§ (1) At a General Election all polls shall be held on one day, and the day fixed for receiving nominations shall be the same in all constituencies, and accordingly the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, shall be modified as shown in Part I. of the Second Schedule to this Act.
§ (2) Official telegraphic information of the writ having been issued for a Parliamentary election may be given in such cases and by such persons as may be directed by His Majesty in Council, and any steps for holding an election which may be taken on or after the receipt of the writ may be taken on or after the receipt of an official telegraphic intimation of the writ having been issued.
§ (3) The time appointed for the meeting of the Parliament may be any time not less than twenty clear days after the proclamation summoning Parliament; and the Meeting of Parliament Act, 1852, is hereby repealed.
§ (4) Nothing in this Section shall—
- (a) affect the provisions of Section one of the Ballot Act, 1872, relating to the commencement afresh of the proceedings with relation to the election on the death of a candidate or apply to proceedings so commenced afresh; or
- (b) apply to a university election.
§ Mr. NIELD
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "on one day" ["be held on one day and "], and to insert instead thereof "(a) for boroughs on one day; and (b) for counties on the second day thereafter, and the day fixed for counting the votes."
In Committee I presented a similar proposal, and I supported it by calling attention to the difficulties, the almost insuperable difficulties, of holding, the elections in both counties and boroughs in one day. I pointed out that these difficulties would 1702 be greatly increased by reason of the large number of electors to be added to the register and also by reason of the fact that women are to receive the vote. It will, therefore, be seen that existing difficulties will be greatly increased, and be very much more formidable in each constituency than they have ever been before. I also pointed out that the whole of the staffs and the returning officers were men trained for work in the polling booths, and the necessity of being trained will be more important if complicated methods of voting are to be introduced. It will be extremely difficult, therefore, to take the polls of both counties and boroughs in one day. An hon. Member referred to what is done in the United States and Canada, but there, I would point out, the circumstances are very different from what they are here, in addition to which, those who are engaged in election work in the United States and Canada have had long practice in it, and their rapidity of action is due to the fact of their long experience and their having all the accessories for an election ready to hand. Look at what happens here. The unfortunate candidate has to pay a large sum to the returning officer, not merely for the wages of the staff employed, but for accessories required in the election, and I dare say most members have had to pay the purchase value of the fitting of the polling places and the boxes and other accessories of a polling station. These accessories are used again, with the result that candidates have to pay for them over and over again. I can state from my own practical knowledge as a candidate, that these accessories are transferred from one constituency to another under the present system, and I submit, in view of all these facts, that there should be one day for the counties and one day for the boroughs, in order that these difficulties to which I have referred may be minimized as far as possible. The proposal of this Amendment will not lend itself to what in certain sections of this House has been regarded as a disadvantage in connection with declarations of the poll. It has been suggested that if the boroughs went in a certain direction at the election, and the results were announced that it would have the effect of causing the counties to flow with whatever was the stream of victory. That would be wholly obviated—if there be any truth at all in the suggestion—by not declaring the poll in the boroughs until after the counties had polled. The 1703 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow opposed my Amendment on the last occasion, and observe how an astute and political mind can be reduced to a very poor argument. He said, speaking of my Amendment:I am inclined to think that although the hon. and learned Member is making a proposal which is designed to get rid of one objection, he does not get over the difficulty altogether. The preservation of plural voting is naturally regarded by a large part of the community as a blot on the whole scheme, and I am not willing to accept at this stage something which would be thought to make the preservation of plural voting more significant, and give it a greater weight than I think is the result of the compromise as expressed in the Bill.In the Bill the only instance in which two votes are given is that where a man has a vote for his residence and a vote for his place of business. But it is inconceivable, therefore, to say that this is a plural vote. The House has authorised these two votes and these two votes may be recorded, and they will be recorded whether in boroughs or in counties. That is the only argument that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow advanced. The answer given to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was on the whole sympathetic. He said:I think the holding of all polls on one day will give rise to some difficulty. The police difficulty, of course may be exaggerated and sometimes is, but it does exist. There is also the difficulty caused to the Post Office by the enormous number of ballot papers and other documents which will have to pass through it if all nominations and elections are held on one