§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. STAVELEY-HILL
I desire to ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker, upon the point as to whether the contents of this Bill do not go beyond the Title of the Bill? You will remember that on 8th April leave was given to introduce the Bill in these words: "to impose a penalty on an elector who votes in more than one constituency at a General Parliamentary Election." The title of the Bill repeats those words, but when one comes to look at the Bill itself, at Clause 1, Sub-Clause (1), one finds that it imposes a penalty upon a person who votes or asks for a Parliamentary paper for that purpose in more than one constituency at a General Parliamentary Election. I need not argue that the words "person" and "elector" are in a sense very widely different. "Person" must have a much wider application; for that reason alone I submit that the Bill goes beyond the scope of the measure for which leave was given, but if one refers to the Plural Voting Bill, introduced into this House in 1906 by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Harcourt), one finds that in that Bill as amended the first sentence runs, "Persons registered as Parliamentary electors," and so on. The qualifying words are "registered as Parliamentary Electors." If these words were in this Bill after the word "person," of course I should not wish to ask your ruling upon this matter, but, as the Bill is, I submit that the absence of those qualifying words gives 1221 the contents a much wider applicaton than was intended when leave was given to introduce the Bill. There is only this other point, that "a person," whether an elector or not, can vote or can ask for a ballot paper for the purpose of voting, but of course he is liable, if not an elector, to penalties for personation, but at the same "a person" can do that, and it is introducing to my mind words altogether outside the scope of the Bill and beyond its Title.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member suggests that the words "a person" are not the same as "an elector." On that ground, he asks me to rule that the Bill cannot proceed any further. But it appears to me that even if he is right in supposing that the intention of the promoters of this Bill in introducing the word "person" was to extend it, it would still be open in Committee to insert the words "qualified to vote as an elector" or to omit the word "person" and insert "elector," and therefore it would be perfectly easy, by making a small correction, to bring it into accord with the measure for the introduction of which leave was given. I do not know what the views of the promoters are with regard to this, but I certainly do not understand that this Bill proposes to deal with personation at all. I do not know how that may be. It occurs to me that probably the words "a person" were really intended by the draftsman to mean "a person who thinks that he is qualified to vote, and therefore asks for a paper in order to vote." Of course if this Bill was intended to deal with personation, then I think that it would be creating a fresh offence, and I think that it would be going beyond the Title. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has anything to say upon that which will clear the matter up.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)
This Bill in no way deals with personation, and the offence for which the penalty is proposed is a corrupt practice other than personation.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I submit that the mere ipse dixit of what a Minister think a Bill means or does not mean has nothing to do with the matter? You have to take the Bill on the face of it, and it is for you to decide what the Bill, as introduced, means.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have to consider what the intention of the promoters of the Bill is. 1222 My supposition was that it was not intended by these words to refer to personation at all. I am confirmed in that by what has fallen from the President of the Board of Education, and, if that is so, then it is open to the Committee, as I have said, to amend those words, and to bring them into accord with the leave which was given. At all events, I should be prepared to say that the difference is so small between the two points that it would not justify me in holding that the whole Bill should not proceed on that ground.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I desire to raise another point of Order with regard to this Bill. The Title of this Bill is "to impose a penalty on an elector who votes in more than one constituency at a General Parliamentary Election." I venture to submit that Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 goes beyond the Title, because Sub-section (2) says that if any person acts in contravention of Sub-section (1)—that is to say, votes or asks for a ballot paper—he shall be guilty of a corrupt practice, and I venture to submit that that is going beyond imposing a penalty upon a person who does vote at more than one election, because the effect of that might be to void the election, and if it was done by one who was an agent of the candidate it might not only void the election, but prevent the candidate from sitting in Parliament for the next seven years. It would impose a penalty not merely upon the elector, but also upon the candidate. On these grounds I beg to submit that Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 goes beyond the Title of the Bill, and that therefore the Bill ought not to be proceeded with.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member argues that if the agent of the candidate is found guilty of a corrupt practice, the constituency or the candidate may be punished as well as the "elector." That is possibly a remote contingency, but the initial penalty is imposed on the person. The penalty would be imposed upon him for his wrongdoing. It may be that there is some further result of his wrongdoing. That generally happens. If a person does wrong the punishment is not confined to him, but falls upon others. The suggestion of the hon. Member is a somewhat remote one, because he has to assume that the judges would necessarily report that this was a corrupt practice of such a character as to invalidate the election, and we should have to assume that that would necessarily happen. That would depend 1223 upon the decision of the two judges who tried the petition. In any event, that also would be open to correction by means of a proviso to the effect that if this corrupt practice is proved against an agent of the candidate it does not necessarily invalidate the election.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
The point I wish to submit is that it goes beyond the title of the Bill, which is merely to impose a penalty on an elector. You admit that it might impose a penalty on the constituency and on the candidate; you admit that that is a possible consequence. If that is so, I venture to submit that it is outside the Title of the Bill, and that therefore the Bill ought not to be proceeded with.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
You cannot put the whole Bill into the Title. The Title, after all, is only a rough summary, though as accurate a summary as possible, of the contents of the Bill, and in order to bring the Title into accord with what the hon. Gentleman suggests, it would have to be "a Bill to impose a penalty on an elector, provided that this penalty shall not be imposed on a candidate or his agent in such a way as to invalidate the election in the case of an elector who votes in more than one constituency." Really, if you ask for that extreme amount of accuracy in the Title, it reduces the Title of a Bill to an absurdity. The Title is only a general statement, roughly accurate as far as it goes, of what the contents of the Bill are.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words, "this House is not prepared to accept a Bill which professes to remove one only of the anomalies affecting electoral law."
Whatever merits or demerits the Bill possesses, it is at least an extremely short one. The House was good enough recently to listen to me when I made some general observations upon the Bill on the occasion of its introduction under the Ten Minutes' Rule, and I do not propose to make any considerable demand upon the patience of this House in the observations with which I shall ask leave to submit what I attempted to say on that occasion. The Amendment which I propose commits us to the proposition that, accepting the view put forward by the promoters of this Bill that the system of plural voting of which they complain is an anomaly, there are 1224 other and graver anomalies which require to be treated at least as seriously as the so-called anomaly with which the present proposals are concerned. I may summarise the position in this way. The whole subject of our electoral and registration law is tangled and complicated, and is by universal admission in need of of early legislative correction. I do not think that that statement will be controverted by any of the different parties in this House, and no one made that more clear than the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Education, in the speech to which I have already directed the attention of the House. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out then, very clearly—I think his illustrations were as good ones as could have been selected—that, in the first place, the intricacy of our franchise laws, taking them as a whole, is without parallel in the history of the civilised world. He pointed out an illustration of this, what was said by the late Sir Charles Dilke, a most accomplished master of this recondite subject, in our discussions in 1906, that there were eleven different and separate Parliamentary franchises with at least nineteen variations of them, every one of which would require individual attention if the complete treatment of the subject were attempted, and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that in these days of great and growing labour unrest there ought to be no doubt as to the truly representative character of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman gave a further illustration. He pointed out that a person may be resident in the same house, in the same constituency, for two and a half years without qualifying for a vote.
But no one will dispute that the statement made was a perfectly accurate one. The right hon. Gentleman disclosed a state of things which is scandalous, which ought to be altered without any avoidable delay, and which certainly contains a degree of anomaly which so far is not exceeded by any other anomaly in the present system. The right hon. Gentleman informed us a year ago that the programme of the Government was a very comprehensive one, and that the Bill which he then recommended to the House was to be followed thereafter by Redistribution. The programme was perfectly clear. The Bill produced last year purported to correct a great many remediable anomalies, and it was to be followed at some period, not clearly specified by the 1225 right hon. Gentleman, by Redistribution proposals. The right hon. Gentleman was extremely explicit. He said:—We think that, before Redistribution, it is necessary to pass a Bill reforming our franchise and reforming our registration laws. We think it essential that this Bill should pass first.In other words, the programme a year ago was that there was to be Redistribution, but that the Redistribution was to be preceded by a measure reforming our franchise and reforming our registration laws. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who I understand will follow in this Debate, whether he still adheres to that statement, made so clearly—whether he still adheres to the promise that before Redistribution it is essential that a measure reforming our registration laws should be carried into law? A year ago we were told it was essential. A change of programme has taken place to-day, and we are now informed that the only Bill which is to be proceeded with is a Plural Voting Bill, and that that Bill, in its turn, is to be followed by a Registration Bill, which, according to the statement of a year ago, was a necessary condition precedent. I do not know what the whole story is of the abandonment of the Bill introduced a year ago, but I strongly suspect that its abandonment was not altogether unconnected with the difficulty in which the Government found themselves in relation to their pledges to the women suffragists. Their position a year ago was a very curious one. The Prime Minister and the Government had given a pledge that if the comprehensive Bill of a year ago reached Third Reading in this House, and, at the period of its Third Reading, an Amendment had been adopted in it in the House of Commons which gave women votes, the Government would make themselves responsible for the measure, and carry it as a Government proposal containing the women's Amendment to the House of Lords, and to be supported in its later stages by the whole weight of the Government.
I have always taken the view that this was a pledge which never ought to have been made, and which never could have been carried out if such an Amendment had been put into the Bill. But it produced this consequence, that there were many Members of the House who were not prepared to support a Bill which made changes so comprehensive in our electoral system, and which purported to remedy so many anomalies, if, when it left this House on its Third Reading stage, it did not con- 1226 tain the proposal to enfranchise women. Certain Members of the Labour party intimated in the clearest manner possible on the Third Reading of the Bill they would vote against it if it did not contain that proposal. I strongly suspect that one of the reasons which led to the substitution of the present Bill for the comprehensive Bill of last year is the desire of the Government to escape from the dilemma in which in my view they so unnecessarily involved themselves a year ago. The point I desire to make is a very clear one. From the point of view of some of the supporters of the Government I cannot conceive a greater degree of provocation than is given by, first of all, offering to bring in a Bill with this Amendment added to it, and then withdrawing that Bill for reasons wholly irrelevant to the pledge they had given, and now substituting a Bill which deals with only one anomaly in the whole system. I submit that no greater provocation could be conceived than that of the Government substituting this Bill for their wider proposal. I need hardly point out that there are anomalies just as grievous as the one proposed to be dealt with, and upon which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt a year ago. First of all there is a very real hardship that soldiers and sailors undergo. It is really hardly an exaggeration to say that, if you take soldiers and sailors, and sailors of the Navy, as well as those engaged in fishing and coasting industries, there are large numbers of them to-day practically disfranchised. In Liverpool we are especially familiar with this matter. In that city there is a large seafaring population, and I say that the Bill at any rate ought to have dealt with this, which is one of the most crying anomalies of our existing system.
There are others with which the House is very familiar, and which have frequently been made the subject of complaint here. There is one which is not the subject of any party controversy, so far as I am aware—I refer to the case of the growing amount of the returning officer's charges. I have not heard anyone in the House who does not take the view that these returning officers' charges ought to be paid by the State as part of the contribution to the election. This is really a serious anomaly, which is felt by everyone, and very strongly indeed by poorer Members of the House, and any Bill which is introduced to deal with existing anomalies undoubtedly ought to have dealt with this 1227 one. The most obvious anomaly which requires to be dealt with is the question of Redistribution, which is not dealt with in this Bill. On that we have the statement of the Government that they propose in some Session not specified to deal with the question of Redistribution. The Government are allowing the Sessions to go by one by one in which their pledges, repeatedly made, might be carried out; but they are postponing the fulfilment of every one of those solemn and important commitments until the period of time in which universal experience shows that the strength of the Government wanes, and when it will be impossible to carry out such pledges. That applies not merely to the question of Redistribution, but to every other question which is within the recollection of the House. From the statement of the intention of the Government in introducing this Bill, we now know that they attach more importance to this proposal, and they leave Redistribution to a remote and uncertain future, while making sure of this Bill in the immediate present. The question of Redistribution was dealt with in terms—frequently quoted—used by the late Mr. Bright. I recommend what he said to the Members of the party of which he was such a distinguished ornament. Mr. Bright said in January of 1859:—Repudiate, without mercy, any Bill that any Government whatever may introduce, whatever its seeming concessions may be, if it does not redistribute the seats that are obtained from the extinction of small boroughs amongst the large towns.I do not say that this was an unfair way of putting it, but I submit that the only justification for giving priority to the Plural Voting Bill over all others would be that it could be truthfully said that plural voting was a greater anomaly than any other, judged not by any party standard, but judged by the other anomalies of which complaint is made. The right hon. Gentleman opposite on the First Reading of the Bill said the object was to make the House of Commons truly representative of the country. I accept that, because no one can dispute that that is the real object of the representative system. But I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: Which of the two anomalies does more to prevent the actual realisation of the ideal the right hon. Gentleman stated—the existence of plural voting, or the anomalies of distribution? There can be no hesitation in saying that plural voting is an anomaly which, by 1228 universal admission, does far less damage to the ideal which the right hon. Gentleman put forward, than the other anomalies which it was promised would be dealt with. It is sometimes stated that the representation of Ireland by 100 Members was an essential term of the Act of Union. I know there are some who take that view. I have never been able to discover upon what doctrine either of law or constitutional practice that contention is based. If the Act of Union is a sacrosanct thing I suppose the conclusion that we are prevented from dealing with it applies to all its parts. But the House of Commons found no difficulty at all in dealing with the union of the English and Irish churches, which was certainly one of the most essential terms of the Act, into which we are now told it is impossible to introduce anything at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was by consent of both parties."] The hon. Member says it was by consent of both parties. If the hon. Member means that there was a general measure of consent to that proposal there undoubtedly was not, and he is as well aware as I am that it met with very considerable resistance. If he means that we are to take the parties to it as the English people in the one case and the Irish people in the other, then he is treating the parties to that Act in the same way as if they were two independent sovereignties. I entirely dispute that this is the proper method of considering this or any other Act of a similar character. Mr. Pitt, in speaking of this very question, based himself only on the compact. He said with regard to the then population of Ireland that it was far from determining the proper number of Members to be returned to this House. He said:—I really think the precise number is not a matter of great importance. Nevertheless, you must try to find some principle. A proper one seems to be that adopted by the Irish Parliament, a reference to the supposed population of the two countries, and to the proposed rate of contribution. These two taken together make a better (but not a perfect) criterion, than either separately. Population is about 2½ or 3 to 1, and contribution 7½ to 1, which in combination make over 5 to 1; and this is roughly represented by the proposed proportion of Members.But it is said, on what ground is it suggested that a compact had been entered into for all time, and that the representation of Ireland was to remain steady? On the basis put forward at that time, as fixed by the Irish Parliament, Ireland is now only entitled to fifty-one Members.
