HC Deb 06 June 1913 vol 53 cc1184-218

Order for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee) read.


I beg to move, in respect of a new Clause (Additional Officers), "That the Bill be recommitted."

In moving to recommit the Bill in respect of this Clause, I am not prompted by any desire either to delay the passage of the Bill or to obstruct it. I think I ought to explain in justice to this Amendment that I have been asked to move this Amendment by a number of officials who are not interested in what I may call the politics of the Bill, but who are very much interested indeed in what the position of the presiding officers and polling clerks will be under this Bill, and I think that for this new Clause I may claim the support of the Members of the Labour party who in this House have always advocated a proper restriction of the hours of labour. This Bill will increase the hours of presiding officers and polling clerks from twelve to fourteen, and I submit that unless this Amendment is passed we shall impose a great injustice upon those gentlemen who now fulfil the functions of presiding officers and polling clerks, and, what is still more important from the point of view of this House, we shall make it impossible for them to discharge their duties efficiently. Under the provisions of the two Acts which I quote in my new Clause, the Ballot Act, 1872, and the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1875, the number of persons who can be employed by the returning officer is restricted. They are restricted to one presiding officer for each polling station and to one polling clerk for each 500 electors at such polling station. Let me disabuse the minds of hon. Members on one point. Where at any particular polling station there are more than 500 electors on the register, it is quite true that there are two polling clerks employed, but those two polling clerks cannot be employed to relieve one another. They both have to be present during the whole of the proceedings, because the duties of the polling station are divided between them. In the case of a polling station at which there are more than 500 electors voting one polling clerk is entrusted with the duty of marking off the register and the other polling clerk with the duty of standing at the table. I submit that in the first place it is unfair and improper to ask any official to work for fourteen consecutive, continuous hours. It is a preposterous suggestion. I would remind hon. Members that although during a part of the day the duties of the officials may not be very arduous, there are periods of the day during which the duties both of the presiding officer and the poll clerk require great alertness and great concentration. I would also remind hon. Members that during no period of the day are either the presiding officer or the poll clerk allowed to leave the precincts of the polling station. If you pass the Bill in its present form you will be condemning the presiding officer and the poll clerk not merely to fourteen hours' continuous work, but you will be condemning them to remain for fourteen hours within the precincts of the polling station. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will be reluctant to impose these conditions upon presiding officers and poll clerks when they realise the nature of the duties performed by those officials.

One great argument that has been advanced in favour of the Bill, as a whole, has been the great pressure at the polling stations during the last hour that it is open. In Committee we were told that the fact that there was always a rush of electors between the hours of seven and eight was in itself evidence that there was a large section of the population who were unable to vote in the middle of the day. I submit that is only human nature, and that however late you keep the polling booths open there will always be a great rush of electors during the last hour. I believe if you keep the polling booths open for twenty-four hours there would still be a rush of electors during the twenty-third hour, because I think it is human nature in a matter of this sort to put off the duties of citizenship until the very last moment. If this Bill is passed in its present form, you will be asking officials who are worn out by thirteen hours dof continuous labour to grapple with their duties at a time when it is most necessary that they should be alert. If you do not provide some means for relieving presiding officers and poll clerks, you increase the danger of impersonation to an untold extent. I believe any hon. Member who has had experience of contested elections will agree with me that not only is it very necessary for presiding officers and poll clerks to be thoroughly alert and awake to their duties during the last hour, but that it is during that hour that most of the impersonations take place and that most of the spoiled votes are spoiled owing to the poll clerk neglecting to stamp the paper. At every election, or most elections, there are a number of spoiled votes owing to the omission of the poll clerk to stamp the papers. That class of spoiled vote will increase enormously if you compel the poll clerk to work for fourteen consecutive hours. I feel it is unnecessary for me to labour this argument. The preposterous suggestion that any official of the State, even if he be a temporary official, should be compelled to work for fourteen continuous hours is so obvious that I am sure the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will accept my Motion.