day. There is a further difficulty with regard to the polling staffs, the presiding officer and others who attend the polling booth at the polling and who otherwise deal with elections. There will be a difficulty, at all events, at the first election in getting sufficient men for the purpose. There are other questions of ballot boxes, and so on, which I regard as of no great importance, but on the matters I have mentioned there is real practical difficulty which I should like hon. Members to consider and to give us their views upon. The Committee might think that for the first General Election we should come to some arrangement and have two days, or one day for the boroughs and one day for the counties. I do not at all press that as a matter of principle.I would point out that if it is difficult to take the poll at present, how much more difficult will it be when large numbers are added to every division and to every rural and urban district, to have the election in one day. Polling cards are sent out on the last day as the final touch with an address to the electors, and inviting friends to go to the poll to vote for them. Many candidates would prefer to use the free postage for the purpose of sending the polling card rather than their address, because they can make their address known in various other ways. The men and women voters would receive these polling cards inviting them to vote, and 1704 the Postmaster-General will have to see what prospect his staff will have of being able to deal with such an enormous number of free postage polling cards, and he will have to provide a staff adequate to deal with the work. The Home Secretary went on to say:I quite understand that hon. Members may hold other views, although I think the movement in favour of having all polls on one day is rather weakened by the fact that we are so largely reducing the plural vote. One of the arguments in favour of having all polls on one day is that by that means you would prevent the exercise of an undue number of votes, which some persons were thought to have. That no longer will be an operative reason, because the Committee has provisionally reduced the number of votes in practically all cases, so there will be no difficulty in that respect. If it were the general view I should be glad to assent to an arrangement giving two days to the first General Election, of course adding the provision which is on the Paper in the name of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Nield). I think that the votes taken on the first day should not be declared until all the votes have been taken. If that is done, the voting on the first day cannot affect the elections on the second, so you will attain one of the results you are seeking by having elections on one day. There is this further reason, that if we have all the elections on one day we must give, as the Bill gives, ten days between the nomination and polling. If you fix one day for the boroughs and another for the counties, you will allow the least time for the boroughs, and let them poll nearer to the day of nomination, allowing the full time for the counties only. Therefore, you need not lose time by this change and you might effect a considerable increase of convenience.The only other objection urged against it was by an hon. Member (Mr. Wing), who said that commercial travellers would be considerably disturbed by the prolongation of the polling. I do not think that an interval of one day between the boroughs and the counties would make any material difference. It would give them the opportunity of conducting their activities in the counties when the boroughs are polling, and transferring their attention to the boroughs when the counties were polling. Upon the whole, I suggest there is abundant argument in favour of making this change, and I think that the House would be well advised to accept this proposal. There are other reasons which I might give, but I think I have said enough by citing the opinion of the Home Secretary to show the weakness of the arguments of those who oppose. I trust that the House will realise that the general convenience will be met by passing my Amendment.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I have listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I have been trying to learn from his speech if he would bring forward any new facts other than those which he brought 1705 forward when this question was being discussed on the Committee stage, and so far as I could ascertain from his remarks he had no fresh evidence of any kind to put before the House. I think that it is almost a degradation to the intellect of this country that hon. Members should keep on pointing out that we cannot and have not the businesslike capacity to do what other big countries can do, namely, to settle the whole of their elections there and then on the one day. What is the line of argument used? We are told that there have been difficulties in the past and that there may be difficulties in obtaining a sufficient number of people to carry on the election. But the very essence of making your elections on the one day would be that you virtually close down for that day a great amount of business, so that you would release for all manner of purposes a large staff of persons, quite capable, intellectually and otherwise, of managing an election. Let us take one item. If you had all the elections on one day, the polling places would be in the school rooms, which would be closed from their ordinary educational work. You would have thus placed at your disposal in the masters of those schools an intellectual body of men who would make presiding officers at the polling booths placed in the schools. Surely the hon. and learned Member will not for a moment attempt to say that those men are not in every way qualified to perform the duties of presiding officers?
