HC Deb 06 June 1913 vol 53 cc1195-217

(1) At every Parliamentary and local government election the poll (if any) shall commence at seven o'clock in the forenoon and be kept open till nine o'clock in the afternoon of the same day and no longer.

(2) The expression "Parliamentary election" in this Act means an election for a county, city, borough, place, or combination of counties, cities, boroughs, and places (not being any university or universities) which returns any knight of the shire or Member to serve in Parliament, and where the same is divided for the purpose of such return includes an election for such Division.

(3) The expression "local government election" in this Act means an election for any county council, municipal borough council, or metropolitan borough council.

Captain JESSEL

I beg to move, at the beginning of Sub-section (1), to insert the following words, "From and after the next Parliamentary General Election." My object in moving this Amendment is to get, some guidance from the country as to whether this Bill is required or not. I have tried to ascertain, so far, whether such a big change as this has any substantial backing behind it. I cannot find that there is in reality any desire for it. There seems to be a sort of general rush to try to get out of the provisions of the Bill. In the Committee upstairs we found the representatives of Scotland vying with the representatives of Ireland to get their countries excluded from the Bill. The Members representing county divisions said that the extended hours would not suit them, and many Members representing urban constituencies were also opposed to the Bill. With the solitary exception of those populated districts outside London, and one or two of the big towns we really could not find any representative in favour of this Bill. At the first meeting of the Committee the Lord Advocate was asked whether he would exclude Scotland. He replied that thirty-four Members from Scotland had voted in favour of the Second Reading, and he regarded that as a sufficient mandate to refuse assent to Scotland being taken out. At the last meeting of the Committee the Motion to exclude Scotland was again pressed, and the Lord Advocate said he had come to the conclusion that there was no volume of opinion in Scotland in favour of the Bill, and therefore he urged that the proposed Clause to omit Scotland should be adopted. Since the Second Reading he had endeavoured to ascertain what was the opinion in Scotland, with the result that while no voice was raised in favour of the application of the measure to that country, numerous communications to the contrary had been made to him; about 120 boroughs had expressed opposition to the Bill and the county councils were also against it. I admit frankly that we did not discuss the question of Ireland, but no opposition to the exclusion of Ireland was taken by the Irish representatives. In this country there was no mention of this proposal in any election address at the last General Election. There is no grievance in the matter, with a very slight exception.

1.0 P.M.

Everybody interested in representative government must be in favour of as many electors as possible taking part in elections, but there is nothing to prove that full advantage is not taken in the majority of cases. In the recent Newmarket election 90 per cent, of the electors voted, and in the Altrincham election 86 per cent. I submit that there is no necessity for this change which is going to cost all of us a great deal more money as regards returning officers' charges, while imposing additional labour on the officials who will take part in the elections, without any possible relief as regards their hours of work. No communication in its favour has reached me from anybody, and I doubt very much whether hon. Members opposite can produce evidence that even their political associations had passed resolutions urging them to support it. In London there has been a singular want of interest in this Bill. We all know that if the contrary was the case we would have had urgent and frequent communications from the people in the constituencies to their Members. Nothing of the kind has taken place. This Bill is brought forward simply to suit certain individual constituencies, but as regards the great local governing areas in this country we have no evidence given in favour of this great change. It is going to apply not only to Parliamentary elections but also to every single municipal election. The only experience we have got of the alteration of the hours of polling is as regards the elections for guardians in London, and the experience to be drawn from that is the very worst argument in favour of this Bill, because while we have from 80 to 90 per cent, of the electors voting at Parliamentary elections at the elections for guardians in London which are the only elections in whose case the hours have been extended the proportion of electors taking part varies from 17 to 24 or 25 per cent. This Bill will cause a great amount of inconvenience throughout the country, without doing any good to a single human being, with the possible exception of two or three of the districts outside London. It should not be inflicted upon the rest of the country against the wish of the constituencies, and therefore I trust that the House will accept my Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment. I would appeal to the common sense of the House to postpone this Bill until after the General Election. We have from the Government a solemn pledge that a large omnibus measure dealing with registration, franchise and electoral reform will be introduced during the lifetime of the present Government, and there is a pledge that if the Home Rule Bill is put on the Statute Book redistribution will also be undertaken. If that be so why bring in this small petty measure now? If the Government are really going to bring in this great omnibus measure why bring in this small twopence-halfpenny Bill? Both Front Benches would be very much surprised if they knew the measure of agreement there was on the back benches in all parts of this House regarding matters of electoral reform. I believe that if we could summon a round table conference excluding Front Benches on both sides we should thresh out all these matters and bring forward a comprehensive measure which would do away with all the difficulties from which we suffer in this matter. In this question of electoral reform I have taken a non-party position. I have the honour to be secretary of the Redistribution Committee which is purely a non-party body. I am also secretary of a Representation Society, and that is a non-party body. I have always myself found, even with political opponents, that on certain questions of electoral reform we are largely in agreement. I appeal to the House to, at any rate, postpone this measure until after the next General Election.