Let me take one illustration, which will be quite sufficient for my purpose. The Member for Romford sits for a consti- 1229 tuency which is exactly, I think, thirty-four times larger than the constituency of the Member for Kilkenny, so that on a fair basis the Member for Romford should vote thirty-four times when the Member for Kilkenny votes once, if the thing was to be made on a mathematical basis. Can anyone pretend, in view of facts like those, that the Government are not leaving far more serious anomalies uncorrected in order to deal with the less serious anomaly. I think it is not irrelevant to point out, even accepting the proposal which they bring forward, they have adopted as thoroughly illogical a method of dealing with the problem as I imagine could be conceived. It is to apply to General Elections, but it is not to apply to by-elections. Anyone, I imagine, who remembers the perplexity in which the then Government became involved when in the year 1906 they tried to deal with this problem will find no particular difficulty in understanding why they have adopted simply the line of least resistance in dealing with the present proposal. It is necessary to point out that either this is a matter of principle or it is not. I suppose it is claimed it is a matter of principle. Somebody said on the First Reading that it was a case of unloading the dice against hon. Gentlemen opposite, but could anything be more grotesquely absurd than that this is to be allowed to continue in every by-election. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, if we are successful in a by-election, will successfully retort that is no criterion of what people are thinking, because "you still retain your plural voting." It is to continue at by-elections, and this is to be done in deference to some unexplained difficulty. Is the joint intelligence of the Government and their draftsmen really unable to put before the House of Commons proposals that would correct the matter? There is no principle whatever in the business in any sense of the term. There was a principle involved, whether it was a good one or a bad one, in the old arrangement which determined that in this country, basing itself on the unbroken practice of centuries, votes were given in reference to the locality, and in reference to the stake which the individual claiming the vote possessed in that particular locality.
That may have been a good principle or a bad principle, but it was a universal one, and it was one on which we relied for many centuries. It was regularly understood, and I would point 1230 out further that, besides being not inconvenient and susceptible of defence on other grounds, it dealt with a position familiar to everybody. There are many private Bill subjects which engage the attention of the House of Commons, and particularly nowadays, which are not less important than some of those large party controversies on which we spend so much time and eloquence. The system to which I am referring, at least secured that when you were dealing with a question affecting a locality in any private Bill legislation, those persons who, from the nature of the case, were interested in that locality, should enjoy the advantage of being represented in this House by the Member elected by the vote of those persons who were in that locality. As showing how far the principle was carried, may I remind the House in the old days when Members of this House were remunerated on a different system and paid by their constituents, and when the obligation of supporting them in Parliament fell on all those who paid taxes in the locality, consistently and harmoniously with that practice, was accepted as a constitutional principle that all those who so paid and were so interested in any locality, had the right of being represented by a Member of Parliament. As I have said, whether it was right, or whether it was wrong, that at least was an intelligible principle. Upon what principle do those rely who are seeking to destroy it, and those who never tire of pouring ridicule on that principle? The President of the Board of Education a year ago informed us that according to the best information at his disposal, and I readily admit that on such a point admirable information is at his disposal, that at least four to one of the plural voters were Members of the Unionist party. I would like to ask a very simple question. Does anyone in this House suppose, if the proportion were reversed and if there were four Liberals to one Unionist amongst the plural voters—is anybody so simple as to believe that the Government would be hustling in this Session with this Bill in this way?
Even the right hon. Gentleman, whose speech on the First Reading of the Bill, if he will allow me to say so, added considerably to his reputation as a Parliamentary humorist, even that right hon. Gentleman, who is responsible for this Bill, will not, I think, exhibit the courage of informing us that the Government would 1231 adopt this course if the two cases were reversed. It becomes necessary to ask, Does this Bill proceed upon any principles? And applying the best understanding that I can to the proposals of the Government, and to the arguments by which those proposals have been recommended, both on the platform and in the country, I gather the statement to be this, that voting power ought to be exactly even in the case of every individual citizen, and that under no circumstances ought the State to draw any distinction between different classes of citizens. That is a principle, I suppose, which again would lead to the conclusion that if you are going to deal with these things as matters of dogma, which is a very dangerous proceeding at any time—that is to say, in matters which are proper subjects for demonstration and for argument—then it becomes necessary to ask what is the basis upon which you decide en the extent which an individual citizen should be able by his vote to influence the government of the country. I suppose, if you were to view that on general grounds, you would say that a man's share in the government of the country ought to be determined by the probability that his contribution would be a valuable and useful one, and that his advice would be the advice of a man qualified to give advice. That is, I suppose, a general principle with which no one will be disposed to quarrel.
The statement is also put forward that the opinion of one man is as good as the opinion of another man, and that there is no exception. That is the case which is put forward openly in defence of this proposal. I can only say, while it may be a true and right principle, it would certainly appear not to be a proper subject for dogma. It is not certainly as clearly established as those who assume it is established are accustomed to suppose. Many political philosophers in very different stages of civilisation in different countries and in different developments and different stages of democracy have taken quite a different view. Let me take an illustration. Take the case of a man who, springing from a very humble position, has reached a very successful and responsible position in the industrial world, and, by the sheer power of brain, character, and enterprise, from nothing has built up a great business, giving employment to many persons who, but for his activity and his enterprise and business ability, would not have obtained work in this country.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I thought we bad heard that, in nine cases out of ten, such a man would have two votes, namely, one in the place in which he carries on his business and one in the place in which he resides. I think I know what is in the hon. Gentleman's mind, and I will refer to it later on. Let me complete the contrast. I take the case of another man, and I am not in the least determining whose fault it is. It may be heredity or environment, but let me take the case of a man who has never been able to support his family, or to provide food for his wife and children, and who has had to come to the State periodically for help to do so. I think it is preposterous to say that in such a case the opinion of one man is as useful a guide as the opinion of the other, or that he is as competent to be as good a citizen as the other. You may point out, and it is not an unreasonable argument, that the existing system does not secure what logically would follow from my argument, and there is something to be said from that point of view. I was, however, attempting to discover on what principle this particular change, which is so insistently put forward, is based. The only principle is the one with which I have dealt, and I think I have demonstrated its complete unsuitability. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the circumstances under which you secure that such a man shall receive a somewhat higher degree of representation is not a logical one and is not a complete one, but it worked out without any pretence to logical completeness, and it does work out that, in the case which I put, the man would as a matter of course, in most cases, exercise more than one vote, and in the great majority of cases the anomaly would cease to exist, or, at any rate, not present such a serious aspect if it be borne in mind that in a large number of cases it can be defended on the lines I have attempted.
I have paid the promoters of this Bill the compliment in the observations which I have made of assuming that it was their desire in introducing these proposals to the House of Commons to make a serious contribution to the removal of the anomalies of our electioneering system, and that it was their object to deal with this one because they thought this is the one of all others which, putting party grounds on one side, is the one which 1233 most imperatively demands to be dealt with. Let me, for a moment, deal very briefly with the other supposition. Suppose it be not the case that the Government is seriously of opinion that this is the greatest anomaly which demands to be treated, then in what kind of position are they coming to the House of Commons today and asking for leave to proceed with this Bill? They would be coming in the position of a Government which is dealing with the least of many anomalies, and which is only proposing to deal with this anomaly because they think they can extort some party advantage out of it, and they would he a Government which is utterly indifferent as to whether they will ever find themselves in the position to carry out a pledge, which I suppose would also be described as an obligation of honour, and a Government which, at this period in this Session, is hustling in order to obtain that one change in our electioneering law which they think would give the greatest chance of rehabilitating their shattered fortunes whenever they went to the country. The only appeal I would make on these lines to the President of the Board of Education, if he follows me, is this: I would ask him to deal perfectly candidly with the House of Commons. Let him not inform us that at some future time he hopes to introduce Redistribution proposals. Do not let him trouble to explain that when that happy moment arrives the Preamble to the Parliament Act will take priority over the Redistribution proposal, or that the Redistribution proposals will take priority over the Preamble to the Parliament Act, because we are not in the least impressed by those statements. We do not believe that either will take priority over the other, for reasons which are abundantly obvious. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman simply to say, and to say quite plainly, "I know that it is useless to go through a performance which imposes upon nobody; therefore I frankly say that the reason why we select this particular proposal is that we think we can gerrymander the constituencies in our interest. A year ago we were not wholly without hope that there might be other ways in which we could gerrymander the constituencies, but we found that there were some Members of the Labour party who would not stand it, because they were committed to the women on the question of Female Suffrage. Therefore, we had to jettison other 1234 prospects, some almost as fair as the abolition of plural voting, but we still stick to our proposal with regard to plural voting. That, at least, we are going to get rid of; we will suck, at any rate, some party advantage from that." Let the right hon. Gentleman make that speech, and he will sit down, if not with the reputation so, recently asserted for him of a Parliamentary diplomatist, at any rate with the reputation of having made one of the few honest speeches delivered from that bench in this Session.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
I do not know whether I shall be able to impress right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite with my honesty in connection with the proposals which I have already introduced to the House. At any rate, I can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has moved his Amendment. Apart from sonic veiled criticism with regard to our motives, he has endeavoured to put forward the best case he could in support of the attitude which the Opposition have repeatedly taken up whenever these or similar proposals have been before the House. I can also congratulate the party opposite on the fact that since 1906 they have made some serious progress towards meeting us in connection with this measure. Seven years ago in their official Amendment they alluded to our proposals for the abolition of plural voting as a mere change of franchise; whereas they admit in the terms of their present Amendment that it is an anomaly to exercise the plural vote. But when a suppliant for bread and meat refuses a very useful slice of bread and a very good slice of meat with it, saying that, rather than have that sandwich, he will not be content without a joint and 4-lb. loaf, one is not surprised if the donor regards the individual who alleged that he was hungry with some scepticism and suspicion. The party opposite are only pursuing the same tactics that they always pursue when questions connected with franchise reform are before the House. They invariably find some excuse for resisting the proposals. This time it is that the Bill is not accompanied by other measures dealing with franchise reform, electoral reform, registration reform, and Redistribution. When the Insurance Bill was before the House, it was that we did not give enough time. They always find some excuse for opposing the measures of reform introduced from this side.
1235 What surprises me more is that two or three Members of the Labour party should venture to oppose these proposals. That two or three of them—I believe there are only two or three—should think it necessary to postpone the day upon which the wage-earner shall be placed on an equality with the multi-property owner seems to me to be an extraordinary proceeding. If there was anything upon which we could stand upon a common platform, I should have thought it was in advocating the principle of one man one vote. That is one thing I believe upon which democracy is absolutely united. No matter what arguments those two or three Labour Members may use to their constituents, I feel sure that the working-classes as a whole will not regard any opposition to this Bill as being to the interests of their class. The Government are no less anxious than any other Members to do their utmost to secure that the House of Commons shall truly represent and reflect the wishes of the country and the intelligent opinion of the nation. It is when we come to discuss with our opponents the definition of country and nation that we find where we differ. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the view that under our electoral system special interests should be represented, and that those who possess a special stake in the country should be allowed to exercise a greater voting power than those who possess a smaller stake. He also alluded to the necessity of localities being considered in this respect. We on this side believe that the cumulative view of the electors as ascertained by a majority, each elector voting once and once only, is the right way in which the citizens of this country should express the view of the nation. We desire that each elector should have facilities for recording his vote once, whilst Members on the other side are prepared, at any rate in regard to certain sections of the community, to allow the view of an individual who possesses more than one qualification to be recorded repeatedly.
In advocating Redistribution their main contention used to be that Ireland was over-represented, and it was with a view to removing that anomaly that Redistribution in their opinion was so important. Our Home Rule Bill will remove that grievance, but I understand that the party opposite will still contend that Redistribution should be associated with any franchise reform, whether in restraint of the 1236 exercise of plural voting, or whether in connection with the abolition of the antiquated qualifications which now exist. In 1905 the Opposition had an opportunity of putting into force their own views with regard to Redistribution, and we had a fairly good insight into their idea of one vote one value. Their proposals then were that the old boroughs with a population of under 18,500 should be left with their existing Members, and it was only when they reached a population of 65,000 that large boroughs should be allowed to have representatives. That may be their idea, of one vote one value, but I can assure them that it is not ours. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to be quite frank with the House. I intend to be as frank as I can. No man can do more than that. I admit that the reasons why we are proceeding with this Bill this Session is that we believe that plural voting, if it is not the greatest, is at any rate one of the greatest anomalies. We believe that it is as urgent as the other anomalies to which reference has been made. We believe that it is possible this Session to deal with this question, whereas we see no possible chance, having regard to the opportunities afforded during the remainder of the Session, to deal with any other of the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. It is impossible for us to deal with the whole subject of Redistribution, and electoral and franchise reform. We made a somewhat courageous attempt last Session to deal with franchise reform and registration. That Bill extended over a large number of pages, and was much more extensive than the simple measure which I introduced the other day. It is only because this is a very short Bill, and does not raise many points of criticism and controversy, that we can devote sufficient time this Session to passing it into law.