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I have a good deal of experience. I do not wish to be personal, but some of the greatest blunders I have had to do with in presiding officers have been committed by gentlemen of the hon. Member's profession.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I remember one of them was putting a stamp over my name, and I had to teach him what to do. I think you could not have any more blundering than that by schoolmasters, if you made them presiding officers. The difficulty the hon. Member referred to in connection with commercial travellers would be met also by holding the elections upon one day. I have discussed this question with business men, and the one thing 1706 that they all want is that you should close down for the one day. The commercial traveller cannot with convenience go into the county while the boroughs are being polled. The public mind is disturbed from ordinary business, whereas with the polls all on one day the commercial traveller could cease his business, possibly for that one day, and would be able after that to get on with his work. We heard a great deal last time about the supplying of the machinery for the elections, such as the poll boxes and other impedimenta. The whole of that could easily be got into existence. You are not passing this law for one election, and one election only. The whole of that machinery once brought into existence should be in the hands of either the urban council or the county council, or tile municipal council of the borough. The polling boxes, having been found out of public money, should be there at all times to be used for all elections. I know that they are in the majority of cases, but not in all—a fact which makes my arguments the stronger. We have had cases under one authority where the polling boxes disappeared immediately after one election, and there had to be new ones bought for the next election. Since public funds are used to buy these things, I think the Treasury ought to say, "These are public property and must be kept." In that way there would be no difficulty in providing them a second time. I suppose it was because the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that that would be done that he did not make quite so much of the point as when he was urging this matter on the Committee stage.
Take another point which the hon. and learned Gentleman put rather strongly. He said that above all things you want to divide the elections, because otherwise you will not have the necessary police force to preserve order on the day. What. is the experience on these matters? It is that the more elections you have on the one day the less likelihood there is of disturbance, because the people are confined to their own locality. You may have passions aroused over some burning questions, and if you have an election at one place on one day and in the county on the next day. you get the migration of those excited people into the area where the second election is taking place, and that is the way you create disturbance. If the polls are all held on the one day the people are confined to their own polling areas, and it 1707 is not until the boxes are closed that you have anything like time for disturbances, or anything of the kind. Another argument used by the hon and learned Gentleman was what he described as a difficulty with regard to the Post Office. He said that possibly the candidate might reserve the right to free postage for his polling card, which is issued at the last moment, and which is for the purpose of letting the elector know where the polling place is and the time of polling, and just to give him the last word. The hon. and learned Member said all that might come down on the Post Office at the one moment, and that the Post Office would be unable to deliver all those cards. I have had experience of this matter, particularly in some of the old London boroughs, such as the borough of Finsbury, where there were 50,000 people on the roll, and in every one of these cases the system has been to go to the postal authorities of the locality and arrange for the posting of those poll cards in each sorting district in which the delivery was to take place. You did not go and put them all haphazard into the central office, but entered beforehand into an arrangement with the Post Office authorities, and it was to the interests of the candidate to do so, in order that that last card might be delivered not on the morning of the polling day, but as near as possible to the day of the poll. I plead for the Bill as it stands, because I believe in the convenience of holding all the elections on one day, and I think all the arguments points to that conclusion. I do not think it would be at all a bad thing if on account of having all the polls on one day you had almost a cessation of occupation in the latter half of that day. I have seen polling taking place in other countries under this system. I have seen a poll taken in Paris on one day and made a round of the city on that occasion. Surely the people there are quite as excitable as we are here. We have the example of the holding of all the county council elections in London on the one day, and we know that they go off as well and as quietly as the Parliamentary elections that take place over a series of days.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I admit that it may have been 40 per cent. or perhaps some- 1708 times up to 50 per cent., but I have been in places where it was much higher, and I would ask the hon. and learned Member what is the register that has to go to the polls? The register for a county council election is much larger than for a Parliamentary election, and what is the condition of the candidature? You have double the number of candidates that you have in Parliamentary elections. I think our friends, who are in favour of this change, if they want to take London as a reason, must give some good arguments to show that ever since 1889 the whole of these elections have not been carried on successfully and efficiently. With the whole of the polling on one day you have the returns coming in and the excitement away by the next morning. I think the polling on one day has been thoroughly well justified. As one who has had the experience of being a candidate both for a borough and also for a county division, I say that it is wrong to put a strain on the county men, even by the extension of another day. We have quite enough. What do you have from an electioneering point of view? If you divide this into two days you have all the excitement in the boroughs on the one day, and you have the people worn out with that excitement, and the candidates for the county suffer and are thereby at a disadvantage. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman must really think again, and try to get more arguments, and of a fresher character, than he has been able to put before us to-night, for the purpose of getting the House to change their opinion expressed previously. I do not think there is anything to be said for the convenience of this suggested change, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will stand for the Bill as it is.
