it is perfectly plain, I think, that it is a very substantial reason indeed why many hon. Gentlemen opposite, favour this piecemeal mode of dealing with a very great subject. One point is picked out which, in their opinion, would help their party, and they propose to vote for that measure in spite of all the manifold objections to such a mode of treatment. I therefore put it to the House that this Bill is vicious in principle. I am not going to elaborate the objections which were so fully stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the way in which the machinery of the Bill has been constructed. Certainly it is open to the gravest observation that it would be very inconvenient in practice, and, to use the hon. Gentleman's favourite phrase, it would be anomalous in the last degree. While trying to remove one anomaly, it might create other extraordinary anomalies. Has the hon. Gentleman observed what he proposes in the first section, which says:—Any person who, having voted once-for the election of a Member to serve in the new Parliament in any constituency, 1663 shall at any election for the same new Parliament vote or apply for a ballot paper in any other constituency shall for all purposes of the laws relating to Parliamentary elections be deemed to be guilty of the offence of personation; and the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, shall be read as if this Section were set forth at the end of Part III. of the Third Schedule to that Act.The same offence is said to have been committed as if he had contravened the Statute against personation. Personating whom? He personates himself. What the hon. Member proposes is that any man who proposes to vote a second time, having voted once, is guilty of personation if he personates himself.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
It is a most anomalous provision, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentlemen who introduced this measure would not have introduced a provision of that kind so repugnant to the canons he has laid down. There is another provision which strikes me as most remarkable. It is contained in the fourth Section with reference to by-elections. A more extraordinary provision never, I think, came before the House. It is this:—At any election of a Member to serve in Parliament for any constituency in the room of any Member whose seat in Parliament shall have from any cause become vacant, no person shall vote who shall not be on the register for that constituency and entitled to vote as a Parliamentary occupation elector as defined in the Registration Order, 1895.That is to say, that at a by-election you are to have a different constituency from what you have at a General Election. I hardly think that the hon. Member can have considered the effect of that provision. It has been pointed out that the Order to which he refers, the Registration Order of 1895, is not applicable to either Scotland or Ireland, and what the effect of that Clause might be in those countries might give rise to some very interesting discussion; but what an extraordinary thing to say that for a by-election you are to have a constituency constituted differently from the constituency at a General Election, for the purpose of preventing any person who has an ownership vote from exercising that vote at the by-election! I think a provision of this kind is 1664 sufficient to show the dangers that beset private Members when they introduce legislation affecting serious matters like this.
One other point referred to in the Debate and which is of more importance than many hon. Members seem to imagine, is the provision that all the elections of the General Election should be held on the one day throughout the United Kingdom. Surely the first thing to consider with regard to the date of an election is how far it conveniences the constituency where the election is to be held. Within reasonable limits, you must have a Parliament returned within a reasonable limit of time. But this Bill proposes a cast-iron rule, and I venture to say that in very many constituencies, after having experience of it, they would have a violent agitation for its repeal. It is proposed that all Writs for the. election of Members of Parliament shall bear the same date and be issued on the same day, that the day of the election is to be fixed by the returning officer on the eighth day after the Writ is issued, and if the election is contested the returning officer shall appoint the poll to take place on the fourth day after the day fixed for the election. We have exceptions only for Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day when it is to be the day following. The inevitable result would be. that in very many constituencies you would find that under your rule the day fixed by the statute was most inconvenient to the constituency and might result in the disfranchisement of a great number of voters. That is the result of trying to remove all anomalies. It is an anomaly that all elections should not be on the same day. The hon. Member proposes to remove that by an enactment which would cause the greatest possible inconvenience and give rise to the greatest possible amount of discontent. The day is fixed at present having regard to local requirements and local convenience. I do not think that anything better can by any possibility be substituted, and a fixed rule such as is proposed would be very undesirable. You could not get one day which would suit all the constituencies in the Kingdom—you must consult the local authorities. Another matter that has been touched on is the difficulty which would attend the action of the police required in connection with the election. My impression is that the difficulties which would arise in that way in counties would be very much more more serious than right hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think. It would be very 1665 awkward indeed if it were found that owing to the introduction of this rule you had not an adequate number of police at hand to deal with the possibility of disturbance. It would be a deplorable thing if, owing to the introduction of such a rule, and from want of police on the spot, it were necessary on any occasion to have recourse to the military. I submit to the House that in this respect, as well as in all other respects, both of principle and of machinery, this Bill is of such a character that it ought not to receive a Second Reading.
