§ Sir B. PETO
I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, to leave out the word "may, and to insert instead thereof the words "must, if he desires to vote."
We now come to the consideration of the First Schedule of this Bill which contains the rules which will guide in practice what we passed in Clause 1 in regard to the alternative vote. We therefore turn to the subject which was the real purpose for which the Bill was designed, namely, altering the method of election to the supposed advantage of one party in this House. That raises a very much more serious question than that which the Committee has been recently considering. If we have to deal with this matter, we must try in Committee to make the best of a bad job. I feel convinced that the present method of election is the one which is understanded of the people, which gives them satisfaction and gives them the best representation of the popular opinion in the country which it is possible to devise. Moreover, it is one which gives a better representation in this House than that which is obtained in any foreign country or Dominion under the British Crown under whatever method they may conduct their elections. It is clear—I think that the learned Attorney-General will agree with me—that it is not desirable to introduce any unnecessary complications.
I should like to refer to the two Amendments which stand in my name—the second one being in line 7, to leave out the words "the figure 1 or"—one being merely preparatory to the other. I will explain why I do what may seem strange, namely, substitute the word "must" for the word "may." I do not wish to introduce any element of compulsion into the election, but I want to 1269 indicate clearly to the elector that there are two definite things that he can do: First, whether there be two, three or more candidates, if he wants to exercise the franchise at all, he must indicate his first choice, and in the case where there are only two candidates, his only choice, by the same method of marking with a cross. That is why I put in the word "must." If hon. Members will refer to paragraph I (b), they will find that the words are:he may also place the figure 2 opposite the name of the candidate whom he would prefer if the candidate, who is his first choice, cannot be elected.I want to make it clear that if he wishes to exercise the franchise, he must indicate his first choice always in the same way, whether there are two candidates or whether there are three. That is, obviously, the simplest method. I would now call the attention of the Committee to the words of Clause 1 to which the Schedule applies. Sub-section (1) of that Clause says:Subject to the provisions of this Act, an election for a Member of Parliament shall, if there are more than two candidates, be according to the principle of the alternative vote and shall be conducted in accordance with the rules set out in the First Schedule to this Act.In the constituency which I happen to represent, in the last four General Elections, on two occasions there has been and on two occasions there has not been a Socialist candidate. Therefore, on two occasions we have had a three-cornered contest, and on two occasions we have had a straight fight between the Liberal party and the party to which I have the honour to belong. I ask the Minister whether it is a simplification of our electoral rules to say that on two of those occasions the elector should have had the option, under the word "may," of indicating his first choice with a cross, to which he was accustomed, or by the figure I, and on two occasions he should have had no such option, but should have indicated his first choice by means of the cross. It is a very confusing proposal, and one which is likely to produce an almost unlimited number of spoilt papers.
I can imagine a Bill being introduced to alter the method of indicating votes at a General Election, but to introduce a Bill which says that in one election you can do it in one way, with the option of 1270 doing it in another, and that at the next election you can do it only in one way or lose your vote, is clearly a foolish and retrograde proposal. Therefore, I want by these Amendments to simplify the matter and leave it, as it is at present, to the system which is perfectly clear in the minds of all the electors in the country, be they in far distant country constituencies such as mine, or in the urban districts, that when there is an election and they want to vote for somebody, and do not wish to vote for any other candidate they are to put a cross against the candidate of their choice. That is the beginning and end of the process. If you introduce fresh complications, at least leave the old principle that their first choice means the putting of a, cross and nothing else—not any fancy figures. Let it be a cross that is made in this new gerrymandering proposal which has been introduced into this Bill, and, that in the case where there are three or more candidates, the elector may put the figure 2 against the person whom he prefers, if the candidate of his first choice cannot be elected. That would be introducing the smallest possible complications. If the provision in the Schedule remains, the voter at any election conducted in accordance with these rules—that is, the election where there happen to be three or more candidates, and not at any other election—(a) may indicate the candidate who is his first choice by placing the figure 1"—It is only afterwards that we come to the words"or the mark 'X'."