Mr. MCKINNON WOOD
I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will stand by the unanimous decision of the Speaker's Conference which fully considered this matter, and also by the decision of this House in Committee. I cannot think that any reason has been adduced which should lead the Government to alter its mind upon this subject. In regard to the small questions of machinery and apparatus which were raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think there is a very great advantage in having, in the hands of every local authority who has to deal with these elections, an adequate supply of ballot boxes, For 1709 instance, take the example given as to one set of ballot boxes going round and being used in several different divisions. In each case—for each occasion—the ballot boxes are charged by the returning officer. The ballot boxes, too, are public property. As to there being any serious difficulty of administration in this matter I think the particular arguments are met by the general reply that other countries, no more able than ourselves, find no difficulty in carrying out all their elections on one day. In regard to the Post Office authorities, for example, I do not think the Post Office would shift its staff from one part of the country to another. That argument has no real sound foundation. There is a very great advantage in having the elections on one day from the point of view, not of the candidate, but of the business community. It is a great thing to get rid of the disturbance to business which has existed in the past. I have always thought that there should be, if not a whole holiday, at any rate a partial holiday on the day of the election.
It has always struck me, too, as being somewhat of a scandal that the workmen should be struggling to get into the polling booths just before 8 o'clock at night at great personal inconvenience to themselves, whilst it sometimes has required a great deal of apparatus to bring them to the poll—canvassers, motor-cars, 'busses, and all sorts of things, the use of which is often, I think, illegitimate, and always undesirable. Why should not we regard an election in this country as a matter of such importance to, at any rate, give everyone in the country a few hours from work for the purpose of recording their votes? I have again and again gone to the polling booth and seen the crowds of working men, long lines of them, having got there at great difficulty; and I have known of the great efforts on the occasion required to be made to get the men to the poll who were working at a distance from the place where they voted. As a matter of fact many left before time to get to the poll early. But it is impossible for most of them to get early to the polling. Therefore, I think, it would be a great advantage if a national holiday for either the whole or half a day were observed, so that the polling could be expedited and the disturbance to business made less. I hope we are not going to get into the habit of going back, without very strong reason for doing so, on the things we have settled 1710 under this Bill. There are, I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, a good many things I should like to go back upon. We have abstained from that. There are things which may cause us great personal inconvenience. Very serious questions could be raised on the Schedule. Very strong criticism could be put forward. But it is in the interests of all of us to get this Bill through with as much agreement as possible, and when we have come to an agreement both at the Conference and on the Committee stage on this question of polling on one day, I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will stand firm on what has been decided, and not open doors for alterations and for making more difficulties in carrying through this matter.