This Amendment was the first to be moved in Committee, and it was discussed at very substantial length, and some of the hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House also spoke in Committee. The matter, therefore, has been thoroughly considered. As the result of that consideration, the Committee by a very substantial majority, more than two to one, decided that this Amendment ought not to be made. I would point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment is proceeding under a misapprehension in supposing that the insertion of those words would secure that this Bill would not become law after the General Election. Supposing that this Amendment were inserted, the result would be, once the next General Election was over, that it would apply to all future elections. If this and nothing else was to be the issue at the next General Election, the fact of the Amendment being inserted that the Act shall not come into operation until after the next General Election would not, as he supposes, give the country the opportunity of judging upon it. The practical difficulty in many constituencies is aggravated very much indeed owing to the fact that the hours of polling are not more extended, and it is a difficulty which is constantly pointed out in any discussion of the subject. This matter having been very carefully considered in Committee, and the arguments used there having been repeated here, I trust it will not be considered necessary to discuss the Amendment at any great length, as there are other and important matters to come on.


The Solicitor-General treats this Amendment in a very light hearted sort of way. He says that it will not be effective for the purpose proposed even if carried, because the Bill would apply to all other elections after the next General Election. That is not my forecast of what would happen. Those who support this Amendment believe that at the next General Election the views and opinions of the electors up and down the country, and of county and municipal authorities and other public bodies would be gathered in such volume as to empower any future Government to repeal this measure if it becomes an Act. I was not a member of the Committee, which considered this Bill, but Scotland has withdrawn from it, and Ireland does not want it, and, given the opportunity, I believe England would withdraw from it also. The Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend would enable England to withdraw from it. We believe that after the next General Election, when the country would have an opportunity of expressing its view, any Government in power would find itself justified in saying, "This Act must be taken off the Statute Book, because it is obviously a very unpopular measure." Many of us have been engaged in public life now for practically a quarter of a century, and we have been constant recipients of many resolutions of all sorts from municipal and other bodies. We have had thousands of questions and resolutions addressed to us on the political platform. Has any one of us been the recipient of any resolution from any single body asking us to support a Bill to extend the hours of polling? I do not think there has been any expression of popular opinion on this Bill in any shape or way. Personally, in London, I have never had such a resolution addressed to me from any body, however insignificant, nor have I ever had a question addressed to me about the hours of polling. Among the thousands of questions put on the platform, I have never once been asked, "Will you vote for a measure to extend the hours of polling?" All the time I was a member of the London County Council I never heard the question raised, nor a single petition or request for this Bill from any quarter. I firmly believe that just as the Scottish and Irish representatives do not want the Bill, so the English representatives, if they knew the real desire of the English people, would not want it either. The Member for Enfield made a very proper appeal to the Government not to deal with this question in a piecemeal fashion. Electoral reform ought not to be debated on the Bill of a private Member, however worthy, or however much time he may have devoted to the subject. Electoral reform is a matter for the Government, and should be a matter of general agreement as far as possible. There is a greater body of agreement than hon. Gentlemen opposite, seem to think. We on this side are quite prepared to consider the whole of this subject, and even the extension of the hours of polling. The danger arising from treating this question in a piecemeal way is very great indeed. Following upon this Bill is another Bill which is going upstairs—a Bill providing that all elections shall take place on one day—one poll in London on one day. One Bill can' not very well be considered without the other. One of the greatest arguments, against having the polling on one day in London is the difficulty of making adequate police arrangements. The difficulty will be greater still if the hours of polling are extended.


The arguments which, the right hon. Gentleman is now using are arguments against the Second Reading. The other Bill has been read a second time; the House has approved the principle. He must now confine himself to, some reason for postponing the operation of this Bill until after the next General Election.


