§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said: My Lords, the circumstances under which the Bill of last year came up to your Lordships do not present themselves in the Bill now before you. You will remember that the principal argument of the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill of last year (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and of those noble Lords who supported him was founded on the period of the Session when the measure came up to this House. It was urged by the noble Earl, and by the majority 1422 who adopted his views, that we had then arrived at too late a period of the Session to give adequate consideration to a measure of so much importance. I did not concur in the views of the noble Earl; but, at all events, the argument which he used cannot be adduced again on this occasion, for the Bill has come up to your Lordships' House two months earlier than the time at which the Bill of last year was laid before you. That being the case with regard to the period at which the measure comes to be considered, I think I may say that the time which has elapsed since last autumn has shown, in the first place, that the desire of the House of Commons to adopt the principle of the Ballot as an improvement upon the existing system of Parliamentary election has not diminished; for they have again sent up the Bill by a large majority—a fact which of itself entitles the Bill to a full and fair consideration at your Lordships' hands. Again, the time which has elapsed since last August has shown no change in the opinion of the country on the subject, and it remains the same as when at the last General Election, so great a desire was manifested by the electoral bodies to obtain the securities which it is the object of this Bill to obtain. That being so, I hope that your Lordships will address yourselves to the consideration of the question with the desire to deal in Committee with the proposals it contains for the improvement of our electoral system.
My Lords, the main object of the Bill is by improvements in the machinery of elections to effect the establishment of a system that will secure better order and more regularity in elections than at present exist; will put an end to the evils of intimidation, and which, if it will not altogether put an end to, will tend to diminish to a considerable extent the scandal of bribery. There is very important evidence in respect to the effect of the Ballot in producing order and tranquillity at elections. I believe that there can be no controversy, for it is conceded by all who have seen the system in operation in foreign countries, that, whatever may be its other merits or demerits, it does secure a remarkable degree of order and regularity during the time of election. We have now upon our Table very valuable evidence upon this matter—valuable because 1423 it relates to the system as practised in different parts of the globe, and because it rests upon testimony which none of your Lordships can suspect on account of any previous approval of the system of Ballot by the gentlemen who gave it, when they were in this country. I will refer for a very few moments to Papers which were laid upon your Lordships' Table last year as to the operation of the Ballot in our colonies. There are among them two statements of Governors of very important colonies in Australia, gentlemen who are very well known to noble Lords opposite, and whose opinions they will not be eager to controvert. These opinions are those of Mr. Ducane, Governor of Tasmania, and of Sir James Fergusson, Governor of South Australia. Mr. Ducane says—As no general election has taken place since I first arrived in the colony, my own practical experience of the working of the system is necessarily more limited than it would otherwise have been. Nothing, however, has occurred at any contested election which has taken place during the period of my governorship which would lead me to dissent from Mr. Wilson's opinion so far as the existing state of things is concerned. I may further add that, having been in Hobart Town on three different occasions when contested elections were proceeding, I was much struck with the total absence of any local excitement, and should not have discovered that any event out of the common was going on at the time. That this perfect tranquillity is mainly attributable to the present system of voting, and especially to the system of nomination in writing, also in force in the colony" (full particulars of which your Lordships will find in the copy of the Electoral Act subjoined to the memorandum), "I must unhesitatingly record my opinion.Sir James Fergusson, the Governor of South Australia, says—I am bound to state that the Ballot is generally and remarkably popular in the colony. To the people at large it appears to give entire satisfaction. By the upper classes and the minorities, especially if unpopular, it is found to be a valuable protection, and the only persons whom I have found to regard it with aversion are those who view it only as part of institutions which they dislike, and to the working of which they attribute legislative mistakes and administrative defects. Such persons are, however, few in number; for, generally, those who regret the institution of universal suffrage, and ascribe to it many mischiefs, consider the Ballot to have had a mitigating influence—to have enabled, often, the superior and independent candidate to be returned, the employer to vote undeterred by his workmen, the Civil Service by the Ministry, the tradesmen by their respective classes—and anticipate a yet greater advantage in case of the occurrence of popular excitement and the discussion of disturbing topics.1424 My Lords, this evidence relates to what actually occurs at elections—it is not evidence of a matter of opinion, but evidence of matter of fact with respect to the working of the system in other countries; and, looking at the persons from whom the evidence comes, I think no statements on the subject could be more worthy of consideration than those of the gentlemen from whom I have quoted. There is other evidence on which I do not desire to lay too much stress but which I cannot altogether pass over—I mean the evidence as to the working of the Ballot system in the elections of the London School Board. The elections of that School Board are the only occasions on which the Ballot has, to any extent, been put into operation in the country; and those elections, both in their order and results, are a proof that the system has produced the most favourable consequences. Although the general election of the London School Board has occurred only upon one occasion, there have been several by elections under which the system of cumulative voting did not apply, because they were only single elections, so that these latter elections would be very similar to Parliamentary elections, and we have nothing to regret in reference to the regularity and order of such elections. Under this Bill there will be an end of nomination days, which it has always appeared to me might be described as public nuisances. Another advantage which will arise from it will be that there will be no publication of a 2 o'clock poll, which at present is a cause of so much excitement. There will be no declaration till the close of the poll. Your Lordships will not, I am sure, be inclined to underrate the importance of anything that tends to produce order and regularity at elections; and while I approve the extension of the franchise which we have seen within the last few years, there can be no doubt that the larger the constituency and the stronger the popular element, the more likely it is that the individual voters will be deterred from the free exercise of the franchise. In boroughs, in particular, where the conduct of voters is more closely scrutinized, persons of a quiet and shrinking disposition will be likely to be deterred from the exercise of their rights. Persons of this class are more numerous than might be supposed, and a measure 1425 affording them security will, in itself, be a great advantage to the cause of public order. I had occasion to point out last year that since the large extension of the suffrage, which took place a few years ago, this question of intimidation had assumed a new aspect. It is said that under the influences which are at present in operation intimidation by individuals, such as the intimidation of landlords, employers, and others, has decreased, and must continue to decrease; but I am now referring to a different system of intimidation, which is likely to spring up under a much extended suffrage—intimidation by bodies like trades unions. Now, while public opinion diminishes the danger of intimidation from an individual, it does not apply with at all the same force to bodies of this description; because in any pressure they may apply they would probably have the support of the mass of their members, and would therefore not lie within the control of public opinion. I think your Lordships will be of opinion that against intimidation from such sources greater security is required than any afforded under the present system. You cannot to any considerable extent deal with intimidation of this kind by any extremity of punishment. Consequently, if your Lordships desire that the suffrage given to those classes should be exercised freely, and should express their real feeling, you are bound to secure them in the free exercise of the franchise and give them that protection against intimidation which you cannot provide for them by any of the means you have hitherto applied. You cannot put it down by penal interference, and if you attempt it you will come to a point at which you will run serious danger of interfering with the just and necessary freedom of contract and of intercourse between employers and employed. I think it is far wiser to adopt the course which would seem to put down the evil altogether. I should be overstating my opinion and going beyond what I believe to be the fact, if I were to say that the introduction of the Ballot will put an end to bribery, but I do think that it will diminish it by rendering the temptation to the briber and the bribed much less than it is at present. Of course it may be possible to bribe by promising to a knot of people a lump sum in case the election is 1426 carried; but that may be done now as well as under this Bill. Objections to the Ballot have been made on the grounds of the frauds practised in other places by the removal of voting-papers deposited in the ballot-box, and the substitution of others in their stead; but the question of machinery, while a fair one for argument, is one of detail and arrangement, and not one of principle. My Lords, I have always been for the Ballot, but I must admit that an argument has been used against it which, with many persons, had considerable weight. It was that the franchise was a trust, and that the persons who possessed it were bound to exercise it in the face of the whole community. Now whatever force that argument may have had when the constituency was a limited one, I do not think it can have any at present. I do not suppose it can be said in these days of a very extended suffrage that the electors exercise that suffrage on behalf of anyone but themselves. Of course, the man who votes against his conscience does wrong, whether his vote be given in public or in the secrecy of the Ballot. My Lords, maintaining as I do those opinions, I venture to say that after the discussions on this subject in this House and the other House of Parliament, and after those manifestations of public opinion which have been recognized in the House of Commons, the time has come when your Lordships may be asked to give your approval to the adoption of this system. I will not pretend to argue that it is your duty on occasions of this kind to accept any measure sent up to you by the other House of Parliament merely because it has been so sent up; but I do submit that on a question of this character, the decision of the House of Commons is entitled to especial consideration, because it comes from those who have had the widest and most recent experience of the working of our electoral machinery, and who may be presumed to be the most interested in making that machinery as good and effective as possible. Looking, therefore, at the matter merely in that light, and putting aside for a moment the respect due to the House of Commons as the other branch of the Legislature, I venture to hope that your Lordships will not be inclined to reject a Bill which is sent up to you for the second time after full consideration. Believing that this Bill thus presented to 1427 you by the other House is one that contains large and valuable improvements in the machinery which will protect the voter from intimidation and violence, whether from individuals, classes, or combinations; will secure to a very large extent much greater regularity and order in the conduct of elections; and will diminish, though I do not pretend that it will entirely remove, the evils of bribery, I ask your Lordships to give it a second reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a. "—(The Lord President.)