Captain JESSEL

I beg to second the Motion made by the Noble Lord. I myself moved an Amendment in Committee drawing attention to the great additional labour that would be imposed upon the polling officials taking part in an election unless some means were devised for relieving them. The Committee did not go very carefully into the matter at the time; but I think there is a general feeling among those conversant with elections that a serious difficulty has to be dealt with in this matter, because the law as it now stands does not allow the presiding officer or poll clerk to vacate the polling station during the hours of polling. Therefore, unless this Bill is recommitted on the lines proposed by the Noble Lord, there will be a considerable increase in the labour performed by those officials, and I think there will be very serious impairment of efficiency in the conduct of the elections. A good deal has been said upstairs in Committee, and also during the previous Debate in this House, minimising the difficulty and saying that elections only take place once in three years, and that there is not any very great hardship in an official or a set of officials being called upon at such an infrequent period as three years to take part in an election lasting fourteen hours. I would point out that in London we have frequent elections. Take the most recent instances. We had the Metropolitan borough councils elections, followed by a good many by-elections consequent upon the elevation of certain councillors to the aldermanic benches. A very few months afterwards the county council elections took place. Within a month of the county council elections the boards of guardians elections took place, and owing to the process of the co-option of certain members, which is the same thing as the promotion of a councillor to alderman, vacancies occurred which necessitated a series of by-elections. These elections have come automatically. Within a period of three or four months we have had no less than five or six sets of elections in London. That is not an easy task. The whole of the local government electoral machinery is employed at these elections, and the officials employed are taken off their ordinary work. If you put too much pressure upon the officials it will interfere with their other public work, and will be a great strain upon them. Above all, I believe it will impair the efficiency of the arrangements that have worked with so much success in the conduct of elections in the past. I appeal to hon. Members opposite, and particularly to Members of the Labour party, to take the same view that we do upon this matter, and see that the officials employed at elections have not a hardship put upon them. If this Instruction is carried, the Bill will come down again, and Provision can be made to get over this very serious difficulty. I hope, therefore, that the House will see fit to carry the Instruction moved by my Noble Friend.


I regret to say that I shall not be able to recommend the House to accept the course proposed. I assume the Noble Lord and the hon. and gallant Gentleman are not less anxious than we are to see this Bill satisfactorily dealt with and passed through the necessary stage in the course of this afternoon. The reason why I say the proposal is quite uncalled for is that it never has been the practice where the hours of polling have been extended to deal with this difficulty in this way. If my memory of the Debates is right—I read them about a month ago—exactly the same sort of objection was made when the proposal was made to extend the hours of polling from eight to eight, lest there should be too much work thrown upon somebody on polling day. That proposal then failed, and, for the same-reason, it ought to fail now.


I am indeed surprised that not one word of pity or mercy for these thousands of officials—for this Bill affects the employment of at least 30,000 officials—should have fallen from the Solicitor-General. The Bill adds to their already strenuous labours another two hours a day. The only argument the Solicitor-General advanced was that when you added to their labours before year never thought of giving them extra help or remuneration. On that occasion we were not adding inhumanely to their work. Occasionally to have to work a twelve hours' day is something that happens to us all. Twelve hours' work is a great strain upon anybody, yet when it is proposed to make it fourteen hours instead of twelve the Solicitor-General says that because we did not offer them any extra help or remuneration when their hours were made twelve instead of ten, you need not offer them extra help or remuneration now. There may be another Bill to extend the hours of polling from six in the morning—[HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear!"]—there are evidently advocates of that upon the other side of the House—or, perhaps, from four in the morning till twelve at night, and I can imagine the Solicitor-General saying, "We never gave them any extra help or remuneration. Let them work the twenty-four hours if necessary; what does it matter to us?" It does not matter to us here. These 30,000 or 50,000 presiding officers and clerks at all these elections must not have an eight hours day, but must work from sixteen to twenty-four hours if necessary and earn their money! That, I understand, is the view of the Labour party. We know something of their sympathy for an eight hours' day, yet they are willing to impose a sixteen hours' day upon these officials for their own convenience. I am one of those who are not the least afraid of the effect of an extension of the hours of polling—in fact, the more the hours of polling are extended at the present time the greater will be the majority against the present Government. For my own part, I should like to see the poll open for twenty-four hours, because at every single by-election it would increase the majority against the present Government.