I may have gone too far, but this matter is one that ought to be considered by the Government itself in its relation to other questions of electoral reform, and one of the most important questions is in reference to police arrangements for the conduct of the poll. I have heard nothing from the Home Secretary or anybody about that. I maintain that is a plea which may well be put in for the proper and fuller consideration of all questions of electoral reform, not by a private Member bringing in a, private Bill on a Friday, but by the Government taking up the question seriously and laying down on large lines the manner in which he can proceed. For my own part, I have no desire to delay or to obstruct this particular Bill, but I do say that the time has come when the Government might well consider whether they should not, devote themselves, if not in this Session then in the next Session, to some far larger measure of electoral reform which will satisfy the great majority of the House.


I think it would be for the convenience of the House if those who are in charge of this Bill, and the Government of the day, would let us know what attitude they intend to adopt in regard to this Bill. There are difficulties, and very considerable difficulties, but, on the other hand, there is a legitimate grievance that has got to be met, and I do not feel that we are going to meet that grievance by postponing the operation of this Bill until after the next General Election. There are districts where undoubtedly the hours of polling ought to be extended. That is absolutely essential if we are to get a satisfactory record of opinion in those constituencies. On the other hand, there are a far greater number of constituencies where there is no necessity whatever and where the extension would be an intolerable nuisance and a great grievance which ought not to be done. The moment this Bill went up to Committee, Scotland gets out of it, and yet I dare say there are one or two districts in Scotland where it would be desirable to have it; and Ireland gets out of it, although I dare say there are one or two districts in Ireland where it would be desirable to have it. For the bulk of Ireland and Scotland, and for the bulk of England, it would be an intolerable nuisance. Why do, we want to have the hours from seven o'clock to nine o'clock, keeping a lot of people at work on one of the most difficult and trying days that some people go through? Surely there is common sense enough on the Govern- ment Bench or amongst the promoters of this Bill so to provide that those districts where it would be useful should have it, and that those where it is not wanted should not have it! I do not think there are more than 10 or 15 or 20 per cent. of the constituencies where this would be of any value, while in 75 or 80 per cent. of them it would be a great nuisance. It is as if a man came here to propose that because he had a short leg everybody else should wear a thick boot. There is no necessity for it everywhere, while it could be adapted to the reasonable requirements of some districts. I do not think we ought to carry this Amendment and postpone the operation of the Bill. The grievance is an urgent one, and it is one that ought to be dealt with at once for those constituencies which require it. We do not want it applied all over the country, where it would be a great nuisance and a great grievance.


I think we may congratulate ourselves that at last we have had a real gleam of intelligence from the other side, and I personally thank the right hon. Gentleman very sincerely. He has put the whole of our ease in a nut-shell. We desire that this Bill should not come into operation until after the next General Election for the very reason he has set forth so very ably, because we believe, as he believes, that there are a very large number of constituencies where it would be perfectly useless, and where it is not required in the smallest degree. I have had a pretty large experience in fighting contested elections, and the different classes of constituencies I know vary enormously as to the requirements of the length of the Dolling hours. I agree where you come to a working-class constituency it is far more difficult for the electors to poll in the prescribed hours that exist at the present time. I do not believe there is a single man on this side who would desire to do anything to prevent the electors from registering their votes, and, in fact, we would do everything we could to facilitate them. Where there is no preponderance of those who are forced to remain at work, why should it be necessary to inflict extra toil and trouble, and I really think inflict on the unfortunate candidate himself real agony during those long hours, which must entail immense extra labour on everybody, and very considerable hardship on all those engaged in the election. I do urge on the right hon. Gentleman and on hon. Members to take seriously the point the right hon. Gentleman has just raised. I believe it would be possible for us all to meet on common ground. I agree there are an enormous number of things required for the benefit of electoral reform and I do ask the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. W. Pearce), who is the proposer of this Bill, to very seriously consider our point of view and do what he can to meet it.


I am interested in that portion of the Bill relating to Scotland, and I did intervene briefly in the discussion in Committee. The Committee decided on a rather sweeping Amendment to omit Scotland and Ireland altogether. Some of my hon. Friends from Scotland do desire to amend the Bill on the precise point put by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I think very reasonably, that this may be wanted in special districts. If you, Sir, allow this discussion to proceed, although possibly it is not strictly relevant, I should like to know whether my right bon. Friend, the Solicitor-General, or other Members of the Government can draft an Amendment which would meet that special point. I tried my hand in Committee and offered an Amendment allowing constituencies, especially for Parliamentary purposes, to adopt the Act.


The next Amendment raises two very substantial issues on which those points may be discussed.