My Lords, the discussions which the question of the Ballot has undergone during the last 40 years have so exhausted the subject that I should be making an unjustifiable demand upon your Lordships' patience were I again to enter into the general arguments against this mode of voting, which have been used so often, and with which you must be so familiar; I will therefore, on this occasion, confine myself almost exclusively to those reasons for not agreeing to the Bill which seem to me to arise from the time and from the circumstances under which it is brought forward. My main objection to this Bill is that we are asked to make by it a very important change in our representative system without taking into consideration the general state of that system. We must not forget that this is not the only change which is contemplated. We have been told by so high an authority as the Prime Minister that this is but one of three questions connected with the representation which must soon occupy the attention of Parliament. He has warned us that we shall have to consider not only the Ballot, but also a further change in the franchise, and in the distribution of seats as settled by the Act of 1867. This is an important warning coming from the Prime Minister, yet it was hardly needed. The signs that these questions will speedily be forced on our consideration are too clear to escape the most careless observer, and I must add the faults and anomalies of our present system are so glaring that it is neither possible nor desirable that it should be long maintained unaltered. But if we have to look forward to the necessity of revising, at no distant date, the system under which the Representatives of the people 1428 are now returned, I submit to your Lordships that it would be unwise and inexpedient to make a partial change in it without considering as a whole the arrangement to be hereafter adopted. Before we determine whether voting is to be secret or open we ought to know by what constituencies, and under what circumstances, the franchise is to be exercised. And there is also this further and important objection to dealing with this question singly—that by doing so, by making one change in the representation this year, another next year, and another the year after, you may be gradually led into making such a total alteration in the whole character of our government, as would meet with your most determined resistance if it were proposed to you at once. As men of ordinary prudence we ought not to assent to such a change as that now proposed to us, without having before us the whole scheme of which it forms a part, for I hold that the only legitimate object of all changes affecting the representation is to secure a better House of Commons. But during the whole speech of my noble Friend who moved the second reading, I listened in vain for any argument to show that the Bill before us would have this effect. For my own part, I oppose the Bill because I believe it would tend to give us a worse instead of a better House of Commons, and also because I believe it would be an obstacle to such a real reform in that House as I believe to be urgently required. It is this last consideration which weighs most with me. The House of Commons is in this country the great centre of political power. It is not only the principal organ of legislation, it also exercises a complete control over the Executive Government, and that Government takes its whole colour and character from the House to which it owes its existence. Whether the country is to be well and wisely governed or the reverse, depends therefore upon the fitness of the House of Commons for its high duties. But this fitness it has not lately shown, and it is because the House of Commons has not proved equal to the task imposed upon it that I think your Lordships ought not to pass a Bill which proposes to make only a partial change in it, and would be an obstacle to a more complete improvement. I have ventured to assert that the House of Commons has not proved 1429 equal to its duties, because I am of opinion that during the last few years the country has not been governed as it ought to have been. And I am not singular in that opinion. I find that a large number of persons whose judgment deserves respect concur in it, and I would ask your Lordships whether there are not signs that a feeling is becoming very prevalent in the country that for some time public affairs have been ill managed? That such a feeling exists I am persuaded few of your Lordships would deny, and there is ample cause to be found for it, if we consider the manner in which the work both of legislation and of administration has been carried on. In the Executive Government we find no traces of foresight or of a steady adherence to a policy adopted after careful consideration of the real wants of the nation, but, instead, measures framed only to catch the mere cry of the day and to win a factitious popularity. Take as a sample the administration of our Army. If you look back at the course of our military administration for some years, you cannot fail to recognize the fact that it has been directed, now by close but false economy when economy has been the cry, and now to meet panic by increased armaments and unwise and ill-judged expenditure. Every other Department of the State has been carried on in the same spirit; all have been guided by the fleeting popular opinion of the hour, not by that deliberate judgment in the conduct of affairs, so necessary to secure the permanent welfare and prosperity of a great Empire. The want of firmness and of judgment displayed in its measures has created a general belief in the feebleness of the Government, has impaired its authority, and dangerously relaxed the reins of discipline. Turning to legislation, we know that it is almost at a stand as regards measures which are not taken up as party questions, and in favour of which no party cry can be raised. Yet there are measures of this sort which are universally admitted to be urgently wanted for the welfare of the people, but because they cannot be made to serve party interests they are neglected. Nor is this the worst. We find sometimes that very difficult and important questions—questions requiring for their right solution much knowledge and all the judgment of statesmen, are left under 1430 the present constitution of the House of Commons to the decision of passion and of prejudice. Let me remind you of what has just taken place with regard to the Contagious Diseases Act. On this most important and most difficult question we have had the humiliating exhibition of the Government being compelled to declare that while the results of a most careful enquiry by thoroughly competent men, and the general concurrence of enlightened opinion recommended a course which was also approved by their own judgment, they were yet obliged to take an opposite one because it was clearly vain to struggle against the influence which exciting appeals to ignorance and prejudice bring to bear on the Members of the House of Commons under its present constitution. What has happened in this case may well alarm us for the future, when we consider what difficult questions affecting the social state of the country are rising before us—questions such as those respecting the mutual relations of employers and employed, and as to the rights and obligations that attach to property. On these and such like questions infinite mischief may be done by unwise legislation; to judge rightly of them requires knowledge and experience, while they are subjects on which the people may be too easily misled and have their passions excited; and from what has already happened, we have too much reason to fear that the measures to be adopted with reference to them will be decided not by reason and deliberation within the walls of Parliament, but by clamour and passion without. Nor is it only from its yielding too easily to unreasoning clamour that the present House of Commons fails in the discharge of its duty; we have to complain that it never before showed so strong a disposition to sacrifice the interests of the public to the interests of party. I do not pretend that at any period of its history the House of Commons has been free from the influence of party spirit. In all free Governments the evil effects of this spirit have hitherto been felt, and I fear this is a price which must be paid for the inestimable blessing of a free Constitution. But I contend that party spirit was never before so predominant as now, and that never before was the preference of party to national interests avowed and acted upon in so unblushing 1431 a manner. There can be no stronger proof of this than that which is afforded by the Bill now before us. Allow me to recall to your Lordships' recollection the history of this Bill. The subject had, for some time, attracted comparatively little notice until last year when, by the failure of its marvellous Budget and by other blunders, the Government found itself involved in such serious difficulties that it seemed doubtful whether it would be able to go on. Then, all at once, the newspapers in its interest raised the cry that it must devote all its energies to carrying the Ballot Bill. It was not pretended that this was the measure most urgently wanted for the public interest. On the contrary, in the third Session of a Parliament, with no early prospect of a General Election, a change in the mode of voting, even if it were admitted to be desirable, could not be pressing in point of time. But there were other measures as to which time was precious—the faults of the sanitary laws had been officially reported as causing annually 120,000 unnecessary deaths. The laws relating to mines were not less notoriously defective, and this accounts, in part at least, for the fearful frequency of accidents, by which the lives of so many industrious men are lost every year. The need of a new law respecting education in Scotland was also admitted by the Government itself to be urgent. And in all these cases time was as precious as it was comparatively unimportant with respect to the Ballot Bill, for every year that legislation upon these subjects was postponed, people were dying and suffering without necessity, and more children in Scotland were growing up in ignorance. To do justice to those who called upon the Government to postpone these important and pressing subjects in order to devote the time of Parliament to the Ballot Bill, they did not pretend that it was for the public good they asked it. A very different motive was avowed; it was proclaimed without disguise that the Ballot Bill must be proceeded with in order "to keep the Liberal party together." Now, see what this implied; it implied no less than this—that those who gave this advice thought it right to postpone the interests of the nation to the interests of their party, and to sacrifice the former in order to secure the latter. And this was not merely the 1432 advice of newspapers; it was acted upon by the Government. When so many of the precious hours of the House of Commons were last year devoted to the Ballot Bill instead of to measures of practical utility, it was as well known by Her Majesty's Government as by the rest of the world that there was not the remotest chance of its passing into a law, and that except "keeping the Liberal party together" it would serve no purpose to discuss it. For this purpose it was successful enough—it helped to divert public attention from the faults of the Ministers and to prevent defection from their ranks—it was a skilful party move—but to those who think the interest of the nation more important than that of a party the result in the waste of a Session is not so satisfactory. My Lords, I have referred to what has happened as to the Ballot Bill and the Contagious Diseases Act, because these transactions throw light on the influences which prevail in the House of Commons as now constituted. Party spirit within its walls; clamour and appeals to the passions of the ignorant without, are shown to be the forces which have most power over it, and account for the fact that it has failed to fill its place in the Constitution as it ought—that its influence has not proved favourable to a judicious and firm exercise of the powers of the Executive Government, still less to the passing without needless delay of such laws as are required to promote the welfare of the people. I must add that it has also failed in another respect. I would remind your Lordships that it is the duty of the House of Commons not only to express and enforce the opinion of the nation, but also to take a very important part in leading and directing that opinion by its debates. Formerly it did this with great effect. Look, for instance, how powerful an influence it exercised in bringing round the opinion of the nation on Free Trade. When I first entered the House of Commons Free Trade was