§ Mr. CRAWSHAY-WILLIAMS
The tone of the speeches from the benches opposite suggests that they were inspired by democracy tempered by delay, but to those who sit on these benches it appeared that delay has shown rather more brilliantly than democracy in those speeches. Members who oppose this Bill seem to have been generally inspired by a sincere desire to arrive at a conclusion—but not to-day; some other day. The only parallel I can think of for the moment has reference to the Queen and Alice in "Wonderland," where Alice questioned the Queen about jam, and the reply was that they had jam every other day, but never to-day. The argument is used that it is impossible to deal with this subject on a private Member's day, that it should not be brought forward in one small Bill, and that, if it is to be dealt with, it must be put before the House in a scheme dealing simultaneously with all branches of electoral reform. That is like suggesting that if you have several diseases you ought not to set about curing one of them until you can cure the whole of them together. I do not think that method would commend itself to any doctor, or, if he adopted it, I think he would not be surprised if his patients became a little impatient at the delay caused by this mode of procedure. It is argued that disfranchisement would occur under this Bill. Ordinarily disfranchisement means leaving a man vote-less altogether. In that sense, certainly neither the Bill of the First Commissioner of Works nor the present Bill disfranchises anyone who at present has a vote. In any case, however, I am sure it is not the intention under the Bill to render voteless anyone who has a vote, but only to take away redundant votes and establish the universal minimum of one man one vote, The hon. Member for London University contended that plural voting was a fit and proper thing, and he 1666 would not have certain interests represented otherwise. What, he asked with horror, would happen if certain persons in the City of London were not allowed to vote there? But each of these City gentlemen has his own home and his business in the City, and if he prefers to exercise his vote in support of his City interests he can vote there; or, if in support of his home interests, then in the district where his home is situate. The hon. Member for London University also was rather eloquent with regard to the need of having interests represented. He said if a man had his home in one place and his business in another he ought to have a vote in respect of each place. A workman has his home in one place and his business in another, but often neither of such a character as to give him a vote. He has a home and a business interest, and, if anyone deserves the, double vote, surely he should get it also. I must say I think the argument of interests can be pushed a little too far. If I am a member of a golf club am I to have a vote because I have an interest in that particular district? An hon. Member said that by passing this Bill we should do away with voting by constituencies. It seems to me that if a man does not choose to use his vote in the constituency in which he lives that is his fault, and not that of anyone else. There is nothing to prevent a man using it in his own constituency, and the constituencies remaining absolutely representative, as they are to-day. A rather peculiar argument was advanced that if a man is taxed in two places, therefore he ought to have representation in two places. That is not the meaning of taxation involving representation. It does not mean that if you pay more taxes you should have more representation, but it means if you are taxed you must be represented. There is nothing in this Bill that would put an end to any man, who has a vote, and who is taxed now, being represented in the future as he is represented now. The hon. Member for the Kingswinford Division (Mr. Staveley-Hill) advanced the argument, which has been advanced throughout the discussion, that this Bill is merely brought forward for party purposes on this side of the House, and that it would, in his own words, be a strong party advantage to us to get it passed. Let me point out that an accusation and an argument of that kind is a two-edged weapon. If it is a strong party advantage for hon. Members on this side to get the Bill passed, it must be a strong party 1667 advantage to hon. Gentlemen opposite to prevent it passing. They are just as much interested from party motives in opposing it as we are influenced in party motives in bringing it forward. I would not only rely on that argument, but I would refer to the words of an hon. Member in the past who referred to this particular subject of plural voting. In an unguarded moment, I rather think, on the platform, speaking at Bristol on 29th November, 1898, Sir F. Dixon-Hartland said, "that he supported plural voting as a most valuable thing. There were several constituencies where if plural voting had not existed the Conservative party would have no existence in Parliament." That seems to me to be rather giving the case away for the Opposition, and preventing them expressing righteous indignation at Members on this side attempting to bring in this Bill.