I am sure the House must feel impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) because, although he ended up by saying that he was not in favour of delay, that seemed to be the one conclusion of his speech. He said this Bill in its present form was not acceptable. He pointed out in very weighty language the strong objections which might be urged against this provision. He offered no alternative, and yet he said he was not in favour of delay. The object of delay is, of course, very obvious, although the Solicitor-General seemed unable to appreciate it. We want delay so that there should be the opportunity of reversing this Bill after the next General Election before it comes into force throughout the country. It is quite true that it will come into force after the date of the General Election, but only for the moment in the case of by-elections. Perhaps there would be three or four by-elections before the Bill would be reversed. That would not be important, and we should be saved the very great expense which would be incurred by this Bill being brought into operation. Meanwhile, it would be possible for the Government, who have distinguished themselves by appointing so many Select Committees on various subjects, to appoint even another Select Committee to inquire into the necessity of this proposal and to distinguish between the conditions of the various localities. I think that there is a case for delay, because the country has not considered this matter. Personally, I have fought elections for local purposes and for Parliamentary purposes in London, in a county, and in a small provincial borough, and in no case have I found any desire for this Bill. I have never put it before the electors, and I have never had any electors speak to me of the need for such a change. I believe that no one at present is disfranchised from this cause, and I honestly believe that the passing of this Bill will disfranchise more people than it will enfranchise. It is well known that the unstamped ballot papers become more frequent in the evening when the presiding officers who have been on continuous duty are suffering from brain-fag.


The hon. Member is now discussing the general principle of the Bill. That has been accepted. He must confine himself to the Amendment.


I appreciate your ruling. I only wish to impress upon the Solicitor-General, who did not deal with the point in his speech, that there is no public opinion whatever in favour of this Bill, and that no argument has been advanced to show that the Bill would be rendered any the less efficacious by a short delay. In view of the lack of any expression of public opinion, I think the Government would be well advised to compromise by accepting the Amendment.


So much has been said about their being no demand for this Bill that I desire to dissociate myself from that view. For more years than I care to remember, the Trades Congress, which is representative at any rate of working-class opinion, has made a strong demand for the extension of the polling hours. They have urged this reform upon successive Governments for many years. There is not an industrial constituency in the country where it would not confer a great advantage upon the workers. Speaking for my own Constituency, I remember that in the first election of 1910, although there had been no overtime worked during the previous week, it seemed on the day of the election as if there was an epidemic of overtime, with the result that it was very difficult to get the electors to the poll before eight o'clock. It is all very well for Gentlemen on the other side who have the command of motor vehicles at a General Election. But we Labour men are not in that fortunate position, and our supporters consequently have to walk to the, poll. In the case of London, a man living at Greenwich may work five or six miles away, and that, in view of the difficulties of transport from one side of London to another, is an argument in favour of this Bill. To my mind the hours of polling from beginning to end are too long. Why not have an interval between eleven and twelve o'clock for those who are engaged—


The hon. Member can raise that point on a later Amendment. It does not arise on the Amendment under discussion.


I am sorry to transgress. As far as the working classes are concerned, the extension of the hours of polling is essential.


I wish to emphasise the need of additional information

in this matter. In Committee neither the Mover of the Bill nor the Attorney-General was in a position, when challenged, either to produce new statistics showing the necessity for the Bill, or to name any constituency in which the Bill was required, or to give any evidence of any demand in any part of England for the Bill. The proceedings in Committee were characterised by an extraordinary anxiety on the part of Scottish Members on both sides to exclude Scotland from the measure. There has been no demand shown in either agricultural or industrial England for the Bill. I submit, therefore, that we ought to postpone its application until after the next General Election, when it will be possible to collect specific statistics dealing with the question. As to what would be the effect of the extension of the polling hours, I believe that it would operate just as much in favour of Members on this side as of Members on the other, so far as increased facilities enabled to vote a certain small number of voters who are now prevented from so doing. Where we shall stand to lose by the Bill is in the increased facilities it will give for personation. What transpired on the previous Amendment, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite opposed relief to presiding officers, clearly shows that the right hon. Gentleman himself is not blind to what we regard as the most dangerous effect of this Bill.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided: Ayes, 68; Noes, 179.

