§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)
I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a 1326 Bill to amend the law with respect to the Parliamentary and Local Government Franchises and the Registration of Parliamentary and Local Government Electors and to provide for the abolition of University Constituencies."
The Bill which I ask the leave of the House to introduce will not, I trust, arouse that vehement opposition which the other two principal measures of His Majesty's Government have evoked. At any rate, I think I may claim for this Bill that it will not offend the sentiment nor will it offend the religious convictions of any individual in the House. If hon. Members are anxious to criticise the details of the Bill, I, at any rate, hope that they will be prepared to accept the principles of the Bill, and will not regard these principles as controversial. The reform of our franchise and of our registration laws is a matter which has been constantly before the electors of the country, and during the last twenty-one years I suppose there has not been a single Member of the House sitting now on this side who has not at every election advocated the reform of both our franchise laws as well as of our registration system. Our present registration system is based upon eleven different Parliamentary franchises, with at least nineteen variations of different kinds. No one knows, excepting a few electioneering experts in the country, when he may become qualified, or how he is going to become qualified, whilst we all must feel that a matter of this kind ought to be outside the sphere of doubt and that the privilege should be obtained in the simplest possible manner. The intricacy of our franchise laws is without parallel in the history of the civilised world. The registration system is a complex growth due to the antiquated character of some of our franchise Acts, and to the fact that a large number of electoral anomalies have been created by the overlapping of enfranchising Acts from time to time, and the matter at the present moment is wrapped in utter confusion.
We have in front of us a large number of great social problems to solve. We see around us a considerable amount of labour unrest in the country, and there ought to be no doubt in the mind of anyone as to the truly representative character of the House of Commons. There ought to be no room for any suspicion that some interests are over-represented or that others are under-represented. If any suspicion does exist in any 1327 quarter we may be quite sure that it begets dissatisfaction and that it has a "weakening effect upon the confidence which is placed in the authority of Parliament.
From the point of view of Members of the House I think I may lay down this proposition, that we all realise we cannot work so whole-heartedly in the interests of our constituents if we do not retain their confidence. There is no greater or more potent force, no more powerful weapon to destroy a Government, than the weakening of confidence in the support of Members returned by constituencies to this House. Equally so, is it a potent force in discouraging the Opposition of the day from opposing any good work the Government have in hand. The real strength of the House of Commons depends on the democracy behind Members of this House, and the views of the democracy do not depend upon the accumulation of votes in the hands of the few, but on the equal votes of the many. Amongst the poorer classes of this country there is a constant sense of injustice in connection with our franchise system. If you take as an illustration the lodger vote, you will constantly find the well-to-do farmer enabling his son who resides with him in his house to become a lodger voter. The agricultural labourer may have a lodger in his house, but owing to the wealth qualification connected with the franchise system, it is impossible for a lodger in the humbler walks of life to obtain a vote in the country in which he lives. When my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Harold Baker) introduced his Bill earlier in the Session, I gave one or two cases of faggot votes, showing how individuals with shares in a theatre may become qualified and even the site for their own burial may be used to obtain the qualification. But I should like, if I may, to give three or four other illustrations more or less typical of the anomalies connected with our franchise system.
If two men own a freehold worth, say, £25,000, and they obtain a rental of £1,000, unless they use the land in partnership, only one of them can exercise the vote. But if the same amount of property is demised and let to 500 individuals, those 500 individuals can secure property qualifications of 40s. freeholds, and claim the vote. If a man in a borough owns a leasehold warehouse worth £9 10s; that man has 1328 a vote, not in the borough, but in the county, whilst the occupier of those premises has no vote either in the county or in borough. But, if it is worth 10s. more, the owner does not get a vote either in county or borough, and the individual who is the occupier gets a vote in the borough. Two solicitors to my knowledge occupy premises worth £20 a year, but neither of them can possess the votes for their business premises because there happens to be a servant, a caretaker, on the premises, who is qualified under the Service franchise. Chancery Lane is in three boroughs, and there a man may live for six or seven years in three different portions of the Lane, and yet never qualify himself for a vote. But in the Commercial Road, which is in one borough, a man may live in four Divisions in the Commercial Road and may be registered in eighteen months' time, and continue to exercise the vote during the rest of the six or seven years. These are some of the anomalies in relation to the franchise system. And now I will give one or two anomalies in connection with the plural voting system. In the City of London there are 1,300 freehold City voters who record their votes in the City of London, yet those votes are counted in the Hornsey Division of Middlesex, and presumably not one of those 1,300 voters who vote in the City of London has any association whatever with the Hornsey Division of Middlesex. In London boroughs across the river there are 7,000 freehold voters, and they all vote in the constituency, or can vote in the constituency, so worthily represented by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Chaplin), and I suppose there is not a single Member of this House, except perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, who would venture to get up and defend a system of that kind.
Seven thousand voters, owning property in the boroughs of London, having no association or identification whatsoever with the Wimbledon Division, are yet placed on the register in the Wimbledon Division, and the only interest they have in the right hon. Gentleman representing them is the same sort of interest as we all on this exterior feel in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman. We propose by our Bill to clear away such injustices, absurdities, and anomalies. The arguments for the abolition of the plural vote are, of course, very well known to every Member of this House, but some individuals—I believe the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), and 1329 the hon. Member for the City of London among them—when the Plural Voting qualification was being discussed recently, advocated the principle that those who have a great stake in the country ought to have more votes than one. But that is not the present system. A person may now possess twenty small plots representing a very small amount of land and may obtain twenty votes, while another person who possesses a much larger estate than the aggregate of all the plots to which I have referred to the other case will only be able to exercise one vote. A man may be a shareholder in the Army and Navy Stores or in Harrod's Stores, and he may have property to the value of £25,000, yet he has no vote whatsoever, whilst the owner of twenty shops in twenty different boroughs in London, representing very much less wealth, will have twenty times the voting capacity. I know what the attitude of my right hon. and hon. Friends opposite is: they object to the abolition of the plural vote because they think it is put forward in party interests—for the manipulation of the register in the interests of the party to which I belong. My reply is that this system has been maintained for a great number of years to the prejudice of a great number of citizens in this country, and to the interest alone of the party opposite. The real question is whether it is a fair system between citizen and citizen. If the motives of hon. Members opposite are due to some apprehension that in the event of political power being equally extended throughout the community it would be unfavourable to Unionist policy, surely it is not a very creditable objection to put forward if they really believe in representative government.
May I just allude to one or two instances of what I may call registration anomalies? If an individual goes into a constituency on the 17th of next month he will not, of course, obtain a vote this year; he will not obtain a vote during the year 1913, and he will not obtain a vote during 1914, but he will only qualify to go on the register of the 1st January, 1915. I am, I know, taking a somewhat extreme case, but even in the autumn of 1914, if objection is taken on the ground that the portion of the premises which he occupies on 17th July next, and for the next two years, is not separately rated, then it has been held by the Courts that it does not come within the right of the owner to compound, and he 1330 will be struck off the register, and after being in residence two and a half years he would not even qualify to exercise a vote. It is no exaggeration to say that under this decision thousands of voters have already been struck off the register. The expense of maintaining a system of this kind is very great, not only to political organisations, but to candidates and the ratepayers, and I believe that the only individuals who directly or indirectly gain are the lawyers and a certain number of agents. Is it surprising that there is real danger of confidence being shaken in the truly representative character of this House when such a system is allowed to continue? I am quite prepared to make the admission freely to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that by the abolition of the plural vote we do expect to gain on this side of the House. There are 266 constituencies in the United Kingdom in which there are over a thousand ownership votes. Of course, there are many other plural voters besides ownership voters, but, at any rate, that shows the great number of ownership voters there are in the country. I suppose I am not exaggerating when I say that of the ownership votes in the country the Liberal party certainly does not expect to receive more than one in four. The effect of this vote is you can have a great injustice perpetrated upon a constituency. In one constituency which I know there are nineteen different polling districts, and in every single polling district, by agreement between the two parties, there was a large majority in favour of the Liberal candidate, but owing to the ownership votes in a city inside the county Division the effect of the wishes of the people resident in that constituency was annihilated and a Conservative was returned to represent the constituency.
§ Mr. NEWTON
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that every voter on the ownership list is necessarily a plural voter?
§ Mr. PEASE
No, I do not. Of course a. great number undoubtedly are voters who may or may not have other qualifications. I do not think, however, I really need argue this point, because the principle of one man one vote was accepted by the party opposite when they put forward their Referendum proposals, and the late Leader of the Opposition said:—If you desire to ascertain the sheer unadulterated opinion of the people, you must have recourse to one man one vote.1331 I know the party opposite put forward the principle of one vote one value. We accept that principle. It was, I think, in 1892 or in 1895, I put it forward in my election address, and I think every Member of the House accepts the principle of one vote one value or something approximating thereto. [An HON. MEMBER: "IS at in the Bill?"] The only difference between ourselves and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is this, that we believe that it is necessary as a preliminary step to pass a Bill reforming our franchise and reforming our registration laws in order that we may see what is the true and fair distribution of the electors in the country, and then to pass a Redistribution Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite desire those Bills to be brought in concurrently. We pledge ourselves so far as we can, and at any rate we say it is our intention, to follow this Bill by a Redistribution Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "When? "]—but we believe it is essential that this Bill should pass into law first in order that we may ascertain the proper method of distributing fairly the electoral areas. The case for redistribution we admit is unanswerable. When you have eight one-member constituencies in the country with less than 20,000 and eighty-three with over 100,000; when you have constituencies like Kilkenny and Durham with 16,000 electors—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sixteen hundred"]—I ought to have said population—when you have constituencies like Kilkenny with a population of 13,300, and Durham with a population of 15,900, and when you have Romford with a population of 312,000, and Wandsworth with a population of 253,000, of course it is obvious that you ought to have a redistribution of seats. I have endeavoured to draw the attention of the House to three matters which require reform, the Franchise and the Plural Vote and Registration.
We admit that there are a great number of electoral anomalies and reforms which ought to be redressed at an early period, but this Session already two very important Bills have been introduced which we recognise must occupy a great deal of Parliamentary time, and we are limited by the scope of those measures, and we are also limited by the physical endurance of Members of Parliament, and it is impossible for us to extend our present Bill outside the three matters to which I have alluded. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not next Session?"] There are facilities which many 1332 advocate should be given to the absentee voter in the case of the sailor and the fisherman. The matter has constantly been brought before us. I introduced a Bill sixteen years ago to try and remedy this, and still the grievance remains. All elections on one day is another reform advocated, not only in the interests of trade, but also to prevent one side being favoured by a special day selected in the interests of a party. There is also the amendment of the Corrupt Practices Act, and which ought to be placed on the Statute Book, and there is the question of motor cars and their use and abuse at the present time which is a matter requiring reconsideration—I am speaking of motor cars conveying electors to the poll. Under the existing Parliamentary system there has been a steady increase in the number of electors, and we are proposing to add thereto, but at the same time in our Bill we are making no provisions in order to meet the increased expenses which may be incurred and placed upon candidates at Parliamentary elections. We do not deal with the subject of electoral reform. We feel we are debarred from dealing with it in the present Session. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] On account of time. Payment of Members will undoubtedly contribute to add to the number of candidates who may come forward at the next General Election, with the result that you may have an increased number of Members returned representing a minority of the voters at the polling booth. We are not proposing to deal with that in this present Bill either by the second ballot or the transferable or alternative vote or proportional representation for which there is a good deal to be said.
We believe that this Bill meets the three great evils to which I have referred—of the franchise laws, plural votes and registration, and, with the permission of the House I will now explain what we propose to do. The three most important changes that are effected by this Bill are: first it will be enacted that a person shall not be registered or vote for more than one constituency. It will also be enacted that an elector shall be qualified by residence or occupation and in no other way. The value of property as an element of qualification will cease. Thirdly, it will be enacted that we limit the qualifying period of residence or occupation to any continuous period of six months. In order that I may make it quits plain I would point out that if an individual goes into residence on 5th March 1333 he will be qualified on 5th September, or if he went into residence on 17th November he will be qualified on 17th May, or any period of six months in any one year, or whether it overlaps from one year to another.
§ Mr. PEASE
I will try to make the matter quite plain and I will deal with that point subsequently. I want to point out first of all the qualification is so simple everyone will understand it, and to carry out those three proposals we are introducing a Bill consisting of ten Clauses and four Schedules. In order to introduce a residential and occupation qualification we have found it advisable to insert in the Fourth Schedule at least twenty-eight Statutes which we propose to repeal in their entireity, and about forty-four others which will be partially repealed. Therefore we start practically with a clean sheet. We leave untouched all the existing incapacities except one, to which I will refer later. The existing legal incapacities of paupers, aliens, and felons are left untouched in our Bill. Clause 3 substitutes for the existing system of annual registration a continuous registration for both Parliamentary and local government purposes. In order to carry that out rules will have to be provided. There are two ways in which we could deal with the rules to make provision for a continuous system of registration—one by Order in Council, a method we have not adopted, and the other by placing in a Schedule to the Bill all the rules which might be passed by an Order in Council. We thought it fair to the House that they should have before them the whole of the rules in the Bill itself. Although the addition of these forty-one rules makes the Bill look unduly bulky, I think the House ought to understand that we are not departing from precedent, for in 1885 there was a Bill which also contained Schedules a great deal larger than the Bill itself. These rules will define the areas and duties of the registration officers, the form of the register, where and how the register must be published, how transfers can be effected and objections made. There will also be a certain number of rules adapting the procedure to the case of Scotland and Ireland.
Residence is to be the chief qualification in the future for Parliamentary voters in this country. We think that it will 1334 not be necessary for us to define what residence is. I am informed that it is easily translatable in any Court if occasion should arise. But we do define occupation. Occupation is in some cases even a better test of a man's interest in a locality than his residence, but the interest that a man has in the locality in which he lives is the main principle upon which we found our franchise. An individual who owns a factory, foundry, or farm, may himself be resident outside the area in which that farm, factory, or foundry is situated. Therefore we include the occupation franchise as well as the residential, and for the purposes of the Parliamentary Register no other franchise will be entertained. I will now explain the machinery, and although it is a somewhat technical matter I hope, as the machinery will be so much simplified, to be able to make myself clear. Every class at the present moment gets on to the register sometimes—generally, or occasionally—and the difference between the present system and the system established by the Bill is that all those anomalies which deprive certain men of the right to exercise votes which they see other men in the same rank and position of life enjoying, will be swept away. If we gain by the abolition of the plural vote, hon. Members opposite may very likely think that they will gain to a large extent by the addition of a certain number of classes of voters who will be added to the register under the operation of the Bill. For instance, I am told that a very large number of male domestic servants will become qualified for the first time. Clause 3 provides that if a voter removes from one house to another in the same constituency he will remain qualified in spite of the change of residence. If an individual removes from one constituency to another he will retain for six months his voting power in the constituency which he has left, whilst qualifying in the constituency to which he has removed. The object of that is that in a General Election, or at a by-election, we shall not suddenly find a large number of individuals disfranchised owing to their having removed from one district to another.
We think six months is a reasonable period to qualify by residence or by occupation. A shorter period would lend itself to the gerrymandering of the electorate, and where the margin was very narrow there would be a great temptation to make an effort to induce a certain number of voters to cross the border from one 1335 constituency into another. The registration officers will be the town clerk in boroughs and the clerk to the county council in the country. They will be responsible for the preparation and publication of the register. They will be compelled to publish a complete register at least once a year, and as often in addition as they think fit. Further, they will be compelled on the first of every month to issue a supplementary list which will indicate all the removals, deaths, and additions which have occurred during the previous month. They will continue to be paid as at present. These individuals are very largely responsible for the register at the present time. In England the lists are first prepared by the overseers, and they are then sent on to the town clerk or to the clerk of the county council, who ultimately is responsible for the register. Under the present system there is, at certain periods of the year, a great press of work, and the clerk has very often to engage a special staff, which he has to pay at special rates, for this particular work. Instead, the work which these officers have to do being increased, we believe it will stand to be diminished in the future, as they will be able to systematise the work and distribute it equally throughout the year. It will be the duty of the registration officer to require the overseers once every year to make a canvass of the district, so that any voter who has been in residence six months will be placed upon the register if he is not already on.
§ Mr. PEASE
The overseers will not be expected to make a monthly canvass of their area, but all the information that they possess in regard to removals and additions must be sent forward to the registrar, and the registrar of births and deaths will be compelled to send to the registrar of the register a list of the deaths, so that they may be duly notified upon the supplementary list each month. In case the overseers fail from month to month to inform the clerk of the county council or the town clerk of those who have qualified or of those who have removed, it is provided in the Bill that every individual will have the right to have his name placed upon the supplementary list if he sends his name, address and qualification to the registrar. Suppose an individual commences his residence on 25th-December, on 25th June following he will be qualified by six months' 1336 residence. If the overseer fails to acquaint the registrar that that individual has been in residence for six months, the individual may advise the registrar himself that he is qualified to vote, or anybody may do it for him, and if after such inquiry as he likes to make the claim appears to be good the name will be advertised, and will appear upon the list which will be open to inspection by the public; and if there is no objection within one month, the name will be placed upon the register on 1st August following. That is to say, within a few days after one month from the termination of the qualifying period he will be upon the register and entitled to vote. Take now the most extreme case where an objection is lodged—taking the same dates as before. Suppose objection is taken to the qualification of an individual, on grounds which must be set forth when the objection is lodged. Notice of that objection must be handed to the registrar and a copy of the objection sent to the claimant between 25th June and 25th July. The objection will then have to be heard.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
How soon, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, after 25th June, the date when the individual completes his qualification and makes his claim, will the list be published which gives notice to possible objectors?
§ Mr. PEASE
The names will appear instantly upon the registrar's list; it will then be seen that an individual is claiming a vote. If any individual should chance to take exception to the vote, all he has to do is to go to the registrar's office where he can obtain a copy of the list, or he can copy from the list which will be-duly posted.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
What I am anxious to ascertain is when the list will be published. A man completes his qualification at the end of six months. Another man completes his qualification one day later, and another man one day later still. At what period will the list be published which includes these names—and in which is given notice to the rest of the public that these men claim to be upon the register?
§ Mr. PEASE
Perhaps I ought not to have used the word "list." As soon as an individual is qualified by six months' residence an announcement will be made upon the door of the registrar's office that that individual is claiming a vote, and it will remain there for a month, subject to 1337 objection. If that individual is not objected to within that month—it is quite open to anyone to object to him subsequently—the name goes on to the supplementary list on the first of the month following, and the man gets upon the register. If he is objected to the case will have to be heard by a certain tribunal; and we propose in this Bill to abolish the Revision Courts and to allow these cases in future to be heard in the County Courts. No objection can be taken to the County Court unless seven days' clear notice is given of objection to the claimant to the addition or the removal of any name to or from the register. If an objection is lodged after 25th July that case cannot be listed on 1st August, because seven days' notice must be given to an individual that objection is taken to his qualification. Therefore the County Court will hear the objections during the month of August, and in the event of the vote being allowed the man's name will appear on the list on 1st September following. In other words, the longest period which it will be necessary for the individual to wait to get upon the register if he is qualified, and in the event of objection being taken to his qualification, will be just over two months. [An HON. MEMBER: "Eight months."] Two months from the end of the qualifying period, or eight months in all. I think that about eight months and eight days is as much as it will come to in actual practice.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Will this list, which appears on the door appear on the door only of the clerk of the county council, and will the list therefore only appear in the county town; or will it appear in some places in the Division to which the vote and claim relate?
§ Mr. PEASE
It will appear in both places, and provision is also made for it to appear at the post office in the district. Let me say a few words in connection with the abolition of Revising Barristers. I believe this Bill will not be so popular with revising barristers, and perhaps a certain number of party agents. After the passage of this Bill intricate knowledge of franchise law will no longer be required, and contested claims will in my judgment almost disappear. What will be the grounds of objection? That the individual has not been in residence six months. Well, it is very easy to ascertain whether that is a fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I am informed that it will be extremely easy to ascertain whether an indi- 1338 vidual has been six months in residence. Residence does not mean continual occupation, by sleeping every night in certain premises. A great deal of latitude is given to the individual in regard to the number of days, weeks, or even months during the qualifying period in which he may be away from his home or residence. But under the provisions of our Bill the individual must elect which residence he is going to occupy. If he has got two or three residences, he is debarred—I will explain how in a moment—from being on the register for two places or exercising a vote in two places. It can therefore be easily ascertained whether he has been six months in the place in which he claims residence. It will also be very easy to ascertain whether he is of the age of twenty-one, and also to ascertain whether he has any other vote. These are about all the cases which occur to me in which it is likely objection will be taken.
§ Mr. PEASE
Yes, the age is to be twenty-one for all purposes. The qualifying period may occur during the minority of the individual, and then he may obtain his vote on the day of his majority. As to the effect of the finance of the Bill, in England the Treasury pay, in the first instance, the whole of the revising barrister's fees, and they recover half from the local authorities. That sum of money will be entirely saved by the local authorities. As to the expenses of the County Courts, they are entirely borne by the Exchequer at the present time, and will continue to be borne by the Exchequer after the passage of this Bill.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about the town clerks and the clerks to the county council: will they be further remunerated?
§ Mr. PEASE
If there is increased work in connection with the County Courts, that will be a matter between the Exchequer and the individual. In regard to the county councils and the borough councils, we anticipate that the officials concerned will have no additional work thrown upon them. If there is additional work, of course, this matter can be brought up, and the Government are quite prepared to consider it. I am informed that the probability will be that the work of these officials will be diminished rather than increased. At the same time, there will be 1339 a reduction in part for the local taxpayer, he no longer being called upon to contribute towards the expenses of the revising barristers.
§ Mr. PEASE
That will come out of the local authority's funds. The provisions for plural voting enact that it will be prevented by the imposition of penalties. The registrar, in the first instance, may require information from any voter, from anyone claiming a vote, or who is on the list, as to whether he is qualified in any other area. If the voter declines to give that information it will naturally be the registrar's duty to strike that individual off the list. If the registrar is satisfied that the man has only got one vote, that vote will be given, and the name will be retained upon the register. But it is the duty of the registrar to do his best to prevent any name appearing on more than one register. An obligation, however, is also placed upon the voter, who has to see himself that he is not placed upon more than one register. He is called upon to disclaim the vote which he does not wish to exercise.