§ Sir G. CAVE
It is obvious that a great deal can be said both for and against this Amendment. The consideration which decides me is this: This is an old controversy; the matter has been debated for many years past, and is one of those issues on which parties have been divided, and which, we hope, were finally settled at the Speaker's Conference, and by the Report which Mr. Speaker presented to the House. That being so, I could not possibly accept this Amendment without the general assent of the House, and so go back upon the decision of the Conference. There is one point still which the Government promised to leave to the House. I refer to the proxy vote. Subject to that exception which has been made, we shall endeavour, and I trust the House will do so, to keep as close as we can to the agreement of the Conference, and so adhere to the agreement embodied the Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am not quite certain, but my recollection is that on the Committee stage of the Bill the Home Secretary said that he would consider between then and the Report stage whether or not something could be done in this direction. My right hon. and learned Friend has the Report, and he will be able to correct me if I am wrong—but I certainly thought something of this sort was said by the Home Secretary.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The tenor of my speech was that, while I sympathised, I could not accept such an Amendment without the general assent of the House.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I was not quite certain as to what had been said. The Home Secretary said he sympathised with the 1711 thing, but he could not assent to it without the general assent of the House. It is said that this is one of those unanimous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. We have rather let that aspect of the case go by, because only last week we had one, if not two, occasions when we totally disregarded the unanimous decision of the Speaker's Cnoefrence. In regard to women and local government we certainly did so, because it was a clear statement, as clear as anything could be, in the Speaker's Conference Report, that no woman was to be registered in respect of the qualification of her husband. Nothing could be clearer. Therefore I would point out to my right hon. Friend beside me (Mr. McKinnon Wood), who is so extremely anxious to carry out the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference—and I am not sure whether he did not speak in favour of what I am referring to—that if he was in favour then of overriding the unanimous decision of the Speaker's Conference, it hardly lies with him now to say that you must not accept this Amendment because it would be overriding the unanimous decision of the Speaker's Conference! I listened very carefully to the arguments of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Rowlands). I could not find that he adduced any arguments against the Amendment except this: That in another country—I think he said a great country! —there was no difficulty in having the elections on one day. That may be so, but I greatly dislike to be told what other countries are doing. I prefer that this country should set an example to other countries, and not take their example. Therefore I do not think he is right in saying we must do so and so because other countries do it.
An endeavour was made to show that the arguments of my hon. and learned Friends opposite were not apposite. It was said that it would be very easy to have presiding officers in the booths if the elections were all held on one day, because all the schools would be closed, and (it was said) the head teachers could act as presiding officers. But head teachers are sometimes partisans—in some cases very strong partisans. Many are very strong Tories, many are very strong Radicals. I do not think it is advisable to put them into the position of presiding officer; not certainly in their own locality. If it were in a strange locality it would not so much matter. In his own locality, however, a 1712 man who is a very strong partisan, and who is known to be so, might be a cause of difficulty. Then there comes the question of the police. A few years ago—probably the Home Secretary knows how the position stands now—the police were, I know, strongly against having all the elections on one day. The arguments of my hon. Friend opposite were directed to show that the disturbances would only occur at night. It does not seem to me to be a very sound argument. He suggested that probably most of the disturbances would occur after the declaration of the poll. That rather emphasised the difficulty which the police would have to meet, because, as all the declarations, or a good many of them, might be made on that evening—and it is, then, as a rule, that the disturbances occur—that it would be extremely difficult for the police to have a sufficient force present to check the disturbances. Speaking from my own experience, which, of course, is limited to London, I remember that in Peckham we sometimes used to have disturbances. I remember people coming in from the outside. But, I think, it was generally the party men in Peckham on both sides who sometimes came to a little disagreement which ended, it might be in words, and sometimes in something a little stronger. There was, however, never anything really very serious. I do not think it was because of the people who were brought in from the outside; it was the people themselves who lived there.
I should like to hear some arguments in favour of having all the elections on one day. The only argument I heard was that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKinnon Wood). It was to the effect that there should be a holiday. I had no idea—there is, I think, no idea in the Bill—that because there is a proposal to have all the elections on one day, that you had better have a holiday. I do not think that would be a wise thing at all, because that would occasion everyone being in the streets the whole day, and it would be a strong incitement to disturbance. I do not think this is necessary. People talk about disturbances of business. The disturbance to business is not having the election on one or on any days. The trouble and excitement that comes during the time of the election is from canvassers and other like causes. That is generally the time when there is a disturbance of business. But that is not on a particular 1713 day. I can see many reasons why it would be inconvenient to have all elections on one day. The first is as regards the police, and, unless the Home Secretary can tell us that he has consulted the police authorities and they say they have no objection, I think the police question is a very serious one. Then there is the question of finding presiding officers and their clerks. I think the ballot boxes can be put on one side; I do not see very great objection to that. But I think there is the third objection, that there will be a very great impediment to business if every election is held on one day instead of on two days. I am not quite sure even now, if the majority of Members get up and make speeches in favour of the Amendment, that the Home Secretary will not agree to it. Therefore, I think the best thing is to ask everyone who agrees with me to get up and say so, and I hope this will be done.