Any Bill creating an autonomous registration system, based upon a short residential qualification, must necessarily contain many Clauses, and if we are to rise at the beginning of August, as we all hope we may, it is absolutely impossible for us to introduce such a measure as the right hon. Gentleman has outlined, dealing with the various anomalies which we on this side, just as much as he, admit to the full require redress at as early a date as possible. I admit that there are anomalies still unredressed even in connection with plural voting. I may use the illustration of by-elections to which the right hon. Gentle- 1237 man referred. After this Bill is passed into law, and if a Franchise Bill did not follow it before the next General Election, I admit that it would be absurd that at the General Election Members might be returned to this House by certain electorates, and then a fortnight afterwards, having taken office, they should have to appeal not to the same individuals who had previously returned them, but to a constituency in which at the by-election there might be 3,000 or 4,000 additional voters capable of voting. Again, it is absurd that an individual with several qualifications should be placed in a preferential position as compared with the poorer elector as to the constituency in which he should exercise his vote. I think these evils can be redressed before the next General Election by the passage of a Franchise Reform Bill somewhat similar to that which I introduced last Session.
§ Mr. PEASE
Because we had an opportunity of dealing with one of the anomalies, and time does not permit us to deal with the others. We see no reason on this side of the House why, when we have an opportunity of dealing with one anomaly, we should not proceed with it. There are other anomalies. There is the question the right hon. Gentleman alluded to—the returning officer's expenses. I welcome cordially the general support which he has given to that proposal. If he can assure us that he and his Friends on that side of the House will welcome the proposal and will allow it to pass by the general consent of the House of Commons, I can assure him that it would not be very long before the Government will be prepared to introduce a measure so that it may be passed by general assent. There is the question of alternative voting, the question of holding all elections on one day, of the closing of public-houses, and of making the day of the General Election a general holiday. There is also the question of dealing with the Corrupt Practices Act, and the use, or rather the abuse, of conveyances at elections. There is the question of the extension of the hours of polling; so I might go on. All these matters are matters which the Government really regard as of importance. It is their intention to deal with these subjects in a Bill before the next General Election. If there are anomalies left in connection with plural voting, we believe 1238 that as soon as the franchise reform is introduced these anomalies to which my attention has been called by hon. Friends on this side of the House will disappear. Of course, if unforeseen circumstances did occur and this Bill was passed into law unaccompanied by Redistribution or franchise reform, I can at any rate point out that this Bill in no way aggravates the situation, and in no way creates a new position which would require to be remedied. It mitigates the evil if it does not absolutely abolish it.
What it does do is that it will prevent about half a million votes being recorded at the next General Election, and we shall not see the wholesale inpouring of outsiders at election times which has been so much resented by every class of residential voter throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope the House will accept my word when I say it is our intention before the General Election to introduce a measure of this kind to deal with franchise reform. We intend to deal with that, and we also intend to deal with Redistribution upon a basis which I believe will command the general assent of the whole country. I will just for a moment or two—I think it is due to the House—explain so far as I have been able to obtain any figures, the effect of this Bill upon the register. May I first of all inform the House, although the figures are available in the White Paper No. 478, which was issued a few weeks ago, that the present electorate of England and Wales is 6,536,000; of Scotland, 820,000, and of Ireland 701,000, making a total number of voters on the register of 8,058,000. So far as I am able to obtain the information, I believe that there are at the present moment about 450,000 plural voters in England and Wales, 55,000 in Scotland, and about 20,000 in Ireland, making a total of 525,000 plural voters. Those figures include 51,123 university voters, nearly all of whom are plural voters, though they possess other qualifications. That is an average of one plural voter to every sixteen on the register. I admit many of the plural voters do not necessarily themselves possess ownership qualifications.
To a very large extent the greatest grievance in connection with plural voting is found in constituencies just outride some of our larger cities and boroughs. I think the hon. Member for Stretford has the distinction of representing the largest number of plural voters, for I believe in his constituency there are something like 1239 4,000 freehold voters who reside in the city of Manchester, or have property in Manchester and Salford, and yet come to his Division to vote in Parliamentary elections. I believe the hon. Member behind me, who sits for the Pudsey Division of Yorks, probably possesses a greater proportion of plural voters, having regard to the total electorate in his constituency, than any other Member in the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Six thousand."] Therefore this grievance is not one in which only one side of the House is concerned. I have given two illustrations of seats represented by Liberal Members, yet they contain the greatest number of plural votes. I have had figures in regard to those constituencies in which there are over 1,000 plural voters who come in at the time of a General Election. There are thirty-five of these constituencies. At the present time seventeen of them happen to be represented by Liberals, seventeen by Conservatives, and one by Labour. Of course, I admit that we believe, from a party point of view, the passage of this Bill would be an advantage to us: that there are many small constituencies in which, by the abolition of plural voting, we should secure a better majority for our candidates than we have at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] The hon. Member who cheers might not have been returned in 1906 if there had been no plural votes in his constituency. Still, I want to make this point—one which has been repeatedly made. Hon. Gentlemen opposite like to attribute motives to us—that we are promoting this Bill in order to promote party ends. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, if you like to attribute motives to us, it is just as easy for us to say that the whole force of your opposition is in order to promote the interests of your party. Therefore, at any rate in connection with party warfare, I think we may claim quits.
The real question is whether, in proposing this reform, we are proposing what is really fair between man and man in the constituencies. May I, as briefly as I can, just run through some of those objections which I believe have been and may be raised in connection with these proposals. Reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman of the penalties which we propose. We thought it fair and reasonable that a penalty ought to be a mean between the two other penalties which I mentioned on the First Reading as possible alterna- 1240 tives. If the penalty is inadequate, no doubt it will be easy for the plural vote to be exercised. On the other hand, if the penalty is excessive it will be very much more difficult to obtain a conviction. It is of the utmost importance that there should be a reasonable deterrent in regard to any attempt being made to exercise the plural vote in the event of the passage of this Bill. Some hon. Member said the Bill does not go far enough. My answer to that is that we have no time at present to introduce a larger measure. It is also suggested that the proposals in the Bill in themselves will add to the expense in the constituencies, especially of the various agents, and that it will produce increased trouble and uncertainty in regard to the election in which the agent takes an interest. I believe all those difficulties, which the agents of the various parties anticipate will disappear when the reform of the franchise, to which I have already alluded, is accomplished. There is the objection raised that we are changing our electoral methods—that the methods which we suggest under this Bill are opposed to historical precedents. I have to say in answer to that that times have changed, that the facilities for transit as well as the mobility of our working class population are greater than ever before. There have been great strides in educational progress, and we are fully justified in making a departure from the old historical precedents and in securing a system based upon the individual rather than upon interest or locality. We admit that the Opposition do rely more than they used to do upon population in connection with many of these matters.
Their acceptance of the principle of the Referendum was the acceptance of the principle of individual responsibility rather than the interest of individuals in a locality or individuals in a class. We know how the Referendum was supported by Lord Lansdowne and others as a fair and advantageous way of securing the views of the country. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that our proposal violates the principle that taxation should be accompanied by representation. He alluded to the fact that there were about eleven different qualifications, with eighteen or nineteen variations. In those variations there is no foundation whatever to-day for the allegation that the votes of the men who vote on the register are there because of any contribution towards the taxation of the country. There are 1241 many classes of voters who need not pay any taxes whatsoever to the country at the present time. The franchises that exist to-day are not based upon taxation, but to a very large extent they are based upon privilege. Hon. Members opposite have once or twice appealed to us to maintain those privileges in which they have been brought up. Their appeals fall upon deaf ears so long as they are not based upon logic, equity, and justice. Then there is the allegation that under the provisions of this Bill we are going to destroy university representation. After all, those who represent university seats on the average only represent, I think, about 5,500 electors, and they are mostly external ones. These are really a survival of an ancient franchise, of what we term on this side of the House "fancy franchises," and we do not believe it is necessary any longer to continue any of those fancy franchises. But this Bill does not destroy university representation. If those who believe in university representation possess university votes and desire to exercise them, there is nothing to prevent them from preferring the university vote under the provisions of this Bill. The last great objection to this proposal which has been put forward by the Opposition is that the measure ought to be associated with a Redistribution Bill. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) has admitted that if this Bill is passed into law he believes it will be accompanied by a Redistribution measure towards the end of this Parliament.
§ Mr. PEASE
He may accept our word or not with regard to our intentions, but there it is. I believe that we shall introduce a Redistribution Bill, and I believe 1242 the right time to introduce a Redistribution Bill is towards the end of the life of a Parliament and not before. I would venture to point out that no civilised nation adopts the system of plural voting in setting up a new Constitution. None of our Colonies has a system of plural voting, and the suggestion that it should be removed is one which, it seems to me, has the approval of all our Colonies whenever this point is put to them. There is no logic in a plurality of votes. Even under our present system wealth may purchase a certain number of faggot votes. An individual who likes to obtain faggot votes can do so by purchasing freehold property almost wherever he likes. If that individual has enjoyed that property for six months he is qualified to become a voter as owner, whilst for residential purposes the period is eighteen months. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] An individual may become a voter, I speak under correction, after six months' possession of the property, but another voter must be in residence at least a year. There are so many anomalies that I can only give a few illustrations of what occurs or may occur under the present system. Let us take the case of a county area. One individual may own a whole county and receive perhaps a rental of £60,000 per year, but he is only entitled to one vote. Another individual happens to own a quarter of an acre at a point where three counties join, and to have one cottage in each, value £2, and he becomes a 40s. freeholder. In three constituencies for a rent of £6 he will have three votes. Take the case of a borough. A man may have a large freehold property in a borough, but that does not qualify him for a vote, while there may be twenty boroughs surrounding him and an individual who happens to have a shop in each of these boroughs may have twenty votes, whilst the individual with much greater property in one borough can only exercise one vote. Take the case of Tower Hamlets in London. A man may possess in each of the seven constituencies of Tower Hamlets a qualification for a vote and yet he can only exercise one, but if he happens to possess in the other boroughs outside of Tower Hamlets, say seven qualifications, he may vote for seven separate constituencies.
The whole thing is absurd from beginning to end. Really the attempt of hon. Gentlemen to justify the exercise of plural voting, as the system is now in operation, seems to me to be absurd. We on this 1243 side of the House believe that the exercise of plural voting, as we said in 1884, hits the poor man, and that it puts the poor man in a very unfair position rather than doing justice to him. The words to which I refer have been so often quoted that I shall not venture to quote them. One other point has connection with an Amendment which has been suggested to me in this Bill. It is thought that voters should have the question directly put to them by the presiding officer when they go into the polling booth as to whether they had voted in any other constituency at this election. That is a Committee point. I am not prepared to commit myself one way or the other in connection with a proposal of that kind, bat I will say that the Government are quite prepared to entertain an Amendment of that kind if the House seriously thinks it would be an improvement in the Bill. The Bill has direct and indirect advantages. It not only deals with the existing anomaly and tends to greater fairness, but it stops the creation of new faggot votes. It will be a step towards adult suffrage, in which many Members believe; it will open the door to other reforms; and it would be a direct incentive to the passage of those other complementary measures which we feel are required to be carried into law in order to make this Bill workable in the best sense of the term. The democracy have long urged the passage of this Bill. It is founded upon justice; it is founded upon the equal right of qualified electors. Therefore it is with confidence that I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
As one of those two or three Labour Members to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred who have dared to offer some resistance to the proposal of the Government, I desire to submit a few reasons why I support the Amendment which has been moved from the Front Bench opposite. I am not in the least concerned as to the motives which prompt the party opposite in submitting this Amendment. I shall not be at all afraid at the company in which I shall find myself in the Lobby when the vote for the Amendment is taken. As one who occupies a position which is somewhat detached from the two main parties in this House, I think that the two speeches which have already been contributed to this Debate have been extremely interesting. They have been a full recognition of the amomalies of our existing franchise 1244 and registration laws. I am innocent in those matters, and therefore I would like to ask, Whence came all those anomalies in our electoral and registration laws? Did they, like the Israelitish manna, drop down from heaven? Are they not all registered in Acts of Parliament which have been passed by one party or the other? I have never heard two speeches in this House which were such an indictment of both political parties as those which have just been delivered. All these anomalies are the creation of one party or the other. I am not opposed to the abolition of plural voting. When the Bill of 1906 was before this House I supported that measure in all its stages, but the circumstances of to-day and the circumstances of that time are very different, and it is because of these changed circumstances that I cannot support this very partial and ineffective proposal for dealing with grave electoral anomalies. It is quite true that long before 1906 the Liberal party were pledged in a general way to a comprehensive scheme of electoral reform, but there was no definite promise that the party would deal with it in such a way during the Parliament of 1906. The supporters of Women Suffrage in this House were still relying upon the chances of a private Member's Bill, but after the House of Lords threw out the Plural Voting Bill of 1906 no further attempt was made by the Government up till now to deal with the question of plural voting apart from the general question of electoral reform. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pease) asked the House to believe that it was the intention of the Government to deal with the question of electoral and registration reform during the lifetime of the present Parliament. There is a very old and familiar ring about that statement. I have often heard it, almost in the exact words, and may I ask the House to listen to two or three similar declarations which have been made at one time or another by the Prime Minister upon this question? Speaking five years ago to a deputation of Liberal Members who waited upon him upon this question of Women Suffrage, the Prime Minister said:—He regarded it as the duty of the Government to introduce before the end of this Parliament an effective scheme of electoral reform.The very words we have heard repeated from the Treasury Bench this afternoon! And then the Prime Minister went on to make the oft-repeated declaration which 1245 he made in regard to Women Suffrage that the comprehensive measure of electoral reform would be so drafted as to permit the House of Commons, if it so desired, to include a Women's Suffrage Amendment. I do not blame the Government for not having redeemed that promise of the Prime Minister during the 1906 Parliament. The throwing out of the Budget of 1909 by the House of Lords precipitated a General Election, and, I admit, made it impossible for the Prime Minister during that Parliament to redeem that pledge. But the point I want to emphasise is this, that in 1908 the Government, through the mouth of the Prime Minister, said they felt in duty bound in that Parliament within the next two or three years to introduce, in his own words, "an effective scheme of electoral reform." That was not accomplished in the Parliament of 1906, and I repeat that in the circumstances I do not blame the Government. I now want to call attention to a repetition of that declaration which was made by the Prime Minister on the eve of the General Election, January, 1910. He said:—Nearly two years ago I declared on behalf of the present Government that in the event we contemplate of bringing in a reform Bill, we should make the insertion of Woman's Suffrage an open question.The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that the declaration he made eighteen months before still stood, and that no party would be in a worse position on account of the unfortunate events which had happened. I do not blame the Government for not having introduced a comprehensive electoral measure in 1910, because that was a very short Parliament, and we were all looking forward to the passing of the Parliament Act, and to the liberation of Liberal efforts in political and social reform which had been hampered for half a century by the Veto of the House of Lords. The Parliament Act became the law of the land. We had another General Election, and the Government promise to deal with this question by a comprehensive scheme of electoral reform still held good. Immediately the new Parliament met the Prime Minister announced that it was the intention of the Government when the way was clear to carry out what they felt to be their duty four years before, and on the 18th November, the Prime Minister, speaking to a deputation in regard to the Reform Bill, said:—I am asked is it the intention of the Government that the Bill should go through all its stages in 1912? Certainly it is our intention, and we hope to carry it through in that year.1246 That was in 1911. I come now to the point where I offer a serious criticism of the action of the Government in regard to this question of electoral reform. They introduced last year a Franchise Bill, which from a democratic point of view, contained a good many admirable proposals. The Bill proposed to establish manhood suffrage, to simplify the registration laws, to abolish university representation and plural voting. Apart from its omission to deal with the question of Redistribution and the enfranchisement of women, it was a Bill which we are entitled to call a fairly comprehensive scheme of electoral reform. Then there came the ruling of Mr. Speaker, and I can not blame the Government for that. I do not think that at that late time of the Session it would have been possible to have introduced another Franchise Bill of such a comprehensive character. I do not think the Government knew that such a ruling as that which was ultimately given, was likely to be given, and I do not think the Government are so foolish as to proceed in such a way as that. What I complain of is that they have not accepted the position as it was left by your ruling, Mr. Speaker, at the end of last Session, and instead of reintroducing a Franchise Bill, which would have been a comprehensive scheme of electoral reform, that would have fulfilled the Prime Minister's repeated declaration that if the House so desired, Women Suffrage would be made part of the Reform Bill, instead of doing that, the Government have postponed to an indefinite day the question of an effective scheme of electoral reform, and from the wreckage of the Reform Bill, they have selected one item, and from the point of view of importance and urgency, the least important of all, the items in the Franchise Bill of last Session.