as if that were an out-of-the-way thing to do. So that in the first election which I have mentioned the voter had that option; in the second, he had it not; in the third, he had it; and in the fourth, he had it not. You can never know where you are under such a proposal. You are putting deliberate traps into which any Member of this House might easily fall, and which will produce spoilt papers. It is putting before the vast electorate in the country a proposal which is absurd. If it were the universal rule which the learned Attorney-General was introducing, I could understand that all parties in the House would have to have special classes for their electors, to urge upon them the necessity of thoroughly understanding this new method of indicating their choice to show them how 1271 dangerous it was to depart from it, and how they would lose their votes if they did. But once they had learnt it, they would always do the same thing. Under what the Government are proposing, nobody would ever know the position unless he carefully studied the question, and considered whether there were three or more candidates. One would have to make quite sure that a candidate had not withdrawn at the last moment or had failed to pay the necessary deposit. That sort of thing frequently happens. Though there may have been three candidates advertised, one may drop out at the last moment, and the elector may vote under an entire misapprehension. We do not want to spread the election day over the whole contest, and insist upon every voter knowing exactly, under this new proposal of cheaper elections, how many candidates are going to the poll, how many are going to drop out, or whether there are only two horses left in the race. In that case they have a different method of marking their ballot paper.
I think it is incumbent upon the Government to accept my Amendment, because they can have no reason for preferring their proposal to mine. They admit that the cross to which the electors are accustomed should be a valid mark in every case. Why should it not be the only valid mark and the first, choice in the election? I cannot see any answer to that question. I shall be very curious to hear what the Attorney-General has to say. If the Government follow their method the direction to voters will have to be altered in a way that will make it infinitely simpler, but if my Amendment were accepted, bad as I think the whole system is, it will not introduce unnecessary and troublesome complication into the process of our elections. The process of registering votes will not be made so complicated that people will have to cudgel their brains to be sure to be up to date as to how many candidates there are. It may be said that the candidates always see that the electors are provided with a dummy polling card, indicating the name of the candidate of their choice in enormous capital letters, with a cross against it, and the name of the other fellow in insignificant letters. Are they to put a cross or a "1" or a cross and a "1"? 1272 Let us have something simple that the people can understand. I am throwing no reflection upon the understanding of the average voter. The voters in my constituency are as intelligent as those in any other constituency, but the electors ought to have some perfectly simple method of indicating their choice, and that is the method to which they have been accustomed for years. What is the second choice? It is supposed to be something which is not only equally valuable in its electoral effect as the first choice but in many cases is infinitely more important in deciding who is to be elected. We know that. That is part of the jerrymandering. Even when you have brought in the alternative vote, the vast majority of people will want one vote for one man or one woman, one vote for the person of their choice, and I do not think that they will value the second choice. They will certainly want to indicate their choice by means of a cross. Therefore, I ask the Attorney-General to cut our proceedings short, for we have a great deal of business to get through this evening, and the shortest way to express his views is to say that, for once, the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) has hit upon a good idea, something that will help the Government and the voter and will help to simplify our elections. I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I agree with the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment that it is a very important one. Therefore, I do not want to say that it should be resisted or that we shall ask the House to carry it. We desire to know the opinion of hon. Members. If there is to be a change in the well-understood custom of how the paper is to be marked, it is a change which should only be agreed upon after the views of Members of this House have been elicited and the Government have received some guidance as to what hon. Members prefer to do. In this matter we are all equally interested. We are all wishful to leave this part of the Bill in terms that will best meet the wishes of Members of all parties and that will best suit the habit of mind of the electors. Therefore, I can only say that we shall not seek to force our will, whatever it may be, upon the House. I purposely refrained from rising immediately after the hon. Member had moved his Amendment, in order 1273 to see what other views might be expressed in addition to those which he had uttered.