§ Mr. PEASE
If he wilfully declines to disclaim, or if he knowingly seeks to secure a plural vote, he will be guilty of a corrupt practice, and will be liable to a fine of £200, or one year's imprisonment, and he will further be incapacitated for the exercise of a vote for seven years. The onus of proof that he did this knowingly will rest upon the accuser. If he votes twice at a General Election it is to be assumed that he knew what he was doing, and the onus of proof that he did it inadvertently will rest upon him.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am anxious to understand the Bill. Will the imprisonment be in the first or the second division?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PEASE
The imprisonment may or may not be without hard labour. I now-come to another point which I know will be a rather sore subject with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It may be anticipated that in our Bill we find no room for fancy franchises. The retention 1340 of the university vote we believe to be inconsistent with the principle of "One man one vote." Every voter for the universities will almost without a single exception obtain his qualification as resident or occupier. In England at the present time there are three university constituencies, in Scotland two, and in Ireland one, and nine University Members are now returned altogether. On the average the electorate of universities is just over 5,000. The average electorate in the constituencies in this country is nearly 15,000, therefore any Members of this House in favour of one vote one value will not be able to justify university representation on these terms.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I have the honour of representing a university with an electorate numbering 12,000.
§ Mr. PEASE
That only indicates how very small the electorate of some of the other universities is. I know it is probably of great matter to representatives from our great seats of learning, and occupying the position I have the honour to do in the Government I am the last individual to undervalue and underrate the great educational help some of these representatives have been to the cause of education. At the same time we in this House recognise, at any rate we recognise it on this side of the House, that university representatives are just as good party men as any other Members. By our proposals we shall diminish the number of constituencies by nine in the case of universities, and we shall by our proposals in connection with the Home Rule Bill diminish the number of constituencies by sixty-one. That will give the House of Commons 600 Members. I am not authorised by my colleagues, who have not considered this matter, to say whether a future Redistribution Bill will be for 600 or remain at 670. But I submit to the House that my own opinion is that 600 may be just as good a number as 670.
I alluded a few moments ago to the Clause dealing with the incapacity of voters. Among those now debarred from exercising the Parliamentary franchise are peers. We propose to remove that disability. They already vote in local government matters and for local government authorities, and we do not see why they should not have the grievance of which they complain in connection with the Parliamentary franchise redressed. Since the passage of the Parliament Bill 1341 their complaint is that they have got even less voice in the permanent laws of this country than even the proverbial coachman. We wish to redress their grievance.
§ Mr. PEASE
No, the right to vote will not carry any right to sit. We make no alterations in regard to the Statute which prevents Peers of the Realm sitting in this Chamber. I am now going to do my utmost to explain to the House the effect of our proposals in regard to the numbers upon the register, and if the House will have patience with me I should like to go back to 1832. By the great Reform Bill 500,000 voters were placed upon the register. That number rose to a total in 1867 of 1,084,000. Then there was the extension of the vote to the boroughs, and the electorate in 1868 became 2,500,000. In 1884 it had risen from 2,500,000 to 3,000,000, and then the vote was extended to the householders in the country, and there was added to the register 200,000 for Scotland, 400,000 for Ireland, and 1,300,000 for England and Wales, therefore the electorate became 4,900,000. The electorate has since risen from 4,900,000 to 7,984,600, or just under 8,000,000. The division of the total electorate will interest Members representing different parts of the United Kingdom. The figures are: Ireland, 696,405; Scotland, 812,452; and England and Wales, 6,475,743, making a total electorate of 7,984,600. It has often been asked how many voters we expect will be abolished by the removal of plural voting. My estimate is 525,000, and by the abolition of the university electors 49,614, so that there will be a further reduction under our proposals of 574,614. That would leave an electorate of 7,400,000 upon the present register.
The total number of male persons in this country twenty-one years of age and over is 12,032,000. That leaves without votes to-day approximately 4,600,000 individuals of twenty-one years of age and over. I estimate that those incapacitated from votes by being aliens, lunatics, felons, and paupers number about 300,000. There are one or two other classes, such as persons found guilty of illegal practices, personation agents at polling booths and others who are incapacitated, but there are not more than a handful. The result remains that there are about 4,200,000 individuals of twenty-one years of age without votes. It is impossible for the Government or any- 1342 body else, I believe, to estimate what would be the exact effect of getting rid of the fixed annual registration system and establishing a continuous registration system based upon any six months' period of qualification. The best calculation I am able to make, and I put it forward with a good deal of reserve, is that we shall add something like 2,000,000 or 2,500,000 on to the register, while we shall reduce the total number of individuals on the register at present by a. little over 500,000, that is to say, that about 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 adults in this country who have no votes now will have votes under the operation of this Bill. It may interest the House if I should refer to the number of women over twenty-one years of age in this country. The number is 13,352,000, and if the vote was to-be extended on the same terms to women as to men about 10,500,000 women voters would be added to the register.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
As far as municipal voters are concerned with a £10 occupation qualification, will the registration machinery be the same?
§ Mr. PEASE
I have not forgotten that point. If the House will have patience with me I will make quite clear what will be the case in regard to the local government registration. I will deal with that question at once. The Government have been anxious to confine this Bill as far as they possibly could to the points connected with the Parliamentary franchise, plural voting and registration to which I have formerly alluded. We desire, having regard to the other work of the Session, not to overload our measure, therefore we are not proposing to interfere more than we can help with the local government register. But we realise it would be absurd for us having established a working machinery of a very simple kind for Parliamentary purposes that that same simple machinery should not also be extended for local government purposes, and therefore we get rid of revising barristers and revision courts just as much for the sake of the local government elector as for the Parliamentary elector. Having established this simple-machinery, it is really unthinkable that we should attempt to allow two registration systems to run concurrently at the same time. It would be just as absurd as for a works which had installed up-to-date electrical plant to drive the machinery in the workshops to allow a great old fashioned steam engine to be retained in order to work a few machines as it would 1343 be to allow the old existing machinery to remain for local government while we had simple machinery established for Parliamentary purposes. The lodger and owner vote and occupier vote will remain for the purposes of local elections but without any limit of value attached thereto. The anomalies existing upon the local register between one part of the country and another will continue. I might give as an illustration the fact that the Parliamentary lodger franchise is not available in England for the purposes of county councils or borough council elections. There will be under the new lists four categories of voters upon the register: there will be the occupier, who will be qualified both for local government as well as Parliamentary voting; there will be the residential voter, qualified only for Parliamentary purposes, and there will be the lodger and owner qualified only for the local register. The only individual starred upon the register will be the class of electors disqualified from voting for local government purposes, such as lodgers who may not vote in respect of county councils and borough councils. I have practically said all that I desired to say, and I hope I have made the Bill plain to the House. I should just like to run over in conclusion the ten Clauses of the Bill, in order that the House may see what we do with each Clause. The first Clause deals with the Parliamentary franchise. It abolishes the plural vote, and it creates a new Parliamentary franchise by residence or occupation.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind explaining, as I have not been so fortunate as to understand what is precisely the new proposals with regard to the residential and occupying qualifications?
§ Mr. PEASE
The occupier for the Parliamentary register is an individual who may occupy land, foundries, shops, places of business, or anything of that kind; or for the local government register he may be a lodger. The individual who is qualified by residence practically includes everybody else who has a home and is resident for six months in continuous occupation.
§ Mr. PEASE
The word "occupier," as used in the Bill, is defined to include 1344 lodger for the local government register but that is a technical legal point. It is quite obvious that residence does not include the occupier. The occupier is probably a resident, but the resident may desire to be qualified in respect of his occupation qualification, and not of his residential qualification, and therefore we have included the two. Clause 2 deals with the Local Government franchise. It adapts the new machinery to the local Government elections, with the assistance of Schedule 1. Registration is dealt with in Clause 3 and applies the rules I have before alluded to contained in Schedule 3. Penalties for voting in more than one constituency are inserted in Clause 5, and then there is Clause 6 containing provision for dealing with the incapacity of voters now debarred from exercising the Parliamentary franchise. University constituencies are abolished by Clause 7, and the definitions occur in Clause 8. The application of the measure to Scotland is dealt with in Clause 9, and Clause 10 repeals the Sections of all the Franchise Bills to which I have referred as being antiquated and no longer necessary. Clause 10 also provides the short title, and it does one thing more, because it indicates when the Act is to come into force, and the date we have inserted into the Bill is 1st June, 1914, or such earlier date as may be fixed by an Order in Council. We think it would be impossible for one registration system to run concurrently with another in connection with the election of Members for the same House of Commons, and therefore between now and the Dissolution all the by-elections will be carried out under the same system as at present prevails; but in the event of an early Dissolution it will be able to anticipate the register by an Order in Council, so that the provisions of this Bill would operate whenever the next General Election occurs. The life of this Parliament must end in December, 1915. If no Order in Council bringing the provisions of this Bill into force prior to June, 1914, is issued, the register will be ready at the end of 1914, and available for a General Election at the end of 1914 or early in 1915.
§ Mr. PEASE
Schedule II adapts this Bill to Ireland, but there are rules which also adapt the Bill and make the necessary changes so that the measure will equally apply to Ireland, England, and to 1345 Wales. There are people in Ireland who have different titles to the people in this country. For instance, the clerk of the county council, who is called the Secretary of the county council. All the little alterations which are necessary by law are dealt with in the rules, and the Bill will be thus made effective in Ireland.
§ Mr. PEASE
Yes, the short title is the "Franchise and Registration Bill," and the large title is "a Bill to Amend the Law with respect to the Parliamentary and Local Government Franchise and the Registration of Parliamentary and Local Government electors, and to Provide for the Abolition of University Constituencies."
§ Mr. PEASE
The register will be made up in portions to suit the various demands of each authority in the country. For the purposes of local government there will be one register, and another may be required for other sections. Each section of the register will be available for purchase separately, or the whole Parliamentary register may be purchased together with the local government areas in one.
§ Sir W. BULL
Does the register come in on 1st September, or is it brought up to date all the way through the year, so that by-elections operate through it? Otherwise, it seems to me that you will not get the eight or nine months' qualification.
§ Mr. PEASE
The register is continuous. It may be printed every month and all the alterations effected in it. It is assumed that the whole of the register in a big bound volume to be printed every month would be an unnecessary expense; but it must be printed with all the alterations once a year. On the first of each month there will be a supplementary list issued from which any individual can make any alteration in the main register which may be necessary, available in a complete form if wanted, in connection with any election. It is always competent for any individual to get from the registrar a complete register brought up to date on the first of each month. He is not directed in the Bill necessarily to print it, but he has such an amount of latitude in connection with printing that I believe in actual practice 1346 it will be found that the register will always be printed and in the hands of any individual together with a printed list of corrections made up to date. By this Bill we lay to rest the antiquated enfranchising Acts, and we are giving birth to what we believe to be a robust child. By the alterations of the Bill we believe the State will thrive and continue to develop more than ever. Interest in Parliamentary life will be invigorated and stimulated by the sound franchise laws we propose. We claim for this Bill the great merit that it is short, that its proposals are simple, that they are just and equitable, and will expedite registration; that it will cheapen the machinery, and that it establishes on sound principles our franchise and registration laws. It is the result of a good deal of thought. It is based upon the principle of trust in the people, qualified by prudence: and though some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway would like to see an Adult Suffrage Bill the principle we have gone on is that men in this country ought not to be allowed to rove about and vote wherever they like—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or work."]—but they shall be permitted to vote for the constituency in which they possess an interest: and we place that interest as the residential qualification of six months in a constituency. We submit to this House that this is a principle which may be accepted. I believe the overwhelming opinion of this country is in favour of such a reform as we propose in this Bill, and it is with great pleasure that I move the Motion which stands in my name.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman very good-naturedly throughout the course of his speech answered the various points of difficulty which occurred to my hon. Friends and myself, and we are very grateful to him for having done so. I can assure him, however, that some points are still left in obscurity, and the fault lies in the nature of the subject which the right hon. Gentleman had to unfold, and not in any want of lucidity on his part. I must at the outset say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in my judgment was at least as remarkable for its omissions as for what it contained. To listen to the right hon. Gentleman's speech one would never think that he was introducing in the middle of June this measure in one of the most remarkable and congested Sessions which, so far as I know, the House of Commons has ever been asked to face. It appears to me to be a subject calling 1347 for more than a mere perfunctory comment. I think we should be informed how a Bill which, from the very nature of the case, must give rise to an extremely protracted discussion, can possibly be proceeded with in the limited time we shall be able to devote ourselves to legislation during the present Session. I would invite the serious attention of the House to this aspect of the question. For my own information I have attempted to see whether the House would be justified in giving a First Reading at this stage of the Session to proposals so complex, and I have attempted to discover what are our commitments and what time is available for the present House of Commons to discharge them. I understand the Prime Minister has definitely assured the House that we are to be allowed a short and not very adequate Recess, from the 10th or the 12th August to the beginning of October. I understand that to be a definite statement.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
No, I do not think the Prime Minister did say the 12th. We are at the present time at the 17th day of June, and we have thirty-two full days, eight Fridays, and one possible Saturday available before the date of the Adjournment. The days already allotted are one Friday for Private Members' measures, thirteen Supply days which have been allotted, one Supply day which is not allotted, and two days for the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Adjournment. That leaves available for the various activities to which we shall be called in due course sixteen full days and seven Fridays. Of these sixteen days one is now being used for the Franchise Bill, and two are already allotted to the Home Rule Bill. That leaves thirteen full days before the House separates in August. The Finance Bill has engaged the attention of the Prime Minister, and he has informed the House that this year reasonable time will be given to the consideration of that Bill. The reasons for that must be obvious to everybody, having regard to the circumstances under which the Finance Bill was discussed last year. Assuming that six days, which no one would say was an excessive amount of time, are given, that leaves seven days before we part in August.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I know the right hon. Gentleman did not definitely say they would be given before the Adjournment, but in answer to my right hon. Friend who was formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer, he did say substantial progress would be made before August.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The number of days is not largely affected I think I can show by that consideration. Assuming, however, there are ten days left, provision must be made during that period for the Indian Budget; the Marconi Agreement; an extra day's Supply, I understand, is not unlikely in connection with the Naval Estimates; the Scotch Temperance Bill; the Criminal Law Amendment Bill; and a Bill to which I understand the Government is deeply committed, the Second Reading of the Railways Bill. There is also the Sugar Convention, the Mental Deficiency Bill, the Osborne Judgment Bill, and there is an obligation which I also understand is quite definite, a pledge having been given, if I am not mistaken, at the Colonial Conference, with regard to the appointment of two new judges. That means the whole of the time would be taken twice over before the Adjournment if any serious attempt were made to carry out even 50 per cent. of the obligations they have made. The Committee stage of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 occupied forty-seven days, the Report stage occupied fourteen days, and the Third Reading three days—that is to say, sixty-four days were given altogether to Home Rule. I think the Prime Minister will accept what I say on behalf of the Opposition that there is not the slightest desire or the slightest intention of obstructing by trivial or dilatory Amendments the progress of the Home Rule Bill through this House, but at the same time I hope the Prime Minister will equally recognise that to ask us to be content with less time, now we have the security of the Second Chamber taken away altogether, than was accorded in 1893, would be a demand so unreasonable and unfair that no Opposition could be expected to acquiesce in it if their powers of resistance enabled them to prevent it. The sixty-four days which were given in 1349 1893 were never accepted by the Opposition; it was the time which was prescribed by the Government as adequate for the Bill.
I will just say a word and then I have completed the enumeration, which I hope the House will not think irrelevant, why they should not proceed with a Bill of this magnitude. In 1895 the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was also considered. Thirteen days were given to the Committee stage of that Bill, and by that time the first 'half of Clause 6 alone had been reached. I think it is only proper to consider what time is available, having regard to the prospects of an Autumn Session, for dealing with these various problems. I do not know what the precise proposal is, but say the Autumn Session lasted from 10th October to 21st December. That would give forty whole days and ten Fridays, with the very striking result that yon would have left in the Autumn Session time insufficient, on the basis of 1893, to conclude the Home Rule Bill alone, without attempting to deal with any other single measure. I do say, without any reference to the merits of this Bill, that it is scandalous under these circumstances to introduce a Bill like this at all at this period of the Session. This certain consequence of the working of the Parliament Act was repeatedly pointed out by my hon. Friends and myself during the progress of those discussions. We pointed out to the Government that the necessary result of giving some position of priority to Bills which reached a Second Reading in a particular Session without any reference to the period which was available for their adequate discussion would be that a number of controversial Bills of the greatest importance would jostle one another for precedence, and I venture to think that warning has been abundantly justified.
The position in which we find ourselves is extremely injurious to the House of Commons itself, but it is also injurious to the prestige of the House of Commons in the country. No one who listens to me can have failed to notice in the last two years a constant decline in the interest which is taken in the country in the Debates in this House. I am unwilling to take the unflattering view that the explanation is to be found in the undue prolixity of our observations or their lack of interest I believe the explanation is to be found in the fact that Parliament is always sitting and always discussing something. You cannot expect the constituencies to have their attention 1350 switched from one gigantic legislative proposal to another and then to understand our Parliamentary discussions. If that prospect is injurious, as I believe it is profoundly injurious to the House of Commons, it is even more injurious to the constituencies. I have not been long enough in the House to offer any opinion as to whether there has been a decline in the interest in our Debates in the House itself, but I remember Mr. Disraeli once said on a well-known occasion that he had never heard the whole of a Parliamentary Debate without learning something of importance which he did not know before, and, if there still remains some vestige of that educational power in this House of Commons, surely no error could he more tragic and more irreparable than that by the length and duration of our sittings and the multiplicity and complexity of the subjects with which we attempt to deal we should make it impossible for the public, whom those Debates ought to educate, to understand them. One observation surely suggests itself to us in connection with this Bill, and it is a subject on which the right hon. Gentleman had an observation to make, although his omissions were, I think, most striking of all; and that is the impossibility of abandoning this Bill, if I understand the Parliamentary position, at a later period of the Session. It is not uncommonly assumed by hon. Gentleman opposite that, when the pressure of the Parliamentary situation makes itself increasingly felt, it is probable the whole of the complex provisions of this Bill will not be persevered with, and that part of this Bill alone which is occupied with plural voting will survive. I cannot help thinking that perhaps it was the "robust child" which the right hon. Gentleman referred to when he described the parturition of the Government. This convenient solution of the difficulty is really quite an impracticable one, because the Prime Minister gave a pledge I confess I greatly regretted and never quite understood, which seems to me to make it quite impossible that this Bill should be withdrawn, say, for an easier Bill, and makes it obligatory on the Government to persevere with this Bill, at any rate through the Committee Stage. I understand that what the Prime Minister said on 18th November to a suffragettes' deputation, was:—If the House of Commons is prepared to transform or extend the measure which we are agreed in thinking necessary for the franchise as regards men so as to confer the franchise on such terms as they think necessary to women, we should not only acquiesce in 1351 the proposal, but we should treat it as the considered judgment of Parliament and should make ourselves responsible for carrying it through.I do not understand myself whether the Prime Minister took the view when he made that statement, a statement repeated by many of his colleagues, that he was giving a definite pledge to the female suffragettes that this Bill would be carried or whether it was that they would have an opportunity during the Committee stage of making their proposal to add female suffrage to the other proposals in the Bill; but I can assure him, because it is within my knowledge, that whether he intended or not to give an assurance so definite, every suffrage society in the country is under the impression he did give that pledge. I would invite the House to consider what a remarkable position follows. The Government have put themselves in a position which is incompatible with any retention of dignity or self - respect in this matter. It means we are, in connection with this Bill, to debate and to decide whether women are to be admitted to the suffrage pari passu with men; that is to say, if I understand the right hon. Gentleman aright, whether 10,000,000 women are to be allowed to vote on equal terms with men. My views on that subject are well known, but they are not shared by many Members of the House, and, as showing how completely very important sections of the House refuse to accept the views which I and some of my Friends, and, indeed, the Prime Minister holds, I may remind the House that the Leader of the Labour party, at a meeting in favour of women's suffrage at the Albert Hall, was very specifically asked whether or not, if on the Third Reading of the Franchise Bill in the House of Commons it failed to include women, he and his colleagues would vote against it, and the Leader of the Labour party gave a specific pledge that unless on its Third Reading this Bill included women he and his colleagues would vote against it. That opens up a very serious possibility for the Government, and it is worth noticing what the position is. No one, I suppose, suggests that this House can possibly decide whether or not ten millions of women are to be admitted to the suffrage without most protracted debates. Some of us will have a great many arguments to advance before a consummation of that kind is reached. It must be clear to everyone, whether they are in 1352 favour of or against it, whether the Government may have been right or wrong in ever giving the pledge they did of these opportunities to the supporters of women's suffrage, they have now introduced a Bill as immense and as complex as any legislative proposal ever introduced. This may not be directly relevant to the Bill itself, but I mention it as a subject which is relevant to the question of the propriety of proceeding further with this measure. As I understand it, if this Bill becomes law with the added provision that women, in an extreme or more limited form, shall be admitted to the suffrage, another consequence follows.
The Prime Minister has indicated that he will then consider this as the considered verdict of Parliament, and make himself and the Government responsible for carrying it through. In what condition will this Bill go to the other House, and with what authority will these proposals go to the other House, should the majority in this House decide that women should have votes pari passu with men. We know the view of the late Lord Chancellor (Lord Loreburn). I was present at a great meeting in the Albert Hall, which received great importance from the presence of some nine or ten of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, and at that meeting Lord Loreburn said, in language very explicit, that the proposal to carry female suffrage by means of the Parliament Act was a constitutional outrage. Yet apparently this is to be done, and it appears to be a circumstance which does not call for any observations at all from the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill, in order to explain what its Parliamentary progress is likely to be. I do not propose to attempt to follow in detail the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed. I will only deal with general principles, and in face of the difficulty which almost inevitably confronts one who has to get up immediately after the Minister who introduces a measure of this importance, I do ask that, if I have failed to understand any of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has submitted, he will correct me.