The right hon. Gentleman, who moved the Amendment, suggested some reasons which might have induced the Government to adopt this course of action. May I, at any rate, be a little more charitable and take the reasonable excuse which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that there is no time now to deal with such a measure as that which was introduced last year. Let us examine this argument. We are giving two days to the Second Reading of this Bill. I suppose the Government, even in these days, will give at least one or two days to the Committee, and that is four days for the Committee stage and the Second Reading. Then we 1247 are going to have another question dealing with the franchise laws raised in the House of Commons next week. Two days have to be given next week to the Second Reading of the Women's Franchise Bill, and if that Bill should pass the Second Reading, those responsible for it have the promise of the Government of as much time as is necessary for all the remaining stages of that Bill. If that Bill is adopted on its Second Reading, it will require, on a very moderate estimate, a week of Parliamentary time this Session. What did the Government propose for the Committee stage of the Franchise Bill last year. They proposed eight days. Therefore, the amount of time that will be taken up in dealing with only two of the points that arose out of the Franchise Bill of last Session will be twice as much as the total time which the Government proposed to give to the Committee stage of the Franchise Bill last year, and therefore, their contention that this is a matter of time, falls entirely to the ground.
I come now to the Bill itself. The Bill professes to deal with plural voting, but it does no such thing. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said much that I should have said in regard to the anomaly of plural voting, and the present need for a redistribution of seats. The greatest plural voters to-day are not the half-million of men to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred who have votes in more than one constituency; the greatest plural voters are those who vote in small constituencies. I happen to be a registered elector in a Division in the county of Middlesex. In that Division there are 35,000 electors registered, whilst in another part of this county where a by-election is now taking place there are only 4,000 registered electors, so that every voter in Whitechapel is a plural voter nine times over, compared with the voters in the constituency in which I reside. Let me give one more illustration. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) takes an important and valuable part in the debates of this House. May I point out that he was returned by a number of votes hardly enough to return a member to a respectable parish council, and he polled only one-tenth of the number of votes polled by one of my hon. Friends who represents the city of Newcastle. The first time I stood as a Parliamentary candidate in 1900 I was not elected, but there 1248 were not twenty out of the 670 Members who were returned at that General Election who polled as many votes as I did, although I was not a successful candidate.
Who can defend a system like that. These are the real plural voters, and the right hon. Gentleman's Bill is going to do nothing to touch this, which is one of the greatest anomalies in our electoral system. Take the question of registration. Quoting from Sir Charles Dilke, the right hon. Gentleman opposite pointed out that it is possible for a man to live in the same house for two and a half years and still not be entitled to vote at the Parliamentary election. Do hon. Members realise that that actually happened in hundreds of thousands of cases at the last General Election? No elector could vote at the last General Election unless he had been qualified for a vote for a period of two and a half years before the election. Those of us who are in close touch with the working-class electors know that at every election from 20 to 25 per cent. of the electors remove, and in my Constituency there were no less than 8,000 removals. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill does nothing to deal with this anomaly. Surely this is closely connected with the question of plural voting. If you have 25 per cent. of the working classes who ought to have the vote and who are unable to exercise it, that increases proportionately the plurality of those who are able to exercise it.
I cannot congratulate the President of the Board of Education upon the aptness of his illustration. He asked us to take this Bill like the hungry man, who would be wise to take half a loaf rather than no bread at all. I think I can give the right hon. Gentleman a much better illustration. Suppose that the right hon. Gentleman owed me a sovereign. It was rightfully due, and suppose he offered me a sixpence in discharge of the debt, and I refused to have the sixpence. That is precisely what the Government are doing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no," and "It is on account."] It is not worth sixpence by comparison with the other anomalies. This Bill is just a specimen of the Liberal legislation which has been passed ever since I can remember. Who is responsible for plural voting as it exists to-day? Why, the Liberal party. If they did not establish it, at any rate they perpetuated it, and aggravated it enormously by the Franchise Act of 1884. Why, then, did they not deal with the question of plural voting? I think I can give the answer. They were then extending the 1249 franchise to a large number of working men, and they increased the power of plural voting in accordance with that principle of Liberalism described by Mr. Gladstone when he said:—They were trusting the people, but their trust was qualified by prudence.6.0 P.M.
The extension of the vote to the agricultural labourer was trusting the people, but the increase in the number of plural voters was the element of prudence which has always been so conspicuous in Liberal legislation. The Prime Minister, I submit, has not kept his word either in regard to the promise that he will introduce a comprehensive scheme of electoral reform or in regard to his promise to the women. Therefore, I shall vote against this Bill to-morrow, and I shall oppose it at every stage. I shall oppose the Bill because it does not conform to the oft-repeated pledge of the Prime Minister in regard to electoral reform and in regard to Women Suffrage. I shall oppose the Bill, too, because I believe it does not, indeed, abolish plural voting. It perpetuates plural voting in a new and irritating and mischievous way. I do not envy Liberal Members who have to go down to their constituencies and defend this Bill, and especially those who have to go down to a by-election where there are a large number of out-voters. This is simply another Cat-and-Mouse Bill. It is another in-and-out Bill. It takes in the plural voter and restrains him at the time of a General Election, and it lets him out on a free licence in the intervals between. I shall oppose the Bill, further, because I believe it will, if passed, indefinitely postpone a more comprehensive scheme, and I shall oppose it most of all because I believe it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to evade the very definite promise they have given to the women of the country in regard to Women Suffrage.
§ Mr. CAVE
I do not think anybody, except the President of the Board of Education himself, thinks that the right hon. Gentleman has really dealt effectively with the main points which have been made against the Bill. Whilst professing a desire to equalise the value of votes and make every vote have an equal power, the Government are dealing only with one small part of the problem and that the least important. They are proposing a measure which, as is very frankly admitted by the party opposite, has the indirect effect that it is of real party advantage to 1250 them. The right hon. Gentleman very frankly and very honestly admitted that last statement. He said, "I admit quite freely that, in our opinion, the effect of this Bill, if passed, will be for the good of my party, but we have no time to deal with the whole question at once. We intend "—he asked us to believe that they intended—" to deal with Redistribution later on." Time is not saved, but lost, by attempting to deal with this kind of problem partially and unfairly. A proposal made in good faith by the Government for dealing not only with what they consider the anomaly of plural voting but with the redistribution of seats, and with those anomalies in the registration law to which we, like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), attach very great importance indeed, would have, I think, in all parts of the House a more sympathetic reception than that which this Bill is likely to have. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Believe us, we mean to deal with Redistribution; we mean to deal with it before this Bill comes into effect." If that is so, will he accept an Amendment in Committee, making this Bill conditional on the passing of a Redistribution Bill? It is useless to expect the House of Commons to rely only on the intentions, however sincere they may be, of the Government, because we know very well that the passing of a Bill does not depend wholly upon intentions. Other matters which they consider of more importance may come in the way of the intentions they have expressed to the House. If the Government will say, "We are so sincere in our declarations that we will accept a condition that this Bill shall not operate unless the seats are redistributed," then we shall have ground for believing in the real operative nature of the views which they express.
This Bill not only does not cure the anomalies of distribution, but it makes them worse than they are now. The anomalies are admitted. Some seats have few electors, and others have more, but it happens that the plural voters are mainly found in the larger constituencies. I think that hon. Members will find a great many of them in those great seats in the neighbourhood of London and our great cities which are under-represented. There are many in the Home Counties and in places round the great cities of the country, and, roughly and partially I admit, but to some extent the anomalies caused by the unfair distribution of seats are compensated by 1251 the fact that some voters in the great divisions have also votes in other divisions. By putting an end to that and by reducing every voter to one vote only you do take away that amount of compensation such as it is, and you do increase the admitted evils caused by under-representation. It is needless for anyone to insist, on the present anomalies in the distribution of seats. The system is wholly indefensible, and it is undefended. No one dreams of saying that places like Romford, Walthamstow, and Wandsworth can fairly be represented by one Member, while Kilkenny and Galway, and others, with an electorate of one-ninth or one-eighth of the number of the others, are also fairly represented by one Member. No one defends it. I think the Prime Minister has frankly admitted that that anomaly is greater than the anomaly of plural voting. It is a more important question, and I do not think we have had an answer yet to the proposition that you cannot, if you are sincere, undertake to deal with only a small part of this question while leaving the more important question untouched.
Many of us remember the discussion on the Bill of 1910. The proposal of that Bill, roughly, was that no one should be registered in more than one constituency. This Bill takes a different form. The proposal now, for the first time, is to make it an offence, to make it a crime for a man who is registered for more than one constituency to exercise all his votes. If he has votes in two constituencies, then to vote in both of them is, under this Bill, made a corrupt practice, and subjects him to a year's imprisonment with hard labour. It is difficult to understand why that is so. If I live in the country and carry on my business in the town, I have an interest in both places. My opinion is part of the opinion of each of those places. I am connected with the local life, and I know something of the local conditions. My opinion is one which has been taken into account, and I should have thought that it ought fairly to be taken into account at an election. The position of a man who has two occupation votes in that way, a residential vote and a business vote, is different from that of a man who has a number of ownership votes in different parts of the country, and I do not think a Bill which makes the exercise of two votes of that kind a crime will have much sympathy throughout the country.
1252 More than that, you are dealing, I agree indirectly, in this Bill with the university vote. I quite admit that you do not abolish it, but you do that which is just as effective. You, to use a phrase which has been used before, bleed the universities white; you drain them of the greater part of their voters. The university vote has been defended in this House by Members on both sides. Great Liberals have defended it, and indeed have recommended it as perhaps the most logical vote which you can have. It is a vote dependent upon an educational qualification. You are going to destroy it. You are going to vote for giving a man two votes because he is a married man, but you will not give him two votes because he is an educated man. I say that you are going to do away with it for this reason. If this Bill passes, the university electorate will depend entirely upon dance. It will consist wholly of those who by reason of not having votes elsewhere, or by reason of having votes in constituencies which are reckoned safe seats, choose to vote for the university. It will not be composed even of the resident members, because many of them may elect to vote in the town in which the university is situated. It will be a mere chance electorate, bound together by no real bond. Therefore, for all practical purposes you do intend to destroy that which has been a feature of our electoral system, namely, the university vote. The same observation applies with a good deal of force to the City of London and other great cities, where the electorate will no longer be composed of all those who have some interest in the city, but simply of those who by some chance or for some reason or other elect to give their votes to the City.
The indirect effect of this measure, therefore, will be serious, apart from its being partial. It is a disfranchising measure. You are taking away votes. Are you going to follow it by a Dissolution? You are altering the electorate of the country, the electorate that sent this House here, and I think the tradition has been that when that is done Dissolution follows. If this Bill passes it will no longer represent the voting power of the country. I have not heard any suggestion that this measure shall be followed by a Dissolution.