§ Mr. BUTLER
The only remark of the right hon. Gentleman to which I take exception is that he does not wish to impress his will upon the House. As a rule, we do not find that either in this matter or in other matters the Government have any particular will to force upon the House. I support the Amendment because I believe that the method that we have followed in our elections hitherto of using the cross as the first choice of the voter, should be adopted, and that we should not confuse it by using "1" as an alternative. I think that would be a very much sounder method of conducting our elections in the future. There is something familiar about the cross to which voters in the more scattered areas are accustomed. There is some value that they associate with the cross, almost as much as the osculatory value that they attach to a cross at the end of a letter to their best girl. I think they feel that when they are placing a cross to the name of their candidate they have a genuine affection for him. Therefore, there is something in the cross which should be retained in our method of voting. I am backed up not only by these osculatory views, but by reference to what takes place in other countries. I could quote five different countries where a particular method has been retained, instead of having an alternative. In the Tasmanian law of 1907 we find it provided that the candidate shall place the number "1" on the ballot paper. There is not an alternative between "1" or the cross. I could also quote from the experience of Wurtemburg and Belgium and the report of the general election in Australia in 1908, to show that in none of these cases is there an alternative method of signifying the preference of the voter. In each case "1" is used. In our case I maintain that the cross is of more value than the "1," and in support of the hon. Member for Barnstaple I urge that there should not be an alternative, but that we should follow the example of other countries by having only one choice, and in that choice the cross should be used.
§ Sir S. HOARE
The Home Secretary has asked for the opinion of the Committee. My view is that the simpler we 1274 keep this matter the better. On that ground I agree with the Amendment. I think that it is much better to keep to the cross, and nothing else. The elector is used to the cross. If there is an alternative it will lead to a good many spoilt papers. I should advise the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment, and, while I am giving him that advice, let me put a question to him. I am not quite clear, under the present provisions of the Bill, what constitutes a spoilt paper. Would it be a spoilt paper if the first vote is correct and the second incorrect? Under a new system of this kind the great majority of voters will give their first vote correctly, but they may make a mistake in their second vote. What happens to that voting paper? Is it spoilt if the first vote is correct and the second incorrect?
Sir H. SAMUEL
I hope the Attorney-General will in due course reply to the point put by the right hon Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). The particular question here is which system is likely to work the most smoothly. The right hon. Member for Chelsea says that he wants to avoid a large number of spoilt papers. If the Amendment were carried it would have this effect, that a person who wishes to vote must put a cross against his name. If he put the figure 1, as some people would if there were three candidates, and they went on to give their first preference and second preference, a great many people would put the figure 1 against their first choice, and you would have a great number of spoilt papers. The present law distinctly provides that while a cross is the right form of vote any sufficient indication by a voter is accepted, and if any person puts the figure 1 his vote is counted, it is not spoilt. Under the proposal of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) that would be impossible; the reverse would result. Now if a voter puts the figure 1, his vote is counted, but if in future, instead of putting a cross, he puts the figure 1, it would not be counted. Consequently, you would have a larger number of spoilt votes. This Amendment is open to the gravest possible objections and would go far to discredit the whole system of the alternative vote on account of the great masses of the people whose votes would be disqualified. 1275 We must not disqualify a person for putting either a cross or the figure 1. If hon. Members think it would be better to retain the cross where possible and let the voter indicate his first choice by a cross or the figure 1, the order expressed in the Bill might be reversed; it is not a matter of great importance, but I think the Bill is better as it stands.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
I have tabled an Amendment to the Schedule in favour of excluding the cross. We are introducing an entirely new method of voting and it seems to me that we should go the whole way and suppose that people are intelligent enough to understand what the figures 1 and 2 mean. If we retain the cross there will be a great deal of confusion. It is true that it has been the method of voting, but at a time when we are making a complete change it is much better to refer to the figures "1" and "2" rather than confine ourselves to the old method of the cross plus the figure "1." We have all seen voting papers upon which the elector has voted for one candidate and then crossed him out for another. That kind of thing will continue, and the elector will be still more confused if he has to begin again and put his cross to another candidate and then add his first and second preferences. I understand that as far as the university vote is concerned the practice is to put the figures "1" and "2" and not to have a cross at all; and, if that is so, it is a good reason for adopting it in the case of other electors. If it is necessary for university electors to have the figures "1" and "2," surely it is desirable in the case of those who are less highly educated. It is much better to have the figures "1" and "2" than to have the confusion which will clearly result if we retain the cross.
