HC Deb 02 July 1913 vol 54 cc2157-66

Nothing in this Act shall deprive any person (who at the date of the passing of this Act is registered in respect of any qualification to vote for any county or borough) of his right to vote for such county or borough in respect of such qualifications in like manner as if this Act had not passed.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg leave to move, "That the Clause be read a second time." It is a very important Clause, because in effect it safeguards the interests of existing elector; that is to say, that although hereafter persons cannot, by reason of the provisions of this Bill, be registered as plural voters and exercise plural votes, the Clause safeguards the rights of those persons who are at the rights of those persons who are at the present time plural voters to exercise the plural vote during the existence of their qualifications. This is a Clause I have taken from the Act of 1884—Clause 10—which was passed by Mr. Gladstone when Lord James of Hereford—as he afterwards became—was the Attorney-General. Section 10 was introduced into that Act in the very same terms as the Clause I am now moving, and I remember that when we had the Plural Voting Bill of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Baker) before us, either last year or the year before, I especially called his attention to this provision in the Act of 1884. Lord James of Hereford had made the statement that the Clause proposed to safeguard the very great anomaly of, and what a number of persons thought at that time the very great wrong done by, faggot voters, but Mr. Gladstone said—I am quoting the statement of Lord James of Hereford—that he would never allow it to be said of himself that he deprived any political opponent of any vote, or of the right to exercise a vote. So in that generous spirit, in that desire to be perfectly fair to both sides of the House, he specially introduced this Clause 10 in the Representation of the People Act, 1884. I am entitled to presume, until I hear the contrary, that members on that Front Bench are still actuated by the same high motives that dominated Mr. Gladstone.

I am entitled to presume, until I hear otherwise from the lips of one of the right hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill, that they are anxious also to have themselves entirely dissociated from any desire to disfranchise political opponents. If that is their desire, if they are minded not to do an injury to those who are against them politically, and if they are not minded to jerrymander the constituencies at the present time, I am quite sure they will be very grateful for having had their attention called to Clause 10, and for the opportunity to insert a provision in the Bill which would safeguard existing interests during the life time or qualification of the holder, and they will allow this Clause to be inserted in the Bill which we, on this side of the House, feel is especially directed to doing an injury to the political opponents of right hon. Gentlemen opposite I do not really desire to say more in respect to this Clause. I have called attention to the place from which it has been taken, and to the purpose for which it was originally introduced in the Act of 1884. If it is said that this Bill is designed to remove an anomaly, so also was the Act of 1884. If this Bill is designed to remove what is felt by hon. Members opposite to be an injustice, so also was the Act of 1884. The charge has been brought against hon. Members opposite that they are endeavouring to make use of their present majority to snatch a party advantage in future elections. If, however, they will safeguard during the lifetime, or during the holding of the actual qualification, those persons who at present have the plural vote, they will have provided for themselves a safeguard against the functions of plural voting in the future. At the same time they will have respected a principle which has long been enshrined in our electoral system, a principle which many of us on this side of the House believe to be very valuable, and they will remove from themselves a stigma which I think it would be very unfortunate if they allowed to attach to them when they pass this Bill. On that ground I beg to move the Clause.


The hon. and learned Gentleman puts forward this Clause in the belief that we ought to insert it in the Bill in order to deal fairly by existing rights. I will say a word about that in a moment, but it will probably be convenient to the Committee if I take leave to say at once—I am very much obliged for the fair way in which he dealt with us about the last new Clause—that we do not propose to ask the Committee to sit after we have disposed of this Amendment. Turning to the speech itself, I am sorry to differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman, more particularly as he takes the view that the introduction of some such provision as this is needed to give fair play to existing interests. I need not say that if that were the view that we held we should wish—one would wish whatever one's political feelings or bias—to do what would seem to be fair. If you are changing the franchise, if you are depriving a man of a qualification to vote which he has hitherto enjoyed there may be, no doubt, something to be said, a good deal to be said, for protecting those who have already a vested right in that particular form of vote, though I doubt if even there one could lay it down as an absolute proposition. I imagine it was from that point of view that Mr. Gladstone was speaking. But here we are not removing or taking away any qualification to vote at all. This Bill is not a Bill which cuts down or limits the franchise of this country. It is a Bill which, as we think, fairly provides that people who enjoy different franchises should exercise the franchises wherever they are on equal terms. There is no reason whatever if we are right in that belief why we should say that that change is only to be applied to voters yet unborn.