Division No. 103.] AYES. [1.33 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Falle, Bertram Godfray Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)
Anstruther-Gray, Major William Fell, Arthur Newman, John R. P.
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.) Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes Norton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead) O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Barnston, Harry Gastrell, Major W. Houghton Paget, Almeric Hugh
Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich) Gibbs, George Abraham Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Bigland, Alfred Gilmour, Captain John Peel, Lieut-Colonel R. F.
Blair, Reginald Glazebrook, Captain Philip K. Perkins, Walter F.
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid) Goldsmith, Frank Randles, Sir John S.
Bridgeman, William Clive Greene, Walter Raymond Sanders, Robert Arthur
Burgoyne, Alan Hughes Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Burn, Colonel C. R. Haddock, George Bahr Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Talbot, Lord E.
Cassel, Felix Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian) Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Cave, George Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk. Thynne, Lord Alexander
Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin) Ingleby, Holcombe Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Joynson-Hicks, William Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Wills, Sir Gilbert
Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet) Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R. Yate, Colonel C. E.
Cripps, Sir Charles Alfred Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich) Younger, Sir George
Dalrymple, Viscount M'Calmont, Major Robert C. A.
Denison-Pender, J. C. M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Captain
Duke, Henry Edward Magnus, Sir Philip Jessel and Sir Harry Samuel.
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. Malcolm, Ian
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Hancock, J. G. Nugent, Sir Walter Richard
Addison, Dr. C. Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale) Nuttall, Harry
Alden, Percy Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry O'Doherty, Philip
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple) Hayden, John Patrick O'Dowd, John
Beale, Sir William Phipson Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.) O'Malley, William
Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George) Henry, Sir Charles O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Bethell Sir J. H. Higham, John Sharp O'Shaughnessy, P. J.
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. O'Shee, James John
Black, Arthur W. Hodge, John Outhwaite, R. L.
Boland, John Pius Hogg, David C. Parker, James (Halifax)
Booth, Frederick Handel Hogge, James Myles Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Bowerman, Charles W. Holmes, Daniel Turner Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Holt, Richard Durning Price, Sir R. J. (Norfolk, E.)
Brace, William Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich) Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford)
Brady, Patrick Joseph Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Pringle, William M. R.
Brunner, John F. L. Hughes, Spencer Leigh Radford, G. H.
Bryce, J. Annan Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Burke, E. Haviland- Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Reddy, Michael
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Johnson, W. Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood) Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)
Chancellor, Henry George Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney) Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Chapple, Dr. William Allen Jowett, Frederick William Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Joyce, Michael Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Clancy, John Joseph Kelly, Edward Roe, Sir Thomas
Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock) Kennedy, Vincent Paul Rowlands, James
Condon, Thomas Joseph Kilbride, Denis Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. King, J. (Somerset, North) Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Cotton, William Francis Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Crooks, William Lardner, James C. R. Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.
Crumley, Patrick Larmor, Sir J. Sheehan, Daniel Daniel
Cullinan, John Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West) Sheehy, David
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy) Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th) Shortt, Edward
Delany, William Leach, Charles Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Levy, Sir Maurice Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)
Devlin, Joseph Lewis, John Herbert Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert
Dickinson, W. H. Lundon, Thomas Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Dillon, John Lynch, A. A. Sutherland, John E.
Doris, William Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester) Sutton, John E.
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) McGhee, Richard Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.) Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Esslemont, George Birnie MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Wadsworth, J.
Falconer, James Macpherson, James Ian Walton, Sir Joseph
Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Wardle, George J.
Ffrench, Peter Martin, Joseph Webb, H.
Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward Mason, David M. (Coventry) White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Flavin, Michael Joseph Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G. White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)
George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd Meagher, Michael White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Ginnell, Laurence Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Gladstone, W. G. C. Menzies, Sir Walter Whyte, A. F. (Perth)
Glanville, H. J. Molloy, Michael Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Mooney, John J. Wilson. W. T. (Westhoughton)
Goldstone, Frank Morison, Hector Wing, Thomas
Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Muldoon, John
Gulland, John William Munro, R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Murray, Captain Hon. A. C. W. Pearce and Mr. Wiles.
Hackett, John Nolan, Joseph

Question put, and agreed to.


I beg to move in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "At every Parliamentary and local government election," and to insert instead thereof the words, "Where a duly nominated candidate at any Parliamentary Election has given notice in writing on the day of and immediately after his nomination to the returning officer then"