Whatever may be our desire in the matter of the extension of the hours of polling, and however little we fear that extension, we ought to feel for those who have to conduct these elections. I agree with my Noble Friend (Lord A. Thynne) that these officials have an enormous strain cast upon them, particularly during the last few hours. I have been through many elections myself and know the work the presiding officers and polling clerks have to do during the last hour or two. In some constituencies it is most necessary that they should be particularly alert during those hours to prevent impersonation. A sleepy clerk or presiding officer is not the person I should choose to prevent impersonation. He wants to have all his faculties about him and to be fully alive. A man who begins work at seven o'clock in the morning and has to continue it up to nine o'clock is not the sort of man who ought to preside over a polling booth, or the sort of polling clerk who ought to be employed for that particular class of work. It is not only fourteen hours' work that is being imposed upon them. We must remember that the presiding officer and polling clerks are generally chosen from outside the constituency to which they belong, because neither party is willing to lose their votes. It is the practice to choose these officials from other constituencies, therefore they will have to get up at a still earlier hour in the morning, and it will not be a fourteen hours' day, but probably a sixteen or eighteen hours' day for them. These matters do not appear to receive consideration from the Solicitor-General. They ought to receive consideration in giving adequate and not inadequate hours of labour to those who have to perform these arduous duties. The Bill will not be lost if it is recommitted; it will have the same chance of becoming law as it has now, and the House will show that it has some mercy and consideration for these thousands of officials employed in the conduct of our elections.


It is quite refreshing, and I am delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher) speaking in favour of the sweated polling clerk, and the sweated returning officer at £4 4s. a day. I do not know whether he had his tongue in his cheek when he said that the longer the poll is open the greater would be his party's victory next time. If that is so, why does he appose it? A twenty-four hours' day would be a nice, comfortable three shifts for these poor sweated clerks. I have been in a polling booth and I have had a great deal to do with elections, and have thought that the presiding officer had one of the softest jobs, and that the returning officer has a better job still. It is said they will have to come from a distance in the morning. One hon. Member said that they would have to get up at four in the morning in order to get to a distant town, and that the work was of such a character that it demanded men with tremendous intellectual capacity. I have thought once or twice that I might have been able to do a job like that myself. When he went on to declare that some of the presiding officers had three elections in a week, which made it twelve guineas a week, and pleaded for the sweated returning officer, he seemed to be carrying it too far. What I understand the whole House wants is that every person who is entitled to record his vote should have an opportunity of recording his vote. Whatever the expense of an election is you have to pay for it, and if a few extra polling clerks are put on to relieve in the middle of the day when they take a little light refreshment for two hours, they have to be paid for. I have known an enormous number of people to be polled during the refreshment adjournment. I do not know how it is, but it has happened that they have come in and polled in the meantime. I suppose it is perfectly bonâ fide, and that that is the time when the dead ones vote. I ask the House to reject this proposal. We want an extension of the polling hours, and if any hardship can be proved at a later date I have not the slightest doubt that the champions of sweated labour on the other side of the House will bring in an amending Bill so as to enable the men to be paid properly. If they move to extend the hours so as to make it a clear sixteen and get two eight-hour shifts, I should vote for it, because it seems a reasonable thing. I hope the House will let us get on with the Bill, and decline to recommit it altogether.