Let me say a word on the point raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), namely, the fact 1253 that this proposal is confined to a General Election. Is not that perfectly absurd? You may have two by-elections, at which one man may vote on successive days; but at a General Election that man can only have one vote. A Minister may be elected at a General Election. On appointment to office he vacates his seat, and he has to seek re-election. But if this Bill passes he will appeal to a totally different constituency to that which chose him at the General Election, and while he may have won at the General Election he may be turned out a week afterwards because he has accepted office. Where is the sense of that? Why is it wrong in principle to have two votes at a General Election, and yet in the next week be able to vote at two by-elections? I understand the reason why that proposal is made. When it was sought in 1903 to limit registration to one Division the difficulties were found to be so great that the Bill ultimately lapsed. It is to get round those difficulties that this expedient has been adopted. While I understand the motive, I think the anomaly produced by it is even greater than that which now exists. These are points which will have to be considered. I have only put them shortly. The main objection to the Bill, which I believe is felt in every part of the House, is that it does not fairly and squarely meet the difficulty of the situation. My right hon. Friend, on the question whether votes should be equal, did, I think, arrest the attention of the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not agree with him; they may see nothing in it. But, if you deal with the electorate at all, you must deal with it from some logical point of view. Hon. Members say votes should be equal, but the effect of this Bill is not by any means to do that. It will redress what we consider a small inequality, but it will leave greater inequalities where they are. In their view the part which they attack will be attacked for their benefit, and I do not think they can wonder when, without unduly attributing motives, we call upon them, as fair-minded men, to deal, not with a part only, but with the whole question.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
The hon. Member who has just spoken repeated a phrase we are likely to hear a great deal more of. He asks why we should deal with this one anomaly when there are so many others existing, many of which are far more serious. The reason seems to me a very sensible one. The party opposite has 1254 shown lately a very enthusiastic desire for electoral reform; they seem to be prepared with many schemes of franchise reform and Redistribution, but the one particular branch of the subject which they show a great disposition to resist is this particular question of plural voting. We find it will take us some time to pass a Plural Voting Bill. We have got to use the Parliament Act; it will take two years at least, and, whereas, in the last Session of this Parliament, with the enthusiastic help of hon. Members opposite, the franchise could be extended and Redistribution could be passed—there would be no difficulty in that because we should have their support—in this particular they are opposed to us, and we have to take it first in order to pass it within the lifetime of this Parliament and under the Parliament Act. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to the idea of the representation of localities, and suggested it would disappear under this proposal. I cannot say I have ever understood the idea of locality. We do not represent streets and houses, shops and business places, and fields; we represent human beings. That is really the only basis on which you can carve out and distribute representation. Take my own case: I represent five different towns in three different counties, not remotely connected one with the other. You may see on what principle the grouping is done in the case of boroughs all over the country, but you cannot conceive any basis on which to defend it as a locality. You can however regard a constituency as a unit consisting of individuals that is divided according to certain localities.
I want now to deal with the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite for Redistribution. We receive from time to time remarkable charts, maps, and diagrams carefully and ingeniously produced by the hon. and gallant Member for Honiton (Major Morrison-Bell). He has not discovered this great electoral anomaly, but he has described it very effectively. We have an instance which was quoted by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education, showing how the party opposite dealt with this question of Redistribution not very long ago. Only eight years since, in 1905, the Conservative Government introduced a scheme of Redistribution, and it is well worth a glance in order to see what were the views of hon. Members opposite with regard to one vote one value. In their scheme they left twenty-three boroughs with an 1255 electorate of less than 5,000—boroughs such as Salisbury, Taunton, and Hereford—with one Member apiece. I need not say that a great majority of the boroughs were represented by Conservative Members in this House. They left St. Andrews District, with a population of 19,311, with one Member; they left White haven, with a population of 19,334, with one Member, and at the same time they left Lewisham, with a population of 127,490, and Woolwich, with a population of 117,000 each with one Member. That is to say, one vote at St. Andrews was equal to seven in Lewisham and six in Woolwich. That is the idea that hon. Members opposite have of one vote one value. It shows what their enthusiasm for Redistribution is worth. They have an idea that they can redistribute the country, and they will do it in such a way as will favour their own party. The scheme in 1905 failed because it was absolutely grotesque. It was merely introduced in order to reduce Irish representation. That attempt to establish one vote one value is in itself sufficient to show what the sincerity of hon. Members opposite on the subject of Redistribution is worth. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment now before the House said that one man's opinions need not be as good as those of another. I agree I do not pretend that the electorate should be so established as to insist on the fact that one man's opinion is as good as another's. The point is that there is no authority; no mortal man who is able really to lay down whose opinion is better than any other. No man who is able to distinguish between what is fit and unfit, what is reputable and what disreputable.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
There are a good many educated people to whom I would not entrust the vote, and there are a good many people so-called uneducated to whom I would entrust it. No distinction can be made; no authority can be set up which can select one class of vote more than any other, and therefore the only fair and equitable basis is to establish one man one vote, with, I hope, an extension to all men and all women who are outside the walls of a prison or lunatic asylum. I want to deal with another point which has been brought forward. We 1256 are told by hon. Members opposite that we are introducing this Bill for party purposes, because we know it will favour our party. It may be true, and it is equally true, as my right hon. Friend said, that the reason why hon. Members opposite oppose it is because they are aware that the present state of affairs favours their party. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I would ask the House to note this: That a system which gives an unfair advantage to a certain class of the electorate, which weighs down the balance on one side, which gives privileges to a certain class, favours the Tory party, whereas a system that does away with these anomalies, that establishes an equal balance between man and man, and a just and equitable system in which there is equality all round, favours the Liberal party. That only requires to be stated in order to show that we are basing our claim on perfectly equitable grounds. If it favours our party, so much the better. Hon. Members opposite are opposing our claim and are maintaining a system which is perfectly indefensible simply because it favours their party.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down of being the solitary exception on his side of the House, where there is a seeming desire to pass this Bill sub silentio. I am not surprised at that. I do not know whether it is due to shame or to expediency. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), in the admirable speech to which the House has just listened with so much attention, showed us, with merciless lucidity, the tactical insincerities of the Government with respect to Women Suffrage. He dealt with other anomalies which made this Bill particularly grievous to the working classes for which he speaks. May I point out that there is no class in the country that has so vital an interest in the plain and clear administration of justice as those who form the poorer part of the community? In this Bill you are going to destroy the very principle of justice by making it an offence to do at one time what it is an absolutely innocent and proper thing to do at another time. That has already been pointed out by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) to a certain extent. May I emphasise the point in another way? While you are making it a crime to give two votes at a general Parliamentary election, it is perfectly possible that at two by- 1257 elections, going on at the same time, an elector may vote twice, and yet not be committing any offence at all. The whole difference between right and wrong is inextricably confused in that process. I venture to say that there is no class which has so much to lose by that confusion as those for whom the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) speaks. The only thing I regret is that, while we all respect him for his integrity and independence, he seems to sit and stand alone on those benches. I do not gather that he is speaking for the Labour party, of which he is one of the respected leaders. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are only two others."] If so, that shows that in his independence and in what he has pointed out to the House, speaking as a working-class representative, he stands alone.
I hardly think it is necessary for the President of the Board of Education to tell us that this Bill was brought in to satisfy the Gargantuan appetite of the party opposite for large slices of meat and large slices of bread. The metaphor was a very peculiar one. It was one of his inimitable strokes of humour. The Bill is brought forward to enable them still to sit at the well-filled board where they have been for the last eight years. The right hon. Gentleman said he would be frank with the House. He was frank, but certainly he was not fair to the party on this side. He stated that we have always found some excuse for opposing any measure of electoral reform. He knows very well that in the last crucial instance, in 1884, the leaders of the Liberal party thanked the Opposition for the manner in which they had assisted to make that great measure of reform real and complete. When Mr. Gladstone pronounced his benediction on that Bill he said that a great deal was owing to the manner in which the Conservative leaders, notably at that time Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, had assisted him in making that Bill worthy of its purpose. When the right hon. Gentleman introduced this Bill, he pleaded for it as a pigmy Bill. A pigmy Bill it may be, but it is clearly shaped and coloured by the mere interests of the wire-pullers. This is a Bill which ought at least to have had the decent apron of a Preamble. I admit it might have been a little difficult to suggest the right Preamble, but if it had been in the sense that "whereas it is expedient by all means whatsoever to retain a majority of votes at the next Parliamentary General Election to certain Parliamentary candi- 1258 dates," it would have fairly expressed the real purpose of the Bill. It is almost an irony that it should have been introduced by the President of the Board of Education, who has under him a vast staff of teachers who are now ordered to instruct the youth of the nation in what is called civic virtue. One of the first things they are told is to urge upon them that private morality and public morality should be on the same footing. The right hon. Gentleman has clearly abandoned that by the very frankness with which he has explained that while there are anomalies even grosser—and he dealt with them at some length—than those dealt with in the Bill, if you grant plural voting to be an anomaly at all, it will undoubtedly benefit his own party. Let me ask him this question. There is no doubt that the sole reason the Bill is being pressed forward this Session is to bring it within the four corners of the Parliament Act. He knows very well that if there had been a fair measure of registration reform, accompanied by Redistribution, there is little likelihood that the machinery of the Parliament Act would have had to be brought into play. The House of Lords in 1884 and 1885 accepted a settlement on a broad basis, as I am perfectly certain they would accept it now. The whole object of bringing in this gerrymandering Bill now is because in its present form no revising Chamber—I do not care what its composition or constitution—would ever be likely to accept it. I myself, am not ashamed to defend the existence of plural voting. By this Bill you are destroying the very basis of our constitutional development. The principle of the growth and efficiency of Parliament has been the representation of communities as such. The whole basis has been local in its character rather than personal. It is just the representation of communities that you are going to destroy by this measure. May I quote to the House the opinion of one of the greatest authorities on the British Constitution, additionally impartial because not an Englishman? He wrote:—In name at least there certainly still exists a House of Commons, but there are no longer any communitates, no longer any of those old-fashioned associations bound together by a sense of duty, which in the old communitates moderated individual interests by a constant consideration for the requirements of moral and legal order.You are, in this Bill, destroying the last vestige of the representation of what he calls "communitates." You are severing the connection between the individual voter 1259 and the constituency, and in doing so you are carrying through a work of destruction far larger than at first sight appears in the provisions of the Bill. That, of course, is an historical argument, but it is worth consideration. What is more important is that you are divorcing power and responsibility in the case of those electors whose opinion, after all, in the long run counts for most. The President of the Board of Education is very fond of bringing forward extreme examples of those who, having little real stake or interest in the country, possess a great many votes. The hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lancashire, who is a great expert on this subject, on the introduction of the Bill last year, spoke of thedisturbance of public feeling in the constituencies caused by the wholesale importation of voters.That is not the real case. Hard cases make bad law, and exceptional cases make bad law. The ordinary case is that of the employer of labour who, living in one constituency, exercises his influence in another. I say it is a bad thing for the community when you take away from that man the political responsibility he now has in the particular area where he exercises his power and where he employs his men. You are striking at social and industrial solidarity by this Bill, and you are putting the employer in a position of inferiority to his own workmen, which certainly does not lead to better feeling between them, and which creates a sense of injustice and creates mischief all round. That is the ordinary and normal case. The faggot voter suggested by the President of the Board of Education is of rare occurrence. I doubt whether even he suggests the wholesale creation of faggot voters at this time of day. He knows very well, whatever may have been the case in past years, that that is not the present condition of things, and that as a rule if men have more than one vote, it is because they have a diversity of interests. It is better that they should have the opportunity of attaching or keeping political power as part of that interest rather than that they should only be given a vote and a voice in a particular locality, in which, very likely, they have least interest and the least to say. But my main charge against the Bill is that it is going to increase the value of political machinery as such far more than any measure we have had to consider. This Bill is called a democratic Bill. It is not a democratic Bill, because the democracy has found its master in the 1260 caucus. You are going to increase the value of the political expert and the electioneering expert more by the provisions of this Bill than in any other way you can conceive. There is no greater tyrant than the political machine. What will be the result of this Bill? It will be the object so to manipulate the votes as to bring the maximum amount of influence to bear in the particular constituency where it is most wanted. There will be a great clearing house set up, and in the long run it will be the object so exactly to apportion political power as to obtain the greatest amount of advantage for the party for which these hired experts work. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that is a desirable consummation? In the United States of America at this very moment every effort is being made to shake off the fetters of the caucus, and the President who has just been elected has refused to take the orders of the caucus in making fresh appointments. Yet in this Bill you are doing your best to exalt and magnify the political machine. It shows what a gulf there is between the political pretext upon which the Bill is brought in, and the certain effect it will have in our political life. Nobody can say that this Bill has any national demand behind it. When other Bills dealing with the franchise have been brought in their promoters have always been able to say that outside there is a great and growing volume of opinion in their favour. The right hon. Gentleman last year said:—We cannot work so whole heartedly in the interests of our constituents if we do not retain their confidence.There is no particular sign that the right hon. Gentleman does retain their confidence at this moment, but whether that is so or not, at least there has been no such expression of opinion upon a national scale as affords any real case for the Bill before the House. I believe that in some ways it is without precedent. In the whole history of Parliament I do not believe that any measure of disfranchisement, pure and simple, has ever been brought forward. This is a measure of disfranchisement without any compensating advantages, except those indirect advantages of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, the principal one being the fact that there is to be a certain accession of strength to the Radical side. You are going to disfranchise by this Bill property in the first place. That is always supposed to be a democratic measure. I do not hesitate to say that in disfranchising property you are also going to disfranchise the trained 1261 capacity of this country so far as you can. It is a Bill that can do no good. The hon. Member for Blackburn has pointed out in what way the interests of the working classes will be injured. It sins against every principle of fair play, and, although I do not expect for one moment that the block vote opposite, which, I suppose, is going to be very silent during this Debate, is likely to consider the arguments we advance, I hope that we may have an election once more without its vitiating effects being felt, and that when a reform of the register, accompanied by Redistribution of seats, is brought forward, it will be on the lines approved in 1884–5, when both parties combined to place upon the Statute Book a settled and considered law, which was approved by the country, and has, on the whole, as we know, worked since with very great efficiency and fairness.
