§ Lords Amendment considered.
§ Lords Amendment: Leave out Clause 1 and insert a new Clause for the extension of the polling hours.
§ Mr. WILLIAM PEARCE
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
When this Bill left this House there was a general opinion that in many districts an extension of the polling hours was required. The extended hours were fixed at from 7 o'clock to 8 o'clock in the morning, and from 8 o'clock to 9 o'clock p.m. It was also agreed that the option should be left to the duly nominated candidates to decide. The Bill referred to Parliamentary elections alone. The Amendment of the Lords in no way alters the fundamental structure of the measure. The option left to the candidate by the House of Commons was of a rigid character. The Lords have, by their Amendment, introduced three options—from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; or for both. I think this may be for the convenience of certain constituencies who desire to have the poll longer open at night, or to avoid an extension in the morning.
§ Captain JESSEL
As one who very strongly opposed the original Bill as proposed by the hon. Member, I desire to say a few words. In the first place, I must congratulate the hon. Member on arriving- within sight of the goal of success. Certainly it is the only private Member's Bill that has got through this Session, and the fact that it has got through is largely due to the tact, patience, and courtesy of the hon Member opposite. The Bill when first brought before us, the hon. Member said, was of much wider operation and much more rigid in operation than the Bill as it has now emerged from its various stages in this House, and after what has occurred in another place. The Bill has now three options. Above all, it takes away what we regarded on this side as not at all a good thing, and 2182 in favour of which there was no evidence. It takes away the idea of change as regards municipal elections, and justifies what was said on our side. In order to show that the opinions we held were not entirely confined to our side. I quote the hon. Member (Sir T. Whittaker) who said that the Bill is only desired by something like 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the constituencies in this country, and that the majority do not want it at all. I think for these reasons my Friends and myself were thoroughly justified in our opposition to the original Bill. At the same time, we always recognised that in those places outside the larger and populous districts, outside London, Liverpool, and Glasgow, there was a need for some change, and we are very glad to see that by the common sense of both Houses and the promoters of the Bill such changes are made as will make it a useful and workable measure. At the same time, I have no doubt that at the next election that takes place many candidates will ask for this, thinking that it will give them a party advantage. I do not believe that it will give a party advantage one way or the other, because I believe that now, as always, the candidate with the more popular policy and better organisation will have the bigger majority at the polls. For these reasons, firstly, I congratulate the hon. Member, and, secondly, I think that the Bill as it now stands justifies the opposition which we on this side gave to the original proposal.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
I think that this Bill in every respect is an excellent one, but there is just one doubt I have about it. The Bill when it left this House involved thirteen hours instead of twelve, but, as it has come back now, there is a possibility of fourteen hours. I do not know whether it has really been taken into consideration that it will involve in large constituencies very heavy expenses if you are going to have the polling booth open for fourteen hours. There will have to be relays, and the expense will be considerably increased. In addition to that, the strain of fourteen hours upon people responsible for the arrangements at elections will be very great. The police, the presiding officers, and all concerned, will incur a heavy strain. It seems to me that now while the strain of, twelve hours is very great, it might possibly in the interests of the voters be a convenience to extend the hours to 2183 thirteen, either from seven in the morning to eight in the evening, or from eight in the morning to an extra hour after eight in the evening. To extend the hours to fourteen seems to me to make it almost impossible to stand the strain.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir John Simon)
The hon. Member seems to me to be under a misapprehension. The Bill as it left this House and went to another place was a Bill which, if taken advantage of, must be taken advantage of in this sense, that it would extend the hours necessarily to fourteen. It left nothing to choose between twelve hours and fourteen hours. The Amendment made in the Bill in another place, and with which my hon. Friend has moved that this House do now agree, is an Amendment which mitigates the rigour of that extension, because it gives an option more elastic. It makes it possible to have an extension not going the length of fourteen hours, but an extension which may prceed from twelve to thirteen hours, that is by one hour at the latter end of the day. The hon. Gentleman will see whatever force there is in his criticism that criticism is not strengthened by the words now proposed to be agreed to but is to a certain extent met.