The hon. Member apparently thinks no one can oppose this Bill except for party motives. He says if this party is going to gain by the Bill, why do we oppose it? We oppose it because we think it is unnecessary. There are many things which do not have a marked effect on one party rather than the other, but which are an undesirable form of wasting public money. I think the hon. Member, before he expresses an opinion as to whether presiding officers and returning officers and polling officers—he seemed a little confused between the various classes—are underpaid or not, should take the trouble to find out what the remuneration is. In the case at least of Parliamentary boroughs, I know that the presiding officers only get £3 3s., and not £4 4s. The limit placed on the number of officials employed by the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Ballot Act is absolutely impossible if this Bill passes. Figures have been worked out by a responsible body which show that the addition of one-third to the number of officials will be required. At present I understand that about 30,000 officials are employed in elections, and this will mean that an extra 10,000 will be required. I do not know where they are to be got from, but in any case it is desirable that they should be got, because in many cases the duties of those employed in the polling booth do not end with the closing of the poll. Many of them are employed the next day in counting the votes, for which they need all their wits about them, and where any carelessness resulting from fatigue is very much to be deprecated. I think it is most desirable that you should not work men for these long hours the day before they have to perform this very responsible duty.


The Committee had no want of sympathy with the officers who are engaged in elections. The point was fully considered, but the Committee decided that in a Bill of this kind it was contrary to precedent and practice to put in a Clause dealing with the matter. It is not to be supposed for a minute that if these officials have to undertake extra work they will not in some sense get extra remuneration for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "They cannot."] I fail to see how it is impossible to arrange it. Most of us have examined returning officers' expenses at one time or another. In these particular items, when you deal with returning officers' expenses, then will be the time to consider those questions, rather than complicate a simple little Bill like this, which, though it is not a large subject, is a very difficult one, and a matter that requires a good deal of careful consideration.


I think the hon. Member does not really appreciate the seriousness of the point which the Noble Lord has raised. He recognises that some further remuneration ought to be given to these men if they are called upon to perform municipal duties, but how can it be done? Is he aware that at present the Act of 1875 fixes a maximum, and nothing more than that can be paid as the law stands at present? The only way it could be done would be by some amending Act. The hon. Member says that may be true, but do it by another Act and not by this Act. His proposal really is this: Impose the additional duty by one Act of Parliament and let them wait for their remuneration until this House finds time for another Act. What are the chances in this Session or next Session of that going through? It must depend, in the first place, on whether anyone is lucky enough to find a place in the ballot, and, if he finds a place in the ballot for this particular Bill, whether it ultimately passes through all its stages. The hon. Member (Mr. Crooks) is dealing with only one set of these officers who do get a high remuneration. He has entirely left out the case of local government elections, where the remuneration is very small, and in that and in some other cases they get no extra remuneration, but it is a part of their ordinary duties. The amount he named only applies to Parliamentary elections. The Noble Lord's argument was not so much directed to the question of remuneration as to the question of hours. He was not complaining about the remuneration which was being paid alone. He based himself on two grounds. In the first place, if you give them additional work, you ought to give them additional remuneration; and, secondly, in any case these are such long hours that the men will not be in a position to efficiently discharge their duties. I do not think the hon. Member's speech touched the case that the Noble Lord put forward. If you pass this Bill without at the same time introducing an Amendment allowing additional men to be employed, you would be

employing these men for such a length of time that they could not efficiently discharge their very important and arduous duties.

Question put, "That the Bill be recommitted in respect of a new Clause entitled (Additional Officers.)."

The House divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 155.