I will make some observations first on the simplification of the register. I take the opportunity of saying at once that a proposal to simplify the register is one which will command in my judgment the general sympathy of the Unionist party. I postpone any consideration of details, and confine myself to the general proposals for simplification. The present 1353 system is complex, anomalous, and unfair. I myself have always taken the view that the franchise of the individual ought not to depend on the activities and competence of party agents. How far these proposals will have altered the dependence on party agents will require some consideration. The attitude of the Conservative party to a proposal of this kind was indicated with great clearness on an occasion when he spoke for the Conservative party by Sir Edward Clarke, and I adhere to every word that right hon. Gentleman said. His words were:—In our view when Parliament has decided that a certain class of persons are to receive the franchise it is our duty to see that there shall be no artificial obstacles to prevent the enjoyment of that right. It is our duty to make such arrangements as will enable persons qualified according to our law to get easily on the register and have their names kept there when there.I associate myself entirely with that, and the observation I have to make on the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, in so far as I am able to understand them, is that I do not think that they are calculated to carry out the object which Sir Edward Clarke suggested, although, on corrected knowledge, I may find that that is not the case. The period which the Government has selected is six months. I make no complaint of that. All that is necessary is that we should have such a period as will prevent any colourable creation of claims without at the same time depriving people of the franchise who have resided in a constituency for a substantial period. Therefore, so far as the period of six months is concerned, speaking of course without full consideration, I make no particular complaint of it. Proposals which have been made in the past have ranged between three months and twelve months, and the Government have taken a middle course.
I confess I am in greater doubt as to the machinery by which the Government propose to give effect to the simplification of registration. To my mind some of the proposals are impracticable and undesirable. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the duties which will be thrown upon town clerks. I often notice in this House that when new duties are being thrown by Parliament on officials who are already very hard worked, there is a tendency very much to attenuate the importance or exacting nature of the new requirements. We are always told that the undertaking of these new duties will not prove onerous or any considerable aggravation of the work already imposed upon the officials. But in an almost unbroken succession of 1354 cases a wholly different view is taken by the officials on whom the duties are cast, and I shall certainly await with much interest the views of town clerks as to whether it is true that these proposals so far from adding to their labours will merely relieve them of some of the duties that they discharge at the present time. A greater objection, if I understand aright the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman—and I put this forward solely on the ground of impracticability—seems to lie in the suggested methods by which these lists are to be maintained. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that there will always be at any given moment a list. It does not matter what you call it, but there will always exist some place in which the names of persons will be constantly reproduced day by day as they become entitled to the vote. The right hon. Gentleman gave an illustration of how that would work. He said, assuming a man goes into a constituency and becomes resident there on 25th December, he will become qualified by 25th June, and he added, "If the overseer does not tell the registrar anyone else may do it." This is an extremely ambiguous expression. Whether the imagination of the right hon. Gentleman is peopled by a conception of good Samaritans and charitable persons who are going to persons qualified to vote to tell them their names are not on the list, I do not know. But we do know that no one is going to point out to a person that his name is not on the list when it ought to be there, except the party agent who is paid to do it, and so far from this Bill excluding the activities of the party agent, in my humble judgment it will considerably add to his labours and increase his expenses. He will have to keep daily watch, and no candidate can afford, as we know, to take the slightest chance in that respect. If A, B, C, D, and E become entitled to vote in July, the agent will have to see that their names are on the list. Then you get added complexity when you come to deal with the county lists. As the right hon. Gentleman said, you cannot very well have one door for a whole county constituency, I really suggest, as a serious consideration about the proposal, that the labour to be thrown upon party agents in these districts will enormously increase the importance of their office. The expense is already very considerable, and so far from introducing simplicity, I consider that the proposals will bring about considerable complexity.
1355 There is another branch of the proposal which I also contemplate with the greatest possible anxiety. I express no definite opinion as to the abolition of revising barristers, because I am well aware that in this House any member of the legal profession who laments the extinction or decline of any office held by another member of the legal profession, exposes himself to a certain amount of criticism. I think, therefore, laymen may be left to lament the extinction of a body of men which counts among its members many who habitually support right hon. Gentlemen opposite. But that is after all a secondary consideration. Whether the Government are wise to dissociate themselves from the services of men who, under existing conditions, have acquired a very great deal of experience I question, but until experience satisfies us we can safely dispense with the services of revising barristers, I confess I would gladly see them retained. In reference to later parts of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals our objections are still greater.
The right hon. Gentleman proposes to place these duties on the County Courts. Surely he is aware—if he is not he should have been advised—as to the state of business in the County Courts. Not only are those Courts dreadfully congested, not only has a great multiplicity of new duties been thrown upon the County Court judges in the course of the last ten years, especially in connection with the Workmen's Compensation Act, but you are actually proposing in this Session of Parliament to add enormously to their work and the volume of litigation which engages the attention of the County Court. Yet without one word of justification we are told the Government are going to throw the work of the revising barristers upon a body of men as hard worked as any body of men that can be found. In my humble judgment that is a proposal which will require a very great deal of justification when we come to consider this Bill in its later stages. I should like to know whether any personal opinion has been invited from County Court judges as to whether they feel themselves able to undertake these duties, for I doubt very greatly the propriety of a Minister, without consulting the people on whom he imposes these labours, in coming down to the House of Commons suddenly and announcing his intention to take this course without such consultation.
I pass from the simplification of the register proposal, and I come to the second 1356 part of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, that is the substitution for the present overlapping and confusion and so many franchises, of a simple residential or occupation franchise. I remember hearing Sir Charles Dilke—whose absence from our Debates on this subject must be a source of profound regret to everyone here, because of his admitted and unrivalled knowledge of this subject—I remember hearing, him say that he was able to distinguish no less than nineteen or twenty different forms of franchise in this country. The object of abolishing so great a variety of franchises, and of substituting for them one simple form is one which, if it be fair and if it be practical, must demand the support on principle of every Member of the House. It is, however, necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit it, to consider very attentively what will be the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. I asked him a question whether he could distinguish on some intelligible principle between the residential franchise and the occupying franchise. I am not sure that the answer he gave me rested upon any very definable logical distinction, but that would not very much matter if it rested upon some statutory definition contained in the Bill, as I gather it does. If I understand him aright, what he means is this: that in future everybody who votes will vote by reference either to a residential claim or to an occupying claim. A residential claim means primarily the claim of every person who votes by virtue of the fact that he lives in a certain house, and, a little illogically, the claim to vote of a lodger, which is that of a claim to vote by virtue of residence, is treated as not falling under the residential head, but under the occupying head. Also, the right which will be enjoyed under the terms of the Bill by those who occupy foundries or factories, or places of business, is described as an occupying franchise. I discern the possibility of no small confusion unless the definitions in the Bill obviate the doubts which have arisen.
But on a First Reading Debate it is not necessary for us to consider how far the definitions are sufficient. What is important is to understand what will be the effect of the proposals. Simplicity in these matters is very admirable, if it is not purchased by depreciating the civic quality of the electorate. The Conservative party is not, and never has been, hostile to the admission of any new class to the suffrage, if it is reasonably probable that that class 1357 will consist of useful and intelligent citizens who desire the privilege, and who will make the House of Commons, in the words which the right hon. Gentleman used more than once, more truly representative of the best elements in every class. Some observations must occur at once to every Member of the House. In the first place, who can help noting that no popular demand has been exhibited for the extension of the franchise. I do not desire at this point of my speech to be unduly controversial—when I reach another subject I shall have to be a little more controversial—and I am perfectly prepared to leave it to the judgment and recollection of hon. Gentlemen opposite whether it was true to say that there was a great popular demand for the extension of the franchise at the time when the Prime Minister made that wholly unexpected announcement, in the sense that it has been possible to say it of every great legislative measure during the last few years, in regard to which, whether a majority was in favour of the proposal or not, none of us ever disputed that a considerable section of the community was strongly in favour of it. I deny absolutely—and the means of observation which are available to me are the same means of observation available to every hon. Member in other parts of the House—I deny absolutely that there was any great volume of popular demand for this change in the sense in which it can be said of any other great proposal in the last few years. If I am right in this view, then there is a very great difference between this proposed extension and the earlier extensions of the franchise. What the Government is doing is pressing the suffrage on large classes who have expressed no audible desire to have it.
In the second place, the information which the right hon. Gentleman gave as to the number of new voters was extremely meagre. I had some figures worked out for me by a very considerable expert in these matters, and I think it right to add that he does not agree with the figures which are put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, and is of opinion, although, like the right hon. Gentleman's advisers, he admits the subject is one upon which it is very difficult to speak with any great confidence or certainty, that the increase in the male electorate will be some 3,000,000 and that the female electorate, if women are added, will be some 11,000,000. Let the House consider for a moment what is being done. It means that we are asked, 1358 if the Labour party have their way, and if a considerable section of hon. Gentlemen opposite have their way, to consider proposals which will have the effect of adding 14,000,000 voters to the register. Even if it be limited to men, you are adding half as many again of those who now vote. It may be right or it may be wrong, but I cannot recollect a proposal so momentous being made with so little preparation of public opinion, and so little public opinion being expressed upon it. The whole House will remember the occasion when the Prime Minister suddenly made to a deputation the announcement that this proposal was to be brought forward. So far as I understand, he had made no preliminary statement. None of his colleagues had made it, and everybody was astonished at the time selected by the Prime Minister for the announcement and at the gravity of the proposals he indicated, not to the House of Commons, but to a deputation.
On this point I would ask the House whether they think that the present state of affairs at home and abroad offers a prospect so tranquil that we can afford to make experiments of this kind. We are living, as the right hon. Gentleman recognised in his speech, at a time of unexampled industrial unrest; we are living at a time when we are making legislative experiments which have never been dreamt of before, and I should think that, to whatever school of political thought any responsible Member of this House belongs, he could not contemplate without gravity, even if he confines his attention to our internal affairs at home, such a momentous change. But if we carry our eyes further afield and consider the position of foreign affairs, I ask is it a moment which is opportune for so great an experiment. I am not going to embark retrospectively upon consideration of the events which caused so great and so well-founded an anxiety in the House and the country last autumn. Everybody knows how great the apprehensions were of actual disturbances on the Continent last August. Whatever has been said for or against democracy, it has never yet been tried in the crucible of a great and critical war of long duration, affecting the very existence of this country. I submit to the judgment of this House whether this is a time, with the anxieties at home and abroad with which we are notoriously confronted, to make so gigantic an experiment as that indicated in the 1359 proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. What makes it none the less amazing is that those who are the strongest advocates of a much greater extension of the right to the popular vote are of the number of those who never hesitate to indicate their distrust of the popular vote when it is expressed in any sense hostile to themselves. Has anybody forgotten the Peckham election two or three years ago? Hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly the Labour Members, because the result of the Peckham election was adverse to themselves, immediately peopled quite a fairly respectable borough with a number of imaginary drunkards. I suppose that as the constituency is now represented by a Liberal it has presumably been rehabilitated and become respectable. While election after election was being lost on the Licensing Bill, everybody in the House will remember the absolute contempt with which hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, spoke of the electors. They were the dupes of the trade; they had been deceived by the brewers; they were not competent to form an opinion upon the Licensing Bill, and they hardly ought to have had votes with which to pronounce an opinion upon it.
You see the same thing in regard to the Insurance Act. Of every by-election which goes adverse to the Government what is the explanation given? The explanation is that the people have been deceived by misrepresentations with reference to the Insurance Act; they cannot understand it; it is too complicated, and the dishonesty of my hon. Friends is so extreme, and their mendacity is so great, and, give me leave to add, so successful, that in every constituency where a by-election takes place the people are misled. If that view is honestly held, I ask the question is it wise to extend so largely the area of gullibility? I would point out that although this question can be argued in a humorous way, there underlies it a perfectly serious argument. If you think you are right in adding 3,000,000 electors to an electorate which, as it is at present constituted, cannot understand these problems at all, and is so easily misled and deceived by hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me, whose powers in this House you are accustomed to underrate altogether, and even to deride, how much easier will it be when the electorate is enlarged? I would make one further observation on the subject of the age of the voters. My recollection was that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in his speech which he 1360 made somewhere in England, recommended that the age of legal qualification should be raised from twenty-one to twenty-five.
Without in the least committing myself to the proposal that twenty-five would be a more suitable age for the franchise, if proposals of this kind are to be adopted at all, I should certainly express myself in the sense that such a proposal was at least very well worth considering, and I should like to ask whether the average man or woman between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five, on a franchise so extended, is likely to be a source of strength to the community. I put that question perfectly seriously—and it is one which concerns every party—with a desire to secure the best answer. If it is really contemplated that women should be admitted to the vote at all under the conditions of this proposal, I may point out that an overwhelming number of the women who have broken windows and committed other excesses have been between twenty-one and twenty-five years' of age, and in some cases, I believe, even younger. And to apply the same consideration to men, the tendency during the recent strikes in the speeches of older Members of the Labour party and older Labour Leaders is to complain of the bad influence, as against their advice, of the younger men and boys who are employed either in the mines or on the railways. I am not quoting the opinion of Conservative critics, which I know would not be listened to, but I remember more than one speech by a highly respected leader of the men at the pit mouth complaining strongly of the undue influence which, in their judgment, had been gained by the younger men. This proposal to raise the age limit is one which I sincerely hope will engage the further consideration of the House; and I hope we shall have an opportunity of debating it and arriving at a deliberate conclusion upon it. These proposals to extend the franchise are of the greatest gravity, and will be approached by the Unionist party with a sincere desire to hear and to give due weight to every consideration which can be urged in their support; but with the constant conviction that the onus, and it is a grave onus, lies on those who support proposals so momentous by arguments so light.
There remains on this point one other question I should like to ask. If the Bill is carried will there be a dissolution? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the precedent. He will, I 1361 imagine, recognise that if you admit, as you will admit if you carry this Bill into law, that the present electorate requires recruitment and reinforcement before large decisions are taken in the near future, it will become absolutely impossible for the Government to persevere with large measures on which the electorate, which, ex hypothesi, is inadequate to pronounce, has never been consulted, and on which you have excluded yourself from the recruitment of this great new reservoir of the electorate. These considerations have been recognised with almost complete uniformity in the case of every great franchise Bill in the past, not technical uniformity, because there have been one or two exceptions, apparent rather than real, into which I need not enter, because they will engage more detailed consideration hereafter. But I did not gather that the Government have the slightest intention of dissolving. The right hon. Gentleman contemplated, with happy and easy security, a period of beneficent and continued activity from now till December, 1915. But even this Government, which has called into existence many new precedents, has created no precedent more startling than that at one and the same moment they should say "the constituencies require recruitment," and "we are going to carry enormous and far-reaching changes," although the only voucher they have, if they have it—which we deny—is the very electorate which is so inadequate.
I will now make an observation on the subject of university representation. The right hon. Gentleman, who is always as conciliatory as the nature of his task renders possible, said he feared that the question of university representation was a sore place to hon. Gentlemen upon this side of the House. It is one of those sores which has become chronic, and I greatly doubt whether it will be eradicated by the Government. It is a sore that has lasted for a very long time, which many physicians have set themselves to excise and which has outlasted the efforts of them all. The Government are unfortunate here, as they are in the case of plural voting, inasmuch as the discharge of what they honestly feel to be their duty happens to coincide with their electoral advantage. It may, of course, be that they would have embarked on this campaign against the universities had the university Members all been Liberals. I do not know. At least, it will be admitted that is an interesting subject of speculation if time allowed. But I should like to 1362 ask, Is there some difference between university representation in Ireland and university representation in England which makes it necessary to treat them in a different way? I could have understood, under the terms of the Home Rule Bill, the consistency of the Government if they had said, when they introduced their Home Rule proposals, "university representation shall come to an end in Ireland"; but in the same year university representation is permitted to survive in Ireland, while it is destroyed in England. There, again, I could have understood it if the Irish university Members had been Liberals. There would have been some obvious explanation of the change; but inasmuch as they are Conservative, what is the point of view. It cannot be principle and it cannot even be expediency. Is it absence of mind? Although the motives of the Government may be of the purest, though they may be exposed to the real pain of having to introduce proposals which will result, by the way, in an electioneering advantage, which persons who really do not know them may suppose to have been dictated by a consideration of those advantages, whether it is their fault or not their motives in this matter are at least suspect, and I cannot promise the Government that their proposals under this head will not be subjected to some critical observation when the opportunity offers in the Committee stage.
I come to the proposals in relation to plural voting. It is worth while noticing in passing that the present proposals to terminate plural voting are fundamentally different, both in principle and in their application to details, from the proposals of 1906, the rejection of which by the House of Lords occasioned such bitter resentment among hon. Gentlemen opposite, and we are face to face now with proposals which proceed upon a slightly different principle. It is commonly said, and the observation is not limited always to that side of the House, that the defence of plural voting upon principle is gone and that it is a lost cause. If it be true, I confess that I should a little regret its disappearance. In my judgment, though I am aware of the arguments by which it is sustained, it is not incapable of defence by weighty arguments drawn from the pages of political science. The fashionable view to-day has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. He says that the voting power of all citizens should be the same. It may be true that the man who by his brains has wrenched 1363 a great area of commerce from international competition, and has found work during all his life for thousands of men, and who possibly on his death has enriched the State by £500,000 or by £1,000,000 under the head of Death Duties—it may be that such a man is not a more useful citizen than one who, however blamelessly, has failed, through an imperfect mental and physical equipment, or even through bad luck, to feed his own children. It may be an outrage that the one should have two votes if he owns two houses; but the matter would appear to be one for argument rather than for dogmatism. Very acute political philosophers have taken quite a different view.
Another point in connection with these proposals admits of no argument at all. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government had, at some period undefined, in a form which he did not explain, were going to supplement the present proposal by proposals dealing with redistribution. At least he spared the last insult of putting these proposals into the Preamble of the present Bill. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, would not have failed to get credit—if he could have got it—by explaining this to the House; and therefore, I presume, it is not contained in the Bill. I should have greatly desired that the right hon. Gentleman would have explained to us why his redistribution proposals were not contained in this Bill. He gave one explanation only, namely, that he had not got time. Did he mean by that if he had not introduced the plural voting proposal in this Session of Parliament the Government would have lost the run of the Parliament Act, and therefore it would have been doubtful whether plural voting would have become law during the lifetime of this Parliament? Is that, in other words, his reason for taking plural voting now while there is time? I assume it must be. There can be no other justification for so great an outrage: in other words, plural voting is introduced now, and time is to be made for it, in order that it may be certain of becoming law during the lifetime of this Parliament—a natural and even laudable cause of enthusiasm. But then plural voting in relation to redistribution is being put in a more favourable condition. The right hon. Gentleman told us over and over again that what was wanted above all else was to make this 1364 House of Commons more truly and exactly representative of the constituencies. If that is his object, is it not clear that unless the thing is to be dealt with in a, mere spirit of jerrymandering you must do the two together? I do not know whether there still sit on those benches admirers of John Bright, but I remember a word of advice that he gave, speaking at Birmingham under almost exactly identical conditions to those which we are considering, to-day, when he said to his constituents, "Repudiate without mercy any Bill or any Government, whatever its franchise, whatever its seeming concessions may be, if it does not redistribute seats." Unless this is accompanied in the language used by Bright, I need hardly say, as far as we are concerned, we shall offer the most strenuous resistance to the proposals of the Government on the whole subject of plural voting.
Our common object ought to be, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to make the House of Commons really representative of the people. I ask this question without fear of contradiction: Which derogates most from that ideal—plural voting or our present representative anomalies? Of the two anomalies—this is the Government case—you select for correction the smaller one which injures you at the polls, and relegate to that future which you never overtake the graver scandal which gives to your Nationalist allies the power of keeping you in office to-day. It is not necessary now for me to remind the House—many opportunities will occur on the Second Reading stage, and the Committee stage, of pointing it out to the right hon. Gentleman who talks of the importance of the true and accurate representation of the country—that there sit in this House those whose electors have a voting strength, which is thirty times as great as that enjoyed by the electors of the learned Attorney-General whom I see opposite. It is more immediately necessary in order to make the House representative, that we should restore some balance of equality between the man who has thirty times more voting power than another, than that you should correct this matter of plural voting. We all understand perfectly well that the Government have deliberately taken the anomaly which injures them, while they have deliberately left still un-redressed the far greater anomaly which injures us. That is, and that alone, the explanation why, in a congested Session, they are introducing proposals like those 1365 on the consideration of which we are entering now. We shall devote ourselves to that part of the proposals which we believe to be sprung from merely party spirit, and we shall devote ourselves to it with the constant hostility which may mitigate it, and make the proposals fair as between the two parties.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) approaches the consideration of this great subject of electoral reform from a different point of view to that of hon. Members who sit on these benches. There were in his interesting speech two points, at any rate, I desire to notice. He opened by bringing before the House the inadvisability of our giving a First Reading to this measure at this juncture in the Session, and having regard to what he described as the congestion of business. I notice, not for the first time, that he carefully avoided to make any reference whatever to the reasons why business in the House of Commons has in recent years proved to be congested. He left entirely unnoticed the fact that the demands the public are making for reforms of different kinds arise out of the failure of his Friends when in office to respond to the political desires of the great mass of the people of this country. He also overlooks the fact that much of the congestion arises out of the unwillingness of another place to pass measures demanded by the people and approved of by the great majority of this House—that measures, having been sent up to another place, are wilfully thrown out against the clear expression of the people's will. It is because on the one part of the failure of the Conservatives when in power to pass measures demanded by the people, and the failure on the other part of the other House to recognise what the demands of the people were that there has been created the necessity for the Parliament Act. The provisions of the Parliament Act make it absolutely essential that the early Sessions of Parliament shall be really crowded, yea, congested, that the House of Commons must work as it has never worked before, if we are going, as the result of the expressed desire of the electorate at the General Election, to place upon the Statute Book those measures which the people are seriously demanding.