Not unborn, but unregistered.


Well, unregistered. What the hon. and learned Gentleman is proposing is that everyone who is a plural voter shall remain a plural voter for the remainder of his life; that everyone who is a plural voter shall not lose his qualifications, but shall continue to exercise his privileges to the full for an indefinite time. I doubt whether he sees that the difference between the two cases is as great as we do, but there is the greatest possible distinction between depriving a man by changing the law, of some franchise or franchises which he already enjoys and doing what we do here in saying that one man may have a number of opportunities for voting while another may only have a few, and that we desire to see the man who has many and the man who has few standing on equal terms so far as the number of times they exercise their right goes. It is a little straining the actual fact to deal with this Bill as though it were imposing a disability on the plural voter. The disability is all the other way. The plural voter will have a choice and a man who has only one vote will hare no choice. Do not let it be supposed that this is meant to deal with a particular class as though they were all Conservatives. They are not all Conservatives, though perhaps the greater part of them are. Do not let it be supposed that we are putting a disability on the plural voter. It is the exact opposite. We leave a man who has a number of qualifications to range over these and to use which one he pleases, whereas the other man uses the only one he has. I regret I cannot accept the Clause.


I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his clearness of perception at this late hour of the night, but I do not think he gives us credit for a similar clearness. I must say that to suggest to the Committee that the privilege of choice of constituencies in which to vote is a very valuable consideration being left to plural voters requires a good deal of imagination, and it by no means balances, and far from outweighs, the terrible penalties which are proposed under another part of the Bill if by mere inadvertence this highly privileged plural voter should make an error in the franchise he exercises. Far from his vote being a privilege I should say it was just the opposite. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that he was disfranchising nobody, but he is not only disfranchising the individual, but also constituencies, because in so many words, I really cannot charge my memory with it, but, either he or the right hon. Gentleman sitting next to him (Mr. Pease) definitely stated that practically the whole of the university voters were plural voters.


I said it.


I thought it was the right hon. Gentleman; I thought my memory did not betray me. Therefore, this Bill practically disfranchises the university constituency.


"No, no."

8.0 P.M.


That is really so. We are in daylight now. Let us see things in the clear light of day, and I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will not want to pursue the argument which seemed to him quite tenable about eleven or twelve o'clock at night, namely, that while practically the whole of the universities were plural voters and although each of these plural voters would be deprived of that plural vote, the right hon. Gentleman was not doing anything to disfranchise these universities. The university franchise is reduced to an absurdity, and, therefore, this saving Clause now being moved, in a weaker form than the Clause in the Bill of 1884, can be defended by much stronger arguments than that you are not only depriving individual interests, but constituencies of the franchise which they have hitherto exercised. Surely if you are going to disfranchise whole constituencies it can only be properly done as part of the whole scheme of Redistribution, and surely it is not unreasonable for us to ask, that when you are proceeding with a Bill of this description to do one particular thing, you should exempt these constituencies and individuals who have hitherto exercised that franchise as a right, and who might have expected, and always have expected, that they would continue to exercise it. That is the procedure which has been previously adopted, and nothing the right hon. Gentleman has said has convinced anyone that that would not be the right and just procedure to be adopted now.


On a point of Order, Sir. May I submit this point for your decision as to whether this Clause is in order, having regard to what we have passed in Clause 1 of the Bill? The Committee has there laid it down that "during the continuance of a General Election of Members to serve in a new Parliament a person shall not vote as a Parliamentary elector or ask for a ballot or voting paper for the purpose of so voting in more than one constituency," and I think you will agree that covers the whole of the existing voters under that Clause. Now the new Clause that we are discussing would take out of that Clause the whole of the existing plural voters, and, if I am correct it seems to me that the Clause cannot possibly be in order if it is going to undo, so far as the whole of the plural voters are concerned, what we do in Clause 1.