Division No. 102.] AYES. [12.45 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R. Gastrell, Major W. Houghton Peel, Lieut-Colonel R. F.
Anstruther-Gray, Major William Gilmour, Captain John Perkins, Walter F.
Baird, John Lawrence Glazebrook, Captain Philip K. Randles, Sir John S.
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.) Greene, Walter Raymond Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Sanders, Robert Arthur
Barnston, Harry Haddock, George Bahr Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Bigland, Alfred Harrison-Broadley, H. B. Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Blair, Reginald Hewins, William Albert Samuel Talbot, Lord Edmund
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid) Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian) Terrell, G. (Wilts, N, W.)
Bridgeman, W. Clive Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk. Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)
Bull, Sir William James Ingleby, Holcombe Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud
Burgoyne, Alan Hughes Jessel, Captain H. M. Wills, Sir Gilbert
Burn, Colonel C. R. Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E. R.)
Cassel, Felix Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury) Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lieut.-Colonel A. R. Yate, Colonel C. E.
Clay, Captain H. H. Spender M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Younger, Sir George
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Newman, John R. P.
Denison-Pender, J. C. Nield, Herbert TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Lord
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid) Alexander Thynne and Mr. Goldsmith.
Falle, Bertram Godfray Paget, Almeric Hugh
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Ffrench, Peter Lundon, Thomas
Alden, Percy Flavin, Michael Joseph Lynch, A. A.
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbarton) George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Glnnell, Laurence McGhee, Richard
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Gladstone, W. G. C. Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple) Glanville, H. J. MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)
Beale, Sir William Phipson Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Macpherson, James Ian
Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George) Goldstone, Frank McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Martin, Joseph
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Griffith, Ellis J. Mason, David M. (Coventry)
Black, Arthur W. Gulland, John William Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.
Boland, John Pius Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)
Booth, Frederick Handel Hackett, John Menzies, Sir Walter
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Hancock, J. G. Molloy, Michael
Brace, William Harcourt, Rt Hon. Lewis (Rossendale) Morison, Hector
Brady, Patrick Joseph Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Muldoon, John
Brunner, John F. L. Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.) Munro, R.
Bryce, J. Annan Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry Murphy, Martin J.
Burke, E. Haviland- Higham, John Sharp Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Nolan, Joseph
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Hogg, David C. Nugent, Sir Walter Richard
Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood) Hogge, James Myles O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Chancellor, Henry George Holmes, Daniel Turner O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Chapple, Dr. William Allen Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus O'Doherty, Philip
Clancy, John Joseph Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) O'Dowd, John
Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock) Johnson, W. O'Malley, William
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea) O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Cotton, William Francis Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Parker, James (Halifax)
Crooks, William Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Crumley, Patrick Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney) Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Cullinan, John Jowett, F. W. Price, Sir R. J. (Norfolk, E.)
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy) Joyce, Michael Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford)
Delany, William Kelly, Edward Pringle, William M. R.
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Kennedy, Vincent Paul Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Devlin, Joseph Kilbride, Denis Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Dickinson, W. H. King, J. Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Dillon, John Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Doris, William Lardner, James C. R. Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West) Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th) Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Esslemont, George Birnie Leach, Charles Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Falconer, James Lewis, John Herbert Rowlands, James
Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe) White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton) Whitehouse, John Howard
Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander Whyte, A. F. (Perth)
Sheehan, Daniel Daniel Verney, Sir Harry Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Sheehy, David Wadsworth J. Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Walton, Sir Joseph Wing, Thomas
Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton) Wardle, George J.
Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West) Webb, H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Sutherland, John E. White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston) W. Pearce and Mr. Wiles.
Sutton, John E. White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)

Bill, as amended, considered.


The new Clause (Application to Local Authorities) standing in the name of the hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Captain Jessel) will come as a proviso to Clause 1. The second new Clause (Limitation of Application) in the name of the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Sandys) is too indefinite and vague and there is no machinery for making the Amendment operative. The third new Clause (Additional Officers) in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Bath (Lord A. Thynne) is disposed of by the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, as stated. The fourth new Clause (Consent of Local Authorities to be obtained) in the name of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Sanders) is a proviso to the first Clause. The same observation applies to the next new Clause (Application of Act to Local Government Elections) in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Bath. The new Clause (Limitation of Act) in the name of the hon. Member for Stowmarket (Mr. Goldsmith) will come as an Amendment to Clause 2.

  1. CLAUSE 1.—(Extension of Polling Hours.) 9,085 words, 1 division
  2. cc1217-8
  3. CLAUSE 2.—(Application, of Act.) 290 words