§ Mr. LEACH
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) was much more subdued and logical than he used to be before he sat behind the Front Bench. He and I approach this matter from entirely different points of view. I do not like this Bill, but I think he wishes to destroy it while I rather wish to amend and enlarge it. I think he approaches it as an enemy of the Government, and I ant a most earnest supporter of the Government, and I regret very much that the Government I support so heartily and so regularly should have brought in a Bill of this character to destroy plural voting at General Elections and leave it in operation at by-elections. It seems to me that it is at by-elections when the plural voter is most dangerous to any party to which he may happen to belong. We have come to give an exaggerated importance to them. We regard them as a kind of political thermometer that indicates the state of the country, and if at several by-elections they should happen to run in one direction we conclude that they indicate that the Government of the day, if the elections are against them, have lost the confidence of the country. I do not, however, think that that is always so. In many cases by-elections are won or lost by the number of men who come in from outside to vote at them, and sometimes by the larger number of vehicles which either party can call into use. This Bill takes from me the extra votes which I happen to possess, for I am one of those wicked men, a pluralist, and I am anxious to be robbed of every vote except one, if it is to be done all round. This Bill takes from 1262 me the right to vote more than once at a General Election, and gives me the power to vote at a place where I do not live when there happens to be a by-election in that particular district.
§ Mr. LEACH
Or three, if there happen to be three. If it be right to deprive me of my right to vote at a General Election, why is not that rule applied at a by-election? If the property vote can be used at a by-election, on what ground can it be justified to destroy the property vote at a General Election? I, of course, want to see the property vote destroyed at by-elections, and the proper thing is that we should destroy every vote except one for the place where the owner resides. It is late in the day to defend property voting at all. It is time to make manhood, and not what a man possesses, the basis for the right to vote, and the Liberal party above all others should not preserve class voting. This is a democratic Government, and I think it should manifest true democratic principles in this Bill or in any Bill proposed in this House to deal with the franchise. Why these half measures? A good deal of mischief, from my point of view, has resulted from half measures, hesitating measures, introduced by the party to which I belong. We were told this Bill was introduced in this form in the hope that this might go through much more readily than a larger Bill would, but I think the Government is mistaken in that notion. As far as I can judge, every means will be used to oppose the Bill, small as it may seem to be. I think the Opposition will fight it to the very last. What I desire is not to destroy the Bill, but to enlarge its scope so that it should include every elector of a Parliamentary candidate. Therefore the Government had far better set itself to abolish all plural voting. It is the settled policy of the Liberal party in the country to have one man one vote, and I think this Bill will cause—indeed, has caused already—a great, deal of disappointment to the warm and earnest friends of the Government, and if the managers of the Government will consult the party managers in the country they will find strong opposition to it in many districts. I have received several resolutions against it, urging me to protest against it as earnestly as I can. I will suggest to the Government that it would be better to 1263 enlarge the scope of this Bill, to do away entirely with all property qualifications of every kind, to destroy for ever qualifications of that character, and make manhood and not property the basis of the vote. Let every man, and I say every woman, of full age—twenty-five years of age—have a vote and one vote only. These being my views, I could not but express them when the opportunity was given to me, and whilst I most heartily support the Government on all occasions and shall support them on this, I should very much more readily and cheerfully support them if the Bill were made to destroy plural voting of every character.
§ Mr. SANDYS
From the point of view of the hon. Member I dare say there was a good deal to be said for the arguments which he suggested and for the dissatisfaction which he has expressed to the measure, and I hope that the representations which he intends to make to the managers of the Government whoever those interesting individuals may be, will be successful and that they will be able to induce the right hon. Gentleman to enlarge the scope of the Bill. He will have some difficulty in doing so, owing to the extremely limited phraseology of the title, and consequently most of the Amendments having for their object any enlargement of the Bill, would, I think, be ruled out of order. In considering the Bill we are entitled also to remark upon the somewhat peculiar circumstances under which this new Bill has been introduced to the consideration of the House. The right hon. Gentleman himself is really only just recovering from the bereavement which overtook him in connection with the death of his first born. Unfortunately the constitution of this child was not, as it turned out, sufficiently robust to meet all the vicissitudes which it had to undergo, and consequently this unfortunate infant perished from what I may call a system of forcible feeding, and an attempt to over load its constitution with more legislative nourishment than it was actually able to assimilate. Now after a decent interval the right hon. Gentleman comes before us with another legislative offspring which he commends to our sanction and approval. He has admitted, in somewhat similar terms to those he used in the case of the other Bill, that this proposal is going to be of advantage to the party of which he is so distinguished a Member. Consequently, as that is the admitted view 1264 of the Liberal party, I am not at all surprised to find that all these improvements in registration, all the simplification of methods of obtaining the vote to which so much importance was attached when the other Bill was under consideration, have now been completely thrown overboard, and there only remains what was the principal object of the first Bill, namely, the abolition of plural voting, which of course is regarded as essential to the security of the Liberal party at the next General Election.
The plural voter has been the subject of attack, both in this House and on the public platform, on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite for a good many years past. In 1884, when the Representation of the People Bill was under consideration, an Amendment for the abolition of plural voting was brought forward by a Liberal Member, but it was ultimately withdrawn at the express desire of Mr. Gladstone himself. In 1892 legislation was introduced, and in 1906 the then Colonial Secretary was successful in passing a Bill with this object through all its stages in this House, but, owing to circumstances over which the right hon. Gentleman had no control, the Bill did not ultimately become law. If the Government in 1906, with the enormous majority which they then possessed in this House, were anxious to disfranchise a large class of their political opponents, I am certain, of course, that the reasons are very much stronger now, when their majority has been seriously diminished as the result of the two elections in 1910, and when they are aware that on the next appeal to the country they will be saddled with the responsibility of the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and other transactions of a minor character which have not improved their political reputation. Under these circumstances their anxiety to disfranchise a clearly defined class of political opponents is by no means unnatural. But apart from the constitutional aspect of the question, this new franchise proposal is extremely important from the point of view of numbers alone. The effect of this short, sharp Act, as I suppose Lord Haldane would probably describe it, is to disfranchise away 500,000 voters—to disfranchise more voters than were actually placed on the register as the result of the great Reform Bill of 1832.
But far more important, in my opinion, than any question of numbers is the constitutional question which is involved in this 1265 proposal. The electoral system of this country, hitherto at any rate, has been based upon the theory of local representation. Collectively we sit in this House as the representatives of the nation. Individually we are representatives of particular constituencies and particular localities. Every emphasis surely is laid upon this constitutional fact. The writs which are issued for the return of Members to Parliament are issued for the return of a Member for a particular place. In this House itself we are referred to not by our own name, but by the names of the localities which we represent, and so long as the principle of the representation of localities remains as the basis of our Constitution it is surely obvious that every person who has an interest in any particular locality, who has a proper qualification, independently of any interest which he may possess elsewhere, is entitled to have a voice and a vote in the choice of a Member for that particular place. If this proposal is, in effect, to change the constitutional theory, and if the theory of local representation is now going to be abandoned, and Members are no longer to sit here as the representatives of particular localities, the result will be that we shall not in future fully represent the interests of those localities for which we are supposed to sit; whilst, on the other hand, with respect to such of our constituents as happen to have interests in other districts, our responsibilities will be widely extended beyond the territorial limits of our own divisions. What logically follows? If the ancient theory of local representation is going to be abandoned, surely we must provide at the same time for the numerical equalisation of constituencies, and for the periodical revision of the numbers of the population in the constituencies, which ought, in my opinion, to be of an automatic character. Therefore, before this change is carried into effect, I say we are entitled to know whether it is going to be pursued to its logical conclusion, or whether in order to remove one anomaly an anomaly of an even more serious character is going to be created. In 1592 an Amendment was moved to the Plural Voting Abolition Bill in terms which exactly and concisely express the argument I am now stating to the House. It was in the following ternas:—
That it would not be just or expedient to carry out the principle of 1266 'One Man One Vote,' embodied in this Bill, unless the number of representatives allotted to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively, were previously settled in proportion to the population of each of those parts of the United Kingdom, and the principle of equality in voting thus secured.That Amendment was moved in 1892, in a speech of great force and eloquence, by the right hon. Gentleman who now represents the Irish Agricultural Department (Mr. T. W. Russell). Possibly the right hon. Gentleman may have changed his views in face of the fact that the Irish elector is, as I understand, to be a consistent plural voter. Under the Home Rule Bill proposals the elector in Ireland will always have one vote for the Imperial Parliament and one vote for the new Irish Parliament in Dublin. If the right hon. Gentleman holds the opinion he held in 1892 I hope he will ask his colleagues to consider this question, which he raised with so much effect on that occasion. There would be an excellent precedent for following this course. In 1884 there was, as hon. Members must be aware, a great controversy in this House and in the country over the Representation of the People Bill, which was then under consideration. In order to settle that controversy, Mr. Gladstone agreed that the broad outlines of the then scheme of Redistribution should be communicated to the Leaders of the party opposite, and what actually happened was that the details were examined, and a mutual basis of agreement was arrived at. Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote, by invitation, attended meetings of Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet, where all those questions were discussed, and where ultimately an arrangement was come to. I think that was an exceedingly satisfactory way of settling what must be a very thorny question, namely, how to arrive at a just system of Redistribution. I cannot help thinking that, if it is the intention of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, as they say—I fully accept their statement—of ultimately accompanying this scheme by a new Redistribution plan, they should adopt this principle, which worked in such an eminently satisfactory way under Mr. Gladstone.
The peculiarities of this Bill have already been alluded to. One of these is that it only applies to a General Election, which, in my opinion, shows that the right hon. Gentleman has not drawn up the Bill on 1267 any broad principles, but has merely selected the most convenient way of obtaining the object he had in view, namely, the success of the Liberal party at the next election. The penalties provided under the Bill are very severe. Two years' hard labour, I think, is the maximum, or a fine of £200. Personally, I do not complain much of that. The majority of plural voters are well-educated people, and if this Bill is passed, I think attempts to evade the law should be very severely punished. I think the drafting, of the Bill is extremely unsatisfactory It is a short Bill indeed, and, therefore, we are entitled to have it put in the clearest possible language. A severe penal measure of this character should, I think, have been drawn with the greatest possible accuracy, instead of in a hurried way as apparently the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with it. Under the Bill two new offences are created. First of all, the Bill imposes a penalty on an elector, according to the strict terms of the title, who votes in more than one constituency at a General Parliamentary Election; but it also imposes an equal penalty upon a person who asks for a ballot or voting paper for the purpose of voting in more than one constituency. I think this has been so carelessly drafted that it might lead to cases of great hardship indeed. I do not know what the intention of the right hon. Gentleman was. Take the case of a man who thinks he is entitled to vote in two constituencies. He goes to a polling booth, say, in the constituency in which he resides, and asks for a ballot paper. He is told, for some reason or other, that his name is not on the register, and that consequently he cannot have a ballot paper because he is not entitled to to vote. That man goes away, and next day an election is taking place in another constituency in which he also believes he is entitled to vote as an elector. He goes to a polling booth in that constituency and asks for a ballot paper. He is on the register, he records his vote, and he at once becomes liable to this severe penalty under the Bill. For voting in one constituency and asking for a ballot paper in another he is liable to two years' hard labour, or a fine of £200. I think that is a hard penalty for a man who has, after all, only exercised his vote in one constituency. Owing to the careless way the Bill has been drafted, he renders himself liable to this very severe penalty.
1268 I am not sure whether that was the right hon. Gentleman's intention, but I think if he reads the Sub-section through carefully, he will admit that its grammatical construction is very faulty indeed. I am sorry to make this very severe charge against the President of the Board of Education, because we should have expected the purity of his English, to attain, at any rate, the standard of Cæsar's wife. I think it is inexcusable that such a short Bill as this, to which the Liberal party attach so much importance, should be so carelessly, hastily, and imperfectly drafted. There is another point which I know, will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in his particular capacity. Even if it was thought desirable to make the constitutional changes which are involved in this proposal, I think the Government have chosen an extremely unfortunate moment in view of the fact that just recently prominent Members of their party, and especially the Lord Chancellor, have admitted that even after seven years of benevolent and beneficent Radical administration the education system of the country is wholly unsatisfactory. At a meeting of the Manchester Reform Club on 10th January last, Lord Haldane said:Another great social problem was now upon them, Hitherto the Liberal party had done nothing publicly for the coming generation, and yet the coming generation was in some respects the most important of all. In what he was going to say he was not speaking casually, or with any light sense of responsibility, but, after consulting with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Pease, they had decided that this question was the next and the most urgent of the great social problems they had to take up. Of course, it was education. The state of education in this country, elementary, secondary and higher, was chaotic. …I do not wish to dispute the accuracy or the very damaging criticism which the Lord Chancellor directed towards his right hon. Friend's Department, but I think it is very regrettable that the Government did not find out this state of affairs before. It is unfortunate that, instead of devoting themselves to great constitutional changes which are of doubtful benefit to the country, they did not give some attention to the important question of education. Even the most ardent supporters of the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that there is a distinct connection between education and the exercise of the franchise. I do not think it is necessary for me to remind them of the very strong views which John Stuart Mill held on this question. He was an advocate of plural voting, because he believed, and rightly believed, the property owner was, as a rule, a person of higher intelligence and better education. Consequently, I think 1269 it is extremely unfortunate that just at this time, when the Radical Government has discovered that the education of this country is so wholly unsatisfactory and so completely chaotic, they should have selected this opportunity for disfranchising a class of men whose qualifications are admittedly above the standard of the average elector. I have no wish to deny that in past years the legislation of this country has perhaps been too exclusively concerned, or too largely concerned, with the protection of the rights and privileges of property. I am perfectly ready to admit that it is our first care and our primary duty to direct our attention towards improving the conditions of the great masses of the people who are admittedly ill-educated and unable to protect themselves; but I do not believe that we shall achieve any real or permanent improvement in their circumstances by advancing any proposals which are going to interfere with the stability and security of the country as a whole.