§ Mr. O. STANLEY
If there was any substance in the point put by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) I confess that it would bring me down on his side, but I cannot think that there is very much in it. His point was that this is a different procedure to that which obtains under the present system where, if an elector makes a mistake and puts the figure 1 on his voting paper, his vote is counted. I do not know 1276 whether that is the case or not, but if it is, why cannot the same procedure be followed in this case?
Sir H. SAMUEL
The Amendment forbids it. It says specifically that a vote given in that way cannot be counted.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Voting at the present time is carried on under rules laid down by Act of Parliament just as this is, and those rules direct that the preference of the elector should be shown by a cross.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I only want to clear up the point. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has the reference and can assure me on the point. If there is any substance in it I should be inclined to agree with him. I put it to the Government, if I am wrong no doubt they will be able to correct me, that as the law stands it is laid down that a voter will express his vote by means of a cross and that even if the voter makes the figure "1" instead his vote is counted. It is a point that we should have cleared up by the Attorney-General, because if it is so, the point of the right hon. Gentleman falls to the ground, and under those circumstances the balance of advantage would incline to the Amendment moved by the hon. Baronet.
But there is one point which rather weighs with me in this matter. There is a danger under the present system that a man may believe that the use of the alternative vote is compulsory, that he has to indicate not only a first preference but a second and perhaps, if other Amendments are carried, a third and a fourth; and from that point of view I think it would be advantageous to make a distinction between the first and subsequent preferences and therefore more easily convey to him the fact that he is entitled to plump for one candidate and need not necessarily vote for more than one. I confess that my vote on this Amendment will be largely guided by the information which the Attorney-General is able to give us about the present position.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir William Jowitt)
The matter arises in this way. It depends upon the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Act, 1872, which 1277 merely provides that the voter shall mark his vote. The Act says nothing whatever about a cross at all, and as a matter of law so long as he marks with a figure 1 or a circle or anything else opposite the name of one person, it is perfectly right. It is right that I should also tell the Committee that in the rules which are attached to the Act, which as the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said, of course cannot modify or restrict the terms of the Act, a cross is referred to, but those rules are merely intended to be of assistance or direction to the voter, and the statutory position which the hon. Member asks me to clear up is therefore this, that under the existing law a figure 1 is just as effective as a cross.
I have not dealt with the question asked me by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). The law is this, that all that a voter has to do, whether by means of a figure 1 or a cross or any other mark, is to indicate for whom it is that he intends to vote. My view as to the question he asked would be this: If the doubt about his paper arises with regard to his first preference, then I think the paper, assuming it was so doubtful as to make it bad under the existing law, would be bad for all purposes, for after all the right to exercise a second vote only arises on the assumption that you have legitimately exercised the first; but if, on the other hand, the ambiguity about the paper is not with regard to his first vote but with regard to his second vote, then I think he is in the same position as a voter who had not effectively exercised the second vote at all Therefore, I think his first vote would count and his second vote would not.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The law says he shall make a distinctive mark, and in the majority of cases it is actually a cross, but the presiding officer, providing the intention of the elector is shown to vote for a particular candidate, will always take a line of any kind, in one direction or another, as meaning a cross, as meaning an indication under the law of the mind of the elector. But the Bill alters that. It says that in some circumstances it may be a cross and in others it may be a figure "1." There is a great difference between that and the present law, and therefore there is substance in the belief of the hon. Baronet who moved the 1278 Amendment that the first choice should always be recognised in all circumstances by means of a cross. I can see no reason why the elector who wants to mark his second choice with a figure "2" should want to put a figure 1 for his first choice at all. His custom has been always to mark his paper by a cross and so indicate his mind, and I think there is great force in the hon. Baronet's contention that the cross should be the way to mark the first choice and that his second choice should be marked with the figure "2."
Sir H. SAMUEL
Suppose the Amendment were carried and the Act were to read that the elector must, if he desires to vote, mark his first preference with a cross, and suppose that nevertheless that voter marked his first preference with a figure "1"; would the Attorney-General say that that vote could be held to be valid or not?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
In my view, if the Amendment were carried in that form, the figure "1" would clearly be invalid, and whatever rules you might devise would not override the Act of Parliament.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Why have not the Government proposed to respect the right of a person to put any distinctive mark? I have seen plenty of papers which have been marked by a tick. Why should not that be legal?