What were the important measures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? He referred to the Home Rule Bill and to 1366 the Bill for establishing religious equality in the Principality of Wales. These two measures are not new to Parliament. They received the consideration of Parliament years before most of us who are now Members of this House ever entered it. I think. I may safely say that, but for the Opposition, and but for the wrecking tactics of the other place, both of these measures would have been on the Statute Book today. In spite of the fact that Ireland has expressed time and again at General Elections the desire to have the management of purely Irish affairs, and in spite of the fact that Wales at election after election has demanded through an overwhelming majority of its representatives to have religious equality, the other place has given a deaf ear to the demands. The Parliament Act now makes it possible to get the measures passed—provided always that this House is willing to devote itself in the early Sessions in the history of a five years' Parliament to the passing of those measures and the sending of them to the House of Lords—but we are to be told by the right hon. Gentleman in the name of the party opposite, that we ought not to enter at this period of the Session on the consideration of a Bill of such importance as that introduced by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. The second point he tried to make, I think, deserves notice. I am not sure whether it was not as ineffective and valueless as the one I have just noticed. He tried to make out that there had been no popular demand for this measure. I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman means by a popular demand? Is there always to be, and only to be, a popular demand when it is some measure the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends wish to pass? It is not so very long since they wished to embark on a proposal that had never, in my opinion, by any stretch of the imagination received public approval in this country. It is not so very long since the ex-Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour) to some extent, I think, surprised not only the country but his own Friends by suggesting that a certain question should be submitted to the Referendum. I am quite prepared to be informed that there was a popular demand for the Referendum when the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the party opposite, as he was then, put forward that proposal. But now the introduction of this Bill by the Government of the day is to be repudiated and condemned because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the 1367 Walton Division says, there has been no popular demand.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me the time when the question of electoral reform was not receiving the consideration and approval of an organisation which, like the organisation his own party runs, meets year after year. I refer to the National Liberal Federation. I can go back twenty years in its history—I was formerly a member of it, and I know something of the resolutions which were passed. I think the resolution which came more frequently than any other was one dealing with the question of electoral reform. I remember I chided the Government for being slow to pass a measure in order to carry out the declaration made at the National Liberal Federation in favour of "One man one vote." I think I am right in saying that the Trades Congress carried unanimously over and over again a resolution demanding electoral reform pretty much on the lines put before us this afternoon. I hope the Trades Congress still counts for something in expressing the popular demand. It has been my duty and privilege to move similar resolutions at, I think, half a dozen of the Annual Conferences of the Labour party which represents something like 2,500,000 organised workers of this country.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) does not disagree with the proposals put before us to-day because they do not include adult suffrage. If he had criticised the Bill because it did not include adult suffrage, I should have had less objection to his speech.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
It is surely ridiculous to say that because the National Liberal Federation has passed a resolution in favour of "one man one vote" year after year, there is therefore a popular demand for it.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
Now we have come to this. The National Liberal Federation speaks for the time being for as many electors—I will put it no higher than that—as the National Union which represents the Conservative party under pretty similar circumstances and conditions. When the National Liberal Federation, the Trades Congress, and the National Conference of the party with 1368 which I am associated give expression to a demand for electoral reform, the demand does not count.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman speaks from experience. Probably he has been associated with the wire-pulling on the other side, and probably he has got now into a position that will give him greater influence as a wire-puller. I wish him success. But I was merely replying to the statement that there was no popular demand, and I hope that to the satisfaction of my Friends on this side, and to the satisfaction of some people on his, I have shown that he was entirely mistaken in trying to impose upon the credulity of the Members of this House by telling us that there had been no popular demand. Coming to the Bill itself, there are some points on which I agree with my right hon. Friend. I think it was claimed for the measure that, it responded to the test of simplicity. I hold the opinion that simplicity is necessary, and I can speak with some practical experience. Probably no one in this House has had to go through the detailed work of Registration Courts more than I have done myself. Therefore I have had to be brought face to face with all the intricacies and anomalies that arise in our present registration system, and I think that any measure that does not respond to the test of simplicity must stand condemned. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was not correct in saying that in a county constituency the difficulties of the elector would be increased by this measure. I tried as carefully as I possibly could to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his explanation of the Bill, and one of the things that did strike me was its simplicity as compared with the present system, worked as it is under some forty different Statutes, with its variety of dates, which are so confusing to the elector, and with all the different qualifications for a vote. You have one qualification for the freehold ownership, another for the copyhold ownership, another for the leasehold ownership, and others for the occupation franchise and the adult lodger, and so I might go on putting these things before the House. As I understand, the Bill is going to remove these tremendous anomalies and supersede them by a simple system whereby we shall have one qualification with a six months' residence. If this be so it seems to me that we have taken a 1369 very long step in the direction not of adult suffrage, but in the direction I want to try, namely, towards the enfranchisement of every adult citizen in our country.
Not only should we have the test of simplicity, but also the test of facilitating the registration of the elector with the least possible delay. I wish that the Government could have instructed the right hon. Gentleman to substitute three months for six months' qualification. When I saw the suggestion in the Press that a six months' qualification would be set up, I became very apprehensive of a certain amount of delay in the preparation of the register, and that it might easily be one year before the voter came into the position in which he could record a vote. I was delighted, however, to find from the explanation, if I followed the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pease), correctly, that the longest period that can elapse before a vote is secured is eight months and a few days, and I understand that if there is no objection lodged the voter can come into the immediate exercise of his vote on the expiration of seven months, if you allow a month for an objection. I was glad to notice that what I would call the bad effect of the six months' qualification was, to a great extent, neutralised by allowing the individual to retain his six months' registration in the constituency in which he had formerly resided. That seems to me, except in the case of the new voter, to be a very great advantage. Personally, I should have preferred a three months' period with an immediate transfer from constituency to constituency, but I do think that the right hon. Gentleman has neutralised the prejudicial effect to a very large extent.
Another point as to which I am not quite clear is the abolition of the revising barrister and the substitution of the County Court judge as the Court to which appeals have to be sent. I do not object to the abolition of the revising barrister. Everyone who has had to go to these Courts and who knows the unwillingness of the elector to whom an objection has been made to go before the revising barrister, and the risk that he very often has to incur, especially if he came to object to someone holding a property Qualification, of being mulcted in travelling expenses and expenses for loss of time. I must say that one of the greatest difficulties I experienced was to get the electors to come to Court to try to substantiate their own claims or to give evidence in support of objections that they had felt called upon to lodge. My difficulty in considering the 1370 Bill is I am not sure that the elector is going to go more willingly to the county court, and that he will not be more reluctant to appear in the county court than to go before a revising barrister, and I think that the Government might have taken another course that has been very long advocated in the country, by gentlemen who are entitled to speak with authority on this subject. It is possible that the Government might be afraid on this score of having the charge from the Opposition of creating more officials. Even at that risk I would have preferred that they had gone boldly for the registration of public officers. I think that one of the best points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton was the difficulty that the elector might experience in getting through his vote if he had to go before the County Court judge. How much better it would have been if we could have had a continuous system of registration. I think that is what the Government are aiming at, but I do not think they will get it by the machinery. We require a continuous system of registration, a system to meet the case of the ordinary working class elector, who are most affected.
I have often said in this House that the working class elector, exposed to all the vicissitudes that follow unemployment, compelled to be here to-day and away in another town to-morrow, seeking another job in order that those dependent upon them may live, having to remove their family to another town in order to be near their employment, are the people, especially in these days when we have so much unemployment, as we are constantly hearing about, who are affected most by any registration system. Surely if they are the people most affected the simplicity and effectiveness of the system would have been the better established had it been possible for the man who is leaving a town to go straight to a public registration officer, saying that he was going to such and such a town, and receive a certificate that he had been a registered elector in the town which he was leaving, and that when he had taken that certificate to the officers in the town where he was taking up his abode he should be registered there; and I would have made it necessary for the registration officer in the town which he was leaving to forward a duplicate of that certificate to the town to which the man reported he was going, and I would have made the officer in that town 1371 report as to whether that certificate had been deposited. What we want is to keep our electors on the register, however they vote. We want to keep them in the position of always being able to use their rights as citizens. We not only want simplicity but efficiency, and to have efficiency, we ought not to go to the County Court judge, but to the registration officer. If it is not too late, I hope that the Government will keep open their mind with regard to changing this part of the machinery of the Bill. I propose to defer my other observations with regard to machinery until I have been able to read the Bill. I opened by the statement that probably the right hon. Gentleman necessarily looked at this Bill from an entirely different standpoint from that taken up by us on these benches. He rather condemned it because it was so comprehensive, and because it was too big. I would concentrate my observations on that point by saying that in my opinion it is too little.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Might I ask the hon. Member whether his view is, that if it does not include women, he and his Friends will vote against it?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
If my hon. and learned Friend will allow me to carry on my speech in my own way, as I allowed him to carry on his, I shall probably say something on that point. I was going to say it is too little. I am disappointed, and very naturally disappointed, that the Bill is not in the full sense of the word a Reform Bill. For instance, a Reform Bill, in my judgment, ought to make it thoroughly possible not only for the electors to record their votes, but to secure just that kind of representation that they desire in this House. One of the weaknesses of the Bill, in my opinion, is that it does not provide for the payment of returning officers' expenses out of public funds. I think there is much more general agreement on that question amongst all sections of the House than there was upon the payment of Members; at any rate, I remember, and I remember with regret—it just shows what mistakes one can make—that in 1904, I think it was, I moved a Resolution from the other side demanding from the then Government, led by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) the payment of Members and the payment of returning officers' expenses. Between the time of 1372 my putting down my Notice of Motion and the time for its discussion, a deputation of Unionist Members, supporters of the then Government, requested me to divide my Motion, leaving out the payment of Members and dealing only with the expenses of returning officers. They said that if I did that they felt sure the Government of the day would be prepared to make provision for it in one of their Budgets at a very early date. I was a young Member and inexperienced, and I felt that I would have the whole or none. I held to my Motion, and of course it was not passed. From that time to now I have not heard very much from Members on the other side with regard to the payment of returning officers' expenses. I do say, however, that they are more generally in favour of that proposal than of the payment of Members. It seems to me, when we are dealing with this question, and, if we are going to democratise Parliamentary institutions, that we ought to do it completely, and one of the things that ought to be provided for is the payment of returning officers' expenses.
The second thing the Bill ought to have provided is some machinery for dealing with representation in this House. Occasionally I think both sides have taken up a very hostile position to those of us in the Labour party who feel bound to find opportunities for the electors to give expression to their views by providing candidates, and that has occasionally caused what is known as a three-cornered contest. The view they hold all depends which side occupies the seat, and which side considers its chances are going to be the most worsened by our intervention in a contest. We boldly say, and I think it must be recognised on both sides of the House, that we must fight and we are going to fight, and it is of no use either side complaining. What they have got to do is to find the machinery whereby the process of exhaustion may be carried out in the sense that the electors will have their second chance, and finally decide by a majority who is to represent them in this House. I think this is one of the most conspicuous weaknesses in connection with this Bill. Something ought to have been done whereby this great political evil could have been remedied. I now come to a point in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. F. E. Smith) is very much interested. They are always so interested when by any vote we can give we can provide an opportunity for those who are in getting out, and those who are out getting in. Therefore my right hon. Friend is exceedingly anxious 1373 on the First Reading of the Bill, before ever we have read it, that I should say what we are going to do on the Third Reading. I do not think the right lion. Gentleman, unless he had instructions from his Leader, would dare—and I know he is a bold man—to tell us what the Opposition is going to do on the Third Reading of the Bill. I may say that I have had no instructions from my Leader. I have no doubt my Leader will take part in this Debate, and, if the right hon. Gentleman should be present, I suggest that he should ask the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) what course his party propose to take on the Third Reading. I am speaking on the introduction of the Bill.
I am very much disappointed—only in a sense, of course, because we have had any amount of warning that the Government are not going to include women in the Bill—still I am disappointed that women have not been provided for. I never can understand the Liberalism that talks of government of the people by the people for the people, and which would not provide for the inclusion of women in such a measure as this. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, chided the Opposition, for taking up an attitude that was not consistent with representative government, and I say I cannot, and never could, understand the Liberalism that believes in government of the people for the people by the people, and which omits such a provision. The right hon. Gentleman talked of trusting the people qualified by prudence. I wonder he did not complete the sentence that a former leader of his made, and say that the position of his opponents was "mistrust of the people qualified by fear"; that would have completed the famous statement. I say again that it cannot be consistent with representative government to leave out of the rights of citizenship the great majority of the people. Therefore I am disappointed that women are being uncared for and unprovided for in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) made a very strong point, namely, that there has been no popular demand. I do not think he could quite mean that to apply to the case of women, because some of them have been imprisoned there has been so much demand recently, until the Vote on the Conciliation Bill, which, in my judgment, was an accident. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] I say in my opinion it was an accident, and 1374 I do not think it reflected very much credit upon those who had for years voted in favour of the principle of Woman Suffrage, and that they should on this occasion, merely because there had been a certain mistake in tactics outside by a limited number of people, has turned round upon the principles they had voted for, and in regard to which they had received deputations of their constituents, and voted as they did.
I repeat that the statement about popular demand could not, in my judgment, apply to the case of women. I think I am right in saying that the division in the Conciliation Bill was the first occasion on which the principle had been defeated for many years in successive Parliaments in this House. Surely those successive Parliaments when they voted in favour of the principle of Votes for Women believed that they were giving expression to a popular demand. I hope they believed that they were giving expression to that which was fair and just to a worthy section of the population of this country—let me say so worthy that they have filled, and are filling, I think with general satisfaction, some of the most important offices in the land. I hope, in spite of the strong point raised by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the congestion of the Session, the Government will persevere with this measure. They can only fulfil their own pledges, and they can only fulfil the expectations that they have assisted in creating, by making as worthy and as serious an effort to place this matter on the Statute Book as they have in regard to either Home Rule or Welsh Disestablishment. They are committed, if ever a Government were committed, to the enacting of some measure of electoral reform before ever they appeal to the country. We, on these benches, are not satisfied with the Bill, and as I have already shewn we think it is not sufficiently comprehensive. We shall try to the very best of our ability to extend the measure, and I am glad the title is so comprehensive that it will, at any rate, afford an opportunity for our moving an Amendment to include the women of the country. We shall do our best right through Committee to extend the measure, and then, on the Third Reading, I can only say for myself, if it should remain as it is now, and women are totally ignored, so far as I am concerned, I shall refuse to support it.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has taken a 1375 few minutes to decide whether he would announce what he would do on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I said my Leader would decide for the party. So far as I am concerned personally, I have for a long time decided what I will do.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
I do not want to enter into any controversy on the point. We now know how the hon. Gentleman stands in regard to the matter, and he is going to support the Bill if women are included, and if they are excluded, he will not support it. That has been already said in the country, and therefore I take it that the Labour party are going to vote against the Bill if women are not included in it. That may be satisfactory to some hon. Members as far as it goes, but I cannot think that the Labour party are sanguine enough to believe that a measure which is to be enlarged to that extent, has any possibility of becoming law this year or next year either. I do not think the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) was very happy in his attempt to refute the argument of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) as to the congestion of business in this House, because he chose, as an illustration, the fact that we were again discussing Home Rule, and remarked that if it had not been for the House of Lords Home Rule would have been disposed of some time ago. I would like to know whether he has reflected upon what the opinion of the people was on the action of the House of Lords. If he casts his mind back to the election of 1895, he will recollect that the people unanimously endorsed the action of the House of Lords, and if Home Rule had been passed, then it would have been passed contrary to the wishes of the people, in whom they profess to trust at the present moment. But what is going to be done now? Of course, it is not part of the case to be argued now, but it is very obvious to the House that part of the congestion which is experienced at the present time is due to the very fact that the Government do not want to trust the people, but want to pass their measures without the knowledge and consent of the people. I must say I was a little astonished when the right hon. Gentleman introduced this Bill, and as he unfolded it, to realise what the Government had actually done. I expected a complete measure which would 1376 correct all the anomalies which are to be found in our existing electoral system, and which would, perhaps, introduce some more scientific form of representation into this country than has yet been tried. I did not think that even this Government was capable of introducing a Bill which so palpably corrected only those anomalies which are disadvantageous to them, and which left alone the worst anomalies which: do them no harm and which are injurious to us.
Nobody can dispute for a single moment that the question of the redistribution of seats is a very great deal more urgent than any other of the reforms which we are quite ready to admit ought to take place as regards our electoral laws. I personally have always supported plural voting, not only on the ground on which it has often, been supported in this country by our side, that it is an anomaly which ought to be corrected if the seats were also redistributed, but I have also supported it on its merits, because I think it is quite a fallacy and a false view of the representative system to suppose that there is really any anomaly in plural voting at all. After all, it might be an absurdity if one person was to have more than one vote on any given question, but the point is this, that in each constituency the question before the electorate is who is to represent that constituency? It seems to me by no means absurd that an elector having interests in different constituencies should have the opportunity of recording his vote on each of those several questions which occur in those different constituencies. I know there are cases where those plural voters vote in some constituencies for Radical Members and in others for Tory Members. It may sound peculiar to Members of this House, because we are so very much imbued with the party spirit that we can hardly conceive the frame of mind of the man who will at one time vote Radical and at another Conservative. Cases of that kind have come to my knowledge of where they have voted in one constituency for a Radical and in another for the Tory. They have done it on the grounds of personality. They have said that in one Division one person was the right person to represent the Division owing to his position and talents, and in another Division that a candidate of opposite views was the best person to represent that Division. I think that is a good deal more widely done than is supposed. I very much question whether we have quite the proportion of three out of four or four out of five of 1377 plural voters which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education allocated to us according to his hypothesis. However that may be, that only shows that the old idea of representative election was that you voted for the man in the constituency whom you thought most likely to represent it satisfactorily. It by no means followed that you voted for him according to his particular party. I think it is a great pity myself to stereotype the old theory of voting and the old practice to this extent, that you must vote for one candidate only and that that must be on direct party lines.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton pointed out I think with some considerable force that it is quite possible as time goes on and as democracy has developed that some of the very crude theories of democracy which have descended to us from the time of the French Revolution may become rather modified, and it is quite conceivable that the time will come when democracies will themselves realise that it is to their advantage to give to certain members of the community a larger share in the voting power in the country than to others. For my own part, I must say I have never been absolutely convinced of the theory that the votes of every elector should be equal. It always appeared to me that there is a great deal to be said for those who are distinguished by success in the case of commerce or in any other way, those who have, to use an old Tory expression and one which I still think of some value, more at stake in the country, that they should have a larger say in the government of the country. Besides that, it might become obvious as time proceeds that there must be some corrective to the weight of mere numbers. When you reflect that there is a tendency, to me very distinctly observable, for class legislation directed by those who control the largest numbers, it may be necessary for the Constitution of the country to provide some corrective of that which will prevent other classes of the country, such as the professional and middle classes, from being entirely absorbed and swamped. If representation is to go by class so much as it appear to be doing at the present time, and as I think very unfortunately, then no doubt some corrective will have to be made which will enable those classes who, although of great importance to the country, are not sufficiently numerous to have an adequate share in the government of the country. It is on such grounds as that that I have 1378 always thought that plural voting, although, of course, it contains many obvious anomalies, was none the less a useful way of roughly correcting some of the adverse balance which the middle classes and upper classes or propertied classes have as regards numbers, although I know that that view will not commend itself even to a good many of those who sit on the same side of the House as myself. What does astonish me I must say is that the Government should do away by this Bill with one system and one form of voting which seems to me peculiarly desirable, and which indeed could be extended with great advantage, I mean the principle of university voting. I should imagine that anybody trying to make an ideal form of representation would consider first of all whether he could give to the best educated and the most intelligent people in the country—
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
That is not really a very relevant observation. A university may reject one man of particular intelligence in order to elect another of equal intelligence who holds views which they appreciate more. I do think, when you have a system which does provide the germ of a system of giving votes according to intelligence and education, that it is a great pity to destroy that germ and take it away. It may, of course, be said that that system could never be developed. I dare say a good many hon. Members opposite would agree and would say that if you really could arrange votes according to intelligence and according to education that no doubt it would be quite fair, and that it would make for the wisdom and stability of the State, but they would point out perhaps to the fact that the present university representation does not by any means include all the well-educated people in the country. That is quite true, but I do say this, that it is a mistake, when you have got something of the kind, no matter how inefficient it may be, no matter how little it corresponds with what one would like to see in that direction, to take it away, and to destroy your one qualification which depends in the past not upon property of any kind, but upon a certain amount of learning and a certain amount of education which 1379 naturally does involve a certain amount of intelligent participation in current politics. When one reflects that in this taking away of university voting like the abolition of plural voting there is the grossest party complexion, especially when they are put into a Bill which does not correct the distribution of seats, then I say that the proposal seems to me even more surprising and even more monstrous than would otherwise have been the case.
Why have not the Government done anything to alter the distribution of seats? They admit the evil. The right hon. Gentleman admitted the evil in the most distinct terms. He also admitted that they were not dealing with other anomalies. Why had they not dealt with them? Merely because, and I do not think they can get away from this that they know that if they were to include all those other things, and if they were to make the Bill a complete reform of our electoral system, that it would become perfectly apparent that it could not be got through. That I think they will admit themselves. What does that show? It only shows that you are seizing this opportunity to rush through under the Parliament Act a pseudo measure of electoral reform which you think will be of advantage to yourselves because you know the further measures of reform once that Bill will be passed will be postponed to the Greek calends. That is conduct which does not surprise us any longer in this Government, but which I think would have surprised the Liberal Governments of the past, and is a course of conduct which I am certain great statesmen like Mr. Gladstone even would never have consented to take. I desire to say a few words about the details of the Bill. I did not quite understand with regard to registration what were the means by which the overseers were to be compelled to send in information to the registrar. That seems to me to be the key to the whole position, because unless some steps are taken to see that the overseers do their work you will have all the difficulty you have now, and you will have all the necessity which you have now for employing people to see that in each district persons who are qualified are put on the register. It is most important to my mind that this duty should be a national duty, and not left to party agents. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman explained that point or told us whether there was any compulsion, and if so, what it was, upon 1380 the overseers to make complete lists, and who was responsible that the list compiled was accurate. I do not understand myself the point about the one month for objection and the time in which objection can be taken and when the register is actually available. Are we to understand that the register as it comes in on; say the 1st April, lasts until the 1st May, and that then a: new register comes in, or does the register shift from day to day?
§ Mr. PEASE
There will be a clean register on the 1st of each month. It does not shift from day to day, but there will be lists posted from day to day of individuals who are claiming votes, and it will be impossible to bring on to the register itself the names of any such individuals until a month has elapsed during which objections may be taken. On the 1st April there will be a clean list, making all the necessary alterations in the register for the month that has passed, and on the 1st May there will be a clean register embodying the alterations which have taken place during the month of April.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
I am much obliged for the explanation. Suppose a by election takes place in the middle of the month, the individuals on the supplementary list, to which objection has not been taken, will not be eligible to vote; they will not be able to vote until the 1st of the month following when the clean register will be compiled. The objection to that is that before a person can vote you might have a considerably longer time than the right hon. Gentleman stated. If a man appeared on the supplementary list about the middle of April the new register would appear in May, but the man -whose name was given in in the middle of April would not get on the new register on 1st May, because the month allowed for objections would not have elapsed until the middle of May.