I have no wish that there should be any unfair representation of the more prosperous classes of the community in this House, but I strongly believe that it is our duty to see that persons who happen to be in a numerical minority should have their interests properly represented and protected. That minorities must suffer was an obiter dictum once made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It is a dangerous and disastrous principle in my opinion, and I am sorry to see that the Government appear to be adopting it as their maxim for every-day conduct. That minorities must suffer is a complete negation of civilisation. It is a return to the methods of barbarism. Civilised government means the protection of the rights of minorities. It must be remembered that from the class against whom these proposals are directed a very large proportion of the national revenue is derived. It must be remembered that this class is subjected to special forms of taxation, from which the vast mass of the people are exempted, and therefore, while I am not in any way desirous that any body of persons in the State should possess privileges to which they are not justly entitled, I am strongly opposed to disfranchisement of this class of elector, because I believe that the fundamental alteration in the constitutional theory of representation, which is involved in this proposal, is unnecessary, undesirable, and unjustifiable. I also oppose it because I regard this proposal, not as an honest effort to improve our electoral 1270 system, but as a dishonest attempt to gain a party advantage for the Radical party at the polls.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I do not propose to follow in detail the arguments of the hon. Member who has just sat down, to whose speech I listened with close attention. I do not propose to discuss the rights of minorities. I am afraid that I do not quite appreciate the bearing of the topic on the discussion in which we are engaged. Neither do I propose to criticise the grammar or the draftsmanship of the Clauses of this Bill, because, if there is anything faulty in either, I have no doubt that it can be put right during the Committee stage. The hon. Member did make one reference to which I will allude. He said that Mr. Gladstone in 1884 had suggested the withdrawal of an Amendment to a Bill then before the House, an Amendment dealing with plural voting. I do not know whether the hon. Member meant to suggest by that that Mr. Gladstone had any doubt or difficulty about the disadvantages of plural voting. If I am not very much mistaken, in 1881, three years before the date to which the hon. Member referred, Mr. Gladstone in this House supported a Motion for the abolition of plural voting moved by Mr. Stansfeld and referred incidentally to "plural voting by lottery." There is another reference of the hon. Member to which I desire to allude. He repeatedly referred to this as a disfranchising measure. I venture, with the greatest submission, to dispute that suggestion. I regard it as an equalising measure. He might just as well say that by prohibiting a man from having more than one wife you prevent him from marrying, as say that this measure, which takes away a surplus number of votes which many enjoy, is a disfranchising measure, seeing that they are at any rate left with one vote when the process is completed. Speaking as a Scottish Liberal Member, I welcome this Bill, and I know that it will be welcomed in Scotland. There was a reference made on the other side of the House, in the course of the Debate, to the fact that there was not a national demand for this Bill. All I can say to the hon. Member who said that is that if he will come up to Scotland—I do not Presume to speak on behalf of England, but I do speak about Scotland which I know—he will find that there is no measure which has been looked forward to with more eager anticipation in every part of Scotland than this measure, that there 1271 is no article of the Liberal creed to which Scotland has yielded more unfailing allegiance than this, and that there is no event to which Scotch Liberal electors look forward with more lively satisfaction than watching the exit of the plural voter as he goes to his long home.
§ Mr. MUNRO
The hon. Member raises the subject of Redistribution, to which I propose to allude. If he will allow me I will deal with that point later. But what I was saying at the moment was that this feeling which is entertained in Scotland at the Present time is no new feeling. It is not of to-day or yesterday, nor even of last year. This is a reform which has been pressed for, day in and day out, year in and year out, for many years. I am quite sure that I voice the sentiments of Liberal Scotland—and I do not profess to speak for any other—when I say that the intensity of the demand has rather grown than diminished in recent years. There is a very good reason for this. I do not think that there is any part of the United Kingdom which, in proportion to its size, has been a greater sufferer than Scotland at the hands of the plural voter. There is no part of the United Kingdom where the voice of the resident voter has been more frequently adulterated and obliterated by the fugitive visitor than in Scotland, and no place where the stage army of plural voters has been more proudly paraded than in my native country. In these circumstances it is not surprising that Scotland has always taken a very prominent part in this agitation. The average elector there is quite unable to appreciate why one man should have one vote and many others should have five or six votes. He has never been able to appreciate why the right to have more than one vote should depend on whether a man has property in one county or in more than one county, or why this right, which is almost exclusively the privilege of the monied classes, and is denied to the working classes should continue to have legislative sanction. Holding these views, it is not surprising that the voter in Scotland should regard the present situation with a feeling of very considerable satisfaction.
The present situation is that now, for the first time in the history of the Liberal party, they not only have the will, but 1272 they have the power to carry this reform into law. They are no longer engaged in the somewhat futile occupation of ploughing the sands. They are now engaged in the much more fruitful avocation of tilling fertile soil and looking forward with certainty to the harvest which will ensue. In other words, what Parliament in 1906, with the great Liberal majority which then existed, was quite unable to accomplish the Parliament of 1913, assisted by the leverage of the Parliament Act, can and will achieve. Accordingly, the present situation is regarded not only with equanimity, but with satisfaction, on the other side of the Border. I am not going to weary the House by arguing the case against plural voting in detail. It has been done to-day and many times, and the subject is very familiar to every Member of the House. Those of us who sit on this side think that the arguments which have been put forward have not been answered. Some of us think that they are not capable of being answered. In this matter we can point to precedent. We point to the fact that this reform is an accomplished fact in France, the United States, and many of our Colonies. But, looking nearer home, we find that in every public body in the country, the county councils, the district councils, the town councils, and the parish councils, the principle for which we contend universally obtains. If precedent be not sufficient then one is entitled also to appeal to principle for which we contend universally as logically claim to have several votes, say, in one large county, as to claim to have one vote in several counties; and that the measure is an equalising one and not a disfranchising one in this respect, that it abolishes a system under which the power of the wealthy classes is maximised and the power of the poorer classes is minimised.
Look at the case made against the Bill. When a legislative reform is proposed it may be objected to on one of two grounds—as being bad per se or as being inopportune. I gather from the speeches to which I have listened this afternoon that the opposition to this particular Bill rather falls within the latter category than the former. In other words, the argument against it is not so much an argument on the merits as a dilatory plea, which I shall examine for a moment. I do not think it possible for hon. Members on the other side to argue against the proposal on its merits, when one remembers that the right 1273 hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said in 1891:—I am pledged to the view that plural voting is inconsistent with the principle of our present suffrage. I believe that plural voting is doomed, and that sooner or later we must have uniformity of franchise.And the Noble Lord, the Member for Hitchin, speaking at Glasgow so recently as 15th December, 1911, as reported, said this:—By all means let them have one man one vote. No Unionist objected, but they must have the complementary reform of one vote one man.I think that I have met Unionists who do object to the reform per se. But the argument to-day has rather taken the other shape, namely, that this reform should be delayed until coupled with another reform to which reference has been made. I do not need to remind the House that plural voting was banned in 1888, when the party opposite passed the Local Government Act of that year, and the system for which we contend was blessed as recently as 1911 both by Lord Lansdowne and the senior Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) in connection with the Referendum, which was then proposed, to the considerable embarrassment no doubt of some of their own supporters at that time. And when we turn to the official Amendment now upon the Paper we find that the plural voter is referred to as an anomaly. Accordingly, I do not think that I need labour the point that objection is not taken to this reform upon its merits. It is rather the dilatory plea which is urged, namely, that the Bill is inopportune. It is objected to not because of what it contains, but because of what it does not contain. That is a purely debating point with no real substance in it. Some Bills are always inopportune. A Bill of this character has always been regarded as inopportune by the Opposition, and they always say we should wait for a more convenient season. Of Felix of old I think we read that the convenient season to which he looked forward never arrived, and I do not think that the convenient season for dealing with this particular topic would ever arrive either. Primâ facie it is not a good objection to reform which is suggested that we have one grievance which we propose to remove, but that you have another grievance which we do not at the same time propose to remove.
It is surely not a good objection to say that one anomaly shall not be removed because at the same moment you do not propose to remove another anomaly, or that you shall not remove one anomaly 1274 because you do not remove all other anomalies at the same time. Surely that primâ facie, is not a forcible argument. The argument presented on the other side was that this reform should not be dealt with until Redistribution is also dealt with. Redistribution is a very big question, and is not nearly so simple a reform as this with which we are dealing, which is quite unconnected in many of its aspects with Redistribution. Why should we delay this Ruform Bill while we tackle that thorny question? Why entangle this reform with it? The truth is that this proposal is a necessary preliminary to Redistribution, because it will result not in making small constituencies smaller, but in bringing more nearly to an average size the larger constituencies, so approximating to that system of equality which hon. Members on the other side refer to. We are told by the other side that we expect from this proposal to secure some party advantage. The right hon. and learned Member who moved the official Amendment asked whether, if there were four Liberals to one Conservative affected by the Bill instead of the other way about, we would propose it. I venture to put another question to the hon. Member. Supposing there were four Conservatives to one Liberal, would he then oppose the Bill? I think that is an argument which cuts both ways, and is capable of a very easy and effective reply on the lines to which I have alluded. We are confident that the resistance to this proposal which has so often succeeded will on this occasion fail, and that a reform which has been long desired, and which has also been long delayed, will at last reach the Statute book.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
The hon. Member who has just spoken (Mr. Munro) put the case on behalf of Scottish Liberals; I speak as a Scottish Unionist Member. The situation in which we Unionists in Scotland find ourselves is one which makes us look pretty closely to this question. The hon. Gentleman complained that we on this side of the House have advanced what he calls a purely debating point in advancing the fact that we cannot willingly consent to lose the plural vote unless accompanied by Redistribution. There is no part of the country in which the present anomalous condition of our whole representative system tells with more grotesque results than in Scotland. It is the fact—known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, though they naturally do not quote it— 1275 that, if you take the whole of Scotland, each Unionist sitting in this House represents some 25,000 votes, and each Liberal in this House stands for about 6,000 votes. The right hon. Gentleman to whom falls what I think the rather ungrateful task of defending this Bill, when driven into his last ditch, used the argument that, even if this Bill be not followed by the fulfilment of the promise which has been made, that even if circumstances should prevent that promise from being fulfilled, this Bill would in no way aggravate the anomalies that would he left. I want to traverse that statement in connection with Scotland. We Unionists in Scotland owe the small representation which we have, to some extent at any rate, to the existence of countervailing anomalies. If you remove one set of anomalies and not the other set, obviously you upset the balance between the two sets of anomalies. We owe what Unionist representation we have in part to the existence of anomalies.
Our condition is bad enough as it is. We represent 25,000 electors each as against 6,000 for each Radical Member, but the effect of this Bill in all probability will be considerably to reduce the representation which the Unionists have in Scotland at the present time. How is that? In the first place, it so happens that a part of the miserable representation which the Unionists of Scotland have in this House is due to the two university seats. As soon as this Bill is passed, machinery will come into existence for the purpose of manipulating the university vote, so that there may be just sufficient Liberal votes left to carry the university seats. Unionists, who are in a minority, naturally require every vote they can get in other constituencies, and there will be a far greater demand for the Unionist voter than there will be for the Liberal voter in the university, and the whole matter will be reduced to the most careful calculation of probabilities. There will be an organisation in Glasgow and an organisation in Edinburgh for the purpose, if possible, of carrying the university seats. Let us consider the direct action of this Bill. There may be three seats in Scotland which at the present moment fall to the Unionists by virtue of the plural vote. I do not for one moment believe that the plural vote, the property vote in Scotland, is quite so Unionist as is commonly represented, but accepting the calculation that I see put forward frequently 1276 on the other side, that it is dominantly Unionist—and the hon. Gentleman complained of the way in which the external vote had been given, and therefore showed his belief that the greater proportion of the out-vote is Unionist—accepting that position, then it is quite likely that three more seats may go because of the removal of the plural vote; that is to say, that out of the miserable representation due to the existence of these anomalies, five seats may go owing to the action, direct or indirect, of this Bill.
There are other anomalies which hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to get rid of. They would like to get rid of the triangular or, as in my own case, the quadrangular election. We owe those seats to the existence of these anomalies to which I have referred, and the clear fact, to my mind, is that, if it were not for these anomalies countervailing the single-Member constituencies with a bare majority carrying the whole representation, the Unionists in Scotland, nearly one-half of the country, would have a representation in this House equivalent not to one Member for every 25,000 votes, but more like one Member for every 40,000 votes. I traverse the position put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, that the carrying of this Bill, even if it were not followed by the fulfilment of the promise which he has perfectly honestly put forward, and which he admits may not be possible of fulfilment, that the remaining anomalies would not be aggravated. I contend that the position will be aggravated; it is bad enough as it is, but I think it will become worse. That is why Unionists in Scotland intensely object to the removal of one set of anomalies without the removal of all of them. Our representative system at present is a bundle of accidents, and by an accident it happens that in Scotland we have countervailing anomalies which give us some compensation for the injustice done to us at the present time. I know that this point has relation to the large question of Redistribution, and also to the question of whether we should have proportional representation or not. I submit that no broad reconsideration of our electoral system can give you the proper results, unless in some way or other you enfranchise the great evenly distributed minority, which is the minority in the greater number of constituencies. The Unionist Party, in various parts of the country, differs in its characteristics; the Unionists of the north are not always 1277 similar to the Unionists of the south, and the result is that you get an antagonism which is wholly false. Unionists in the south and in the Metropolitan area are not always similar to the Unionists in the north of England, or the Unionists in Scotland, so that parties become something which is not national, but local, and we have an antagonism between parties based on local differences and not on great national differences in the consideration of national affairs. For that reason we believe that the effect of dealing with this one anomaly will be to very considerably aggravate the injustice which results in Scotland to one great party of the State.