§ Lord E. PERCY
It may be a circle, or a cross, or a figure "1," or any mark which quite clearly indicates for whom he wants to vote. The Government propose to restrict the right of the voter and to make spoilt papers what would not now be spoilt papers.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Certainly. The Attorney-General has told us that if the Amendment is carried, any voting paper will be spoilt which has any other mark than a cross. Any paper which indicates his first preference by some other mark than either the figure "1" or a cross will be invalid. Why are the Government taking this course? It is gratuitous. If any mark is good enough for the first preference, let it be any mark, 1279 but if you restrict the right of the voter and give him only two alternatives, there is great force in the Amendment. Let him be restricted to the one alternative which is the commonest and the most familiar. Let us create a habit along the lines of the greatest measure of habit that now exists. Personally, I should much prefer that the law was left as it is now, and that so long as the voter marks his intention clearly for his first preference, it matters not by what mark he indicates it.
May I drive home the other point about the spoilt paper? It is very remarkable that there is nothing in the Bill to indicate on what condition a spoilt paper is a spoilt paper, and therein it differs from every Bill establishing the Alternative Vote that, so far as I know, has been passed by any country in the world, which has always defined what shall constitute a spoilt paper. What makes a paper spoilt now is that it is void for uncertainty. If a paper was uncertain on any point, I should have thought it was void for uncertainty on all points. At any rate, it is far too uncertain a question to be left as it is now, without any defining words in the Bill.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am inclined to agree with the Noble Lord in his last point. I think that this matter ought to be considered, and that the suggestion of the Noble Lord should be accepted. I shall so advise my right hon. Friend. I think that some specific provision should be made on Report to deal with this question of spoiled papers, so that the ambiguity may be removed. Then there is the other point in the argument. The words as they stand include the word "may" and not the word "must." The Noble Lord's argument was, "If you say he may indicate his choice by placing a figure '1' or the mark of a 'X,' do you not thereby say that he cannot indicate his choice in any other way?" Implications are not enough. The Bill provides in Clause 1, Sub-section (3), thatNothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided herein, affect the method of voting at Parliamentary elections in force at the time of the passing of this Act.Therefore, notwithstanding any implication which otherwise might have arisen, I am of the opinion, and shall advise 1280 the Committee that, assuming the word is "may" and not "must," and if we are to say that a voter indicates his first preference by an "O," it will be a good paper notwithstanding that it is neither a figure "1" nor a mark "X." I do not think it can be said that there is any express provision that a ballot paper marked with an "O" is bad. Apparently, a paper marked with an "O" is good to-day.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
For the first time it is laid down that the elector must put either a "1" or a cross. That has never been done before.
§ Mr. MAXTON
May I be permitted to make my first speech before the Attorney-General gets in his seventh? I am vain enough to believe that if he had heard my speech before his first, he would not have found any of his speeches necessary. I urge the Government on this matter to stand by the decision they have made in the Schedule. I never anticipated that this humble Amendment would have aroused the interest and the controversy that it has aroused. The Home Secretary said that the Government were prepared to go into the matter seriously, and so provoked a discussion which would not otherwise have arisen. I believe that in this matter we are pursuing a practice that was necessary in the days when the people of this country were first permitted to vote; we are thinking in terms of an illiterate and uneducated electorate. Like every other citizen I have received in my home a census paper which has to be filled up. I do not know how many questions there are to be answered, but the census paper is an involved and complicated document compared with a ballot paper. It will come back and contain important statistics, with the most complete accuracy, to the Government of the country, and the number of mistakes in it will be simply negligible.