§ Mr. PEASE
The supplementary lists are part of the register, but before a man can get on the supplementary list it is necessary for his claim to be made and to be subject to objection during one month. If the period was from the 18th June to the 18th July, and no objection was taken by 18th July, he would go on to the register on 1st August on the supplementary list of that month, and if a by-election occurred he would be able to vote.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. That is the point I am making. A man 1381 would not be able to get on to the supplementary list until perhaps more than a month elapsed from the date of the last register. He would get on to the supplementary list after a month had elapsed since his claim was made. As far as I understand the proposal, it may be more than a month altogether before his vote becomes effective. As one interested in local government, I am inclined to protest very strongly against the additional burden put on the clerks to county councils. These gentlemen are very busy officials, and they are constantly having duties thrust upon them by this House. One of their chief difficulties arises in keeping themselves up to date with the mass of legislation thrown upon them by Parliament, and I do not think they will at all appreciate having this additional burden thrust upon them. I can hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman was serious when he suggested that it would not be an additional burden. It is most unfair that there should not be a Grant to the county councils for any extra expense to which they may be put. I do not know whether it has been calculated that the amount they will save by the abolition of the Revising Barristers' Courts will be equal to the amount they will be called to spend either in extra pay to their clerks or in furnishing assistance. Certainly, if the amount they save will not cover the new expenditure, a Grant ought to be made to enable the local authorities to cope with the work. When the duty of collecting licences was put upon the police the Grant given was entirely inadequate, and I fear that the same thing will occur in this case unless the House takes care to insist that adequate remuneration is given to the county councils. It seems to me that the clerks will have a very heavy task indeed, and that it will be necessary for them to provide machinery to see that the overseers do their work. The overseers are to give information to the registrar. The registrar being responsible for the accuracy of the register, will have to keep an eye on the overseers, and that will involve his having a considerable staff to see that everybody who is eligible is put upon the register.
Another feature of the Bill, unless I misunderstood it, is rather extraordinary. I gather that the ownership of property is to be no claim to a Parliamentary vote in any sense—not even for one vote, let alone the plural vote. You may have an owner who, for various reasons, has no permanent residence and no occupation. There 1382 are people who spend such time as they pass in this country in going from one place to another. Many people live almost habitually in hotels. They may have an ownership qualification at the present moment, but under this Bill they will be disfranchised altogether. Although they may have property in five or six different constituencies, not only are they to lose their plural votes, as they would expect from the threats of the Government in past years, but they are to lose the single vote and be treated practically as foreigners and aliens. We recognise, and have done for some time past, that to own property is regarded nowadays by the Government as rather a disgrace; but I think it is pushing the idea rather far, not only to take away all the privileges which owners of property have had in the way of voting, but also to disfranchise them and to take away their full rights of citizenship.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
I was assuming that they had not a residence anywhere. I do not suppose that an hotel would count as a residence. Persons who move from one place to another at more frequent intervals than six months, or who live a considerable part of the year abroad, need not necessarily have a residence, which I gather involves a more or less permanent establishment. These people will be disfranchised altogether. It is a pity that the local government register has not been further simplified. I did not quite follow the right hon. Gentleman's description of how the new register would fit in with the local government register. I gather that we are still to have the various definitions of lodger, owner, and occupier for the local government register, which will run concurrently with the Parliamentary register. It seems to me a pity that when the Government were dealing with this subject they did not seize the opportunity to make one register, as far as possible, serve both purposes, and thus avoid the confusion which, I fear, will arise under the plan proposed. The Bill does more good perhaps than many Members at first realise in the way of admitting new voters to the franchise. I cannot say that I object to that proposal in the least. It would certainly come sooner or later, and the only question is whether this is an opportune moment to do it. No doubt hon. Members opposite think that this measure will mean a great electoral advantage to 1383 themselves. I am not so sure. I think that possibly a great many persons will find their names on the register who by every consideration of equity are as fully entitled to vote as many who are there at present, and who also will represent quite as much the feelings and aspirations of the party on this side of the House as of those on the other. Therefore it is not on that ground that I object to the Bill.
I certainly should object very strongly if such a course were adopted, as has been foreshadowed, of including ten million women. To suggest that such a thing should be done without the responsibility of any Government is, I think, nothing less than an outrage. I cannot believe that even if an Amendment is carried to that effect the Government will be able to carry the Bill. It seems to me that the Government will find themselves in a very awkward position if such an Amendment is carried, because some of their Members will be under the necessity of voting for the Third Reading of a Bill containing a provision which they have denounced up and down the country in the strongest possible terms. If the House decides to include ten million women, I can hardly believe it will be possible to pass the Bill. That might be a reason for some people to move such an Amendment, but I should hardly regard it in that light. It would be an act of folly on the part of this House to entertain for one moment the proposition to add so many female voters to the register. Whatever the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) may say about a popular demand—and I do not think that popular demands are to be measured by the programmes put forward at party conferences—I deny absolutely that there has been anything in the nature of a popular demand for female suffrage. There has been an agitation by a certain number of people, but to say that it has touched the fringe of the vast electorate in either the industrial or the rural districts is a great exaggeration. This was conclusively shown by the almost ridiculous number of votes obtained by the suffrage candidates in the two constituencies in which they sought election. On the whole I confess to a feeling of great disappointment in regard to this Bill. My disappointment is greater than my surprise. I cannot say that I am surprised that the Government have used this opportunity for purely party purposes, but I am disappointed that they have not taken 1384 the chance of bringing in a measure which would have put our electoral system upon a really sound and defensible basis and corrected all the anomalies which at present exist.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
I rise to state that I shall oppose this Bill on the First Reading for the simple reason that women are left out of it. I do not propose to follow the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman on the other side as to the various details of the Bill, because obviously if one is going to oppose the proposed introduction of a Bill itself, it will be possible to discuss the details should that Bill be introduced. I think we are entitled to ask the Government which has introduced this Bill what are their credentials in introducing such a measure. I think hon. Members will agree with me that the position is odd, in this introduction of a measure of so far-reaching a character, which, although many on these benches no doubt will support much of it in detail—the abolition of plural voting and so forth—does not deal with what, after all, is really the question before the country to-day. What is it, if men are really honest and sincere in connection with the franchise question they consider the great question before the country at the present time? Surely there can be only one answer: that is the question of women's suffrage. That is really the question that we all have in our mind, and that is the question which, we should grapple with and face in any measure brought forward by any Government. We are entitled, therefore, to ask what are the credentials of the Government in bringing this measure forward.
Let us take first the position of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has stated very straightforwardly on many occasions that he is opposed to women's suffrage; that he regards it, or would regard it, as a menace to the State, and therefore he believes that it should not be introduced. There are other Members of the Government, I understand, who support the Prime Minister in that attitude of mind. I think that the House will agree with me that if the Prime Minister is sincere, if he honestly does believe that women's suffrage would be that menace to the State, it is perfectly absurd, and it is an insult really to the Members of this House and to the country, to try, as it were, to have the best of both worlds by holding out this absurd idea—for it is nothing more or less than a delusion of an idea—to suggest that an Amendment may be moved by this House; that he will 1385 throw the responsibility upon Members of the House of passing an Amendment including woman's suffrage. If he is opposed to woman's suffrage, if he regards it as a menace to the State, he is bound, as an honest man, as a man who really does believe what he states, to use every possible effort, to fight for all he is worth, as it were, to use every legitimate endeavour to prevent this Amendment on women's suffrage becoming law. Not only that, but in his Government there are Members who will be accessories to the fact, supporters of his ideas, and to allow a distinguished Member of his own Government or of this House to propose an Amendment on that which he regards as a menace and something which is likely to be harmful to the State, is to ask us to regard him either as a fool or a knave. That is a self-evident proposition.
There are, I suppose, Members of the Government who, I suppose, support the Prime Minister in that view of harm to the State. All I can say is that I am sure the right hon. Gentleman deludes himself if he thinks that he can either throw dust in the eyes of Members of this House or the people of this country in endeavouring to present this sort of double-shuffle of a Bill where we are going to have a great advance made in manhood suffrage, while the supporters of women's suffrage are to be put off by this idea of an Amendment which may or may not become the law of the land. I do not propose to describe those various supporters of the Government who take that view. When I attack the right hon. Gentleman the head of the Government I include all the other Members of the Government who support him in his point of view. I come to the other section of the Government, that section which have led us to believe, not only in this House, but in the country, that they are supporters of women's suffrage. Apparently because they are Members of the Government they support the Bill. They ask us to believe that they are wholehearted supporters of woman's suffrage, and that this is our one chance in the woman's suffrage moment of leading to some conclusion, of an Amendment becoming part of this Bill, and therefore the law of the land. What an absurd position for them to be in! On this Bill we have to consider—as the Bill does not include any provision for women—I am not discussing whether this particular Bill should be extended equally to the women of this country—that is not 1386 the question before us—the question that we have to decide in discussing the introduction of this Bill is surely as to approval or otherwise of the principle of the Bill. If this Bill itself makes no provision for women, then I think I am right logically in opposing its introduction in any shape or form, though right hon. Gentlemen who apparently support this Bill, and who are in favour of women's suffrage, ask us to regard them as assuming and taking up a consistent attitude. In logic that seems to me to be the most dishonest and most illogical.
If I am in favour of a certain principle, and if I happen to be a Member of the Government; if I am in favour of woman's suffrage and regard it sincerely and believe in it, surely I am entitled to go to the head of my Government and insist that it shall be inserted in any franchise Bill that is brought in; particularly when everyone throughout the country knows that this question is a burning question. It is absurd to delude ourselves that this question of woman's suffrage is not within the sphere of practical politics. We have all discussed it in our constituencies, and we have had to deal with it in our election addresses. I believe we are all honest men, but it is not consistent with a high sincerity to say one thing in the constituencies for the purpose of gaining votes, and then by taking part in a double-shuffle, or a backhanded method of proceeding, to get out of our promises in this House. That is self-evident. The attitude of those right hon. Gentlemen who would try to get us to believe that in supporting this measure which provides for the extension of the franchise, but does not include women, they are consistent, is I submit entirely wrong, and not in accordance with the position that they would like to maintain throughout the country. If they are to retain the support and trust of the country they must obviously either take their stand with the Government of the day, that if the Franchise Bill is brought before us that that franchise Bill should include a provision for women; or, if they are unable to make their views prevail in the Cabinet, then they have a very clear alternative, that is to sever their connection with any Government if a Government measure is persisted in which does not include women's suffrage. Then the head of the Government will consider whether he will be prepared to risk bringing in this measure, or he will agree with his colleagues not to bring in the measure at all. The Govern- 1387 ment must either surely stand or fall with their particular measure. It is absurd to delude us by stating that the other side are divided on the subject. That is not the question. There are many questions on which even the other side sometimes join with this side, and on which hon. Members on this side also join with other Members of the House, but surely a Government bringing forward a measure of this magnitude must either stand or fall by it? They must either bring in a measure because they believe in it, or state that they do not see their way to bring it forward, or surely leave it alone. But they cannot expect us, those of us who believe in women's suffrage, to support the First Reading with the idea that we are going to amend it in Committee or later. If we admit the principle, and if we support the First Reading of this Bill, then we are a party to that which I regard as a dishonest proceeding. I said I did not propose to go into the details of the measure, because I cannot discuss details. But I trust many Members of this House will appreciate the point of view I put forward, that is that if you support a principle, and wish to be consistent, you must oppose any measure which touches upon the franchise and which does not include the extension of the area to the provision of the franchise for women.
As I believe in that I may perhaps state why I regard that as fundamental to any measure of franchise, or the extension of the franchise, that is submitted to this House. I do not claim that women, or the addition of women, will bring about any great and particular change in this country. I believe that you will have progressive women, and that you will have reactionary women; you will have women in favour of this question, and opposed to the other question. I do not believe that if women come into the realm of politics as voters that they will vote as a body. I believe that they will support certain candidates, and certain Members of Parliament, and vote on certain questions just as men do. Part of them, as we know from our own experience in our own constituencies, will vote one way and part another, for we have Liberal women and we have Conservative women. No doubt we shall have women supporting Labour candidates, and women supporting Irish candidates. It is absurd to suppose, or to imagine, that because you extend the franchise to women, that women are going to 1388 vote as a body, and that they are going to alter the whole structure of the State; that they are going to interfere with all the institutions of the State. Certain women, no doubt, will wish for changes in one directions or the other; but I believe that the addition of women to the franchise will be an immense advantage to the State. I believe, instead of it being a menace, it will be a supreme advantage. It does not show us up in any particularly manly fashion, we men who believe in this, that some of us are content, possibly in a half-hearted way, to suggest that it will do if the House is in favour of women's suffrage, and so get rid of an awkward question by saying that, of course, we will support the Amendment.
Supposing this Amendment is not carried, what is the position? It is, of course, this, that you have added a very considerable number of male electors to the register. Does anyone in this House state, or is he prepared to state, that that will not be committing a gross injustice? Of course it will. If you add a very large number of male voters to the electors, and if those male electors when the question again comes forward of women's suffrage, utilise their power, as possibly they may do, to still further vote against the question of women's suffrage, you will still further set back this movement. You will be committing a gross injustice. You will be doing something which you must know is opposed to sincerity and honesty. I wish to draw the attention of the House to those who state that they are in favour of women's suffrage—to those Members more particularly who profess or who state that they are in favour of women's suffrage, and wish the country to believe that they are in favour of women's suffrage. I am sure that the country would take note of the votes of those hon. Members. I think that is a self-evident proposition that if any hon. Member is in favour of it is is necessarily absurd that anyone should support a Bill which does not include or make provision for women. He cannot honestly or sincerely do so, because he runs a great risk of the Bill being carried, and the Amendment being defeated, because it is not a Government Amendment. One could not be held up as disloyal to his party if he opposed the Amendment, for he could oppose it for many reasons. He might say he is in favour of women's suffrage, but does not think that such a large number should be admitted, and for various reasons he might oppose 1389 this Amendment, and this Bill may become an Act without it, and permit a gross injustice to be done, and set back for many generations the great boon which I and others believed would be of immense service and advantage to the State by the addition of women to the franchise. I hope I have made my position perfectly clear. I believe I am not alone in this attitude, and I hope that many Members, when a vote is taken upon the introduction of this Bill, because certainly a vote will be taken, as far as I believe, on the First Heading, will vote against it. I certainly hope to vote against it. I hope many others will follow in this Debate who possibly will put the case better than I do of the dishonesty of being a party to the production of a Bill which proposes to alter the franchise but does not make provision for women.
I do not think I should serve the cause I have at heart by speaking at great length upon this question of women's suffrage. Many of us are surely now agreed and well convinced of its advantage. Surely the basis of the franchise should be the mind. You want the opinion of the people. You want to have representative Governments, and to have the opinion of men, and I hope equally of women, as to how you should carry on the government of the country. This Bill, by ignoring women, treats women as inferior beings. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Hon. Members says "No, no"—but there is no getting over the fact that if you bring in a measure for the extension of the franchise and cut women out of it you treat women as inferior creatures. You do not even recognise their mental powers, even in limited numbers, because you make no provision in your Bill for any women. You are in favour of extending the franchise to a considerable number of men; but you do not yet see that the time has arrived to admit an equal number of women. We men are all agreed that to be perfectly consistent and honest that if you cut women out of the Bill you obviously—and I think it is clear to anyone—treat women as inferior creatures, and do not regard it as many Members of the Government have said, as an advantage to have women enjoy the franchise in this country. I have said the basis of the franchise is mind, and therefore believing that, and as I have no doubt many other hon. Members believe, that there are many women of great mind and mental capacity and activity, it surely is of great advantage to bring additional strength and intellect into our councils and into our politics by 1390 giving women the right to vote. In a State, if you have not an autocrat with all the virtues and the intellect, the only thing is to advance and widen the area of your electoral franchise, and to bring in all classes of the community, men and women, so that you may have real representative Government, representative of the whole community, and not half of the community or one section. No one could deny that in bringing women into the Bill we would be assisting and steadying our policy. You are denying yourself the opportunity of getting within the Constitution a great reserve of strength and intellect and mind. This is not an Amendment that we should throw like a sop to Cerberus meant to end in nothing in order to keep women quiet and quiescent.
I believe we should welcome this question of the vote which women are willing to take, and that we should go out into the highways and byways and rejoice that women are willing to come in and help us. We are all interested and fascinated with political affairs, but I have no doubt, I express the views of many Members when I say that we get tired and a little bored with the monotony of the proceedings of the House of Commons, and that politics sometimes try us a good deal. Men sometimes get tired of politics. If there were women willing to vote and help to express opinion, and to help in electoral work in the constituencies, surely that is a thing not to be sorry for but to welcome? Any one willing to take a hand in politics or in electoral contests ought to be welcomed, and I am sure we certainly always do welcome women if they are likely to help us in getting into this House which seems to be the ambition of so many of us. I do not think it necessarily follows that women, if they had the vote, would wish to sit in this House. At any rate, they would have to be elected to this House, and I very much doubt whether women when they get the vote, and men equally, will elect women to this House as long as there are men prepared to come forward and serve and attend and go through the arduous work and labour entailed by Membership of this House. It is absurd to suppose that because women have the power of expressing their views through the vote that they will necessarily wish to come into this House. That is a matter upon which I do not express any opinion for or against. It is a matter to be settled by the electorate. The point I wish to emphasise is we are anxious 1391 to get the mind of the electorate, that women have a mind and intellect of a high order, and will be of immense service through the influence of their votes. I am sure I express the opinion of many Members here when I say that on moral questions and questions of purity women possess a higher standard than men on these questions. There are questions on the industries, factories, social questions and many other questions which affect a great Empire where women exercising the vote must be of immense service to the Empire. It is moral strength that strengthens nations and empires. Deny that moral strength and you cut away the whole superstructure and undermine the foundations upon which your Empire is built. We are foolish to deny ourselves this great addition to our strength and to our political power.
I have said sufficient to give proof of the faith that is in me with regard to the immense advantage it would be to add women to our electorate. It is no new theory this addition of women. Students of history must know that even in the days of Plato it was proposed that women should take part in expressing their opinions and voting for the various officers of the legislatures of that period. I, for my part, regret that this country has taken so long to find out what an immense advantage and good it would be if we could get women to vote and take the interest which I believe we could get women to take in the affairs of the State. It is argued that where it has been brought into being women have not taken that interest when they had the vote, that they declined to exercise the vote or take part in the elections for which they got the vote. I do not think that is borne out by the facts of the case. I think in Australia and other countries where women have the vote they take a very considerable interest in the elections, and I think we have seen here at home that in municipal elections they vote and take considerable interest. But that does not affect the justice or the injustice of granting them the franchise. I think it was Mr. Gladstone who said, when the extension of the franchise to the agricultural labourers was proposed, it was not a question whether the agricultural labourer demanded it or not, but he ought to have it, and this responsibility ought to be thrown upon him. And it was thrown upon him. And I say this, that women ought to bear a far greater share in the 1392 State and take a far greater interest in the government and should be compelled to face those responsibilities which should be laid upon them. They should feel those responsibilities and they ought to take-part in the responsibilities of government as citizens of this great Empire.
I submit this is not a question of granting the franchise because they demand it or not. It is a question that they ought to recognise the responsibilities thrown upon them, and they should be compelled to take an interest in the government of the realm. They are willing to bear these responsibilities and we should try to get them in. I hope the hon. Members will support this attitude of opposing the introduction of this measure because of this great outstanding fact. There are many other points that might occur to hon. Members as a reason for opposing the introduction; I venture to suggest that if we allow ourselves to be diverted into the by-ways of lodger votes, questions of residence, and numbers of the male electorate, we will be, I believe, forced from the main issue and from this burning question which is before the country just now. Many hon. Members probably with greater experience than I have know the folly of lack of concentrating in political life. We should not allow our energies to be diverted, and the Government have been very wily. They have not been in office all these years for nothing; they are practical politicians, and it is for us again and again to bring back the Debates on this Bill to this point of women suffrage, because if the Bill is carried, as it possibly may be, without the inclusion of women, it will set back the question of the admission of women to the franchise for generations.
§ Mr. D. MASON
Those who believe in keeping this question before the House should not allow themselves to be diverted by such questions as those which are raised in this measure, and they should all as occasion arises again and again bring back the House to the main issue and that is the burning injustice of any Government, and particularly any Liberal Government, introducing in these days a 1393 Reform Bill without dealing with the question of women's enfranchisement, a question vitally affecting the future of this country and providing for that addition of women to the electorate which will add to the glory and future progress of this Empire.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
I do not propose to follow the last speaker in regard to what he said upon women's suffrage, although I have been a vigorous supporter of a modified form of women's suffrage myself for many years. I am in favour of widows and spinsters who pay taxes having votes. A great many qualifications are to be put off by this Bill, and the franchise is to be entirely altered, and therefore I do not propose to follow the last speaker in regard to what he has said on this subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Friday he would convince the House that the Government could have no interest or desire to help forward the Registration Bill which was then being considered, because we should see on Monday a Bill far more reaching in its effects. In that I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but a Bill of this nature, although admirably and clearly explained by the Minister for Education, is far more complicated and difficult in its details than any other Bill we have had before us in the nature of a Reform Bill for many years. I propose to give just a few examples of where difficulties will arise. I believe the Government will find that so many questions are involved in this that they will not be able to get on with it, and they will finally fall back upon the private Member's Bill which came up on Friday last. I believe that is the second string to their bow, and eventually they will be forced to adopt that simpler measure rather than the complicated Bill now before the House. This is a Reform Bill, and should be accompanied by some measure of redistribution.
It is perfectly plain that the distribution of seats at the present time is in a very unsatisfactory state. The most Conservative Member of this House, who would like to see things left as they are, would, I think, agree with me that, owing to the growth and change of population, a great many seats are now too large and others are very much too small. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, I thought, at any rate, he would have given us some indication as to whether the Government intended next year bringing in some measure of redistribution which would equalise, to some 1394 extent, the tremendous sweeping changes that will be made by this Bill. One of the great principles of this measure is the abolition of plural voting. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned someone who happened to have shares in the Army and Navy Stores, and I could not help thinking how the right hon. Gentleman or hon. Members opposite who have shares in companies would like it if their joint-stock companies were managed as the Government propose in this case by a rule that everybody should have a single vote, and that all shareholders, whether they owned a large number of shares or not, should have an equal number of votes with those who only held one share. I do not think there is a single hon. Member of this House who would subscribe to a theory of that kind, and if they would not subscribe to it in their own businesses they have no right to airily suggest that plural voting should be entirely done away with, and that the stake a man has in various parts of the country should not be represented. As to some of the details, the right hon. Gentleman was extremely clear in his description of the Bill, but I cannot understand—perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to explain—the difference the right hon. Gentleman drew between an occupier and a resident. I can understand the difference between occupier and owner, but resident seems to be a new word in registration law.