equally unpopular on both sides of it, and with all classes, with merchants and manufacturers, as with landlords and farmers. Those in favour of it were a small minority, both in Parliament and in the country; but the continual discussion of the subject in Parliament was the most powerful instrument in gradually altering men's 1433 opinions upon it, and at length, after a 20 years' struggle, the public adopted what is now regarded as the common-sense view of the matter. It will hardly be asserted that the House of Commons now performs this important function of instructing the nation as well as it did; there is no longer to be found among its Members the same independent spirit, and there are few of them who will venture to combat any prevailing error or popular delusion. Perhaps I may be told that in finding so much fault with the present House of Commons, I have forgot the great services it has rendered to the public, especially by passing the three important Acts relating to the Church, to the occupation of land in Ireland, and to the education of the people in England. I have not forgotten these Acts, and I should be the last to undervalue them. I consider them of the highest importance; one of them, on the whole, an eminently wise and good measure, though not free from some serious faults which were probably unavoidable. The two others—those relating to the Church and to the occupation of land in Ireland—were also directed to objects of which I heartily approve; the one was intended to effect a much needed change in the policy of the nation, and to redress a gross injustice to the Irish people; the other to remove a real and very serious grievance. But the means adopted for attaining these objects I cannot regard as entitled to the same approval as the objects themselves. In the provisions of both these Acts, and still more in the manner in which they were carried, there are to my mind unfortunate marks of party spirit, and of a want of the calm and statesmanlike judgment required to deal successfully with such difficult subjects. To this I must attribute the fact that hitherto, at least, these Acts have not yielded the looked-for fruits of increased contentment and a better feeling towards the Imperial Government in the Irish people. Had these measures, however, been as good as their warmest admirers believe, they are not sufficient to alter my view of the general character of the present Parliament. I still hold that the facts I have laid before you make good the statement with which I began—that the House of Commons as now constituted, has not been found equal to its high duties, and that there is therefore 1434 an urgent need for a comprehensive measure of real Parliamentary Reform. Not a Reform which would real what has been done in admitting a larger part of the people to share in the exercise of political power, but which would yet provide—as I am convinced is possible by suitable arrangements—for making the House of Commons a better representative of the intelligence of the nation, and more capable of directing wisely the government of this great Empire. My main objection to this Bill is, that by making a partial change in our representation, it will add to the difficulty of hereafter accomplishing such a real reform; but I object to it also, because whatever effect it has will be to aggravate the greatest faults which experience has brought to light in the House of Commons, as altered by the Act of 1867. Those faults arise, as I believe, mainly from the fact that the present mode of carrying on elections gives undue power to those small knots of men who contrive to promote their own interest, by obtaining a control of elections. These men, in the expressive language of American politicians, have been called "wire-pullers." Under the system of secret voting, as it would be established by this Bill, and supposing no other change to be made, these "wire-pullers" would become absolutely irresistible. We know that they are so in America, that the right of electors to vote as they please is practically useless, and that the real choice of Representatives lies with "caucuses" and "wire-pullers." Complaints of this abuse fill the American newspapers; and if this is the effect of the Ballot in the United States, we may safely conclude that in this country also it would tend to increase the power of the wire-pullers. Allow me to add a few remarks on the principal argument in favour of the Bill urged by my noble Friend. He says that it has twice passed the House of Commons by large majorities in two consecutive years, and that this is a manifestation of public opinion to which we ought to bow. No one of your Lordships can recognize more heartily than myself the authority of public opinion; but we must distinguish between real public opinion and a mere popular cry which is sometimes mistaken for it. Public opinion, truly so called, is the opinion of the majority of those who are able to think and to form an 1435 opinion for themselves. As such it is gradually formed by the process of public discussion, and as it is of slow growth, so it is not liable to sudden and hasty changes. A popular cry, on the other hand, is merely what has been well called the "mechanical acquiescence" of large numbers of men having no opinion of their own, in what is recommended to them by those who have contrived—sometimes by the lowest arts and for the basest purposes—to gain their ear for the moment; it is lightly taken up, and no less lightly altered, and is ever shifting and unstable. It is a blessing to a nation to be ruled by the former; a curse to be guided by the other. It has hitherto been the great boast of our Constitution, that while it has never failed to give effect to deliberate and mature opinion, it has saved our Government from being the sport of every hasty cry. And it is in no small measure to your Lordships' House that this is due, by your having had the firmness to say "No!" to demands, however loud or menacing," which you have judged not to have the true opinion of the nation in their favour. With regard to the Bill now before us, I should be the last to ask your Lordships to reject it if there were any indications that it had the support of this opinion; but all the indications, so far as I can see, point to the opposite conclusion. We know that even among those who hold strong democratic opinions—a large proportion of the men most distinguished for knowledge and for their philosophical minds—such men, for instance, as Mr. Mill—are decidedly opposed to the system of vote by Ballot. We have reason also to believe, from all we hear out-of-doors, that many of the large majority for this Bill in the other House have given it but a lukewarm and reluctant support; and that if in this case the specific of Ballot had been applied to the House of Commons, and its Members had been allowed the privilege of giving their votes on the Bill in this manner, it would never have come before your Lordships. When I see such strong grounds for believing that the real opinion of the House of Commons is not in favour of the Bill, and that the majorities that have passed it are a mere expression of party feeling, obtained by strong coercion, I cannot accept the fact that it has in two successive Sessions received the 1436 sanction of that House as a sufficient reason for our agreeing to its second reading. If this House is not to exercise its independent judgment in such a case as this, I for one say deliberately it had better be abolished, because it will have ceased to perform its proper function in the Constitution. I cannot conclude without adding a few words on the argument I have heard, that it would be better not to reject this Bill on the second reading, but to amend it in Committee. I would ask with what view is it to be amended? I am persuaded that none of your Lordships would approve of attempting to get rid of this Bill by introducing into it Amendments inconsistent with its spirit in order to insure its ultimate failure. So undignified and indirect a course I am quite certain your Lordships will not adopt, and that any Amendments you may decide upon making will be really intended to improve the Bill, with a view to its becoming law. But if so, I am unable to conceive what Amendments of real value can be introduced, except upon one single point. If the Bill is to pass, I think it is important that we should replace in it the provisions for an efficient scrutiny, which were contained in the original Bill of Her Majesty's Ministers two years ago, but are omitted from that now before us. These provisions I believe to be absolutely necessary to prevent gross abuses, and I should look with great alarm to the frauds and the unfair proceedings which might be committed with impunity by unscrupulous Returning Officers under the Bill as it stands. But with this exception, I am utterly at a loss to discover in what respect the Bill could be materially altered without interfering with its spirit and intention. I have only to add that I do not oppose the second reading of this Bill with the slightest hope that my opposition can be successful, since I know that it is not to have the support of the great body of the noble Lords who occupy the benches behind me; but as I entertain a strong conviction that in passing this Bill we shall be making a great mistake—that we shall be taking a course injurious to the nation, and specially injurious to this House—I have thought it my duty to record my opinion, and to give an opportunity of recording theirs to those of your Lordships who agree with me. I also indulge a hope that, although our 1437 opposition may be vain so far as regards arresting the progress of this Bill, it may yet be not altogether useless, but may possibly have some effect in leading your Lordships and the public carefully to consider the whole state of our representation, and the urgent need there is of an effectual reform, in order that the House of Commons may be rendered more equal to its high duties, and that the nation may be governed with more vigour and more wisdom than at present. I move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ An Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day six months.")—(The Earl Grey.)
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
My Lords, I am anxious to take this early opportunity of stating the views which I hold in regard to the Bill now before your Lordships; and I wish to begin by stating that I regret extremely Her Majesty's Government should have thought it necessary to deal with this question at all; but the question having been brought before your Lordships it is one we must entertain, and therefore I ask your Lordships' permission to offer a few remarks. I think it will not be denied that this is the first time your Lordships have been seriously and distinctly asked to consider the question of taking votes by way of Ballot; because it was manifest to all—indeed, the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill scarcely denied it—that the period of the Session at which this Bill was brought before your Lordships last year rendered it almost, if not altogether, impossible to devote that time and attention which were necessary to a measure of such importance, and therefore I may assume your Lordships were perfectly justified in the course which you pursued on that occasion. I think that subsequent events have tended to show how unwise it would have been had you on the 10th of August last year attempted to go into the merits or demerits of this question. The Bill of last year was characterized by the Prime Minister as amounting almost to perfection; and yet when introduced into the House of Commons this year it is found to be so complicated in its details and so full of difficulties that it is not till the 10th of June that the other House of Parliament have been able to send it to your Lordships for consideration. Now, 1438 the arguments upon this subject are so familiar to most, if not all, of your Lordships that I do not think it will be necessary for me to dwell upon them at any great length; but I should like to call your Lordships' attention to three points—first of all, the manner and mode in which this question has been dealt with by the other House of Parliament at various periods; secondly, what are the evils complained of? and thirdly, whether the measure now before us is one calculated to attain the object which the Government say they have in view? Now, the subject of the Ballot has been debated in the House of Commons for, I think, the last 40 years. It has generally been the crotchet of some Member of the "advanced section" of the Liberal party who annually aired his eloquence before that Assembly by introducing a Bill, which in due course was snubbed by the constituted leaders of the party, and disposed of in a very summary manner, sometimes with, but more often without, any very lengthened