It may be worth while Members remembering that in almost all the Debates lately in this House and in another place we have been discussing practically the same subject. In the Debates in the House of Lords, and the Debates recently in this House, both on the question of the other place, and on the question of Proportional Representation, and to-day, the one subject which has been occupying our attention, has been the representation of the people and the prevalence of the people's will. I think our sincerity in this matter may be judged by the way in which we deal with it. Not the least evidence of the insincerity evinced in some quarters with regard to this subject of the representation of the people will be found in the rejection of the previous Bill on this subject by the other place. I do not think that this question ought to be a party question at all. We ought really, all of us, to try and combine in order to get the people's will represented. We should all desire the representation of the people. I should like to mark the words "representation of the people," not of the wealth of the people, not even of the intellect of the people, but representation of the people. That distinction is, I think, founded on a sound principle. That principle is not carried out to-day, for the present system is undoubtedly an illogical jumble, it is neither reasonable nor right; and as for intellect, wealth or persons none of those can be said to really inspire our electoral system. All these principles are logically defensible by themselves. Intellect, you may say, ought to be represented, and only in- 1668 tellect. But that is not the principle which inspires our electoral system to-day. Some may consider that wealth, and probably many Members opposite will agree, should be the basis of representation. The hon. Member for the Kingswinford Division (Mr. Staveley-Hill) waxed eloquent about poor, defenceless property menaced by the Budget, and at the same time menaced by the threat of its redundant votes being taken away. I do not consider that wealth is under-represented at the present time, or would be under-represented if every man in this kingdom had only one vote. Wealth has enough influence apart from electoral influence at the ballot-box, and I do not think that the stability of property or commerce would be affected by one man having only one vote. In this connection I should like to read a quotation from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). He said:—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 for as many borough constituencies, and I have three votes for as many county constituencies. I use them on the right side. I know many of my friends have ten or twelve, and I have heard of one reverend pluralist who has twenty-three. I. consider that un anomaly altogether inconsistent with the principle upon which we stand. That principle is that every householder, at all events, has an equal stake in the good government; of the country. His life and property depend upon the legislation, and he is equally entitled with everyone else to protection. If we are to make distinctions I am not quite certain whether it is not the poor man who ought to have more votes than the rich one for after all his interests are more direct than the rich man's. If you have bad legislation it may lessen the income of the one, but it may destroy altogether the means of subsistence of the other.I do not think the point can be better put than it was put by the right hon. Gentleman. No doubt taxation and representation should go together; but I think we may go further than that. I frankly say for my part, and I think my hon. Friends will agree, that if a man is of age and in full possession of his faculties, if he lives in this State, obeys its laws, and is subject to them, he should have an opportunity of saying in what manner those laws should be framed. I can understand no greater stake in the country than that a man should live in it and be subject to its laws.