§ Sir W. BULL
I cannot understand why any distinction is drawn between occupier and resident. If you have a residential qualification, that is, someone living in at particular house, and you are going to sweep away the freehold and the lodger vote, and make the qualification merely occupying a certain house for six months, you are only complicating matters by using the word "occupier" and "resident."
§ Sir J. SIMON
Some people would be residents under this Bill, and not occupiers, and some would be occupiers and not residents, but whichever they are they will get a vote. A man who is a tenant of a piece of land is, of course, an occupier as the hon. Member well understands, but it does not always follow that that is the place at which he resides. On the other hand a son may be living with his father in his father's house, and he is a resident, but he is not an occupier in the sense in 1395 which the hon. Gentleman understands the meaning of the word. The object is to ensure that a man shall not be excluded because by the technicalities of our law, though he is occupier he is not resident, and although he is resident he is not occupier.
§ Sir W. BULL
The scheme is that every man shall have a vote, but I am not clear whether two votes might not attach to the one house or the one piece of land, that is the man who owned it would have a vote.
§ Sir W. BULL
Then it would merely be the tenant who would have a vote, and the owner would have to seek a vote elsewhere. I want to know whether the Government have considered the tremendous expense that this Bill will place upon the country. The keeping up of a register from day to day in large constituencies is no easy matter. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think there is in existence machinery by which you can discover what is going on from day to day, but I would remind him that we have not got an inquisitorial system like France, where a person gives in his name at the police office, and declares how long he is going to stay at a certain place. We have no such machinery here. We have got to have clerks and officials for all that machinery. When a by-election is suddenly sprung upon us, I take it the officer who is in charge of the register will be responsible for seeing that everybody who is entitled to have a vote is able to vote at that election, and to get out a fresh register from day to day and yet have it available is no easy matter. I do not think the Government altogether contemplate that the whole of our party machinery is going to be thrown away.
We shall have to have registration agents and clerks as before. That of course is fairly expensive, and, if the party machinery is going to be put in force for the purpose of checking the officials as we check the overseers at the present time, it will put a tremendous cost on the parties who are nursing the constituency, and the result will be that the longer and richer purse will gain. I do not think that is what the Government want to bring about. If they think by means of this machinery they are going to do away with all party machinery, I for one listening to 1396 the right hon. Gentleman, could not see any chance of that taking place. I believe you will find just as much keenness in contesting claims, and, instead of that occupying six or seven weeks as at the present time, it will go on all the year round and various fights will take place with regard to the matter. We have three or four hundred revising barristers, and they are paid ten guineas a day for thirty days. That is £300 a year, and the Treasury will have to compensate all them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—It seems to me it is rather a vested interest. If the Government can get out of it, so much the better, but there will certainly be a great many revising barristers who will think they ought to have compensation. Is the County Court the most suitable place where these questions can be settled? The County Courts do not have as long a vacation as the High Courts, but in the midst of their holidays these hard worked County Court judges, the registrars, and their clerks, will have to come back for the purpose of fighting out these claims and practically acting as a Registration Court. The Solicitor-General shakes his head.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sorry if I indicated dissent. I agree the County Court will be used at all periods of the year, but our anticipation is that the questions which will arise will be of so simple a character that there will not be anything like the same cause for expert solution of great difficulties as undoubtedly there is under the present system.
§ Sir W. BULL
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill said it was very easy indeed for anyone to ascertain whether he is on any other register. How is he going to do that? Party agents will certainly not be disallowed, and a man either by design or accident may very easily get on another register. Do you suggest people are to inspect all the registers round their district. How are they to ensure they are not on any other register? You will have to have some machinery and interchange so as to prevent that taking place. The question of selection is a somewhat difficult one, and the right hon. Gentleman did not say whether a man is to vote primarily for his residence and not his office, or whether he is to be allowed to select his office or place of business if he chooses. You are practically going to have two registers, one a bound register printed from year to year, and another 1397 register which will be corrected from month to month. There are a good many difficulties in the way of that. How are you going to dovetail into the registers the additions that have to be made? Supposing a Member of this House suddenly applies for the Chiltern Hundreds, or dies, and an election takes place, there will be an immense amount of work to get ready in two or three days so that everybody who is entitled to vote will be in a position to vote and so that people will know a person is entitled to vote. You will have to make some provision whereby the alteration of the register shall cease ten days or a fortnight before an election, and all persons who become qualified within that period shall be disqualified from voting at that election. You will have to make some provision of that sort. I speak with some practical technical knowledge of the matter, and I suggest that the confusion will be endless. It seems to me you will have endless trouble after the poll is declared. A large number of people will come up and say they have been in their house six months, and are not on the register, and have not been able to vote. I hope the House will understand from one who has been a practical registration agent for many years that the thing is not quite so simple as the right hon. Gentleman claimed in his speech. I have ventured to point out some of the difficulties that will have to be thrashed out before the Sill becomes law, and it seems to me we could very easily spend two or three weeks discussing this Bill.
§ Mr. KING
I very much welcome this Bill, partly because I am quite certain there is a very strong and widespread demand for it in the country. I noticed the hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) urged that there was no demand for this Bill at all in the country. How curious it is that every proposal that is brought forward in this House is met on the other side with the statement that there is no demand for the reform in the country. There was no demand in the country for the Budget; there was no demand in the country for "the Parliament Bill; there is no demand in the country for Irish Home Rule; there is no demand in the country for Welsh Disestablishment; and lastly, to crown it all, there is no demand in the country for one man one vote. The fact only wants to be stated in that way to show the absurdity of the statement that does for a moment, but only for a, moment, with those who do not think, 1398 for an argument against every proposal which is brought forward by the Government. I welcome this measure for many reasons. I do so partly because it is thoroughly democratic in principle. As far as I understand it, it will be found, when printed and passed through this House, as I hope it will be this Session, to be on thoroughly democratic lines. It will give what we have wanted for many years—a franchise on a basis of citizenship and not on the basis of wealth, or occupation, or any other fancy idea. I also welcome it because it gives a chance for women's suffrage. I could not hear all the speech my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. D. Mason), but he is one of those impatient men, gifted with a generous heart and wonderful imagination, who will not be contented until he gets the whole of his cake at once. I am contented, because the Prime Minister, a man as good as his word, has said that if a women's suffrage Amendment is incorporated in this Bill as it passes through Committee he will press it forward as an integral part of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "And if one is not?"] Then you will have to wait till next year or the year after. But if you do not allow this Bill to go, what will be the result? The Prime Minister's hope—the best hope and promise women's suffrage ever had—will go by the board, and if the hon. Member for Coventry will just go outside and think this over calmly, instead of listening to me, I am sure he will see the wisdom of my remarks. I venture to suggest that it is in the interests of the Government to press this Bill through this Session, not only in view of the strong agitation which is going on outside, but because if they do not keep up to their promise and fulfil their pledges the whole army of non-militant and constitutional supporters of the suffrage movement will be disappointed and may turn their efforts into militant channels. If that should occur one does not know what will happen, and I appeal as strongly as possible to the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench to see that the Bill does get through all its stages this Session.
Another point which I thoroughly approve in the measure is that it affords us a prospect of having no more university representatives in this House. University representatives here are all men of mark and ability, and, in my opinion, they would be much better in another place. They are men who elsewhere can keep and pursue their educational careers with much 1399 greater opportunity of bringing up the young idea in the way it should walk than they can in this House. Their opinions are always discounted, for though we may look up to them as men of ability, we cannot regard them as representing democratic or popular sentiment. I gladly look forward to the time when we shall have no more university representatives here. Some, no doubt, will return to this House as Members popularly elected. They will gain greatly by the change; they will gain touch with the people, which they have never had, and they will gain authority which they never possessed when they spoke in this House. I do not see a single university representative present at this moment, and, therefore, I will defer my further observations on this subject to a later stage of the Bill.
I want to give the benefit of my advice, such as it is, to the right hon. Gentleman upon one or two points where I think the Bill might be improved. I should like, in the first place, to suggest, and in this I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) that six months' qualifying period is too long in a great many ways. Some may come in probably for two rates before they get on the voting list, and certainly for two half-year's rent. Our principle has always been that when a man gets on the rate-book and pays his rate he should be entitled to vote. It will be much more difficult for a man to prove six months' occupation than four, and I would suggest an alteration of the Bill in the direction of giving a four months' qualification, and, instead of asking the local authority to publish supplementary lists every month, make the publication every two months. That would give very nearly the same length of time, and would cause less trouble to the local authority, while it would prevent any opportunity of gerrymandering the district or electoral Division. Another point is that I should like to see introduced a provision by which some Treasury Grant can be given to the local authority responsible for registration. It may be urged, possibly it will be, that the cost to the county councils will be serious. I believe that in the end this Bill will be a great economy for the nation, as compared with what is spent under our present system of registration, although, at the outset, the cost to the county and borough councils may be greater than at present. I would like to suggest a Treasury Grant of so 1400 much per elector for the average number of electors on the list during the year.
The local authority might receive a certain sum, say, for the Parliamentary voter, 2d. or 3d. per head. That would afford some recompense to the registration authority for the extra work it is called upon to do, and it would make it to the interest of the authority to secure as fair and as perfect a register as possible. The more men they get on, which means, the better they canvass their district, and the sooner they get them on, the better it is for their pockets. A small grant of this. kind would not be a heavy burden upon the finances of the country. It would make the whole system work well, and it would be a strong inducement to get as perfect and as full a register as possible. I hope there will be some provision in the Bill, as there has been in former franchise Bills, that there shall be no disfranchisement. So far as I understand the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, it will be possible for a man who has voted for a number of years to be struck off. For instance, there are freemen who are living in such circumstances that they would not be able to get upon the new register, although they had had the franchise for many years.
§ Mr. KING
They may be residing in the workhouse. It is quite possible that they may not have had six months' continual qualification, or they may have been residing abroad. In all previous franchise Bills a Clause has been introduced or methods adopted whereby, if a man was previously on the register, he did not lose his qualification because of the method of enfranchisement having been changed. You are setting up, so far as I can see, a totally different register for local government purposes and for Parliamentary purposes. The right hon. Gentleman did not say so, but I understand that it will be necessary to keep two separate registers.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
It will be necessary to keep three lists of voters. There are those who are occupiers, who are qualified for both Parliamentary and local government purposes; then there is a certain, number of voters who will only be qualified for local government purposes, such as lodgers and owners, and then there are the new Parliamentary franchise electors, who would be qualified by residence.
§ Mr. KING
It is a matter which can be better dealt with when the text of the Bill 1401 is before us, but it seems to me that there is an unnecessary duplication in having a totally different qualification for the local government elector from that for the Parliamentary elector. A lodger pays rates indirectly, and a young man living at home is just as much a citizen of his parish as he is a citizen of this country or of the Empire. His immediate interests are much more closely bound up with local affairs than with large Imperial affairs. I hope it will not be found necessary to make a distinct difference between the qualification for local government elections and Parliamentary elections. In conclusion, let me say that I hope most sincerely that this Bill will be pressed forward, even if the Session has to be carried on to the latest possible date, not only in this year, but in the year to come. If this Bill is passed we really get a lever by which we can insure a large measure of electoral reform before the next General Election. I am as anxious for redistribution, for all elections on one day, and for a large reduction in the cost of elections, as I am for one man one vote. I should be glad if the Government would give the assurance, even in the Preamble to this Bill, if the Opposition would take it in that form, that this Bill should not come into force unless, before the next General Election, a Redistribution Bill should also come into force. Perhaps by that time we should have all elections on one day, and a reduced scale of expenditure upon elections. If that can be done, and I think it will be done if this Bill is put through all its stages this year or this Session, I am sure the whole country will be grateful to the Government and to the right hon. Gentleman for the measure he is introducing this evening.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) pressed his arguments in respect of a Registration Bill very forcibly. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tease), it would have been instructing to the House if he could have accompanied Ms reference to the main part of this Bill, which alters the Parliamentary franchise, by more arguments than he actually advanced. I would like to test the principle by which he supports the Bill. I tope I am not misinterpreting his views in putting the case in this particular form. He says there is a large number of people in the country, who are receiving more votes than they are entitled to, and that there is a large number of poor people in the 1402 country who ought to be on the register. His sympathy goes out to the poorer classes of the people, who, he thinks, are entitled to have a vote, and that largely induces him to bring forward this measure. Let us test that particular principle and argument by the next question that arises in connection with the Bill—that is, the local government franchise. If the object of this Bill is to help forward the poor of this country, why does it specifically exclude the same class of people from having the same votes and the same privileges in respect of the local government franchise? The Bill, as I understand it, provides that any adult attaining the age of twenty-one and having a residential qualification, which shall be continual, although it may be successive, shall be entitled to become qualified as a voter for a Parliamentary election. Why should not the same principle apply to municipal voting? Are not the poor people as much interested in the questions of local conditions, local government, sanitation, and hygiene. Why should the £10 qualification still apply to that class, and be repealed so far as the Parliamentary franchise is concerned. Naturally we are driven to the conclusion that there is no consistency in the argument. If you want to be consistent, the principle ought to apply to both systems. There must be some other motive for extending the franchise in the matter of the Parliamentary vote and keeping it restricted in respect of the municipal. I can conceive one idea; it may be that you are going to apply the same system to the municipal franchise as to the Parliamentary franchise. In that case every person, irrespective of sex, attaining the age of twenty-one and having a successive' residential qualification is to be entitled to the municipal vote. That is to say, every woman attaining the age of twenty-one would equally be entitled to come on the municipal register and every male. That may be the reason for the Government not wishing to introduce the same principle for the municipal franchise as for the Parliamentary.
There are one or two observations I should like to make with regard to the details and the machinery of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman laid considerable stress on the fact that the object he had in view is to do away with the many absurdities and great anomalies which exist in registration law. Indeed it was some relief to hear that he proposes repealing only forty-seven Acts. I was under the impression that there were 120 Acts. We 1403 know that there are a large number of conflicting judgments pronounced on questions which affect the lodger, and affect the question of occupation, and to that extent anyone will welcome anything that is going to facilitate the whole question of registration. But will this Bill really carry out the object the right hon. Gentleman has in view? Of course we all acknowledge the hardships which exist in the case of a lodger becoming an occupier and losing his vote for twelve months. There is also the hardship of a man who is an occupier losing his vote for twelve months when he becomes a lodger. We also realise the hardship that while an occupier is able to transfer from house to house while retaining his vote the lodger loses his vote immediately he transfers his lodging, and has to wait twelve months until he comes on the register again. So I am sure the House is in sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman when he proposes to facilitate the whole question of qualification for the franchise, but after all is he not really increasing the difficulties? I will give one or two illustrations as they occur to me. The revising barrister is to be done away with. Instead of that we are to have the County Court. The right hon. Gentleman said a man shall remain on the register if he has been in successive occupation of premises or remains for a period of six months. Supposing he is a workman who goes to another constituency; works for a month there, and then comes back. Is he still entitled to vote? Has he not broken his successive qualification? And see the machinery that is necessary to be set up to observe a continual watch over the overseer on the part either of the Government itself or, above all, on the part of the agents of either party! That man will require to have his eyes continually on the register, because it is not a register that comes into force once a year or once in six months, but a running register continually in force, with men coming on and going off every day, and continual control will have to be kept over it. Supposing a man has been for six months on one register and transfers to another place. He has just been there for six months when there is a by-election. According to the right hon. Gentleman, he goes off the one register and comes on to the new register. But supposing the agent wishes to lodge an objection to the man going on to a new register because he has not fully qualified 1404 himself for the period. What opportunities has he, with the by-election coming on, to deal with the situation and make his objection good? Then take the case of the County Court. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as we all do how difficult it is to get a lodger to put in a lodger's claim, or, if there is any objection, to bring a lodger to the Revision Court. See how largely you are increasing the difficulties in a county Division. If you are going to have a County Court, you have to bring these people from various parts of the country and you will have the greatest difficulty in doing it.
Another point I should like to raise in connection with the municipal franchise is this. I understand that what you will require are registers in respect of the owner, the resident or occupier and the lodger, and the right hon. Gentleman also spoke of the Local Government franchise. Is he making a new departure? The lodger hitherto, as far as the municipal franchise is concerned, has no vote, and it is one of the standing grievances of the lodger that though he indirectly pays towards the rates he has no voice and no vote in municipal affairs. Are we right in assuming that in future the lodger, who only has a Parliamentary vote and can vote for the guardians, is to have the right of voting at municipal elections, and also for the education authority? I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that there will have to be a special register for the lodger in respect of the municipal franchise.
§ Mr. PEASE
I want to make it quite clear. The lodger vote is a very anomalous vote, and differs very much in different parts of the country. In Scotland, and I think also in Ireland, the lodger has a vote not only for the parish council and the district council, but also for the county council and the borough council. In England the lodger has no vote for the borough council or the county council, but he has a vote for the parish council and the district council. All these anomalies, as I endeavoured to explain, we leave exactly as they were, for the simple reason that we do not propose to overload our Bill, and we are confining it, so far as we possibly can, to the Parliamentary register.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that, so far as the Service vote is concerned and the lodger vote, there is to be no amendment of the law for local government purposes. The final point I should like to raise is the 1405 question of the Service men in the Navy. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say the Bill is intended to mitigate the evils and hardships which exist in respect to them.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
Then are you not intensifying the feeling on the part of those very parties? Here you are intending a great extension of the franchise, yet you intend doing nothing for the Army and Navy—those who have their houses and lodgings. Merely because they have not continuous occupation for six months, they are disqualified from exercising their vote. That hardship and disability is to continue. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the pauper disqualification. Under the electoral system at present we have the pauper bar in relation to any person who receives parish relief. We understand now that every person who attains the age of twenty-one, and who has a residential qualification, is to be entitled to the franchise. Do I understand that the pauper disqualification disappears, and that a, man receiving parish relief, whether in the workhouse or as an outdoor pauper, is in future to have a vote?
§ Mr. PEASE
I did explain that this afternoon, but I am sorry if I did not make myself quite clear to the hon. Gentleman. I said that all those who are legally incapacitated from voting, either as paupers, aliens, or felons, were to remain as they are. We make no change whatever by this Bill in regard to these persons.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
If the right ion. Gentleman will allow me to say so, that is one of the disadvantages of the Bill. In my own Constituency last year several men were struck off the roll because at Christmas time they received two loaves of bread. I had hoped that in introducing a Bill of this wide character the right hon. Gentleman would have made provision for that. It seems to me that you are dealing with two subjects which though correlated are really independent, namely, registration and the extension of the franchise. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) laid great stress upon the fact that we are living under an anomalous registration system in this country. That cannot too often or 1406 too urgently be brought forward and insisted upon. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) pointed out that the business of the House is congested, and asked what chance there was of this Bill becoming law? Years may pass before it becomes law, and in the meantime the registration law, of which every election agent complains, is to remain unchanged, because it is tacked on to the subject of the franchise in this Bill. I regret the right hon. Gentleman has not seen his way to apply the same principle to the Parliamentary franchise and the municipal franchise. I am convinced that if he wants to raise the passions of the people of the country he will do so by this Bill.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I rise for the purpose of making two comments on the Bill of my right hon. Friend as regards the general position, and one comment upon the machinery with which he associates it In the first place, I should like to say, not precisely in reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goldman), but in comment upon what he said. Those of us who have in more ways than one not only to make ourselves acquainted with the franchise law, but also with registration law, know how they are bound up together, how intimate are their relations, and how extremely difficult it would be to deal with registration without also dealing with the other subject. Therefore putting aside the arguments in respect of Parliamentary time, and looking at the matter on other grounds, I think there cannot be constructed a really complete argument against the Government's plan of dealing with both these matters in one measure. I venture to submit to the House that they are really bound up together.
I desire to thank the Government for the introduction of this Bill. This is not a, mere academic question. The problems-dealt with in this Bill are real problems, and I am quite certain there are very few questions in the country to-day which awaken more keen interest, not only among those responsible for detailed political action, but among the electors generally, than the result of the present franchise system and the constant obscuring of the real judgment of a constituency by those imported voters who have no residential qualification. It is perfectly certain that it is really a grave public evil that there should be the disturbance of public feeling, and that there should be the indignation aroused which is aroused' at many, if not at most, elections by 1407 the wholesale importation into a constituency for the purpose of voting only of those who otherwise are unknown to have any interest in the constituency at all. That can only be remedied by this or some other Bill which establishes the principle of "one man one vote." We are told that it is the authoritative attitude of the Opposition that it is wrong to deal with this, which is pleasantly called the minor grievance, while what is equally pleasantly called the major grievance of redistribution is left untouched. Whatever force there might be in that argument, which I think has always been put in exaggerated terms, it is almost entirely lost by the fact that this Bill will only become law at a time when the great disproportion—or rather the main point in this reform of redistribution—is more than dealt with by the Bill for Irish self-government now before the House. That cannot be dealt with except by an alteration in the Act of Union, and it is proposed to be dealt with by the legislation before the House. That legislation when brought to a successful issue will, in conjunction with this Bill, leave no special grievance affecting one party or another in the House which would call for being dealt with simultaneously such as there is in regard to plural voting. Therefore I thank the Government not only for introducing a Bill, but also for detaching it at this time from the problem of redistribution.
I am going to offer one or two comments on the machinery of the Bill. There can be no objection in putting into the hands of local authorities who are already largely responsible for the register complete responsibility, provided you make quite certain that you are not by the machinery of this Bill putting an additional burden upon them. I understand my right hon. Friend to hold the view that the simplification which this Bill will bring about will more than meet the additional work from certain points of view which may be apt to be put upon local authorities. But as one interested in the position of local authorities I am quite sure that the county councils of this country will look with great care upon the provisions of this Bill, and if it does really mean, particularly with regard to any annual canvass or inspection or ascertainment of persons who should be on the register, any additional burden on local resources that would be a matter of controversy upon which I hope the Government will give consideration to the 1408 views of local authorities. With regard to the appeal to the County Court judge on the question of fact and the more obvious issues that may arise, that appears to be a most reasonable proposal.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
I hope the Government will consider this point that, so far as I know, there has never yet been a franchise Act or a registration Act in which very important points very wide reaching and of application throughout the country, have not occasionally arisen, and there ought to be a carefully guarded Clause enabling points of that kind to come up to higher Courts if their validity is to have effect throughout the whole country, and if they are matters which really affect to a great extent the working of this Act. I not only thank the Government for bringing in this Bill, and respectfully commend to their attention these points of practical details, but I hope that the Government, whatever be the congestion of business and whatever the claims of other measures of great importance, will realise that this is a measure of such general public interest that the supporters of the Government are prepared to make great sacrifices for it.