discussion. In that condition we find the question till the year 1867. The Prime Minister had, I think, for 40 years of his life opposed this measure—but at that time a change seems to have come over the spirit of the Liberal party; and I confess it did not surprise me that he who had been the champion of the Established Church of Ireland and had at once become the disestablisher and destroyer of that Church should, with all the zeal of a recent convert, become suddenly one of the most ardent and one of the most energetic supporters of the advanced doctrines of the Liberal faith. So we find the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and his Government introducing a measure which, for the most part, they had previously opposed. It is obvious that some reason must be advanced for this change of opinion; and, accordingly, we find the Prime Minister looking about for a reason by which to justify this sudden inconsistency of conduct; and turning to the Reform Bill of the late Government, he stated as a reason for the thorough alteration of his opinions, and for his advocacy of the Ballot, that the Bill of the late Government had produced a state of almost universal suffrage. My noble Friend who introduced the Bill to-night, with great caution, did not go so far, for he only treated that Act as an 1439 extension of the suffrage; and, accordingly, the Act, in his opinion, being of a much milder character than it appears to the Prime Minister to be, it does not furnish even that small reason which might perhaps have existed for departing from the course previously adopted by Members of the Government. That the measure, however, which was introduced by the late Government and passed into a law has led to a state of universal suffrage is very far from the truth. By the last Census the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was 32,000,000; but the voters at the last election numbered only 2,300,000. This would leave of those unrepresented by votes something like 30,000,000 people. ["Oh! oh!" "Hear!"] I merely give the facts and figures, which nobody can contradict; noble Lords will be at liberty to comment upon them hereafter. It is a very remarkable circumstance that upon this subject of the Ballot the great majority of Her Majesty's Ministers in the other House of Parliament have been remarkably silent; indeed, I am not sure that any Member of the Government except the Prime Minister and the Vice President of the Committee of Council took any part in the discussions. The Vice President of the Council has been a consistent advocate of the Ballot, I believe, throughout his Parliamentary career; but the reason why the Members of the Government have not taken part in the debate would not, I think, have been very difficult to discover. It must be painful to men who have, for so many years, been advocating a particular line of policy, suddenly—and without, as I think, sufficient grounds—to take exactly the opposite course. There is one Member of Her Majesty's Government whose reticence on this question I can very well understand, and I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman having changed his opinions so frequently on the matter, is at the present moment at a loss to know whether he is for or against the Ballot. As I shall have occasion to quote the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman again when I come to another part of the subject and to found some arguments upon it, I will ask your Lordships' permission to quote a few lines giving you a notion of the state of mind a few years ago of Mr. Chichester Fortescue the President of 1440 the Board of Trade. This was upon one of the earlier Motions to which I have alluded, brought forward by Mr. Berkeley. Mr. Fortescue said—It so happened that for several years he had given but one vote on this subject, and that was for the Ballot. He was enough of a party man to feel great reluctance to sever himself from the friends with whom he generally acted, and this reluctance led him without sufficient examination to give the vote in question. Since that time, however, he had thought much on the Ballot, and the more he had thought of it the less he liked it."—[3 Hansard, clvii. 951–2.]I think—and in that I concur with the noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Grey)—that this measure has been brought forward to suit the convenience of Her Majesty's Government and to meet the requirements of the advanced section of the Liberal party. Such being the case, I am led to inquire what are the evils complained of, and how will those evils be met by the measure which is now proposed? The noble Marquess the President of the Council has declared that these evils are—first of all, intimidation and undue influence; secondly, corruption and bribery; and, thirdly, rioting at elections. I think your Lordships will agree with me that, as regards the last subject—rioting at elections—a system of compulsory secrecy cannot be necessary—and in the remarks which I shall make I wish to draw a great distinction between what is called compulsory secrecy and what I will call optional secrecy. If you have a system of optional secrecy, you may make use of the Ballot by having an increased number of polling-places, and you may enact that the state of the poll shall not be declared until some late period of the day. There are various arrangements of that kind which, no doubt, would tend to more orderly conduct during elections than is at present observed. With regard to bribery and corruption, the noble Marquess himself has scarcely left it necessary that I should go at great length into that part of the subject, for he almost, if not quite, gives up the case of bribery, for he tells us that he should not be warranted in stating that it would altogether put an end to the scandal of bribery, though he thinks it would reduce its present amount. But you must remember that there is another corrupt practice which this Bill will certainly encourage, and that is the practice of personation. It is a question whether 1441 by this Bill, which is—and only partially—to suppress bribery and corruption, you do not give a great stimulus to this other corrupt practice, for the Bill is so worded and drawn up that it will be almost impracticable to detect this offence of personation. In effect, persons are thus told—"If detected in personation, you will be liable to a very severe punishment; but inasmuch as detection will be almost impossible, you may go and commit the crime with impunity." On the question of intimidation, I was astonished to hear the line taken by the noble Marquess. He did not mate out any strong case of intimidation, or that any great number of persons had been subjected to this form of undue influence; but because there are a very few weak-minded persons who have not the courage to stand up for their opinions, he intends to shut the mouths of the great majority who desire to give their votes fairly, freely, and openly before the country. If you insist on a system of compulsory secrecy in the election of Members of Parliament, I say that you are bound to show the existence of a great and pressing evil, and that this is the only measure by which it can be met. The noble Marquess referred to the example of the British Colonies and the great success which had there attended the working of the Ballot. He laid great stress especially upon the Australian Colonies as if they were the only colonies which the mother country possessed. I have read the reports from the Governors of those colonies, and in some of them, I think, the offence of personation was said to be not infrequent; and it often happens, apparently, that a man votes at one station, and then rides off to another, and under the present system no mode exists of detection. I also read in one of those reports—I forget at this moment which—that bribery does not prevail because importance is not at present attached to a seat in the Legislature; but that if this once became an object of great ambition in the colony, it was not likely that the Ballot would put an end to corruption. I think there is at least one Australian Colony in which the secresy conferred by the Ballot is not compulsory, but optional. [The Earl of KIMBERLEY dissented.] I was told, a few days ago, that in Victoria the Ballot is merely optional; but, of course, if the noble 1442 Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies tells me otherwise, I am bound to defer to his superior authority—but the argument to my mind is just the same. The Australian Colonies, however, are not, as I have said, the only colonies which the mother country possesses. Why did not the noble Marquess tell us what has occurred in Canada? Surely Canada is a very important colony, and, like Australia, it is inhabited by a population for the most part of British origin. For the last 20 or 25 years attempts have been made to introduce the Ballot into Canada, but they have always ended in failure—many Petitions in favour of it have been presented to the Legislature, and several Bills on the subject have been introduced; but the Ballot has never become the law of the country. With your Lordships' permission I will read a few lines written by a gentleman who is a reliable authority in Canada, and who sums up the whole question of the Ballot with regard to that colony. After going into numerous details, showing the number of Bills introduced and Petitions presented on the subject, he thus sums up the question—and I think this may be fairly regarded as a set-off against the alleged success of the Ballot in other colonies. In a letter dated from Cliffside, Ottawa, December, 1871, and addressed to The Times, Mr. Fennings Taylor says—It thus appears that, with one exception, the Ballot has been avoided by every province of the Canadian Dominion. In the excepted province—New Brunswick—after an experience of 15 years, the trial seems to have left no impression of advantage on the minds of those who had the opportunity of watching its operations and estimating its worth. From all of this we learn that the inhabitants of one half of the Continent of North America, having seen the Ballot in use among their neighbours in the United States, and tested its advantages in one of their own provinces, have arrived at what may be regarded as a unanimous conclusion that the secret system of voting has no special charm to recommend it.Now, I lay down this theory—that the experience of the colonies is not a fair test to apply to the mother country. What does the President of the Board of Trade say on this subject? Speaking in March, 1860, Mr. Chichester Fortescue said—These objections (i.e., the objections he held against the Ballot) had not been lessened, but increased by his Australian experience at the Foreign Office…. His strong conviction was that the House of Commons had nothing to learn from Australia in this regard…. Circumstances 1443 were, moreover, so different in Australia from the state of things in the old country, that no safe conclusion from the one was applicable to the other…. The Ballot succeeded admirably where it was not wanted, but when there was real intimidation it would either fail, or else the secrecy would he obtained at a cost that it was not worth—namely, the sacrifice of the voter's honesty and uprightness.—[3 Hansard, clvii. 952.]These remarks were made in 1860, at a time when the right hon. Gentleman told us he had given much attention to the matter. Experience, however, seems to have since taught him that all he said on that occasion, after his Australian experience at the Colonial Office, did not deserve much reliance. In corroboration of the view he then entertained as to the inexpediency of applying the experience of the colonies to the mother country, I will read what was said upon the subject by one whose opinion must command attention on the other side of the House, and I believe on this side also. I refer to a statesman who was thoroughly appreciated by his own party and by the public, and whom I regard as one of the most honourable and upright men who ever sat in the House of Commons—the late Sir George Cornewall Lewis. He said in 1857—Neither do I think that the examples of this institution in some of our colonies—those new societies in which this mode of voting has lately been introduced—can be of much assistance to a country whose social and political condition is so different as that of the mother country. The country to which we must look as furnishing really important lessons upon this subject, and which I apprehend is always in the minds of those who recommend the establishment of the Ballot in this country, is the United States of America.—[3 Hansard, cxlvi. 657.]Now, we know—and, indeed, it appears from the noble Marquess's own showing—that in the United States of America, where last year a very quiet election was held, the Ballot was not conducted on a system of compulsory secrecy.