I recognise that at this time of day we shall probably progress to the position where every man has one vote; but it is not a fair way of criticising our party to say that we defend the plural vote, and to reply to us, "What we want to have represented is the manhood of the nation, and not what a man possesses." A similar idea has been put forward by different Members. What is represented, I would point out, is not property, the house and so forth, but an organised and running business. The claim we put forward for business men is not as to ownership, but as to their stake in the country as a going concern. The new theory of counting mere heads is something totally different from what the whole of our Constitution is based on. Our Constitution is based upon our having representatives from different parts of the country to give their advice to the Executive. At one time you paid them to induce them to come. The whole thing has now changed, and it becomes a question of a claim to equal representation because you claim an equal right to divide all the spoil that is going. I know that is the fashionable view. But you are getting into a very dangerous condition. You have no longer got the idea that you should contribute advice and help to the State, but that a man is to get what he can out of the State. If you take that view, I agree that you must give all men equality of weight, but if you hold the view that it is for every citizen to take his part in maintaining the fabric of the State in competition with the other great States of the world, then those who have the greatest experience and the greatest stake in the nation and its business, in competition with the trade of other nations, should have a considerable and more than average voice in the 1278 management of the country. They have the responsibility, they would suffer the first loss, and would carry down with them a considerable number of those who are defenceless. There is not merely the question of a great employer of labour having his property represented, but also having his responsibility represented. That employer of labour if, owing to any turn in foreign affairs or any turn in national finance, his business goes down, carries down with him in his failure a great number of those whom he employs, and carries them down helpless to defend themselves. I agree with the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Surrey in his statement that the true distinction between the two votes possessed by the employer, in respect of his place of residence and in respect of his works, and the mere faggot votes of those who sought to accumulate votes by a £2 rent in a variety of constituencies, is the principle of responsibility. The man ought, in order to carry out his responsibility to those whom he employs, to have a weight in the management of the affairs of the State, because, after all, management of the affairs of the State is management of the whole bundle of businesses which give employment and find the living wage that is asked for for the masses of the people of the country.
Going on the principle of dividing the booty leads you to the idea that all heads are to count equally. The principle of responsibility leads you to the idea that those who have the greatest responsibility should have the greatest weight, as they carry the greater number of lives dependent on them. We are not merely arguing for party advantage, and it is very unfair to throw upon us a criticism in that form, because plural voting is capable of defence—I do not say with all its anomalies, and with its occasional faggot votes, but in its essence as representing a man's stake in the place where his works are situated it is capable of defence, and in a way that I believe will be urged in future far more than it is at present. The tendency at the present moment is to give power in the State to those who have everything to gain by leaning upon the State. That was the principle known in the old times as Bread and the Circus, which brought down the Roman Empire. You had a certain number of men responsible, and in order to carry the masses with them they had to throw to them what were in fact bribes. 1279 We are very nearly reaching that position at the present time. You are getting to the position very nearly when those responsible for the conduct of the business of the State must through the Government of the country bribe the masses of the people, who have no immediate responsibility. I know that for the time being the forces of democracy are making in that direction. I quite realise we shall come to the condition of one man one vote, and I hope of one vote one value. But in the future I venture to think we shall return to the idea of service to the State and power to those who are responsible, and not merely power to those who have everything to gain immediately but no interest in the ultimate good finances of the country. Therefore I protest against the arguments which have been put forward on our behalf but not by us in regard to plural voting. I protest on behalf of the Unionists of Scotland against the abolition of only one anomaly the effect of which will be to aggravate the condition in which we stand at present, because that anomaly helps us to some nominal representation in this House of what is nearly half the Scottish nation.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
I have listened with a good deal of interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Before I pass to that part of his argument more strictly germane to the Bill before us I should like to deal for a moment with the question he raised at the end. He sets up as the standard for electoral rights a sense of responsibility. I should like to ask him how does he propose to achieve a sense of responsibility in the populace at large unless he associates them, and willingly associates them, with the mass of others, and with what we may call the leading spirits, in the work of government as a whole? I should have thought if he had taken the trouble to get alongside many of those whom he represents in this House, and he represents a great industrial constituency in Glasgow, he would have found that, proportionately speaking at all events, the sense of responsibility and the extent of political education in those whom he represents has developed to a very remarkable degree. I think on second thoughts, when he reflects, he will not find that the parallel which he drew between ourselves and the latter days of the Roman Empire is quite so true in all its details as he suggested. It is after all a little far-fetched to say that we are 1280 getting back to the days of the bread in the circus. He may complain that modern industrial unrest has in it elements of cupidity, and he may regret that those who exercise the franchise to-day are in any degree motived or moved by any sense of cupidity. But, I think, it can be equally strongly held, and equally soundly held, that cupidity is undoubtedly an erroneous word to apply, and that the further we dig into the roots of industrial unrest, the more certainly do we see that there are just and ascertainable reasons why industrial unrest exists and that they do not merely spring from the desire to get even with one's betters.
Let me come to the question of plural voting more directly. I noted at the outset with some interest the admission of the hon. Gentleman that the abolition of plural voting would weaken the strength of the Unionist representation in Scotland. That I believe is perfectly true, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to single out Scotland, and to say, "Look at us poor Scottish Unionists, we are about a baker's dozen against some sixty of the opposite side, and if you deprive us of the plural vote we will be even less than we are to-day." Let me take the country as a whole and put myself in the position of that very rara avis a Liberal Member sitting for a suburban constituency, and let me ask in the area between the North Foreland and Southampton how many Liberals are represented by the very few Liberals who are returned. Are we not justified in saying that what he calls the over representation of Liberalism in Scotland is at least balanced by the under representation of Liberalism, broadly speaking, in the southern counties of England. As long as the party division holds I do not think his argument can be accepted as quite sound. He suggests and brings forward an artificial distinction, but, broadly speaking, there is a line of antagonism almost as clearly drawn between Liberalism and Conservatism in the southern counties as between Liberalism and Conservatism in Scotland. Therefore, I think I am entitled to remind him in a question of this kind he must take the area of the country as a whole, and he will find that the gains in one place are balanced by losses in another.
§ Mr. WHYTE
If the hon. Member did, I do not quite see why he pursued that argument. Let me refer to his contention that Redistribution should accompany a 1281 proposal of one man one vote. I, for one, have never been able to understand why the Conservative party supposed that it stood to gain by Redistribution. Take Scotland. What would be the result of Redistribution in Scotland? It would be additional representation in this House to the industrial areas. The proportion of Unionist representation in the industrial areas in Scotland is very much what the proportion of Unionist representation is to the whole representation of Scotland. Therefore, the position would be very much in future what it is now, and, even if you had complete redistribution of seats, you would have certain small areas disappearing probably into their respective counties, and you would have an increase in the representation of those areas which have shown quite unmistakably in the main that they are of Radical opinion. Therefore I do not understand where the hon. Gentleman finds a basis for that part of his argument. It is not strictly germane to the present subject, though the argument advanced from the other side has always run on that line, namely, that the one reform must necessarily be accompanied by the other, whereas in truth I believe the sounder view to be that expressed by the hon. Member for Wick Burghs, namely, that the abolition of plural voting is the proper precursor of a system of redistribution of seats.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
An hon. Member opposite challenged us to criticise this Bill on the merits of plural voting. I am old-fashioned enough to try to do so now. We were challenged to say, supposing the boot was on the other leg, and that the Unionist party would very largely benefit by such a Bill, whether we should then oppose it. I say most unhesitatingly I would do so, because I believe in the principle of there being a stake in th country for those who direct its affairs. I believe, either in one shape or another, that the man who has the largest stake in the country should have a larger voice in the governing of the country than the person who has not that interest. Rome has been referred to once or twice to-night, and that reminds me of a classical writer who said that the largest mob was not necessarily the wisest. That is exactly the principle which moves me in criticising this Bill. If the plutocrats on the other side really believed in the principle of this Bill, then, supposing they have any shares in a company, say ten or twenty thousand, while another man has only two or three, they would say that all 1282 shareholders should have equal votes, irrespective of their holding. If they do that and go back conscientiously to the constituencies and say that they are going to apply the principle of this Bill to their own affairs, and that they are going to rearrange their private companies on that basis, then I will believe in them, but if they do not then I do not believe that the principle of this Bill is anything but that of a gerrymandering measure.
Whilst I say that the man who has the greatest share in the country should have more than one vote, I am also of opinion, supposing a measure of this kind were passed, that there should be more than one vote given to certain persons if they held certain qualifications. For instance, I believe in the Belgian principle, and I certainly think, supposing you had one man one vote, that there again plural voting ought to come in in the shape of having an educational qualification. I think that the educational qualification should naturally be low. There again, however, the principle of plural voting comes in. I think also that the man who has more than three children should have a plural vote. To condemn, as I have heard condemned for the last four hours, the principle of plural voting is, I think, entirely unsound. I do not call it an anomaly or anything of the kind; I boldly stand up for the plural vote, which is one of those things which has helped to put England in the position in which she is at the present time, and I think it would be a disastrous thing if the vote were given broadcast to every one of the people of this country. I have been abroad and seen how it acts in other countries. I recollect a case where manhood suffrage had a most disastrous effect in New Zealand. A late Prime Minister out there, a very strong man who was accustomed to carry his way, was very anxious indeed to win an election in a particular constituency. What did he do? He arranged that a railway which was to be built should be immediately proceeded with, and he carted 5,000 labourers from one part of the country to another, so that they would be able to vote in that particular constituency at the time of the election. Therefore, you see that gerrymandering could go on very easily even under a system of manhood suffrage. I am very sorry that the Government could not see their way to grant the detailed return in regard to plural voters for which I asked. The 1283 President of the Board of Education evidently had a great many figures before him. He mentioned 500,000 as the probable number. There are many more detailed figures than that which I am certain he could have given us. He could have given us the number of plural voters in the boroughs, even if he could not in the counties. His well-managed party office would doubtless have those figures, and they would be very useful to the House. The right hon. Gentleman contradicted me when in an interruption I said that a freeholder is not able to vote within six months. It is quite true that a freeholder can be put on the register after a period of six months, but it does not necessarily follow that he can then vote. If a man buys a house in December, I admit that he can get on the register on the 1st July; but that register does not come into operation until the 1st January of the following year. Therefore, it takes at least a year, and if an election did not take place until the end of the year it might easily follow that a freeholder could not vote until two years after the time when he first obtained his qualification.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to show how this Bill will actually operate. I must confess that I am disappointed with the Bill. I intend to vote for it, not because I think it is a great measure, but because it will at once put every citizen on an equality at a General Election. I consider that at a General Election we want something in the nature of a Referendum on the basis of one man one vote, and until we get some measure of this kind we cannot attain that end. I have taken the trouble to ascertain how this Bill, if it becomes law, will act in my own Constituency and in the constituencies immediately adjoining. In my Constituency there are about 15,500 electors, of whom 925 reside outside the division. There are also about fifty persons, mostly farmers, whose farms or places of business are not only in my division, but also in adjoining divisions. They form a different class from those usually known as out-voters. In most cases they are freehold voters with a freehold qualification in a division in which they do not reside. A Bill which would enable a constituency to be represented by the electors in the constituency is what we want. This Bill does not secure that. It will only prevent a man from voting more than once. It will not give to a constituency the right to be represented as the majortiy of the 1284 electors in the constituency desire. Adjoining my Constituency is the Division of South Bristol, in which there is a very small Liberal majority. A large number of persons dwelling in my Constituency are voters in that division because they have places of business in the city. I estimate that there are 500 or 600 such persons. It is obvious, therefore, that with a small majority in the South Bristol Division, the result of an election there can be determined by people living in my Constituency. Hence, when it comes to an election, it will be a question with at least 500 voters in my division whether they shall try to turn out me or my colleague the Member for South Bristol. As I have a fairly big majority, they will very likely not trouble about me, but will concentrate upon my neighbour. That is very satisfactory to me, but very unsatisfactory to him.
It is also unsatisfactory from the point of view that what we really want to have is a constituency the representation of which is decided by the votes of those who live therein. The out-voter is, in electioneering, an unmitigated nuisance. He has to be canvassed at a distance; he has to be cajoled into voting by artifices and very often more or less specious representations that his vote is highly valued and may just turn the scale. But what will it be at a General Election if we have persons who are plural voters in a number of divisions being canvassed from all parts of the country to give their vote in this or that particular constituency and not elsewhere? I have six or seven votes, but would be very well content with one. I am dealing with the position on the assumption that this Bill becomes law, and no other change in the electoral law is made. I shall be canvassed by a number of constituencies to give my vote there and nowhere else, and I shall find it extremely hard to decide how to give that single vote. Further, this Bill, if carried into law, will make electioneering much more expensive, and on that ground I very much object to it. The expense of electioneering at the present time is a great deal too high. When we have two General Elections in one year it is almost as bad as putting a Super-tax on incomes of £500 a year. This point of view ought not to escape the attention of hon. Members opposite. The Bill is so incomplete and so unsatisfactory that I regard it only as a lever for getting something more. I hope that the Government will give a pledge, which they will endeavour to carry out as far as any 1285 political pledge can be carried out, to introduce a Redistribution Bill next Session. It may not be necessary to pass it through all its stages; possibly the year after will be time enough for that. I hope, however, to extract from the Government before the Session closes a promise that something more than this Bill will he given us before the next General Election. A lever to extract a better measure is good, but the better measure is what we want, and that is what I am looking forward to.
Another point which ought to be considered is the bearing of this Bill on Redistribution. Redistribution is, in my opinion, very necessary. I want to see all constituencies as nearly as possible equal in population. If that were brought about we should certainly have some approach to one vote one value. In order to secure that we first require the principle of one man one vote to be clearly set forth. Unless the House adopts the principle of one man one vote, as it will do by this Bill, I do not see how we shall ever agree upon a system of Redistribution at all. There are some matters in electoral law upon which it is very difficult to get men equally democratic and equally members of the Liberal party to agree. No doubt, when we come to settle them, it will be very difficult to agree upon the principles of Redistribution. But I want to put it to hon. Members opposite that there is one principle which we might all accept, the principle of a common and equal citizenship, that as far as possible each man should have one vote and no more than one. If we secured the acceptance of that principle, I believe that we should be able, by mutual concessions and a sort of logical process, to strike out some system which would be accepted by all parties. I look upon it as a very unfortunate thing that we cannot have an electoral system in which the two sides can equally agree.
It being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.