§ Sir THOMAS WHITTAKER
As the Home Secretary has said, this is an old subject of controversy, and it is a class of controversy that we wish to see settled, if possible. It seems to me that, with regard to the presiding officers and clerks, having the election on two days would not make any difference at all. We must all judge by our individual experience. My experience in the various constituer[...]ies with which I have, in one way and another, had to do is that the presiding officers and clerks have invariably been found in the constituency, and have not come in from outside. There may be differences elsewhere, but that is my experience, and, therefore, having the elections on two days would not make any difference in those constituencies in that respect. The very great objection, in my judgment, to having the elections on two days, and a very strong argument for having them on one day, is that this will help us to get rid of the incursion into the constituency of people from other constituencies. One of the great developments of recent years has been the immense number of motor cars brought into constituencies from outside. It is a practical violation of the Corrupt Practices Act. Practically it is equivalent to paying a man's fare. It is very undesirable, and if you have the eletions on one day you will confine the operations of these motor cars to the constituency in which they are.
We want to have fair play at these elections, and everybody realises that the 1714 workpeople in this country, in trying to run their particular candidates, are placed at a great disadvantage in this matter of motor cars. Perhaps you cannot get over it so far as the cars in the individual constituencies are concerned, but if you have the elections on two days, it does mean that all the motor cars that have been working on the one day are available for the other constituencies on the other day, and very much intensify that evil. I do not think there is any practical difficulty whatever in the way of having the elections on one day. The question of the ballot boxes is neither here nor there; a community ought to own its own ballot boxes. There is no difficulty about the presiding officers and clerks. As for the police, some of us live in different parts of the country from the right hon. Baronet, and do not find the necessity for the police, as evidently he does in the great centre of the Empire, and even down at Peckham. I do not think there is anything in the objections, and I do think a very strong argument in favour of the elections on one day is that you prevent the incursion into the constiutency on the polling day of any number of canvassers, motor cars, and various people from outside who are far better away.
§ Sir WILLIAM PEARCE
I think there is a practical objection which has not been mentioned. So far as I understand the Amendment, the polling would take place in the boroughs, say, on Tuesday, and in the counties on Thursday, and therefore it means that the result of a borough which polls on Tuesday cannot be declared till Friday. What are you going to do with the ballot boxes? If you count the votes on the day after the election, secrecy is impossible. The result of the election is sure to transpire, and if you intend to keep the ballot boxes in anyone's charge for three days, surely it is contrary to common sense, and is not a businesslike arrangement and is open to grave objection.
§ Colonel YATE
I hope the Home Secretary will consent, with the general assent of the House, to the reconsideration of this matter. I agree with the Mover of the Amendment that there will be difficulty in carrying out all the elections on one day. There is just one thing I would like to suggest to the Mover of the Amendment. It strikes me it would be preferable to have the elections for the counties on the first day and the elections for the 1715 boroughs on the second day. It takes a longer time, and much more trouble, to arrange for a county election, and I think it would be far easier to have the county elections on the first day and the borough elections on the second day. I think the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Rowlands), who gave us such a lurid account of the terrible trouble that would be occasioned by the populations of the towns upsetting the county, would accept this proposal of mine, because in that case the influx of people from the towns into the county elections would be done away with, and I think we could trust the more peaceful people of the country not to go into the towns. I do not see how the police can make arrangements for both borough and county elections on the same day; the force is not sufficient. I think on all points it would be far better for two days to be given, and that the votes should be counted at the end of the second day.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I have listened to the various speeches that have been made, and I have heard no argument that has impressed my own mind as to the need for departing from the proposal that the elections should be held on the same day. The Speaker's Conference, I have no doubt, considered this matter, and felt that the holding of elections on one day would be the best way to carry out what everybody believes to be a necessary change. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London says that the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference have been departed from in other respects, and I think he mentioned in particular the carrying of the vote in regard to women at municipal elections. For my part, I should be quite willing to accept this alteration also on the same terms as the last, because when that Amendment was put forward it was not challenged in any part of the House, and not one Member—not even the right hon. Baronet himself—voted against that proposal, and when we are all agreed, and the right hon. Baronet is agreed with all of us, our unity is very wonderful indeed. Therefore, if we can secure unity to the same extent on this matter I should say that the Home Secretary would be abundantly justified in accepting the proposal. But nobody knows better than those who are pressing this Amendment that there is no such unanimity with regard to the matter at all. I have listened very carefully to the various argu- 1716 ments that have been put forward. The right hon. Baronet has said that he is determined not to follow the example of any other country, but that he wants to set an example to other countries. I am not sure they will be very ready to follow the example of the right hon. Baronet or that they will profit greatly if they do.