To-day you have a literate, educated, intelligent population—that is one of the troubles—capable of dealing with more complicated documents than a simple ballot paper. I had personal experience of the first Proportional Representation elections held in Scotland, in connection with the education authorities. I went through three such elections. In one division we had 13 candidates for six seats, and the electors were under the necessity of numbering the candidates on 1281 their papers from 1 to 6, or from 1 to 13 if they so pleased. Throughout the length and breadth of Scotland the number of spoiled papers was quite insignificant and was comparable with the number which we have in a Parliamentary election where it is a case of putting a simple cross opposite the name of one candidate. Let us realise the period of history in which we are living. We are not living in a period when large numbers of the population could only sign their names by having somebody else to write down "John Smith" while the signatory put down his cross. In the day schools of the present time, the children, before they are seven years of age, engage in a game called "Noughts and Crosses"—under the desks when the teacher's back is turned. That game is a much more complicated thing than a ballot paper. Then people engage sin solving cross-word puzzles. Has any hon. Member ever seen a football coupon? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I will explain. It may involve picking out seven winners at home, and seven away, and it may involve three permutations and combinations of the whole number of clubs concerned.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I see that the hon. Member is not so ignorant as I at first believed. Practically the whole population know these coupons. If hon. Members opposite above the Gangway do not know anything about football coupons, they may know something about horse-racing and the clerical work which is connected with investment in that department of sport. Yet here we are seriously discussing means to meet the needs of stupid, ignorant peasants and workers who send us here. It is a lot of nonsense. There is one thing which we have to do. I have one fault to find with Governmental documents such as Income Tax papers and things of that sort. I sometimes make mistakes in filling up my Income Tax form, not because I am stupid, but because the question is stupidly put. If we make it plain to the elector that he can choose his first candidate by putting down a cross or a figure "1" or a "y" or a "z" or the symbols of Alpha or Beta or Gamma or Delta, and if you show him precisely where he is to put it, he will do it. He has the intelligence to do it. Therefore, I ask the Government not to waste time 1282 in talking about a matter which belonged to real politics in 1840 but is a sheer triviality in 1931, and to stick by the Schedule as they have it.
§ Major ELLIOT
The experiences of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) with regard to the voting in Glasgow under Proportional Representation are of great interest, but they would have been more interesting had he detailed further the results of that system of voting—for instance, the remarkable result which it had in discouraging a great part of the electorate from having anything to do with the elections.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I was not dealing with the merits of Proportional Representation, which I would not have been permitted to discuss, but merely with the practice at the poll, which was in order.
The hon. Gentleman may be an authority on some matters, but I am now the authority on what is in order. I understand the hon. and gallant Member was proceeding to argue that the more complicated the system, the fewer people will go to the poll. That will be in order.
§ Major ELLIOT
That is my simple desire. The hon. Member for Bridgeton charmed the Committee by an account of his experiences in filling up football coupons, in filling up his Income Tax papers, and in working out crossword puzzles, not that he wished to distant on those practices, either in a condemnatory or eulogistic manner, but rather with a desire to bring them in as examples of the remarkable skill and intelligence of the modern proletariat, as represented by the fact that although the party opposite has not reached a majority of votes in the country, they are, he believes, progressing towards that object. I do not wish to be unfair to his party, but it would be only fair of him to tell the Committee that during the election for the Glasgow education authority, which was done on this complicated system, the Socialist members were only returned with the greatest difficulty. In fact, they were generally given a seat as a consolation prize. I am merely bringing that in as an example of what would happen if those Who, from his point of view, were the intelligent portion of the democracy were driven away and frightened off from 1283 the poll, and the more unintelligent scum, which returns Conservative Members, were left alone to overcome all the barbed wire entanglements of the system.
The voting under this complicated system will be done by a continually decreasing portion of the electorate. They will be a very small fraction compared with that which makes up those magnificent majorities by which the hon. Member for Bridgeton is accustomed to be returned to this House—so magnificent that on one occasion he asked the returning officer if the votes could be weighed instead of counted. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) has the object of simplifying voting, which is already sufficiently complicated. The enlightened proletariat, the instructed democracy to which the hon. Member for Bridgeton appeals, after all applies its intelligence to things in which it more intimately desires to see itself victorious, than in the return of a Member to this honourable House.