Having now, my Lords, thus answered some of the arguments of the noble Marquess with regard to colonial experience, I will turn to the Bill itself—and I do so with great curiosity, because I confess that, on reading the Bill, it struck me that its language was almost as vague—and I beg pardon of my noble Friend opposite (Earl Granville) for alluding to it in so uncomplimentary a manner—as the language of some of the Treaties which have been laid upon the Table. When I take up the Bill I say to myself 1444 —"Is this a measure for secret voting, or is it not?" One part of the Bill declares that the voting shall be secret—that is to say, it recommends the voter before he deposits his paper in the box to fold it up in such a manner that no one can see which way he votes; but subsequent provisions of the Bill entirely destroy the idea that this is to be a system of secret voting. We find, for instance, that members of the Jewish persuasion who may be called upon to vote on a Saturday, because they have scruples about filling them up themselves, have the aid of the Returning Officer in filling up their voting papers. Going farther, we find that electors who are physically incapable of signing their papers may also go to the presiding officer and ask him to fill them up. Then there is another class—the illiterate voters—who take an oath, or declaration which has all the solemnity of an oath, that they are unable to read. These also are to have the assistance of the presiding officer in filling up their papers. Now, if the illiterate voter is to have this privilege, why should it be denied to the man who is just one shade above him in point of scholarship, who can read just a little, but who, for all practical purposes, is quite as illiterate as a man who makes a declaration that he cannot read at all? One argument of the advocates of the measure is that it will enable large numbers of the lower classes to vote; but I am inclined to doubt very much whether it will not have a directly contrary effect. There are a great many voters who are not able to make the declaration necessary for procuring assistance, who are nevertheless illiterate. What happened at the election of Guardians for the parish of Brighton in the present year? The number of papers issued to the ratepayers was 10,436. Of those the persons who collected the papers received only 7,389, of which 3,861 were valid, while no fewer than 3,528 were invalid by reason of having been improperly filled up. Now, if that was the result where voters could fill up their papers quietly at home, and could obtain such assistance as they pleased, what is likely to occur in the excitement, the turmoil, and the hurry of a contested election, and with no assistance at hand. Will these persons be able to fill up their voting paper with an approach to accuracy? 1445 It is clear to me they will fail to do so. I do not find any fault with those provisions of the Bill which permit voters who are illiterate or physically incapacitated to seek assistance from the Returning Officer in filling up the papers, for I think it is perfectly right and fair that everybody should have an opportunity of voting; but what I do complain of is, that other persons, who are proud of giving their votes, should not be allowed to vote in public, instead of being compelled to make use of this secret machinery, to which during the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons Her Majesty's Government attempted to append very serious penalties. I quite agree with what was said by the Prime Minister on this subject—Now, what is the Ballot? We say, popularly, it is a Bill to establish a mode of secret voting. What does that mean? Much advantage is taken of that expression, and it is said votes ought not to be given in the dark, and men ought not to be ashamed of making known what they do. I quite agree with that. Probably there is no man in this room whose vote will not be as well known as if the Ballot had not become law. I have no doubt your vote and mine will be just as well known when the Ballot becomes law as it is now. We mean by the Ballot, protection for the weak. We mean to put it into the power of the voter to vote secretly if he likes. He will be the best judge of that. He will be the best judge of the interests that weigh him. He will be the best judge whether other people will not interfere with the freedom of his votes……He himself must be the best judge whether he needs protection. Where he needs protection, the Ballot would give it to him, and where he does not there will be no secrecy, and his vote will be pretty much as well known as his vote is now.That is from a speech delivered at Wakefield and reported in The Times of the 6th of September, 1871. Of course, I am not prepared to say that since that time the Prime Minister's opinions have not changed; everybody is liable to change his opinion; but I think that here the period is somewhat short for such a change. However, such was the opinion of the Prime Minister last September, and since then the Bill has been introduced into and has passed through the other House. And what was the conduct of the Government during its passage through the House in the present Session? The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) proposed and carried an Amendment making it a penal offence, involving imprisonment for not more than two years, for any man to hold and act upon the opinion 1446 which the Prime Minister held in September. It is a monstrous thing that persons who have not changed their opinions since last September should be liable to penal servitude on that account. But if penal servitude is necessary to carry out the measure properly, surely, it ought to have been made one of the provisions of the Bill when the Government introduced it into the other House. If it was not necessary, the Government were not justified in voting for it afterwards; and they cannot escape from the horns of that dilemma.
And now, my Lords, I come to consider what is the course which I shall adopt on the present occasion. There are two courses which appear to me to be open to us. The first, and one which commends itself to the opinions of many on constitutional grounds, is that this Bill ought not to be passed. I am quite ready to admit there is great force in the argument that the country has not yet had an opportunity of deciding whether the Ballot shall be adopted for Parliamentary and municipal elections; that at the last election a majority of the present Ministry were opposed to the measure; and that only about one-fifth of the Members returned to the House of Commons were pledged to the Ballot—although the noble Marquess spoke of a larger proportion. But at the same time I cannot disguise from myself the fact that the measure has now been brought under your Lordships' consideration for the second time; that it has on both occasions been passed by large majorities in the other House; and that it is brought forward with all the authority and power which attend a measure introduced by the Government. I cannot but feel that, if the measure is now rejected, the apathy which now exists in the country on the subject might give way to an excited and exaggerated tone of feeling in which all the bad parts of the Bill would be forgotten. I cannot but feel that with such a subject in the hands of those who are both unscrupulous and apt at agitation, such a feeling might be excited throughout the country as might lead to serious—even to disastrous consequences. My Lords, I cannot also disguise the fact that if there is considerable apathy among the supporters of the measure, there is to a great extent apathy among its opponents, and that the majority of those Members returned 1447 to the House of Commons since the last Session of Parliament have been favourable to the measure. Therefore, although disliking the Bill and thinking it an extremely bad one in its present form, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to oppose the second reading. But after it has been read a second time, I shall be prepared in Committee to propose Amendments which will remove all doubt that the secrecy is to be of an optional and not of a compulsory character, and to introduce clauses which at all events commended themselves to the opinion of Mr. Bright in 1870, for providing a scrutiny, so that there may be power to trace a vote that has been given wrongfully or corruptly. By making these Amendments we may remove many of the objections which attach to this Bill; we may devise the means of protecting the weak voter without unduly injuring or interfering with the rights of others, and we may devise the means of detecting and punishing corruption and fraud; at the same time we may provide the means of removing some of those evils which experience teaches us invariably attend the adoption by an old country like this of a system of secret and irresponsible voting.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, will your Lordships allow me to address a few words to you on the present occasion? So strongly do I feel on the subject that if this were the last speech I had to make I should rejoice at the opportunity of delivering it. I fully sympathize with my noble Friend who has moved the rejection of the Bill; I enter into the force of all his arguments; I share all his apprehensions; I admire his courage, but, at the same time, I think the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) has spoken words of wisdom when he counselled us to give a second reading to this Bill—not out of admiration for the Ballot, but in deference to the House of Commons and to the great constitutional question involved. Your Lordships may not agree with the view I take; but I think the Reform Act of 1867 altered the relation of the two Houses. Before the suffrage was so widely extended, it was very well—as I stated at the time—that the House of Lords should act upon a restrictive principle, and control the House of Commons, acting also upon a restricted principle; but when the House of Commons, returned as it was 1448 on a wider basis, and by virtue of almost universal suffrage, spoke absolutely the will of the country, I think your Lordships were placed in a very different position. No doubt it is your duty now, as it would be on all occasions, should such be your conscientious judgment, to throw out any detrimental measure which might come to you from the other House, in order to give that House and the country ample time to re-consider it; but this Bill was, in fact, thrown out last year, virtually, if not formally, with a view to its re-consideration by the country on its merits; and the country, having now had the matter before them for ten months, it is perfectly quiescent, and the Bill is again sent up to this House.
My Lords, I have no doubt there is a considerable body of people in the country decidedly hostile to the Bill; there is no doubt another very much larger body totally indifferent to it; and I think that if there could be a fair and honest plébiscite, and if the votes could be collected from house to house without the voters having any personal trouble to record them, I have no doubt the Bill would be rejected by an overwhelming majority. If, however, the people of this country will be so apathetic and indolent that they will not come forward in defence of their own liberties and of the Constitution under which they live, they must take the consequences of their apathy—this House can then only look to the recorded majorities of the House of Commons during the two last Sessions of Parliament, and rule its own conduct accordingly. But, although we may not deem it necessary to oppose the second reading of the Bill, we are, at all events, bound to call the attention of the country to the principles involved in it, and the serious effect which they must produce upon the character of this nation. The Bill is propounded to us as one for secret voting; and I hope I shall not give offence by expressing my own conviction that such a proposition seems to inflict on the country a direct dishonour—it bears the air and appearance of being—I do not say it is—an open avowal of cowardice and corruption. It seems, moreover, to carry the air—I am sure such was not the intention of its authors—that while the proceedings are conducted in secrecy, there should be a full indulgence, with impunity, to bribery 1449 and falsehood. My Lords, we are called upon to make very considerable changes. I do not enter upon an examination of the machinery which the noble Marquess the President of the Council has described—the ballot boxes, the nomination day proceedings, and all other points which, in comparison with the principles of the Bill, are almost trumpery—I would look at the great moral and political consequences of the measure, which the noble Marquess altogether overlooked. The first change we are called upon to make is, I hold, a most important one. The Bill seems to disturb the relations which have hitherto existed, and which ought to exist, between the electors and the elected. My Lords, I sat for 26 years in the House of Commons and represented several constituencies. I always found there was a mutual understanding between the electors and the elected, that if the elected did his duty, he would not be cashiered or sent to the right about without at least, on the part of the electors, a full statement of the reasons for his dismissal. You disturb that by this Bill altogether. You leave the responsibility on one side and take away all responsibility from the other. This novelty will tend to frequent and capricious changes of Representatives, and so speedily disgust the best men in the country with Parliamentary services. Again, everything henceforward is to have the stamp of secrecy. Hitherto, in this country the discharge of duty of every kind is public; but now, by the future law of the land, voting, which is one of its highest duties, is to be a secret transaction. I have heard all sorts of weak denials of the