The arguments which the right hon. Baronet gave were three. First, there was the case of the police. I have taken part in quite a number of elections, and I have never seen the need for a tremendous number of police. I am quite sure that where there is sometimes passing political excitement the importation of too many police, so far from being helpful, is all in the other direction, and especially if they are brought in from outside, as is apparently the intention of the right hon. Baronet. It is far better that the local police, who know the people and mix with them, should deal with a matter of political excitement than that strange police should be brought in from the outside, because time after time it has been shown that it makes matters far worse, and creates trouble, whereas trouble otherwise would not exist. Then with regard to the question of the presiding officer and their clerks, my own experience is the same as that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) that each constituency can provide its own presiding officer and its own clerk; and, indeed, it would cause a great deal of heart-burning and friction to pretend you had not got anybody in your own place to do the work and that you had to bring in some superior people from outside to perform what, after all, is not so very difficult a matter. So far from helping matters forward by doing this, you would be creating additional difficulties. As regards the argument about the ballot boxes, and there not being perhaps a sufficient supply, I do not think anyone puts that forward as a valid objection. I believe that the real reasons why this Amendment is being suggested, are, first Of all, that it is going to give an extra advantage to plural voters to go from one division to another. If plural voters are going to have a chance of voting twice, let them exercise it on the same day. Why provide special opportunities for the plural voters?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Why should not the plural voter have to vote under the same 1717 conditions as anyone else? Why provide opportunities for the plural voter to vote several times on the same day and go to other places?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
You are making this arrangement for the special convenience of a certain class of voters, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that a great many people in this country think that if every man gets one vote he gets quite sufficient, and, in any case, there is no need to make special arrangements for the second vote. Then by this Amendment you will be able in certain cases to transfer party agents and party organisers rapidly from one constituency to another, giving special advantage to the parties that have the largest number of agents and organisers. Then there is the third advantage, in the flooding of constituencies with motor cars. So that the party that is richest in plural voters, the party that is richest from the standpoint of organising agents, and the party that is richest from the standpoint of motor cars is the only party that stands to gain from an Amendment of this kind. I say again, this Amendment is put forward purely from the standpoint of party advantage as apart from the interests and the welfare of the people who are going to vote, and I hope the Amendment will be resisted by the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words: "Provided that, if it appears to the returning officer of any constituency that owing to some exceptional cause a proper poll cannot take place on the required day, the returning officer may postpone the poll in that constituency till some subsequent day and make such arrangements as are necessary for the purpose. The postponement of the poll under this provision shall not invalidate the election."