If we wish to broaden the basis of democracy, let us stick to simplicity. If we wish to narrow it, let us adopt this complicated machinery. If the hon. Member for Bridgeton desires to broaden the basis, he is going the wrong way about it. Let him remember what he said in previous discussions about elections under another system, the complicated system of the elections for the education authorities of Glasgow and of all Scotland. He said that he had never been able to change that citadel of Conservatism that was represented by the education authority of Glasgow. Let him remember his previous appeals, and let him not introduce the complicated system into this arena and put up a barrier against the march of his party which would condemn him for ever to the cold shades of Opposition, instead of to the seats of power where no doubt one day he will find himself.
§ Mr. MORRIS
It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), but on this occasion I find myself in complete agreement with what he said. The whole of this Debate really turns upon the position as it was 50 years ago. As far as I understood the speech of the hon. Baronet, his argument was that the practice, as far as the first part of the Schedule is con- 1284 cerned, would still remain the same. The one thing that would change the practice—and the law—would be the adoption of his Amendment. Personally, I do not mind which system is adopted, nor how complicated that system may be, because I have the good fortune to represent a Division where it will make no difference, whatever system be applied.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The last half-hour of the Debate has shown how difficult, if not impossible, it is for a Minister with the very best intentions, to satisfy his supporters. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) complained that I had invited the House to give its views in order that a poor Home Secretary should know what Members, with their electoral experience, thought on the matter, and then it was suggested that all this had been rather a waste of time. If I did provoke discussion, it was worth it, if only for the speech which the hon. Member himself delivered, and the enlightenment which he gave us from his own experience. We have had a variety of views presented to us, and after hearing them I have come to the conclusion that the choice which the present terms of the Bill offer is the better course, and the legal information which the right hon. Gentleman has given has reinforced that conclusion. Therefore, I cannot accept this Amendment. It is a small point, but an important point. I think the Committee is not likely to improve the situation or to acquire further information by any longer discussion, and as we have reached the limit fixed by the time-table I trust the Committee will come to a decision on the Amendment.
§ Sir B. PETO
In view of the opinions which have come from different sides of the Committee, I wish to ask whether the Home Secretary would consider this to be an improvement: That I should abandon the Amendment which I first moved and move the second Amendment in such a form that it would read:The elector may indicate the candidate who is his first choice by placing the mark 'X' or any sufficient mark on his ballot paper.That would really leave the law exactly as it is. There is no question that the Clause, as drafted, does create an innovation, because the Act of 1872 said clearly that the elector might indicate his choice by any sufficient mark. The right hon. Gentleman has definitely sub- 1285 stituted a different and narrower code of procedure, namely, one of two things, the figure "1" or a cross. The purpose of my Amendment is that the general rule in future would be what is the practice now in 999 cases out of 1,000 voters on the register, whereby their choice is indicated by a cross. I want to add to that the words "or any sufficient mark." I would like the Home Secretary to indicate to me whether he thinks that would not leave the Schedule in a more satisfactory condition, and, if the right hon. Gentleman would accept those words, I would be willing to withdraw my Amendment and move the next Amendment with the addition of the words I have mentioned.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The fullest length to which I can go is that, if this Amendment is withdrawn, I shall be willing on the Report stage to listen to any suggestion that may be made to attain the common object which we have in view. I think this is a matter which should be settled with as complete an understanding as possible.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I think we are really agreed upon this point. According to the intention of the Government only two alternatives are given in the Schedule, but those alternatives are not exhaustive. What has been said amounts to an express provision that it is necessary for the counting of a first preference vote that the vote shall be marked in a certain way. There seems some doubt on that point, but the Attorney-General has already promised to consider the question of the spoiled vote. Now it is suggested that the Home Secretary will himself consider, after consultation with the Attorney-General, whether an Amendment to this paragraph is not necessary in order to carry out the intention of the Government.
§ Sir B. PETO
In view of what the Home Secretary has said, I shall be glad to withdraw the Amendment now, on the assurance that the subject will not only receive the consideration of the Government between now and Report, but that an opportunity will be given to my hon. Friends and myself, in the light of the Debate we have had, of considering whether the words which I ventured to put before the Home Secretary at the finish of this Debate are 1286 the best words, or whether some other words would be better, and that whatever Amendment we put on the Paper will receive the full consideration of the Government on Report.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Resolved, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. Kennedy.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.