assertion; take but one. It is said juries vote in secret; but juries are supposed to be unanimous, and, therefore, the vote of the 12 is the vote of every one, and it is quite of recent date that Judges have taken upon themselves to relieve juries from giving a verdict because they are not unanimous. For what purpose are we going to make this change? There are but two issues for consideration in the measure before us, and these are, the one to prevent intimidation, and the other to prevent bribery. My Lords, it is impossible to speak in language too strong—I would say, even if approaching to execration—of everything in the shape of intimidation and bribery. It is a positive sin—and it is more than a crime—for 1450 anyone to interfere with the rightful exercise of the vote—the great privilege entrusted to the citizen; and I will go to any extent in the imposition of penalties or the infliction of disgrace on those who are guilty of thus interfering with the electoral privilege. But I think, my Lords, the course you are called upon to take will be altogether ineffectual. In the case of intimidation the Ballot will be ineffective; in bribery it will be mischievous also. Take, first, the case of intimidation. Intimidation has existed no doubt—it has prevailed at various times and been productive of very great abuses—but will any man say that intimidation is now carried on to such an extent in any one department of our social existence as to justify you in coming to the conclusion to subvert the whole Parliamentary system, and introduce a new and vicious principle into the conduct of affairs? There may be a case of intimidation here and there, but the cases are so few they are not worth recording, to the extent, I mean, of founding on them a new legislative action. Is it not a fact—will any man gainsay it—that the people are too enlightened, the employers are too prudent, and public opinion is too strong for the continued exercise of such an abuse? All testimony is against it. My Lords, I took the trouble last year to make very extensive inquiries as to the system of intimidation alleged to prevail, and the feeling of the people as to the necessary protection against it, and I have here returns sent to me from some of the more populous districts. One says, under date June 28, 1871—The majority of those who think for themselves, and whose opinion is worth having, are decidedly opposed to the system of secret voting; while many of them are quite indifferent about the matter.Very well. If these people thus think for themselves—men perfectly capable of so doing, why is the House of Commons to interfere and think for them? Leave them alone; they know best whether they are oppressed or not. Listen to another report—Very many of the working classes who are ardent supporters of 'vote by ballot' do not advocate it on account of themselves or their fellow-workmen, because, say they, 'Our right of voting has never been interfered with by our employers; we support the Ballot because the aristocracy and the landowners drive their tenants 1451 to the voting-booth as bullocks are driven to the slaughterhouse.'I think I may leave it to your Lordships to say how far that is a veracious statement. Talk of influencing farmers by coercion to give their votes! Does any man of sense for a moment dream of such a thing? And as to influencing the peasantry wholesale, why, very few of them have votes, and if they had, such a growing spirit of independence exists among them that the attempt to interfere with them would he regarded as an outrage. No, no; the only argument left in favour of the Ballot is that it will suppress the intimidation of mob acting upon mob—the mob will be protected against the mob, the people against the people. But if that be so, what opinion do those who use that argument entertain of the condition of the people? We are indebted for this position to a distinguished Gentleman, a Member of the other House, who averred that he had great experience of "The Nottingham Lambs" and "Waterford Kids." It is perfectly true that these excesses may occur, and that some protection is necessary against them; but not that which this Bill proposes. Such excesses we find occurred in the history of ancient Home and in modern America. When party feeling runs high, when perhaps there is something to be gained or something to be lost—I speak not of quiet times when self-interest is asleep—then there is the greatest excitement and evil consequences ensue. But to show how little the Ballot will control intimidation where there is a determination by one party to carry the victory, I will mention a case or two. Here are the statements, and to control such things your Ballot must be omnipotent. The cases I quote are cases in which the argument is far stronger for polling papers than for secret voting. The attack with us, as with them, will be wholesale; houses, districts, entire localities, will be invaded, pillaged, perhaps, set on fire. Suspicion will be as good as proof, and party or personal feeling will break out into violent conflict—what will secrecy avail here? In 1834 there was an election in Philadelphia.Several houses were burnt to the ground. The inmates were compelled to escape for their lives. More, we fear, than one life is lost. The firemen were driven from the ground, and several of them injured by the Tory party.1452 I take the next extract from The Times. In 1868 there was another election—Numerous fights have occurred, and several persons have been shot. In one place the poll was closed by a row, and in another by an—of course—accidental conflagration,In 1871 there was an election for coroner—for a coroner. Nothing, you see, comes amiss for a fight—The mob broke in the door, rushed into the room, led by Mr. Sieras. They captured the platform, forced the officers to retire, and nominated their man for coroner, and then, as a matter of course, took a drink on the platform out of the whisky bottle.What can the Ballot do, I ask again, to repress the like of this? Again, I take this from The Times, 1871—Election in New York,—To preserve order four regiments of troops, and extra policemen, are to be on duty in New York City, prepared for any emergency.Here is a perfect catena of riots. But now let us come to the question of bribery. This, I freely confess, is of far more consequence, and I do not wonder at the zeal and indignation manifested, and the determination to put it down. And yet almost every speaker is doubtful whether secrecy is an antidote to corruption. But for this purpose I believe the Ballot will be completely ineffective. In the first place, let me call your Lordships' attention to this fact—that formerly bribery was much more prevalent than it now is, and that it was then regarded far more as a venial offence. Now, things are very much changed. Last year, Mr. Cross, in a very able speech in the House of Commons, showed indisputably that bribery was diminishing. He said that in 1852 there were 75 Petitions against Members returned on the ground of bribery, and 30 were unseated; whereas in 1868 there were 73 Petitions and only 17 Members unseated, while the Petitions were tried under the new system by the Judges, and not by the old form of Select Committees. Is it not clear that it is publicity which has produced that result, for does not publicity take the place of conscience with the vast majority of mankind?—and if you take away publicity you will give a new and uncheckable career to bribery—for by doing away with publicity you do not remove the motives for offering bribes or receiving bribes; you do not remove the feeling of ambition which induces persons to enter Parliament, 1453 because they thereby gain a position in society, or the passion of self-interest which induces others to take bribes under the conviction that they are a just means of providing for themselves or their families. But it is said that you take away the certainty of any briber receiving a return for his bribe; and that no man will give away his money unless he is sure of getting an equivalent for it. Is that so, however? Is it not the case that in commercial transactions men risk large sums of money in speculations, and that in gambling men hazard great stakes without any certainty of winning? You will simply increase the gambling spirit, and reduce elections to the level of dice-playing or horse-racing. In reading the Life of Bacon, by Mr. Basil Montagu, I notice that it was there stated, on that great man's authority, that in the French Courts in former times the suitors on both sides gave money to the Judges, though they knew very well that the decision could only be given in favour of one side. If you ransack all history, both ancient and modern, you will never find that secret voting has got rid of bribery. My Lords, it is a serious loss to the argument we maintain, that we are shut out almost entirely from the quotation of the Roman writers—from Cicero and Pliny, and from the cogent and unanswerable comments on them by Montesquieu, Gibbon, and others. We are shut out because people (I am disposed to think) who feel the force of the quotations, assert them to be pedantic, and inapplicable. But, despite their objections, I must cite a passage from that most admirable and instructive work, The History of the Romans under the Empire, by Dr. Merivale, the present Dean of Ely. He says—The favour of the people was sought and gained by profuse largesses; the means of seduction allowed by law, such as the covert bribery of shows and festivals, were used openly and boldly; while the others, which were expressly interdicted, such as the direct proffer of money, were practised not less lavishly in the polling-booths, where the restraint of the Ballot was wholly ineffectual.Mark those emphatic words, "the restraint of the Ballot ineffectual." And, my Lords, in my own researches a few years ago, I found that while in many centuries preceding the introduction of the Ballot into Rome there was mention but of two laws against the crime of 1454 bribery, there were in the 40 years that followed it, decrees and enactments to be numbered by scores in vain efforts at repression. And is our experience less as to the operation of the Ballot in the United States? Where do you hear of such profligacy, recklessness, and barefaced corruption as in their elections of every kind? Is it only foreigners who say this of them? Why, my Lords, read their own—their native testimony, read all that is said by their own correspondents and their own journals, read especially The North American Review, the highest and worthiest of their periodicals, for October, 1866, with the later elegancies of the Erie Ring, and then, I think, your hair will stand on end. But if Ballot be ineffective to put down bribery, Ballot will be very effective to increase it. Under the Ballot the briber and bribee will have every facility. You give impossibility of detection to the extent, at least of legal proof, and you hold out to covetous spirits to do that in secret they would have never dared to do openly. Your legislation will have no moral power. You will not make candidates more scrupulous or electors more pure. You will leave unchanged and in full force, both on one side and the other, all the lowest mercenary passions, with complete impunity for their free exercise. "Who will know it," says Pliny, in one of his beautiful letters, "is the main consideration of a great portion of mankind." Before we go further we have a right to inquire what is the character of the franchise thus committed to the people, and which we are called on to protect? Is it a trust? Many people are angry that it should be so regarded, probably because they know that a trust must be exercised openly. Is it a privilege? If so, then it should equally be exercised in open day. Your Lordships and the House of Commons have the privilege of conducting your debates if you so choose with closed doors, and of concealing the names and numbers of your divisions; but would the public tolerate that your Lordships' proceedings should be transacted in secret? Some persons say that the franchise is a right. If so, then in some respects it becomes property, and may be sold. But if it be a right, I ask you on what principle you can refuse to give every man in the country that right? The argument that 1455 the suffrage is a right therefore leads at once to universal suffrage, and that is the opinion of the Prime Minister himself. We hear, my Lords, contradictory assertions on the action of the Ballot. Some say that it will be really secret; some that it will be no such thing. It is of small importance to the argument. I have no doubt of the belief that will prevail in every one's mind who has a purpose to serve. He will believe secrecy to be possible in his own particular case, and will act accordingly. Now, my Lords, there are very grave political and moral considerations connected with this vote by Ballot. It is a serious political consideration how far the Ballot is consistent with the institutions under which we live. Many years ago the distinguished American statesman, Daniel Webster, said to me on the night he quitted England never to return, in the course of some serious conversation respecting this country—Above all things, resist to the very last the introduction of the Ballot; for, as a Republican, I tell you that the Ballot can never co-exist with Monarchical institutions.I give your Lordships the words of that great statesman, but I cannot represent his manner, or the degree in which he was moved while speaking to me. He said to me—You have a Monarchy and we a Republic; both good in their way, if adapted to the genius and feelings of the people. America has the deepest interest in the welfare of England, and I tell you that it would be the greatest blow to real freedom were anything done to degrade your ancient Monarchy from its present position.Here is the weighty counsel of friendship and experience. I am, certain, moreover, that under the Ballot many Members