In Committee it was pointed out that there might be difficulties arising, such as a serious breakdown, and it was thought that some discretion ought to be allowed to the returning officer. I promised to consider the point, and I have put down 1718 this provision for the consideration of the House, and I should like to know the views of hon Members upon it.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I hope my right hon. Friend will explain much more clearly than by these words what is meant by this exceptional proposal. I think the returning officer above all others would be the last person to desire to have the very invidious duty put upon him of taking the responsibility for postponing the date of an election. It is to be the sheriff acting through the clerk of the peace, and it is extremely desirous that nothing which can possibly take a contentious aspect should be placed within his power. If you had some catastrophe on the polling day which paralysed all possibility of polling in some areas, or if the constituency was destroyed by bombs from German aeroplanes, or by an earthquake, or some colossal fire, surely you could rely upon Parliament passing a measure specially dealing with that case. On the other hand, if you have a catastrophe which falls short of destroying all possibilities of voting, is it not better to have the minor ill than to pass a proposal of this kind upon the most sensitive of all subjects, namely, the question of an election in a particular area? It might be in accordance with the most passionate convictions of a large number of people that you should have some postponement, because they think it would affect the result, but it seems to me that the insertion of this provision would bring an element of uncertainty, possibly of controversy and certainly of doubt into this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment, and that if the advisers of the Home Secretary have in mind some altogether exceptional catastrophe, I trust that he will tell us what it it, and I think he will have to apply something more than a proposal which puts upon the returning officer the most invidious powers, and which would be resented wherever it was put into operation.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
My right hon. Friend has put forward this Amendment in his mildest tones, and he has invited the opinion of the House upon it. I notice that he has altered his Amendment somewhat, because in the first place it indicated that bad weather was the sort of contingency that he had in mind. Surely bad weather cannot be alleged as a sufficient justification for such a revolutionary idea as this. I use this word advisedly, because it is a revolutionary 1719 idea that the returning officer, on his own judgment, shall be able to postpone the holding of an election after Parliament has decided that all elections shall be held on one day. There is nothing in our past history to justify this Amendment. In London we have had considerable experience of holding elections on one day fixed by the London County Council, and we have had no cases brought before us where in the past it has been found necessary to alter the date of an election at the last moment. The only case which has come before my notice is where a candidate died, and in that case the Law Courts intervened. I will not enter into that case, partly because the point was never appealed upon, and you have only one decision in the matter. It never went to the Court of Appeal and was never tested in that way.
We have had a lot of experience in this matter, and there is no experience which shows the necessity for this Amendment. My hon. and learned Friend who spoke last referred to the suspicion which would be caused that the returning officer had been actuated in one direction or another by his action. The uncertainty would be a very serious thing for the constituency and very expensive for the candidates. In the case I referred to, where another election was ordered owing to the death of a candidate between the date of nomination and the date of poll, all the candidates were put to such serious inconvenience that they had to exceed the election limit for expenses, and they had to apply to the Court for relief. It is a very serious thing indeed to alter the date of an election, because circumstances may arise which may require the dispatch of fresh literature. Besides this, you have to keep on your committee rooms for a further period, and you have to keep your agents employed for a longer time. Therefore, it is far better that some inconvenience should be caused, perhaps, in one particular election in the whole country than that all elections should be placed in a state of uncertainty as to whether the returning officer might find some excuse for postponing the election. This is a vague and nebulous proposal, and I hope the House will not accept it. It is the vaguest thing I have seen proposed in the conduct of this Bill, and I hope no influence will be used to force it upon the House—in fact, I am sure there will not be, judging 1720 from the tone of the Home Secretary's speech. I hope the House will give a clear indication of its opinion upon this Amendment, and having decided that all the elections shall take place on one day, we should decline to give the returning officer power to overrule that decision.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I am afraid that I am responsible for this Amendment, but not in the form in which it appears on the Paper. I did bring the question up on the Committee stage, having in mind the inconvenience caused by a great snowstorm, and my original Amendment dealt with the weather in cases where that made it impossible to have a fair poll. I did not propose anything more than that. It was intended to apply to cases where the roads and railways could not be used, but certainly I do not now press it on the right hon. Gentleman. I had an Amendment on the Paper in some such form, but it was quite of a limited character.
§ Sir G. CAVE
In view of the speech which has just been made by the last speaker, I ask leave to withdraw this Amendment. I must, however, take exception to the statement that by this proposal I was trying to whittle down the decision of the House to have all the elections on one day, because it was nothing of the kind. I put this Amendment down because I had promised to meet the point raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs, and as he is not satisfied with my proposal I ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words, "In the case of a by-election the poll shall take place on such day as the returning officer may appoint, not being less than four or more than eight clear days after the day fixed for nomination, and the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, shall be modified accordingly."
We have fixed the period between nomination and poll for General Elections at eight days, but we have not provided for by-elections and therefore we must put in some words to provide for a by-election. Our proposal is that a poll shall be taken not less than four or more than eight clear days after the date fixed for nomination.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I hope my right hon. Friend has considered this proposal sufficiently carefully. My own impression is that these periods are not long enough. I 1721 do not see how the absent voter can be communicated with in so short a time, and surely it would be wiser to give six days instead of four in one case and nine days in the other rather than four and eight days.
§ Amendment agreed to.