On the point of Order. I submit that the same argument as the hon. Gentleman has put forward would apply to every single saving Clause. It is of the essence of a saving Clause that where you have a particular Clause you exempt by the saving Clause particular persons because it is undesirable to include them.


Can you have a saving Clause that undoes completely the fundamental principle of the main Clause of your Bill as I pointed out this would do in regard to any existing plural voter?


If I took the view of the hon. Member that the Clause the Committee is now discussing is an absolute negative of Clause 1, of course I should have ruled it out of order. I have very carefully considered what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson) has said, but I accept the view of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cassel).


The right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Simon) framed his argument in a peculiar way. He says the Bill does not cut down the franchise, but makes it equal. The right hon. Gentleman does not, however, seem to bear in mind that there is a very great distinction between those matters. The right he talks of is not a contingent right, but an absolute vested right, and every elector, however many votes he has, has an absolute right to these votes and to exercise them in all the constituencies. To suggest that they are merely contingent because his name appears on the register and that he is not necessarily entitled to exercise any vote in consequence is, to my mind, a hair-splitting defence of a very poor case. I submit that in these circumstances we ought to insert this Clause, for if the principle is sound in respect of the vested rights of citizens which now exist in all other cases of proprietary rights we ought to make no exception in this case. This Clause merely asks that the taking away of these absolute vested rights should not be retrospective. We certainly ought not to take away an absolute vested right and treat it as a contingent right simply because it is good for an unconvincing case.


The Bill of 1906 was described as a mean Bill, costing a penny: this Bill is a mean Bill, costing a halfpenny. To make the Bills identical this Clause was moved. I went through the Debate and I was struck by the farce of the arguments of the Members of the Government against that particular Clause. I take it that Clause was considered in the early hours of the morning. We ought to

Division No. 171.] AYES. [8.8 a.m.
Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R. Gilmour, Captain John Newman, John R. P.
Anstruther-Gray, Major William Glazebrook, Captain Philip K. Newton, Harry Kottingham
Archer-Shee, Major M. Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton) O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Baird, John Lawrence Greene, Walter Raymond Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.) Gretton, John Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Barnston, Harry Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Perkins, Walter Frank
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne) Pretyman, Ernest George
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth Hall, Frederick (Dulwich) Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich) Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham) Randles, Sir John S.
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon) Rawson, Col. Richard H.
Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue Hope, Harry (Bute) Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid) Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Sanders, Robert Arthur
Bridgeman, Wiliam Clive Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian) Sandys, G. J.
Bull, Sir William James Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford) Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Burns, Colonel C. R. (Torquay) Hunt, Rowland Smith, Rt. Hon. F. E. (L'p'l, Walton)
Campbell, Captain D. G. (Ayr, N.) Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East) Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Campbell, Rt. Hon. J. (Dublin Univ.) Kerr-Smiley, Peter Kerr Spear, Sir John Ward
Campion, W. R. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Cassel, Felix Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle) Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)
Cater, John Lewisham, Viscount Talbot, Lord Edmund
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Lloyd, George Ambrose (Stafford, W.) Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Thynne, Lord Alexander
Clay, Captain H. H. Spender Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Colonel A. R. Tryon, Captain George Clement
Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee Walker, Col. William Hall
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Macmaster, Donald Weston, Colonel J. W.
Craig, Captain James (Down, E.) M'Calmont. Major Robert C. A. Wheler, Granville C. H.
Craik, Sir Henry M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset, W.)
Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian Meysey-Thomson, E. C. Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud
Dairymple, Viscount Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas Winterton, Earl
Doughty, Sir George Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton) Worthington-Evans, L.
Duncannon, Viscount Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton) Younger, Sir George
Elverston, Sir Harold Mount, William Arthur
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. Neville, Reginald J. N. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Pollock and Mr. Hoare.
Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes Newdegate, F. A
Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.
Bean, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George) Chancellor, Henry George
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Bentham, George Jackson Chapple, Dr. William Allen
Acland, Francis Dyke Black, Arthur W. Clancy, John Joseph
Adamson, William Boland, John Pius Clough, William
Addison, Dr. C. Booth, Frederick Handel Condon, Thomas Joseph
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbarton) Bowerman, Charles W. Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Crooks, William
Arnold, Sydney Brady, Patrick Joseph Crumley, Patrick
Baker, Harold T. (Accrington) Brocklehurst, William B. Cullinan, John
Barnes, George N. Brunner, J. F. L. Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)
Barton, William Bryce, John Annan Davies, Ellis William (Eiflon)
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Carr-Gomm, H. W. Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)
Beck, Arthlur Cecil Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood) Dawes, James Arthur