With regard to the question of having all elections on one day, that is undoubtedly becoming more and more necessary. Outside this House there is a vast body of opinion in favour of having elections on one day, and in the latest outburst of motor activity I think we have 1669 another reason for such a reform. All arguments against it must fall through in face of the fact that it is in practice elsewhere, and successfully. I remember being in Canada on the occasion of an election there. I was driven about Toronto in an hon. Member's car, and we watched the results coming in from all that great Dominion. In the course of a few hours all the constituencies, with the exception of the Yukon and a few other outlying districts, had polled, and the results had been recorded. That is a signal instance of how practicable this reform is. The hon. Member for the University of London (Sir P. Magnus) thinks that this Bill ought not to be pressed to a Division because of certain drafting difficulties and defects. But, after all, drafting Amendments can be introduced in Committee. The principles are the main things. Those principles are very simple and distinct—that one man should have one vote and that all elections should be on one day. Because I am in favour of those principles I shall have pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. J. D. REES
In spite of the earnest speech in which my hon. Friend summed up the case for the Government, or for the Treasury Bench, or for the promoters, or for all three, I feel that there is some unreality about this Debate when I remember how in the last Parliament, with all pomp and circumstance, the' Government Bill was debated here, with all the forces they had behind them and with all the wit and eloquence of the First Commissioner of Works, how that Bill was passed through this House with a large majority, how it went to another place, and there met with swift ruin. I confess I feel perhaps like the hon. Gentleman who addressed the House from the opposite side, that there would be a little difficulty in running this matter through to-day; and that if it should go through to-day those who are so strongly urging these changes would be no nearer their fruition than if it is not put through to-day. In consequence, it does appear to me, regarding the matter from a purely business point of view, that it is not so pressing as might appear from the speeches which have been made. My right hon. Friend credited himself with some philo-progenitiveness, which, from a legislative point of view, I am very glad indeed he possesses. But I did not understand from that that the Government proposed through him or any other Minister to put 1670 a Bill of this sort before the House. We must therefore take it, I think, and the House must take it, that this is likely to be the effort of this Parliament in regard to the abolition of plural voting, and the other rather considerable changes which are contemplated by this Bill. It seems to me, however desirable the main objects of the Bill may be, that the Bill does not properly provide for their attainment.
We have heard a great student of this subject, a past master, like my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, clearly point out that this is a disfranchising Bill. The Bill of the First Commissioner of Works, which did not get through when it had so many battalions behind it, was not a disfranchising Bill. It did not provide for taking away of votes. I feel considerable hesitation in supporting a Bill which will deprive any elector of that which he has; for surely it is better that a man should continue to use more than one vote which he has previously enjoyed, than that any citizen of this country should be deprived of that one vote which he has already ! We are told that by having elections all upon one day there will be far less disturbance to trade and commerce than at present is the case. But the real remedy for that very real disturbance to trade and commerce is to have fewer General Elections. Yet I can remember in the last Parliament there was an hon. Gentleman here, the Member for Stirling Burghs, who succeeded to the seat of the late Prime Minister, and who aspired to succeed him not only in his seat, but to take up the mantle of Elisha which fell from him—
§ Mr. REES
I beg pardon, Elijah, or Elisha, whichever it was. I attach no importance to the point. [Laughter.] My point is that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs, because a Bill of the Government was lost in another place, said: "Let us go back to our constituents." Had the Government taken his advice we should have had a General Election three years ago. Now the hon. Gentleman who usually sits where I am now, and speaks from this place, is urging the Government to go back to the country. These impediments to trade and commerce should be avoided by not having so many General Elections. I do not really see that by having the General Election on one day that that cause will be served. The hon. Gentleman said that by so doing you will do away with, or you will 1671 lessen, the evil of canvassing. I think canvassing is a very great evil, and I have given notice of a Motion to discuss it en an early private Member's evening. But I do not think it will do away with canvassing. I rather think it will concentrate canvassing when all the forces which can be brought to bear upon an election on one day are brought on that day. The First Commissioner of Works says there is no difficulty as regards police. I know a county—it is always desirable to put these things in an impersonal manner,, and in that I follow a distinguished lead—where the police force is thirty, and where, when there was no election in the neighbouring county, these thirty police were unable to protect the candidate from assault by five or six inebriated supporters of his opponent. If the House desires further particulars I can give them, and I could tell them in what quarter of the House a Member is to be found, who was driven to use his own fists for his own defence—not that that was a very great hardship. I think, therefore, in a county where there is a small police force the difficulty of having all the elections on one day is a real difficulty. I must also repeat what was said by an hon. Gentleman that there is a great difficulty as to markets. Markets in a county and markets in a borough dovetail into each other. Take a county where there are six boroughs, there would be extreme difficulty in fixing the election for one day. I much doubt if it could be done in my own Constituency.