§ An HON. MEMBER: Except coming in to listen to you.
§ Sir RYLAND ADK1NS
The duty of the supporters of the Government is neither to listen to me nor to the hon. Member opposite who called for a count, but to see that this Bill becomes law without undue delay, and in order to remedy a state of things which involves many wrongs to this House and a caricature of public opinion. Certainly if the Government realise, as I believe they do, that this Bill is of equal importance, with others which are now before the House, not only their own supporters in ordinary politics, but the country will be grateful for a solution of what has been a long-standing scandal which really weakens the influence of this House in the country.
The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) said that he would like to see in the Bill a qualification of three months instead of one of six months. I hope that the Government will stand firm upon this 1409 point, because to reduce the period to three months would be a very dangerous narrowing of the time necessary for the operation of registration. He also asked what the age would be—and I was hoping that the reply would be twenty-five—for the new electorate, and all those who in future would come on the register. When you are going to introduce such an enormous additional number of voters you should consider carefully whether the latter age would not be more suitable. It is, of course, an arguable point, but nobody will deny that not everybody has attained wisdom at the age of twenty-one. When you are dealing with such enormous numbers twenty-five seems to be the better age. I would like to know on whom the onus of proving the age will lie? Will the party agents on either side have to busy themselves in proving that the persons on the register are really twenty-one? Will they have to follow up the bogus claims that may be made, or will the officials of the council be responsible for seeing that the individuals referred to are twenty-one before they come on the register? If the party agents have to check everybody it will add enormously to the expense which falls on candidates now and on hon. Members on both sides of the House in seeing that bogus claims are not made.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
If anyone claims to be placed on the register at the age of twenty-one, and anyone likes to take objection to that qualification on the ground that the individual is not of age, it will be open to lay the objection before the registrar, and it would then be tried at the next County Court, seven days' notice being given of the objection to the individual whose case is being dealt with, and evidence would then be brought on one side or the other in regard to age. The County Court judge, in very many cases no doubt, would depute it to the registrar to decide the matter.
My point is this. Instead of somebody having to object to an individual being on the register it should be the registrar who, already in possession of the birth certificate, should assure himself that the person concerned was twenty-one, without the necessity on the part of the agent, or some other individual intervening, for that would mean an enormous amount of work for the agent, and would add largely to the expense involved. It might very easily be done through the registrar who could put a name on the register, rather than 1410 that the agent should have to see to the case. These are points, of course, which can be dealt with later. The chief objection to the Bill is that you are trying to deal with certain anomalies while leaving others of longer growth which should be dealt with at the same time. Then there is the point as to the redistribution of seats, and it has been suggested that this will be dealt with by the Government of Ireland Bill. There really is not only a present but a future grievance, because, if you take away sixty-one Members from Ireland it would not in the least meet the grievance of England, which would be just as much under-represented as Scotland and Wales would be over-represented. Therefore it does not touch the grievance of England in regard to her representation. The hon. Member opposite remarked that this is only a small grievance, and not as bad as the anomalies dealt with in this Bill. Possibly hon. Members can hardly realise how these anomalies have grown. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) referred to the fact that a certain Member has thirty-three times as much power in this House that another Member has. Of course, it is an extreme case, that of Rom-ford and Kilkenny. But under this Bill Romford would have 80,000 voters, and, of course, no Member could possibly represent all that number. May I put before Members how very large those anomalies have become by lapse of time. Instead of using figures, I will give an illustration in order that hon. Members may realise the difference in the scale of representation between one Member and another.
If you take the dispatch box in front of the right hon. Gentleman opposite it will be no exaggeration to say that in comparison with it the smallest Member is equivalent to a volume of "Dod's Parliamentary Companion," while the largest Member would be equivalent to the length of the Mace. No one can say that anomalies on such a scale are not a sufficiently big grievance to be altered at once, but it is not proposed to touch such an anomaly at all by this Bill. What I am saying gains added strength if hon. Members will consider it in relation to the Parliamentary situation at the present moment. I had the honour of putting the point before the House once before, but it should be repeated, because it affects the present situation to a great extent—I refer to the over-representation of Ireland. If you take all the Members who come from Ireland, including the Unionists—because it 1411 would not be fair to take only the Nationalists—you will find that the average electorate for each Member is 6,751, while the average electorate in England, including Universities, is 13,200—very nearly double. It will not be denied that the chief Bill before the House is the Home Rule Bill, in which England is as much interested as Ireland; she has to pay for it, anyhow, and therefore is as much interested as Ireland; yet Ireland in the Parliamentary Lobby has twice as much voting strength as England, on the average. Every Irishman on that particular Bill has twice as much voting strength as an Englishman. That is purely a mathematical point which needs no further demonstration. In these circumstances I do not think anyone can deny that the fact of Ireland possessing this voting power makes the passing of the Bill before redistribution a bigger scandal than at any other time. You are utilising the over-representation of Ireland to carry it against England.
If Ireland had the right number of seats according to population—and the standard of population is what you are going to carry under this new Bill—surely it is perfectly obvious, from what I am saying, that before Home Rule is carried there should be a redistribution of seats, and each part of the United Kingdom put on its proper voting basis. You are carrying by the over-representation of Ireland measures that have not, in the true sense, been before the country, and which we know very well, if put before the country, would not receive the sanction of the electors. I think that the right hon. Gentleman may be perfectly certain that as long as the Government try and carry this Bill without a redistribution scheme they will receive the utmost opposition, even from those Members who, like myself, are in favour of franchise reform and registration. By the showing of the right hon. Gentleman the doing away with plural voting may help him to the extent of forty seats; but he is not pretending to do away with the over-representation of Ireland, which also helps him to the extent of forty seats. Do not let it be supposed, as it sometimes is by the other side, that all the small seats happen to be occupied by Unionists. If you take all the seats under 7,000 voters, which I think is fair, as it is a little over half the average, you will find that more than twice as many go into the Government Lobby than into ours. On this Home Rule Bill the actual figures 1412 are that forty-three representing seats with under 7,000 voters go into our Lobby, and ninety-five into the Government Lobby. Therefore until the Government are prepared to deal with this question honestly and with fairness to all parties, and not to deal only with that part of the question which particularly suits them, then they will meet with the most strenuous opposition from this side of the House. And I believe that that opposition will be thoroughly endorsed by the majority of the people outside, who may say that even though they are prepared to see plural voting done away with, and other anomalies go, now that you are dealing with this question you should deal with it fairly and squarely and not deal with that part of the subject which, suits you, and from which you expect some electoral advantage.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
The hon. Member who spoke last from the opposite side, and the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), spoke of the mandate that was given and the strong feeling that was held in favour of this Bill by the constituencies, but they singularly failed to-make out their case. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle produced a curious parallel between this Bill and the Referendum which was proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City. How that parallel helped him I entirely fail to see. He went on to say that the Liberal Federation passed a vote in favour of electoral reform. I look for the expression of the country in very different quarters from either the Liberal Federation or any Conservative Union. If the country is really alive about a measure it takes other means than party caucuses to make its feeling felt. I would like to know how far this measure of adult suffrage, because it really comes to that, was mentioned in the electoral addresses of hon. Members opposite, and how far it really formed a strong element in the party fight during the last election. But however that may be, the right hon. Gentleman, I think, must have come to the same conclusion as I did when he saw the reception the Bill met with, that whether there was a unanimous declaration in favour of this Bill or not, there was a singularly small amount of united feeling in regard to it, because the hon. Member for Barnard Castle pointed out in respect to that part of the Bill on which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt longest how many doubts and difficulties he had, and in how 1413 many respects he differed from him both in detail and in large general principles. He differed as to detail, and he differed still more on the fundamental principle whether this Bill ought to include female suffrage or not, and whether ten million women were to be included. If this universal feeling in favour of this Bill was prevalent it is remarkable that it neither found strong expression in the speeches and electoral addresses of hon. Members opposite, nor succeeded in obtaining any large measure of assent upon the wide principles in the kind of Bill which has been introduced.
I venture to intervene in the Debate because I am one of those unfortunate Members upon whom sentence of death has been pronounced. [An HON. MEMBER made an observation which was inaudible.] I may tell the hon. Member I am able to hear with remarkable equanimity that sentence of death. If I were sent about my business by my Constituents it might perhaps cause me some qualms of conscience and some feelings of regret. I do not feel that the sentence of death pronounced upon me by the right hon. Gentleman requires any great fortitude on my part to bear it with equanimity, I shall therefore address myself to this question with impartiality. I shall try in the first place to find what I can of merit in the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. Those proposals seem to me to show a certain fitness. It is altogether becoming that the Cabinet which has placed the Constitution in a state of suspended animation, which has made weighty proposals for the dismemberment of the Empire, and which has given to one class the freedom and the privilege of not being responsible to the law for their acts, which has declared, as it did the other day, that it was prepared to put in force the law only in those cases where, in its arbitrary judgment, it was called for, which has begun and carried on a career of plunder and spoliation, and at last carried out a magnanimous design of plundering the poorest part of the English Church, should now place the coping stone on its work by flooding the constituencies with an entirely new and untried element. I bring no accusation against the right hon. Gentleman or his party of having definite and certain political objects to attain. I am not quite sure that I would acquit them of trying to attain those objects if they knew how to do so: but I am quite certain that if they have persuaded themselves that this large 1414 and uncertain addition to the electorate is sure always to turn in their favour they are nourishing a very illusory dream. The one thing that is certain about this addition to the electorate is that its movements will be absolutely uncertain, that it may turn in favour of one party just as much as of another, that it will be moved by fitful and changeful impulses, and that it will be largely under the control of dexterous manipulation and careful Machiavellian electioneering dodges. That acquits the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues of having any very definite design, however much they might wish it, to better their own case by this manœuvre: but like all desperate gamesters since the world began, they are ready to play the last throw and to stake everything upon it. Having gone far, they are unable to consolidate what they have done; they must now go further, and hope that they will be carried on the crest of a wave the composition of which is as absolutely unknown to them as it is to us.
What is common to all movements for reform? Every reform movement is made chiefly at the expense of the penultimate addition to the electorate. It was so in the movement of 1832, which ended the rule of the landed aristocracy in this country. From 1832 to 1867, the power was in the hands of the middle class, which class suffered most from the addition then made to the electorate. Since 188V, judge it as you may, nothing is more certain than that the dominating class of this country has been the respectable, self-respecting working class, and the people who will suffer most, by this uncertain and, in my opinion, rash addition to the electorate, will be precisely that respectable, self-respecting working class which gained most by the last movement of reform. They are the people who will be swamped. This new class will be able to join itself with any party that happens to be dominant. It will not think precisely of the feelings and interests of the respectable, self-respecting and to a certain extent constituted better element amongst the working classes. It will be moved by the appeals of the demagogue, who are particularly dangerous to that class. Another peculiarity is that this addition is not only different in degree from any previous addition to the electorate, but it is different in kind. Previously, with the assent of a vast proportion of the country, with the gradually growing assent even of those who opposed it at the time, you have added constituted classes, classes who, according to the old 1415 phrase, had a stake in the country, who gained a certain position, and had something to lose. You have added these bit by bit to the electorate; you have strengthened and broadened its basis and he would be a rash man who would deny that that action was not only inevitable and forced upon you, but in the long run had proved for the advantage of the country. There might have been differences as to the time; there were no differences as to the certainty that sooner or later it would have to be done.
Now, however, you are adding an absolutely untried element, an element before whom you set no ideal, who have to attain no stake, who have not established themselves in any way as fixed or settled workers in the country; who have no interests, and who have contributed nothing to the building up of the State. These are the people whom now by a reckless move you are going to add to the electorate. By so doing you will do an injury to them as well as to those who are already in the electorate, because you will deprive them of that object and ambition which is implanted in them to raise themselves only a very little, not to any very high level—because it is absurd to speak of the element of wealth in our Constitution. The poorest, as long as he has a settled place of habitation in the country, is able in a very few months more or less to obtain his place in the Constitution. But to this new proletariat you now preach the doctrine that in order to obtain the full rights and privileges of citizenship they have not to do anything but to take the trouble to be born. The argument sometimes used—I am surprised it has not been used to-night—is that derived from our Colonies. But have hon. Members ever considered what the Colonies really are? They are made up of selected citizens, picked men from the Mother-country, who have gone out to create by their own work a country and a nation. They have watched the construction of the Constitution; they have themselves been in part architects of its construction. No one knows better than those who have moved about the Colonies how striking that is in regard to the Colonies. You talk to the ordinary man that you meet in the streets of a Colonial city, and you find he has dwelt on the problems of government, on the difficulty that attends the formation of nations, and he has made up his mind in regard to these things. He 1416 is to a certain extent an educated politician in a sense that it is impossible to find amongst the waifs and strays of our streets whom you would now introduce to the electorate. The real analogy in the case of the Colonies with the movement that is now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman is the admission of the native to the franchise. We know how our Colonial brethren are likely to deal with that, and how much forbearance they will give to any proposal to force that upon them.
I will ask hon. Members in the next place to consider the effect that this will have upon political warfare and the ethics of electioneering. Say what we will, this change, if carried out, will be a movement in favour of wealth. The wealthy man with the most elaborate electioneering devices, and with the latest arts of advertisement at his disposal, will be the man who will prevail with the electorate. The humbler man, the man with less expensive resources to fight a constituency, will be placed at an enormous disadvantage. The arts of electioneering, the appeals to the passions and the impulses of the mob, will be enormously increased, and the whole of party warfare, bad as it is at the present time, will be made immeasurably worse by the reckless additions of this sort of elector to the register. I come to the point, which I want very briefly to refer to, of the dealing of the right hon. Gentleman with university constituencies. I take it so far as a compliment that having decided to overwhelm the intelligent part of the electorate by the introduction of a new and uncertain element, you have joined to that the disfranchisement of the universities. The fact that they are only something like I per cent. of the Members of this House is disregarded by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues because of their consuming desire to bring the whole of the constituencies to a normal level and to one uniform monotony of political contour. There are worse things than anomalies. I am not sure that there were not amongst those philosophers in the days before the French Revolution, who were attacked by Edmund Burke, a good deal of that feeling of monotony which seems to be aimed at by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. There is a certain irony in the fact that this is proposed by the Minister for Education, by the representative and personification of the relations of the State with religion, learning, and science. We 1417 acknowledge to the full the right hon. Gentleman's fitness for his office; to that impersonation he has brought not only his native gifts, but the assiduity with which he has cultivated these gifts. But is it not rather ironical that he of all others should have been put forward by his colleagues to be the Member who should propose the elimination of the constituencies where the educational franchise exists?
I suppose, when these university constituencies are abolished, that the right hon. Gentleman considers that he and he only, will form the sufficient bulwark of defence for all the interests of learning, science, and literature. The universities have a very easy way, if they only knew it, of recovering favour in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. Twenty-five years ago, and in previous times, the university constituencies in Scotland were represented by Members belonging to the party which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues profess to represent. Whether they do represent its best traditions, whether the change has been in the university constituencies, or in the rapid progress down stream made by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, I leave to them and to hon. Members opposite to say. But I think if by chance they had returned, instead of the humble Member who is now speaking, some Member of the opposite party, that perhaps the hostile feeling might not have been quite so fierce as at present. Perhaps, if like some more yielding constituencies in my country, one or other of these university constituencies had been good enough to provide a place where a discarded Minister could find refuge, in that case, I am perfectly certain, they would have been hailed as saviours of the Constitution, and instead of being abolished would have been increased.
I used to hear frequently, and hon. Members will remember, the tirades made by our late colleague, Mr. Hilaire Belloc, against the defects of our Parliamentary system. There were three matters that chiefly formed the objects of his attacks: The first was the caucus, the second was the influence of wealth, and the third was that great, and, to my mind, very respectable nation, the Jews. He always finished up his attack by a violent tirade against university seats, where all these three influences are conspicuously absent. The caucus has nothing to do with my election. I have always asked that the Con- 1418 servative Association should leave me entirely alone to deal with my Constituents. The caucus, and its machinery, and those methods of electioneering warfare which are spread through other constituencies, do not form a very potent element in deciding the judgment of my Constituents. If I were to venture to distribute amongst my Constituents any of those leaflets, on one side or the other, which form, I believe, a large part of electioneering literature, I would very soon be sent about my business. Wealth is no very prominent element either in university constituencies or amongst their representatives, and we all know that no Jew ever thrives north of the Tweed. We leave that to the other part of the Celtic fringe to be found in Wales.
There is one argument that is used. I heard it used by the Prime Minister not long ago with regard to university constituencies. I take it, of course, not as applicable to myself, but I am proud to reckon myself amongst those to whom it may be applicable. "These eminent gentlemen," said the right hon. Gentleman, "are so fitted by their gifts to shine in other spheres, and they have so many other occupations, that they are really best rid of the rough turmoil of the House of Commons." That is very complimentary to the gentlemen referred to—more so, perhaps than to Parliament. But is there not another aspect of the matter. After all, the most important thing about a constituency is not its Member. Is it not rather more important to ask what the constituency itself thinks? I have a constituency of 12,000 gathered from all parts of Scotland, from the crofts, from the glens, from the mountains, from the small towns of Scotland. These men came up and made their way through the Universities of Scotland. These are men doing good work in every corner of the Empire. Is not that a constituency, I do not say of which its Member might be proud, but of which the House of Commons might be proud? These men have often told me, and it is upon that ground that I personally—though I object to it in principle—have no objection whatever to the abolition of plural voting so far as my own Constituents are concerned—I have asked my Constituents over and over again how they would select, and by a vast majority they have told me that had they to choose they would keep their university vote. What is their position?
There is no town of a population of anything like 5,000 all through Eng- 1419 land or Scotland where I have not a handful of constituents. I have never attended any gathering in these towns where men have not come up to me at the end of the meeting and told me they are constituents of mine. These men at the same time tell me it is very much more important for them to be represented, in their educational interests, in the interests of public health, in their professional interests, in their interests as clergymen of every sect in England, through a university Member and that they should be left free to separate themselves from local politics. For the teacher, for the clergyman, for the doctor in these various towns, it is often an essential point that he should be able to exercise his full political influence, not through the local politics of the small district to which he belongs, but through his university vote. Are you so afraid of these university constituents? Do you think that nine men are to exercise such a predominant influence that they will crush hon. Members below the Gangway opposite? That they will vote down all the serried phalanxes that meet them upon the other side? Do you not think that it is not altogether amiss that you should have constituencies of this kind, who by their own exertions have worked themselves up to their present position and are doing work for us through every corner of the Empire? In every election that has taken place I have had several hundreds of votes from Colonials—because I have some 3,000 constituents living in the Colonies—who have been at home on leave during election time. Is that not an element of interest to this House? They may have chosen their representative wrongly, but are they a wrong, a hurtful and mischievous element in the country? And what are you changing them for? Two million or three million of the proletariat of twenty-one years of age hanging about the streets. Is that what you wish and what right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish? I do not know what may come of this Bill. But I do know that the record of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be a dark one. I do not know which will be the blackest page in the history that makes up that record, that which will certainly tell of the base sordidness of the objects they have at heart, or that which may have to tell of the disasters to the Empire that will surely come if they chance to be successful in achieving these objects.
§ Colonel GREIG
People sometimes wonder why Scotland is so Radical. I think if any doubt or misunderstanding existed in the minds of those who wonder at that fact, the speech to which we have just listened, would dispel it very quickly. There is no one in this House for whom I have a greater respect than I have for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen University, who has just sat down. But are we to believe that a Member for a university in Scotland so little understands his own fellow countrymen that he can regard the addition of a number of unenfranchised people in Scotland at the present time as being anything more than the addition of an ill-educated proletariat? What has become of the years that he has been at the head of the Scottish Education Department? His countrymen are left in such a state that he would not enfranchise them even to the extent of a few hundreds. Who are the hon. Gentleman's constituents? He tells us they are from the Highlands, from the Lowlands, from the great cities in Scotland; but he does not tell us that the whole 12.000 of those whom he represents are all of his way of thinking. Are these the men who go through Scotland teaching? Teaching what? Their teaching has lead to this—that at least Scotland is alive to the value of education and holds its own opinion firmly and strongly, and returns an increasing number of Radicals to this House.
It is said that this is not a popular measure, in the sense that it had not been sanctioned by popular views and popular desires. I am very much mistaken if you will not find in the election addresses of every Member from Scotland, certainly in the election addresses of 1910, a statement that they were in favour of the franchise embodied in this Bill. For myself, I can say it was in my address. And if you say we said nothing about it in the 1911 addresses—this argument has been used upon other occasions—directed to the Parliament Bill, not only in Scotland, but in all parts of Great Britain, I answer that the election addresses issued in 1911 contained the statement, "You may look at my 1910 address for my views on other subjects." Let me take the point of redistribution. How far the views of the hon. Member for the Glasgow and Aberdeen University will commend themselves to the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench against the Bill this afternoon, I leave him to settle, because if I followed 1421 the Debate correctly the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench opposite was perfectly in favour of the simplification and extension of the franchise, and an hon. Member who spoke a few minutes ago was also in favour of the matter, subject to one condition. What was the condition? Simply that redistribution should accompany the extension of the franchise; and he especially indicated Ireland as the place where he would wish to see redistribution effected. If hon. Gentlemen opposite will only assist us in passing the Home Rule Bill the idea of redistribution will be carried into effect, because under that Bill the Members from Ireland to this House will be reduced to forty-two. That is a reduction of something like seventy from the present number, so that is the redistribution that will be carried out there. If I understood what was said by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill, this measure cannot become effective on the registers until 1914, so that without resorting to the Parliament Bill you can still within that one year from 1914 to the end of 1915, when this Parliament must come to an end, pass a Redistribution Bill, when we know how many electors will be brought on to the register. I only wish to say that if the hon. Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities will continue to preach the antiquated Toryism we have heard from him to-night in Scotland we shall be perfectly certain that in the next Parliament our seats will be perfectly safe.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I desire to explain the reason why, if the hon. Member for Coventry presses his proposal to a Division, I shall support him in the Division Lobby. The hon. Member who has just sat down has had the courage to say to us, "You Unionists are in favour of redistribution. Pass Home Rule, and then you will get redistribution." Does the hon. Member opposite really think that that is a serious contribution to this Debate? He knows quite well it has nothing to do with this question, because the Home Rule Bill is a proposal for disintegrating the Empire. If the Home Rule Bill incidentally reduces Irish representation, that is a matter we have to disregard altogether in regard to this Bill. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) said this was a great measure for democratising the House of Commons, and the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) told us the reason he was supporting this Bill was that it was going to 1422 remove a great injustice, and he said it was of equal importance to Welsh Disestablishment and the Home Rule Bill. Of course the real reason this Bill has been introduced is to try and secure the Liberal party possession of power. Everybody knows that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Everybody knows that, and we shall take care the country knows it. If hon. Members opposite doubt my assertion look what the Bill does? It makes a change in the registration law. But why is that made? I think very likely the calculations are wrong, but it is well known that hon. Members opposite think that by a change in the registration law they would stand to gain. Does anybody deny that on the other side of the House? Nobody denies it.