be able to do something better now in the early hours of this beautiful morning, and I do regret that we have not heard better arguments as to why we should not have this Clause inserted. We always imagine the plural voter to be a rich man, but he is a poor man. He values his two votes very much, and yet you are going to take that vote away, and you surely ought to give better reasons why you are taking it and why this man should not during his miserable life exercise these two votes, and his sons and grandsons after him. I do urge the Government to allow this man to exercise his right during his miserable life.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 191.

Delany, William Keating, Matthew Parker, James (Halifax)
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Kellaway, Frederick George Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Devlin, Joseph Kelly, Edward Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Donelan, Captain A. Kennedy, Vincent Paul Pointer, Joseph
Doris, William Kilbride, Denis Pollard, Sir George H.
Duffy, William J. King, Joseph Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.) Lardner, James C. R. Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Essex, Sir Richard Walter Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th) Pringle, William M. R.
Falconer, James Leach, Charles Henry Raffan, Peter Wilson
Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles Levy, Sir Maurice Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Ffrench, Peter Lundon, Thomas Reddy, Michael
Field, William Lyell, Charles Henry Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Fiennes, Hon. Enstace Edward Lynch, A. A. Redmond, William (Clare, E.)
Fitzgibbon, John Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester) Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Flavin, Michael Joseph McGhee, Richard Rendall, Atheistan
France, Gerald Ashburner Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Gladstone, W. G. C. MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Goldstone, Frank MacVeagh, Jeremiah Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Greig, Colonel James William M'Curdy, Charles Albert Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Griffith, Ellis J. McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Robinson, Sidney
Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.) M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S. (Lincs., Spalding) Rowlands, James
Gulland, John William Marshall, Arthur Harold Rowntree, Arnold
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Meagher, Michael Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Hackett, John Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Samuel, J. (Stockton-on Tees)
Hall, Frederick (Normanton) Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix) Scanlan, Thomas
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Middlebrook, William Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton
Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Millar, James Duncan Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Molloy, Michael Sheehy, David
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry Montagu, Hon. E. S. Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Hayden, John Patrick Morgan, George Hay Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Hayward, Evan Morrell, Phillip Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Hazleton, Richard Morison, Hector Sutherland, John E.
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Muldoon, John Sutton, John E.
Henry, Sir Charles Munro, Robert Tennant, Harold John
Herbert, General Sir Ivor (Mon., S.) Murphy, Martin J. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Higham, John Sharp Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C. Toulmin, Sir George
Hinds, John Needham, Christopher T. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Nolan, Joseph Verney, Sir H.
Hogge, James Myles. Nugent, Sir Walter Richard Watt, Henry A.
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Hughes, Spencer Leigh O'Doherty, Philip White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)
Illingworth, Percy H. O'Dowd, John White, Patrick (Meath, North)
John, Edward Thomas O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)
Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) O'Malley, William Winfrey, Richard
Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.) Wing, Thomas Edward
Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Young, William (Perth, East)
Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney) O'Shee, James John
Jowett, Frederick William O'Sullivan, Timothy TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. W. Jones and Mr. Webb.
Joyce, Michael Palmer, Godfrey Mark

I beg to move, "That the Chairman do now report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." If I may be allowed to do so, I would express my feeling of gratitude that at this moment there is no misunderstanding of any kind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Friday.

It being after half-past Eleven of the clock upon Wednesday evening, Mr. SPEAKER, adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-three minutes after Eight o'clock a.m. (Thursday, 3rd July).