would be returned to Parliament who never would be returned under an open system of voting. And even were the same men returned, they would be returned under new conditions and for new purposes. If the Ballot should be established agitators would go round to every house in the country and persuade the people to vote for special candidates, by saying that if they got into Parliament not only that the taxes and rates should be reduced—that argument is legitimate enough—but hinting also, that by a little legislative arrangement there might be a better and a fairer distribution of all kinds of property. There are many in this class, and religious men to boot, who hold that some are 1456 too rich, and some are too poor; and, although they would shrink from any violent procedure, they would have no scruple to redress the balance by the weight of legislation. And yet they would never avow it by an open vote. Why, my Lords, in the agricultural districts of this country, when the peasantry shall have received the sufffrage—which as matters stand they ought to—agitators will go amongst them and say to them—"Only vote for Mr. So-and-so, and the house in which you live shall be your own." My Lords, you—most of you—are living with your people on the happiest terms; yet the tempting conclusion will be unceasingly urged, and the cottager will stifle his conscience by saying to himself—"After all, I leave my Lord his acres, and the loss of this small dwelling-place will do him no harm." Again, my Lords, I object against this new system that it would place irresponsible power in the hands of those who are as yet, at least, most unfitted to discharge the duties attached to it. If given at all it should be confided only to the highest order of political virtue. Again, I object to it because you are taking away from the great mass of the voters and all the working people the noble sentiment of public responsibility. I have gone among the working people for some 40 years, and the sentiment which I always found most elevating and to which they responded most heartily was when I told them that they were responsible beings—responsible to God and man—and that they ought to be proud to discharge that responsibility in the eye of day and in the face of the whole community. That generous sense of responsibility you are now going to take away—you are going to do that which will enable a man, and indeed, by your compulsory system, force a man, like a creeping animal, to slink away with his tail between his legs; and just at a time when men are rising to a sense of their dignity, you are going to insist they shall not declare their sentiments, and are not to discharge their duty in the face of the whole community. I object to the Bill, again, because I believe you are not aware—many people are not aware—that there is no middle place between Monarchy and a Republic. I have met men who by a Republic mean a Government consisting of the best men 1457 of the nation and of all that is great and good. But under the Ballot you will have nothing of the kind. When you go away from Monarchy—and from Monarchy you must go away under the Ballot—it is not to a Republic of that kind you will come, but to a Democracy, and that too when you have upset the moral sense of half your people by your system of secrecy. Then, the social objections to the Ballot are very great. Many men will pass their lives under suspicion, for the honestest can never prove that he has acted up to his declaration, and you will thus keep back from the poll the best of the electors, who will rather lose their vote than be subject to doubt and misrepresentation. But look last to the moral considerations. We are going to introduce a system of secret voting—to hold out to the people opportunities and facilities for bribery and corruption of all kinds. Even the advocates of the measure are perfectly aware that it must involve very serious consequences of that kind. The evidence taken before the House of Commons' Committee, while containing much in favour of the Ballot, contained also much against it. Its very advocates admitted that evasion would become very general, and one in his evidence before the Committee said he did not know whether lying would not very much increase under it; and then he proceeded to justify it if it did. On what a sea of contention we may be launched under such a principle! If a new system be introduced, and people are compelled to adapt themselves to it, they will speedily learn to fashion their morality to suit it. With regard to the morality of the Ballot, there are two strong opinions to that effect. Mr. Randolph, the great American statesman, in a conversation with the Rev. Sidney Smith, which is recorded in the latter's pamphlet on the Ballot, said—"The Ballot either finds a man a scoundrel, or it makes him one." Then, there is another opinion which is much to the same effect. The Communal Delegation of the First Arrondissement in Paris under the Commune demanded open voting, because it held secret voting to be immoral. There was a remarkable controversy on this subject in 1839, when Lord Macaulay—then Mr. Macaulay—supported the question, and I quote his opinion in order to show the dangers which may arise to 1458 morality from the Ballot. Macaulay was, no doubt, a very great and, I am sure, a very good man; but, at the same time, we must say of him, as Dr. Johnson said of himself—"No man talks at times more laxly than I do." I think your Lordships will say when I read this extract that no man wrote more laxly at times or talked more laxly than Macaulay. In his speech in 1839 in the House of Commons Macaulay, thus defended the right of voters to deny how they voted—All present knew that many dishonest votes were given, but let a system of secrecy in voting be introduced, and they would have honest votes, although the parties might afterwards deny that they had given them….. In short, if the voters could not at once keep faith with their country and with their corruptors, he was one that wished that we should have a system by which their faith might be kept to their country and broken to their corruptors."—[3 Hansard, xlviii. 473–4.]and many other like things. Hence The Times of the day, the 27th of December, 1839, remarks—Mr. Macaulay's data and conclusions are, in point of immorality, almost unprecedented, and utterly incompatible with Christian principle of any kind.And Lord John Russell rebuked his right hon. Friend for "palliating dissimulation." Now, I mention these things in order to show that if this system be adopted, we should be entering upon a new system of morality as to when a vote may be avowed and when it may be denied. We shall have 10,000 cases of casuistry of all kinds, it will enter into the discharge of all our public functions, and in that case it will be necessary that we should have a clause enabling our new school boards to provide that the children shall be trained to the discernment of cases of conscience, so as to know when to tell a lie and when to tell the truth, when to be straightforward, and when to shuffle. My Lords, I have only one more point. Your Lordships will remember that prior to 1834, and for years afterwards, there was a system of voting in the French Chambers in which they used to begin with open voting and then submit the same question to the secret vote. Sometimes they began with secret voting and then went on to open voting; but the extraordinary part of it was—and I do urge this to show that men will do in secret what they will not dare to do publicly—it frequently happened 1459 that in the course of half-an-hour a measure carried by a very large majority was thrown out by a majority still larger. Can you wonder, then, that the 4th of May, 1834, when the matter was propounded in the Chamber, the President, M. Dupin, said—There are mysteries which it is not given to penetrate, I have seen laws adopted, Article after Article, by open voting, and rejected by the secret Ballot. I have seen adopted by secret Ballot what would have been rejected by open voting.He afterwards adds (and no wonder)—The Ballot has mysteries of its own. It presents sometimes results which defy all calculation.Again, in 1845 another very distinguished Member of the French Chambers made a Motion that that system of secret and open voting should be got rid of—and mark his language, which is very applicable to the Ballot as proposed by my noble Friend. In 1845 M. Duvergier de Hauranne moved, in the Chamber of Deputies, to abolish the secret vote. Among many weighty arguments whereby he sustained his Motion, I select two or three—It is right," said he, "that all should know on whom they can rely, and not be in perpetual fear of some of those mysterious acts of treachery which are effected under the mask of the secret Ballot. Is it not probable that on some pinching question a Deputy might vote against the Minister, and assure him the next morning that he had voted for him?He concludes—To no one should it be given to escape the vital, essential, and necessary conditions of political power—that of responsibility. Let us no longer try to cover the secret vote with the charming words of independence, impartiality, and conscience. These words are dear to us all; but I refuse to believe that, in order to be independent, impartial, and conscientious, it is necessary to conceal one's opinions or speak that which is contrary to truth.Give due weight to such testimony as this, and consider that if corruption and untruth could then prevail in the French Chambers among men of education and property, what will be the issue when secrecy is bestowed upon poor men who neither value nor know the difference between right and wrong, or between the suffrage as a high trust or a saleable commodity? Now, my Lords, very many of those who advocate the adoption of the Ballot regard it as a very great evil, and very many more, if they could speak the truth, would express the same opinion. It is very possible 1460 that the evil anticipated will not come to the surface all at once, and in all probability its pernicious effect will not be realized to its full extent until men's passions have been aroused by some extraordinary occasion and drive them to excess. In the present aspect of affairs I am prepared for the overthrow of many of our institutions. I am prepared to see the dissolution of the Church of England, torn as it is by internal dissension; I am prepared to see a vital attack made upon the House of Lords, hateful on account of its hereditary privileges; and I am prepared to tremble for the Monarchy itself, stripped as it is of its true supporters; but I am not prepared for an immoral people; I am not prepared to see the people exercising their highest rights and privileges in secret, refusing to come to the light "because their deeds are evil."
§ EARL COWPER
, who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to say that he did not think it necessary, after the announcement of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) as to the course he intended to pursue, to detain their Lordships at any length. He thought, however, that it was time that some reply should be offered to the arguments urged against the Bill:—although he was bound to say that, with the exception of the speech of the noble Earl on the cross benches (Earl Grey) they had scarcely heard a single objection which had not been used over and over again. The noble Earl had argued that the present time was unsuited for proposing such a measure, considering the great constitutional changes that had recently taken place. But as to the present expediency of proposing an alteration in the mode of conducting elections so immediately upon great changes in the representative system, he (Earl Cowper) was of opinion that such a time was the most suited for proposing such further changes as might seem desirable. It was better that such proposals should be made at once, before men's minds had settled down into the new order of things, rather than wait, and then disturb the electoral system afresh. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) had said this was a political agitation set afoot by the Government in order to fill their sails and keep the party together; but the fact was that this question was mooted by the Government immediately after the General 1461 Election, when certainly their sails did not want filling. A great part of the noble Duke's speech consisted of taunts against the Ministry and their supporters for having changed their opinions on this question; but that was a charge which might be brought against every prominent man on both sides of the House at some time or other, and on some question or other; but it was no argument against the measure. He would not pretend to follow the details of the eloquent speech which had just been delivered by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury); but he must be permitted to say that if the earnest tones and impassioned manner of that speech were deducted, there would be found little remaining but old arguments dressed in new language. As to the want of agitation in favour of the Ballot of which the noble Earl made so much, that was readily accounted for—when people are satisfied that a measure they desire must certainly passf they cease from agitation upon it. Had there been any uncertainty upon the matter, he was satisfied the agitation would have been vigorous and general. A great deal of unnecessary fear had been expressed that the Ballot would have a demoralizing effect; but no one had ever clearly stated how this would come about, or why the act of voting should necessarily be performed in public. The advantages the Ballot would confer upon a man, however, were great. He would be saved from all persecution, or loss of custom, by voting according to his convictions, and would become what he was not at present—master of his vote. As he believed the present Bill would secure these very desirable results, he should give his support to the second reading.