It appears to me to be right to introduce this proposal here, and I trust it may be thought by the House to be a real Amendment that will meet the reasonable criticism which has been put forward from some quarters as to this proposed change being of a partial character. It has been pointed out, and I think it is quite true, that such extension of the hours proposed may be needed in some parts, and there is, I think, no doubt, that in others it is not needed at all. That is a perfectly just criticism, the force of which I have never thought of denying either in the Committee or here, and the question is, how is it possible to meet it? It would seem to some of us that it might be very convenient to meet it in this way. We may assume, I think, that the candidate nomi- nated and who has paid a not unsubstantial deposit, means to go to the poll, and therefore will not wish to incur the odium of extending the hours of polling in places where it is not needed. Any such proceeding would immediately expose the person concerned to the criticism which has been, made here. On the other hand all parts of the House, I take it, will agree with me that if there is an opinion in the constituency strong enough to run a candidate, and which honestly feels that an extension of the hours of polling is needed, then it is right that that poll should be extended. I cannot believe that that principle will be disputed. Under these circumstances we may very easily meet what is a difficulty. I think perhaps it is the only serious difficulty in the way of the application of this Bill, hence the desirability of a provision which distinguishes between these different cases. I would therefore propose the words that I have quoted, or words to the same effect, and I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite will see that we are making a real endeavour to deal with the situation indicated, and that they will meet the offer in the spirit in which it is made. The effect of the Amendment will be that in those constituencies where there is either on the part of the Liberal, Conservative, Labour, or even Independent candidate, a genuine and general opinion, supporting that candidate, that it is desirable to extend the hours of polling, because the supporters of that particular candidate feel their candidate has not got a fair chance, they should have the chance to take upon themselves the responsibility of asking for the hours to be extended. Such proceeding would certainly not be done for fun. The candidate is not going to do it for amusement. I submit that this Amendment will really deal with what is the central difficulty in the matter.

Captain JESSEL

I quite admit that there are certain aspects of the Solicitor-General's Amendment which appeal to many of us on this side of the House, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he has not included in these Amendments the question of local government elections.


My intention was to propose that this should not deal with local government at all; that it should be limited to Parliamentary elections.

Captain JESSEL

I am very glad to hear that that is the Solicitor-General's proposal. I think everybody who touched this question must agree it would be a very great hardship upon municipalities that they should be included in a Bill of this character. I had a Clause upon the Paper giving local option in these matters. We on this side of the House are very glad to see that local government elections are to be taken out of the Bill. The question now narrows itself down to the suggestion put forward by the Solicitor-General. I would like to ask him one further question about this matter. As regards the Amendment and the Instruction put forward by my Noble Friend the Member for Bath, there seems to me to be really some difficulty in regard to the officials in the matters of the hours of polling. I believe you cannot change your officials—


The House has disposed of that point, and we cannot go back to it.

Captain JESSEL

No! The question arose on the question of the popularity of the change, and I only venture to remind him of the previous discussion. Let me give another aspect of this matter. I think in the interests of the suggestion contained in this Amendment, which may have many merits, the right hon. Gentleman should consider another suggestion embodied in the Clause of my hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgwater Division of Somerset (Mr. Sanders) which stands on page 7 of the White Paper, and which is:—

"This Act shall only apply in the case of Parliamentary or local government elections in pursuance of a resolution of a county council, municipal borough council, or Metropolitan borough council, passed by a majority of the members present and voting at a meeting duly convened for the purpose."

Of course the words "urban borough council" would necessarily have to be put in, because there are urban district councils, and, indeed, in the Solicitor-General's own constituency there are two or three.


I do not quite understand the point the hon. Gentleman is now discussing in reference to this Amendment.

Captain JESSEL

I was going to ask whether, instead of the proposal coming horn one candidate or another, there should not be a resolution of the local body concerned?


No, this has reference to Parliamentary elections.

Captain JESSEL

I should have thought some proposal of that kind would be more suited than a proposal coming from the candiate on one side or the other. I do not entirely oppose this, but I should like to hear the matter more fully developed before we agree to the Amendment put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.


I venture to think that the suggestion made by the Solicitor-General is really a very good one. I do not think you would be sure of meeting the grievance here if you left it in the hands of the county council, but as the Solicitor-General has said if the candidate has force enough behind him to justify and bring about his nomination, and if he desires this, I think he should have it. It seems to me that is the simplest way of doing it. I also think it is quite true that no candidate will ask for this in a district where it is likely to be a great nuisance. I would suggest this is a genuine attempt to meet a real difficulty, and that in these circumstances we should insert it in the Bill.