My hon. Friend (Mr. Cathcart Wason) took great exception to the present system because there was danger that on a Division being taken early in the Session Orkney and Shetland might not be able to participate. I do not regard that as a very serious objection. I say, with all respect to these islands, with which I have the honour of being acquainted, it is not really a very serious argument, nor do I think the other argument brought forward by my hon. Friend with regard to the Colonies is to be taken very seriously. I am tired of hearing this argument about the Colonies. Speaker after speaker has referred to New Zealand as if we were to go to New Zealand for an example. I really do not think that this class of argument is to be taken very seriously, nor can I quite understand the argument that one vote necessarily exhausts the legitimate interest of the individual, because, as has been pointed out, there is a local 1672 as well as an Imperial or national interest. Although it may be anomalous, it must be borne in mind that every anomaly is not necessarily an abuse, and neither is every abuse an anomaly. The question of motor cars has been referred to, and I think, in justice to that much-abused machine, it is more or less neutral in character, and will go in any direction in which it is driven and will take up any elector, no matter what his colour be. There are many of my hon. Friends who were indebted to the use of the motor car at the last election, and I confess I was indebted to it myself to some extent. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, who addresses the House with such sincerity that he is always listened to with great attention, seemed to object to the employment of agents. He said that they were employed, not only for putting people on the register, but for preventing people being put on. That seems to me to be a most important function, and if it was not carried out the general register would be in a state of the utmost confusion. I did not quite understand what was the object of the hon. Gentleman in putting that forward, nor did I understand how it was that in his own constituency—for I presume he must have meant his own constituency—so many dead men voted under the existing system, because in a constituency that I know there are always personation agents, and, although a very large percentage of the electorate voted, not a single dead man came to the poll. With regard to some of the clauses of the Bill, I would remind hon. Members that intentions have nothing whatever to do with Statutes. Clause 4 provides that "Whenever a seat shall from any cause become vacant." That may mean by a Dissolution. I do not see why Section 4 should he confined to by-elections if you take the words of the clause only. The right hon. Gentleman said that if a Division were called he would vote for it, although I do not understand that he adopts the measure on behalf of the Government. Consequently his speech leaves me very much in doubt as to what is the proper course I should take in regard to this measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide."] Hon. Members cry out, "Divide, divide," but to my certain knowledge there are several hon. Members opposite who wish to speak. [An HON MEMBER: "Sit down and let them."] My hon. Friend has asked me to sit down, and I will do so.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
The hon. Member for Leicester said he could not reproach the party opposite for endeavouring to obtain a party advantage, although we should get an advantage if this Bill does not become law. We are not proposing any new measure which will give us an advantage. We are merely saying that the present system as it obtains now shall continue, and that a small portion shall not be taken out of that system because hon. Gentlemen opposite desire a party advantage. I think that is a proposition which is unassailable, for it cannot be held that we are endeavouring to obtain a party advantage because we object to the present system being altered. Allusion has been made to the position of the constituency which I have the honour to represent. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill said there were 21,000 out-voters in the City of London, and only some 3,000 resident voters. I know there are 31,000 voters in the City of London—
§ Mr. WILLIAM THORNE
rose in his place, and claimed to Move "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. Speaker declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Surely hon. Members opposite do not argue that the City of London, which is the centre of the commerce of the Kingdom, should be represented by an army of caretakers—
And it being Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Friday next, 8th April.
Whereupon Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Two minutes after Five of the clock, till Monday next, 4th April.