Then there is the abolition of plural voting. The right hon. Gentleman said quite frankly that he regarded that as a four to one gain for the Liberal party. Then there is the abolition of university seats. It is a curious coincidence that every one of those seats is occupied by a Conservative, and every change made by this Bill is one which will assist the Liberal party, and is intended to assist the Liberal party. Now look at the changes which are not done because, as the right hon. Gentleman says, "We do not wish to overload our Bill." What are they? There is the absentee voter. He is left disenfranchised because the right hon. Gentleman suspects they would mainly vote in the Conservative interest. Then there is proportional representation, and there is no change in that direction because right hon. Gentlemen opposite are well aware that they are now in possession of a majority grossly in excess of the votes given for them by the electors at the last election. And finally, and most striking of all, there is to be no redistribution. One hon. Member said you could not deal with the franchise and redistribution separately, because they were so intimately connected. The two subjects are intimately connected. You admit that you have got the grossest disproportion. You have seats with 300,000 population and seats with 16,000 population. That will be greatly increased by your Bill. Of course, every addition you make to the franchise increases these disproportions. That shows how essential it is, and how it almost always has been regarded as essential, that redistribution should go with any increase in the franchise. The most striking instance of all is the argument the right hon. 1423 Gentleman put forward in favour of his proposal to abolish university representation. He said it must be abolished because the university Members only represent an average of 5,000, whereas the ordinary Member of Parliament represents an average of 15,000. In that solitary case, and only in that case, the right hon. Gentleman thinks there ought to be a measure of redistribution, and the form of redistribution he adopts is to take away nine Conservative seats. I do not think any hon. Member, after the very brief description of what the Bill does and does not do, will doubt this is a purely party measure designed for party advantage of the party opposite.
All these matters, which I regard as of the greatest possible importance, and as making the Bill an extremely bad Bill, I do not think are comparable to the gross injustice of passing any additional franchise Bill without enfranchising the women of this country. That appears to me to be an absolutely intolerable proposal. I am amazed at the conduct of hon. Members opposite, more even than of hon. Members on my own side of the House. Hon. Members who sit on this side of the House fairly say they are Conservatives, and they therefore have a natural reluctance to change; but hon. Members opposite are pledged by an enormous majority to give the women the vote. Yet they will support this Government in introducing such a proposal as this without enfranchising women. They will go gaily into the Lobby, and will not care about their pledges as long as they keep this Government in office and secure an additional advantage at the polling booth for the Liberal party. I have always said the case for the enfranchisement of women was extremely strong, and I am not going to argue it to-night, but I would remind the House how important it is in the interests of justice and of women they should be given the vote. I take the punishment of law breakers when they are men and when they are women. When women break windows, very mistakenly and wrongly, as I have always thought, they are sentenced some to nine months, some to six months, some to four months, and only the very smallest offenders those who are young and perhaps misled by older persons, to two months. Then we have Tom Mann. He incites the troops not to obey their officer. He is guilty of a very serious offence, and he is sentenced by a judge we all respect to six months' imprisonment. 1424 What happens? An appeal is made. He is a man, and the Home Secretary instantly reduces his sentence to one month. I say that single instance is enough to show the gross injustice of the present electoral conditions. I shall therefore support the hon. Member for Coventry with my whole heart. If there were no other defect in the Bill at all, I should still vote with him in the Division, but I confess that in my view this Bill is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is an impudent piece of gerrymandering. It throws a very lurid light on the use which we said the party opposite would make of the Parliament Act, and which we see they are now making. We always said they would use their power under the Act to secure themselves in a. position of political advantage. That is exactly what they are doing. They have destroyed the Constitution and maimed the Second Chamber in order to give themselves a few additional votes at the poll. That is their first effort at constructive legislation after the passing of the Parliament Act, and one which their supporter the hon. Member for Middleton says they must press through at all hazards, even if they have to drop the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
The Noble Lord began his speech by saying that the Bill before the House was conceived in the interests of the Liberal party—that it was brought in with a desire that our interests should be served. I do not think that that is an altogether undesirable object. I frankly say we have been suffering from inequalities so long that it is high time somebody came to our rescue and tried to put us on a level with the Tories. The Noble Lord finds this sinister intent in the provisions for the abolition of plural voting and university seats and in those for registration. If it is designed for party advantage I am in favour of it, because we want to redress the inequalities under which we have so long suffered. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division made a very effective point when he told us the Bill was too big to go through this Session, that we had undertaken too much. But the Noble Lord asks us to do much more. He complains because the Bill does not contain vast proposals for redistribution—a very much bigger job than the one now on the Table. So opponents of the measure think the Bill is both too big and too little. Let me say, with regard to dis- 1425 tribution, there is not a man on this side of the House who is not as anxious for it as anyone; perhaps we are far more anxious for it than hon. Members opposite. May I suggest to the Noble Lord if he would stop the kind of tactics used in this House last Friday—I believe he was one of those responsible—the Noble Lord shakes his head, so I at once exonerate him.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not think the hon. Member could have been present last Friday, or he would have known that the principal offender was the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth).
§ Sir W. BYLES
If the Noble Lord would use his influence with his Friends to stop such tactics, which in my judgment were a discredit not so much to the Tory party as to the House of Commons, and which really bring us into discredit in the constituencies, there will be ample time for this Bill and a Redistribution Bill to pass. The only other point the Noble Lord made was that the enfranchisement of women is not included in the Bill. I imagine that was the main motive which led to the Noble Lord's intervention in the Debate. He knows that I am as strongly in favour of the enfranchisement of women as he is, and, therefore, will believe me when I say it was entirely unreasonable to expect the present Government should have added that question to this Bill. As a sincere and consistent friend, for a long time, of the cause of the enfranchisement of women, I think the present Government, considering how it is constituted, and what are the opinions of responsible people in it, from the Prime Minister downwards, have taken a course which is quite as far as could be expected in the direction the Noble Lord desires. The method proposed by the Prime Minister, namely, that the matter should be left to a free Amendment in the House of Commons, and that, if the Amendment is carried the Government will espouse it as the decision of the House of Commons, is quite as much as he or I or any of the women can expect. That he has got. That is all I have to say with reference to the speech of the Noble Lord. I am, and have been, as I hope everybody here knows, a true friend of democracy, and a true believer in it, and one who desires to see the whole people of this country, of whatever class, enfranchised. They all help us to produce the best wisdom of which the nation is capable, therefore I welcome this Bill, or any Bill, which brings large numbers to our assistance.
§ Colonel YATE
The President of the Board of Education stated that under the present system farmers' sons could be made lodgers, whereas labourers' sons were unable to get lodgers' votes. I represent an agricultural constituency containing 120 villages. For the last three or four years I have made a point of attending the Registration Courts and seeing how the business was carried on there. I can honestly say that my experience is that the farmers do not get their sons on the register, and that there are many of these sons well-conducted men, and men of mature age, well qualified to have a vote, who cannot get it, whereas in other parts of the country I have seen the sons of industrial labourers and others who, perhaps, have not attended school after the age of thirteen, who are absolutely uneducated, and who at the age of twenty-one are totally unfitted to vote, often getting the vote. I think the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was not accurate in that respect. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik) in saying what an extraordinary irony of fate it is that we should have our Minister of Education trying to do his best to stop the small advantages given to education under the present system by disfranchising the universities and plural voters. Whatever the plural voter may be, we know that he was a man of good education, cleverness, and success in life, and that the votes given by him went some little way to restore the balance in favour of education in this country. Our Minister of Education is destroying the last advantage-possessed by education in this country. I should like to contrast his attitude with the attitude of Ministers of Education in foreign countries. If we take Belgium, for instance, we see there every citizen over twenty-five years of age qualified to vote. I hope later on to go into the question whether a man at the age of twenty-one or twenty-five should receive the vote. Many boys who leave school at thirteen are unqualified to vote at the age of twenty-one. In Belgium we see that two supplementary votes are given to citizens over twenty-five who have received the diploma of higher education, or a certificate of higher secondary education, while our Minister of Education gives our educated citizens no premium whatever, and destroys what little they have. Then, again, in Belgium two supplementary votes are given to 1427 those who are engaged in private professional practice, while our professional men are to be swamped by an electorate to be increased by three millions or more, the greater part of whom will probably be men of no education whatever. Then in Belgium every citizen over twenty-five years of age with a family is given a supplementary vote. No end of questions are now being raised about our decreasing birth rate, and there are proposals to tax bachelors, but we do not think of giving the man who brings up a family some encouragement in the shape of an extra vote. In Belgium a man who has an income of £4 a year from State funds or the Savings bank is given an extra supplementary vote. Why should we not encourage thrift in this country by giving men who have £4 a year from money in the savings bank an extra vote? These are all opportunities we are losing in this Bill, and I trust these questions will be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. PETO
I listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Byles) with amazement. He said the Noble Lord's (Lord Robert Cecil) complaint was that the Bill included too much. The point of the Noble Lord's speech, however, was not that the Bill included too much, but that every point it includes is a party point in favour of the Government. I also want to know why it does not include something which it does not include, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he arrived at that calculation that if an Amendment to include women were introduced it would mean an addition of 10,500,000 voters? Yet I find that although the long title of the Bill is "A Bill to amend the Law in respect to the Parliamentary and Local Government Franchise," as far as I can understand it, having heard every speech on the other side and the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, there is really no proposal whatever to extend the franchise in the ordinary sense and meaning of those "words, lowering the franchise and making it possible for people with a smaller or lower qualification than they possess to-day to vote, but only to accelerate the registration and enable a larger proportion of those who are now qualified to vote to register their vote. If that is so I want to know why it is that the right hon. Gentleman assumes that if an Amendment in favour of women's suffrage is introduced 1428 it will necessarily allow two people, man and wife, to vote for the same qualification? I want to know that before I know whether to vote for or against the Bill. I am strongly in favour of the power of voting being given to women who are payers of rates and taxes, who are not married women, and are therefore not in any way represented through their husbands, but I am not in favour of placing 10,500,000 female voters on the registers of this country, when probably in the vast majority of cases that would mean two votes for one qualification.
The right hon. Gentleman said his purpose in introducing the Bill was in the interest of representative Government. If that is so, why is it that while he is so anxious to make it easier for people who have the qualification to get on to the register, he has in this Bill taken absolutely no steps to make it easier for people who are on the register to have the opportunity of recording their votes? The class of voters to whom I specially refer are sailors, soldiers, fishermen, commercial travellers, and all people who, for whatever reason, are very unlikely to be present on the actual voting day when their votes have to be registered. The vast majority are ratepayers and taxpayers, and the vast majority are on the register, but probably not 1 per cent. of them are ever allowed to vote at all. If you have only got very little time, if you can only manage to squeeze in a little Bill which will probably give fifty seats to one side and knock nine seats off the opponents on the other, why is it that you cannot possibly find time to give people already on the register the opportunity of recording their votes? I ask the House to consider who these people are. Take the merchant service. Probably not one in 100 of the certificated masters and officers ever get the chance of recording their votes. Take the fishing fleets. If herrings are in the bay, do you think that the fishermen are going to stop ashore to register their votes? Herrings only come on the coast once a year, and the fishermen are not going to miss the chance of catching them because there is a Parliamentary election going on. Hon. Members opposite say the Bill is being brought forward in the interest of the enfranchisement of the people, and yet they do not take the slightest trouble to enable these people to vote the day before. Surely it is admitted that the trade of Great Britain depends upon its oversea trade. In spite of every- 1429 thing, we have still over 50 per cent. of the merchant service of the world. It is perfectly true that the merchant service is manned by over 30 per cent. of foreigners, but it is also true, so far, at any rate, as the certificated masters and officers are concerned, that the vast majority of them are British subjects, and though the vast majority are ratepayers and taxpayers of this country, yet because they are engaged in a profession which is absolutely essential to every trade in this country, and are detached from the local considerations which very often blind the electorate at the moment of an election, we have the Government not taking the slightest step to enable even a percentage of these people to register their votes. Even with the difficulties that admittedly exist for enabling an absent voter to register his vote, even if you assume as an absolute postulate of the admission of an absent voter that he must be in a position to vote for the actual candidate who is nominated and there must be no proxy voting whatever, even with those two hard conditions, you could easily enfranchise, by the addition of one Clause, at least 50 per cent. of these people; and because you cannot do the whole thing is no reason why you should not attempt to make a beginning. You are attempting to pass ten Clauses of the most controversial nature, which we know from every speech made to-night will meet with opposition, because the women are not included, because too many women are included, because of this and that and every conceivable reason every Clause of your Bill will be debated and disputed, yet you could have added one Clause which would not have found an opponent on either side of the House if you had introduced a Clause which would enfranchise by simple means vast numbers of people who are just as well able as any constituent of any hon. Member in this House to exercise their vote properly.
If there is to be no serious attempt to enable these people who are now qualified to vote, on that account alone quite apart from the strong arguments which have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walton, and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil), with every one of whose arguments I agree, not only because I know that this is an opportunist proposal, simply to get through a Bill for party purposes, to split the question of redistribution and the question of registration or extension of the franchise—because it comes to the 1430 same thing in the end—into two questions, though they are absolutely bound together, and because I see no attempt to deal with one of the greatest injustices in our electoral matters to-day, no attempt, to enfranchise one of the greatest professions on which all the trades of the country depend, on that account alone I will vote against the introduction of this measure. The right hon. Gentleman said that you could not possibly deal with these two questions in one Bill. I think that that was the most insincere part of what I regard as a very insincere speech from start to finish. He said that they could not do it, because they must have experience of this great extension of the franchise, so that he and his Government would know who were qualified to vote in every constituency before redistributing the seats. What did he do? Almost without taking breath, he proceeded in the same sentence, in which he was dealing with the question of Kilkenny and Durham City, to say there was 16,000 electors in Durham City. He was immediately corrected by an hon. Member, and the right hon. Gentleman said he was wrong and meant 16,000 of population. The right hon. Gentleman had to admit that he could base his arguments on population, having got the census, and he could at least have redistributed these two seats of Durham City and Kilkenny, without any extension of the facilities of registration at all. He did not want to know how many voters there were for the hon. Member for Durham; not at all; he only brought forward the number of the population of the city of Durham, and out of his own mouth I can condemn him absolutely, for he is proceeding piecemeal with this question, and he purports to seriously put forward the argument that he needs to know the precise number of electors, while the whole of his contention was based on population. The House will see that I do not use too strong words when I stigmatise at least that part of his speech as most insincere.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I propose to explain why, if there is a Division I shall vote against the introduction of this Bill. I understand that my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) is going to oppose the Motion on the ground that he thinks the franchise ought to be extended to women, and the Bill does not do so. If my Noble Friend goes to a Division I shall support him, but not because I think women ought to be included. I agree with the Prime Minister, if he will allow me to 1431 do so, that nothing could be worse for the future of this country than giving the vote to women. But it must be remembered that there has been no Amendment introduced, and therefore the question which will be put is that leave shall be given to bring in the Bill. From what I have heard of the Bill it is one of the worst Bills that it has ever been my misfortune to hear introduced into the House of Commons. I believe that the result of the Bill if carried would be extremely bad, not only for everyone who sits in this House, but for the country at large. I believe that the passing of the measure would overturn the ancient principle of the party opposite, that taxation and representation go together. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have dismissed their old principles, and have brought forward this Bill with the one object of securing their return at the next General Election. Hon. Members opposite taunt us with opposing this Bill because we see that it will lose us votes. I say we are supporting the principle which has been at the foundation of the representation of this country for centuries. Hon. Members opposite used to hold that principle, but they have thrown it to the winds for party purposes. It is the party to which I have the honour to belong who are endeavouring to support the traditions of both parties in the country, and to see that those men who have been successful in this life, and who have the greater stake in the country, should have proper voting power.
§ Hon. Members below the Gangway did not refuse the £400 per year. [Mr. MACVEAGH: "Neither did you."] When they got a stake in the country from the exertions of other people. When it is a question of rewarding people who by their own exertions succeeded in raising themselves, instead of rewarding people who have not got that sense of industry, hon. Members say we do not appreciate that: we will give the money to every ne'er do well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, certainly, the time has come when we have got to speak out. The time has come when people will speak out, and I think hon. Members will, at any rate, agree when I say they will not suppose I shall be the person who will keep silent when I feel deeply on a question. The time is approaching when a Division must be taken if there is a Division, and therefore I will not continue the discussion. I hope, on the Second Reading of the Bill, to put before the House certain principles which have been maintained for centuries by Englishmen, though they may not be agreeable to hon. Members below the Gangway, whose only chance of election is from the votes of the ignorant.
§ Question put, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law with respect to the Parliamentary and Local Government Franchises and the Registration of Parliamentary and Local Government Electors, and to provide for the abolition of University Constituencies."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 274; Noes, 50.1433
|Division No. 97.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Burke, E. Haviland-||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Devlin, Joseph|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Dickinson, W. H.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Dillon, John|
|Alden, Percy||Byles, Sir William Pollard||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Cameron, Robert||Doris, William|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)||Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Duffy, William J.|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Cawley, H. T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley)|
|Atherley-Jones, Llewellyn A.||Chancellor, Henry George||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Elibank, Rt. Hon. Master of|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Clancy, John Joseph||Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick, B.)||Clough, William||Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)|
|Barton, William||Collins, G. P. (Greenock)||Essex, Richard Walter|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Falconer, James|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Farrell, James Patrick|
|Benn, W. W. (Tower Hamlets, S. Geo.)||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles|
|Bentham, G. J.||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Cowan, W. H.||Ffrench, Peter|
|Black, Arthur W.||Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Field, William|
|Boland, John Pius||Crawshay-Williams, Eliot||Fitzgibbon, John|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Crooks, William||Flavin, Michael Joseph|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Crumley, Patrick||France, G. A.|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Cullinan, John||Furness, Stephen|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy)||Gill, Alfred Henry|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Gladstone, W. G. C.|
|Brunner, J. F. L.||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Glanville, Harold James|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Dawes, J. A.||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford|
|Buckmaster, Stanley O.||De Forest, Baron||Goldstone, Frank|
|Greig, Colonel J. W.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Reddy, Michael|
|Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||M'Callum, John M.||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||M'Curdy, C. A.||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Guest, Hon. Major C. H. C. (Pembroke)||M'Kean, John||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.)||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Hackctt, J.||M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S. (Lincs., Spalding)||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Manfield, Harry||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Martin, Joseph||Rowlands, James|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Masterman, C. F. G.||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Harwood, George||Meagher, Michael||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's County)||Schwann, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E.|
|Hayward, Evan||Menzies, Sir Walter||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Hazleton, Richard (Galway, N.)||Millar, James Duncan||Sheehy, David|
|Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Molloy, Michael||Shortt, Edward|
|Hemmerde, Edward George||Molteno, Percy Alport||Simon, Sir John Allsebrook|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Mond, Sir Alfred M.||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Henry, Sir Charles||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon., South)||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim)|
|Higham, John Sharp||Mooney, John J.||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Hinds, John||Morgan, George Hay||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Morrell, Philip||Summers, James Woolley|
|Hodge, John||Morison, Hector||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Hogge, James Myles||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Holmes, Daniel Turner||Muldoon, John||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Munro, Robert||Tennant, Harold John|
|Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)||Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C.||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.||Thomas, James Henry (Derby)|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus||Neilson, Francis||Toulmin, Sir George|
|John, Edward Thomas||Nolan, Joseph||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Norman, Sir Henry||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Nuttall, Harry||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Wardle, G. J.|
|Jones, William S. Glyn-(Stepney)||O'Doherty, Philip||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Jowett, Frederick William||O'Donnell, Thomas||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Dowd, John||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Keating, Matthew||O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.)||Webb, H.|
|Kelly, Edward||O'Malley, William||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||White, J. Dundas (Glas., Tradeston)|
|King, J.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||O'Sullivan, Timothy||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Leach, Charles||Phillips, Col. Ivor (Southampton)||Williamson, Sir A.|
|Levy, Sir Maurce||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Lundon, Thomas||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Winfrey, Richard|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Lynch, A. A.||Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)||Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)|
|Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk, Burghs)||Pringle, Wm. M. R.||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Maclean, Donald||Radford, G. H.|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|MacNeill, John G. S. (Donegal, South)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.|
|Macpherson, James Ian|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Goldsmith, Frank||Newton, Harry Kottingham|
|Aitken, Sir William Max||Grant, J. A.||Nicholson, William G. G. (Petersfield)|
|Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R.||Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S. E.)||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Quilter, Sir William Eley C.|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Hills, John Waller||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Boyton, James||Hill-Wood, Samuel||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Hoare, S. J. G.||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Horner, Andrew Long||Valentia, Viscount|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Keswick, Henry||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Larmor, Sir J.||White, Major G. D. (Lancs., South port)|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian||Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'mts., Mile End)||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Ripon)|
|Dairymple, Viscount||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)||Yate, Col. C. E.|
|Faber, George D. (Clapham)||M'Calmont, Colonel James|
|Fell, Arthur||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)||Magnus, Sir Philip||D. Mason and Viscount Wolmer.|
|Goldman, Charles Sydney||Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)|
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. J. A. Pease, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Harcourt, Mr. Burns, Mr. Birrell, Mr. McKinnon Wood, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, and Mr. Montagu. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, the 24th instant, and to be printed. [Bill 243.]