I think we ought to express our gratitude to the Solicitor-General for meeting many of our objections. Personally, I think it would be fair better not to pass the Bill until we have had further evidence that the people of the country wanted it. The Solicitor-General is willing that this Bill should not apply to any local elections. That was the point we were prepared to press upon the attention of the House, that the local bodies as regards local elections should have the opportunity, first of all, of expressing their opinion as to whether or not they desired the extension of the polling hours. The Solicitor-General has conceded that point and practically says there is not sufficient evidence that this Bill is desired by local bodies, and therefore he does not propose that the Bill should apply to local elections. Then, again, I understand that as regards Parliamentary elections the Bill would only apply in those cases where the duly nominated candidate—that is to say a man of substance, and a man who did not desire to make himself extremely unpopular with the constituency—applied for it. I think that the Solicitor-General in recommending this Amendment meets largely, not wholly, objections put forward on this side of the House, because in their knowledge a great number of constituencies would be embarrassed rather than assisted by any such extension of the polling hours such as is suggested in the Bill. I express my gratitude to the Solicitor-General, and for my part I shall withdraw further opposition.


I think it right to say at this stage of the discussion that if the House is pleased to accept the Amendment of the Solicitor-General, I shall recommend my colleagues to allow this Bill to apply to our native country.


It seems to me that every candidate who has no chance, or thinks he has no chance, of winning an election will endeavour to better his chance by suggesting that the hours of polling should be extended, and he will do this because he will try and make the election turn on the plea that his opponent is not in favour of longer hours of polling. A few years ago there was a gentleman who was in the habit of contesting elections although it was well known that his chance of winning was hopeless. Naturally such a candidate would always suggest that the polling hours should be extended, because be would endeavour, instead of fighting on the party issue, to make the election turn upon the question of longer polling hours. I am confident that every candidate who thinks he is going to lose will be in favour of this extension and will try to make capital out of it. The result will be that in an enormous number of constituencies, where the electors do not want longer hours, we shall get this extension. In my own Constituency it has not been mentioned and there is not of the least desire there for an extension of the hours of polling.


Whatever suggestion the Solicitor-General makes to meet the wishes of hon. Members opposite they do not seem to be acceptable to some of them. I do, not agree with the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) when he says that only those people who think they are going to, lose will be the people who are going to ask for this extension of hours. In Manchester I believe the extension of hours will be a great benefit. I have had some experience during the last twenty years in electioneering, and I know that at almost every election there are thousands who are working overtime until 7.45 in the evening, and they are unable to get to the poll to record their votes. I trust that the Solicitor-General will make no further concessions in this matter, but will stick to his guns in spite of the Opposition.

2.0 P.M.


I do think we have a certain amount of ground for complaint that this announcement was not made earlier. On the Second Reading we discussed this Bill and we considered it before the Standing Committee for several days. No objections have been raised which have not been brought against the Bill before. The only difference has been that whilst hitherto these points have been urged from this side, this is the first occasion on which we have found an hon. Member opposite ready to get up and urge our claims. I think we have some ground for complaint that no attention is paid to our objections, but directly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) gets up the Solicitor-General gives way. I think we have some reason to complain that such a large amount of time has been wasted because the Government did not come to their senses earlier. I think the plan proposed by the Solicitor-General is very much better than the Bill as it stands. I thought a much better way out of the difficulty was the plan embodied in a proviso standing in my name which has been referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend, that is to give the option not to the candidate but to the local authority. After all, although this is only to apply to Parliamentary elections, it is another thing which has been sprung upon us at a moment's notice after a lot of discussion, and after the Government have refused in Committee to make that concession. I think the proposal to leave the option with the local authority will be better than leaving it to the candidate. The Lord Advocate I understand is going to move that the Bill shall apply to Scotland. I wish to know if it is going to apply to Ireland as well. If so, I think we ought to have a new Bill drafted, because it will be entirely different, and we shall have to go through the measure carefully to see what alterations are necessary. I think the proposal of the Solicitor-General is very much better than a Bill of this kind, and I shall not vote against it.


We have suddenly been told that local elections are to be left out of the scope of this Bill and the result will be that in the Metropolis our main local elections will take place as in the past. Furthermore, a candidate can decide the day in such a way that a considerable number will be prevented from recording their vote. We are not only considering the candidate but the voter, and the man who has difficulty in getting to the poll at a Parliamentary election—because it closes at eight—has the same difficulty in getting there at a county council election. There is, however, this difference, that a man might get his employer to let him go home earlier to vote at the Parliamentary election, but he would be less likely to allow him to go early to vote at a county council election. I am bitterly disappointed with the action of the Government. This is a question which applies more to London than any other part of the country, and I think the people living in the Metropolis are entitled to have a fair opportunity of recording their vote up to a reasonable hour. I regret that at the last moment we have been informed that the Government propose to exclude local elections from the Bill, and perhaps for ten or twenty years we may still be looking to a Liberal Government to give us as fair opportunity in local elections as they do in Parliamentary elections. If this Bill passes, we shall have this position, that electors will be able to vote till ten o'clock for a guardians' election, till nine o'clock for a Parliamentary election, and till eight o'clock for a London County Council election. No one will really know when the poll is open and when it is closed, and we shall have greater confusion than we have at the present time. Speaking candidly, it seems to me the position has been absolutely abandoned, and I must express my great disappointment at the action of the Solicitor-General in the matter.


If the change proposed by the Solicitor-General is carried, the Irish Members will desire to have the Bill apply to Ireland.


The option given by this Amendment is doubtless an option which will be exercised in Divisions like that which I represent and that which the Solicitor-General represents. What does that mean? It means that the result will not be declared on the same day. At the last General Election our result was not declared till 12.30 at night. It means that the result will have to be declared next day, and that will undoubtedly mean extra expense to the candidates. If we have the election declared on the same day we know where we stand, but, if it is declared the next day, it means extra expense and greater worry. I think that is a point which the House ought to consider.


I am disappointed as a promoter of the Bill that my child has not been allowed to grow to full stature, but at the same time I do recognise, that if there is to be any chance for my Bill it must be made as uncontroversial as possible, and all through the proceedings I have been anxious to meet hon. Gentlemen opposite as far as one could. I have sufficient faith in the principle embodied in the Bill to believe that the object lesson even of the Bill as it stands to-day will lead to a great step in the extension of the hours of polling. The Amendment which I understand the House is likely to accept pretty unanimously will also have another good result. It will allow Scotland and Ireland to be put back into the Bill. I have heard many expressions of disappointment from Scottish Members that they were excluded from the operations of the Bill, and in the Committee upstairs the exclusion of Scotland was only carried by eleven votes to ten. I have been also informed that many Irish Members were disappointed that they were excluded. They, again, would be able to come in. Naturally, I would have liked the larger achievement, but I do think we shall have done something to effect a great advancement in the comfort and convenience of the voter in many large and populous districts.


There are some differences in the circumstances of England and Scotland as regards the proposal to exclude local government elections from this Bill. I do not venture to discuss the circumstances of English boroughs, and particularly of London, but I believe that in Scotland there is no desire to have local government elections included in the Bill. I myself have received a protest from the Burgh of Melrose saying that they do not wish it, and I know that the Convention of Royal Burghs has expressed an opinion against the application of the provisions of this Bill. I am, therefore, quite willing to agree to that part of the proposal which excludes Scottish Government elections from the Bill.


I am intensely disappointed that this Amendment has been proposed. I do not think that there is a constituency where late polling is more necessary than in the one I represent, and it is even more important for county council and borough elections than for Parliamentary elections. It is a great confession of weakness on our part that, having brought in a Bill which we all support and are prepared to stand by, the Government should come in and make this concession to the Opposition. There may be a strong reason for it, but I am very much disappointed, and I know that my Constituents will also be much disappointed that local elections should have been eliminated from the Bill. I doubt very much, if there were a Division, whether I should be able to vote for this Amendment.


I was impressed by the remark made by one hon. Member with regard to expenses, and I would venture to suggest whether it would not be possible to include an Amendment providing, if it could be shown that any extra expenses were incurred, that they might fall upon the candidate who desires to have the extension of the hours of polling.

Captain JESSEL

I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. W. Pearce) upon the courteous and considerate manner in which he has conducted the proceedings on this Bill. I can assure him that I know what a proud feeling one has when he has got a Bill through the House of Commons.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Words, "Where a duly nominated candidate or his agent at any Parliamentary election has given notice in writing on the day of and immediately after his nomination to the returning officer that he wishes the Act to apply at such election, then" inserted.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "nine o'clock in the afternoon of the same day and no longer," and to insert instead thereof the words "two o'clock in the afternoon, after which the Doll shall be closed till four o'clock in the afternoon, and after that hour be kept open till nine o'clock and no longer."

I would suggest to the promoter of the Bill that he might accent this Amendment permitting two hours' holiday in the middle of the day. Fourteen hours, after all, is a very long stretch to keen the presiding officers and polling clerks at work. I find that from two o'clock in the afternoon until four is the slackest period of the day for polling, and I would suggest that those hours be adopted as the hours for a mid-day holiday to relieve the officials.


I am sorry I cannot accept this Amendment. I have gone into it very carefully, and I do not think the proposal will be practicable. So far as London is concerned there are certain constituencies, such as South Kensington, where the hours of two, three, and four are the busiest hours of the day.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, to leave out Sub-section (3), which is consequential upon the acceptance of the Solicitor-General's Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.