§ LORD RAVENSWORTH
said, that he cordially supported the Amendment of the noble Earl (Earl Grey). In former days he had appeared before many constituencies, and had had the honour of a seat in the House of Commons for many years. In the days when he had to appeal to the suffrages of his constituents he had never shrunk from declaring his strong opinion against the system of secret voting, and he had found that those views were almost invariably received by those whom he addressed with applause. It could not, therefore, be expected that he should now shrink from avowing opinions which he had 1462 never failed to avow for nearly 50 years, or that he should that evening acquiesce in the second reading of a Bill from the principle of which he so strongly differed. The noble Earl who had just sat down (Earl Cowper) had expressed his surprise that the noble Earl who had preceded him had not alluded to the intimidation practised in Galway and at other elections in Ireland. Did the noble Earl imagine that the system of secret voting such as was now proposed would cure intimidation of the character practised in Ireland? If he did, he would certainly be disappointed. It had often been asserted, and history had shown the assertion to be true, that the assistance of the confessional might be called in to aid the carrying out of political purposes in which the Roman Catholic priesthood were concerned. It had been declared by some of the priests, even so recently as the Galway election, that they would use the confessional to ascertain the fact as to the votes given by electors. He did not know how far that was true, but this he did know, that it would not be the first time that the secrets of the confessional had been made use of to serve a political purpose, and he had, therefore, little doubt that the same consequence would follow now if an attempt was made to conceal the votes of the Irish Roman Catholic electors by means of the Ballot, when it came to the question of how far it would serve the purposes of the Irish Roman Catholic priesthood to obtain the knowledge. He could not help feeling surprised that the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury), after the powerful and eloquent speech which he had delivered, could bring himself to acquiesce in the temporizing policy recommended by the noble Duke at the head of the party with whom he had the honour to act. For his own part he could not perceive the dangers which had been held out to them as a bugbear to prevent them from voting against this Bill. Now, was this really a Bill to compel secret voting, or did it leave the matter optional on the part of the voter? He did not see there was anything to prevent an elector from going into the booth and stating broadly whom he intended to vote for. The elector might, with perfect indifference, throw his paper into the box, and say—"I vote for such and such a person." ["Hear, hear!"] The noble Lords opposite 1463 cheered that, which showed that he was right in his interpretation of the Bill. But the ardent supporters of the Ballot in the other House of Parliament, the advanced Radicals, declared openly that without the provision of compulsory secrecy the Bill was altogether a sham and a delusion. If it was a sham and a delusion it ought not to pass; and if it compelled secrecy by heavy penalties the Bill would become simply an act of tyranny. He did not desire to repeat the old arguments which had for so many years been employed against the Ballot Bill, but he could not help referring to the character of being un-English, so properly and justly given to it by the late Lord Palmerston. It was un-English because it was opposed to the character of the whole of our institutions, whether political or social; it was un-English because it was at variance with that publicity which universally obtained in this country, and which was regarded, and justly regarded, as a main security of our institutions. Secrecy was inconsistent with the rights of the subject in every Court of Justice, from the highest to the lowest. Then why had this Bill been brought forward? The question appeared to him to have been seized upon as a rallying point now that the Liberal party had been brought into some difficulty and distress, and it had been forced on, as he firmly believed, against the desire of the majority of the educated classes in this country, and in spite of the feelings and conscientious opposition of the majority of their Lordships' House. Another reason which induced him to vote against the second reading of this Bill was the conviction that it would soon become so repugnant to the feelings of the community—that it would give rise to so much hypocrisy and fraud, that before long the tide of opposition would set strongly against it, and the House of Commons would be petitioned for its repeal. It was, therefore, right that those who opposed this Bill in principle should now have the courage to avow their convictions, and to vote against its second reading and he for one was grateful to the noble Earl on the cross benches for the opportunity which his Amendment afforded him to express his opinions, and he hoped their Lordships would not be deterred from expressing their opinion on this Bill, 1464 though some degree of intimidation had been practised by the tumultuous meetings which had been held against their Lordships' House, and the threats that had been delivered if their Lordships presumed to vote against the opinion of the House of Commons in this matter. He regretted, however, to perceive that their Lordships were likely to pass the second reading of the Bill. The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill (the Marquess of Ripon) had alluded to the question of intimidation and coercion, but he had omitted to state, in respect to one particular evil, how the measure proposed to provide any remedy. For the great abuse of personation this Bill provided no remedy whatever. Yet in the maritime towns, this class of offence was extremely common. The seafaring men, who formed by far the largest portion of the inhabitants, were obliged by their profession to be constantly absent from their homes—their names appeared on the register, and as the elections always took place during the absence of a considerable portion of the constituency no pains had been wanting, even under the existing system, to supply their places by persons who assumed their names and voted in their stead. He spoke somewhat sensitively on this question of personation, having suffered from it himself in former days, when he became perfectly aware of how it was carried on. In consequence, he himself introduced a Bill into the House of Commons for the better prevention of personation; and that Bill having been taken up by the Government of the day and added to their own Electoral Bill, his clauses as to personation were inserted word for word into their Bill; and thus it happened that he was the author of those clauses for the protection of the purity of elections and for the prevention of personation which was now the law of the land. These clauses would be rendered perfectly nugatory if the Bill before their Lordships passed. The Bill, indeed, stamped personation as a fearful crime, declaring it, for the first time, to be a felony, and attaching heavy penalties to the commission of the offence; but it provided no means whatever of detection. The noble Duke had assured their Lordships that he was about to propose a remedy; he hoped it might prove successful; but still it would only be limited to one single point. He could 1465 not help wondering that this Bill was supported by so large a section of the Liberal party. In former days The Edinburgh Review used to have some influence with that party, and in the volume for 1870 there was an article so well reasoned, so ably compelled—he might say so historical—that it ought almost to have prevented the Liberal party from bringing forward this measure. The article dealt with the Report of Lord Hartington's Committee on the subject of secret voting, and contained some very telling extracts from the evidence given before that Committee. One American gentleman described an election in which he took part, in which every precaution had been adopted to prevent tampering with the Ballot, yet he declared that fully as much intimidation had been practised as under an open system of voting, and that as to personation, there was "any quantity of it—an unlimited extent," and that the corruption was "unbounded." The Bill was one for establishing secret voting; how could their Lordships disregard testimony like that as to the effect of secret voting, given by an American gentleman, in spite of his attachment to the institutions of his own country? In another passage in the same article the opinions of Mr. Morse, also a distinguished American, were examined, and it was shown that the supposed secrecy of the Ballot did not cloak any appreciable number of the votes given at an election. There were two kind of influence—legitimate and illegitimate. To every kind of illegitimate influence, whether in the shape of coercion, intimidation, or corruption, he was as strongly opposed as any of their Lordships, or as any advocate of the Ballot could be. But the influence of character and example—the influence which was acquired by free interchange of communication with the electors—not by hole and corner meetings, but by open, personal advocacy and argument in public, he believed to be a legitimate influence worthy of all approbation, and one their Lordships ought never to suppress or diminish in favour of any secret system whatever. He objected to the Bill because it afforded a screen for falsehood and hypocrisy, which none of the safeguards or contrivances in its clauses could effectually check or suppress.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The opinion of the noble Lord who has just sat 1466 down justly carries weight with it, not merely on account of his practical experience in Parliamentary elections, but because of his high character and great ability. His remarks, however, on the subject of personation are suited rather to the Committee stage than to the second reading; while any analogy sought to be established between the electoral system of this country and that of the United States must necessarily be fallacious, on account of the enormous numbers of the American constituencies and the vast area over which they extend. You are discussing after all not a Bill to remedy certain abuses of the electoral system, but a measure for upholding the purity and the sanctity of the electoral franchise. The question is not whether a voter shall vote secretly or not at his option, but as to whether or not we wish to obtain the honest and unbiassed opinion of the electors of this country. With much of what fell from the noble Lord who spoke last, I fully concur. If, indeed, the Ballot were only advocated on the ground of protecting the farmer, against his landlord it would not be necessary to disturb the existing machinery of the Constitution. I believe that against such intimidation you have a remedy far more efficacious than all the laws in the statute book—I mean public opinion. Look at what happened the other day in Scotland. Notice was given to a tenant that at the expiration of his lease it would not be renewed. Well, it was admitted, I believe, that the tenant had made a fortune out of the farm. It was not denied that the landlord had infringed no legal right, and was justified in choosing his own tenants. But because this notice from circumstances had the character of a political eviction, all Scotland rang from end to end with the case of Mr. Hope of Fentonbarns. This, I think, sufficiently shows that public opinion is sufficiently vigilant as to oppression on behalf of landlords. But you have other multifarious forms of oppression far more dangerous than this. What we desire protection against is the tyranny of the customers over the tradesman, and the tradesman over the customers; the tyranny of the tradesunion over the artizan; of the priesthood over the laity; of the physically strong over the physically weak; of the ignorant over the educated, of the mob over the individual. It is tyranny as between these 1467 parties and persons against which it is our duty to legislate. But then "such legislation is un-English." That is a cry that is so easily raised that I wonder we do not hear it oftener. Let us vote openly and frankly, without shame and without reserve. It is better to vote openly with a broken head than to vote in sound health by Ballot. Let us have our old constitutional confusions and contusions. Let us continue to bandy about the good old British brick-bat, the good old constitutional cat, the truly English egg. The corruption of the eggs shows the purity of the system. I have the greatest respect for this argument. It is ancient, and it is historical. The first person who used it was Charles I.—a monarch for whose private character we may have veneration, but who can hardly be considered an authority on constitutional questions. But, again. Early in the present century a Bill was brought in to put down bull-baiting, bear-baiting, cock-fighting, and other national amusements. This Bill was opposed by an eminent statesman, Mr. Windham; and on what ground? Why, because legislation against such sports was un-English. The argument, however, was as unsuccessful as I hope it will be on the present occasion; and, I trust that, in spite of it, our present sports of voter-baiting, and voter-fighting, and voter-worrying may join the category of these abolished amusements; for, at present, it is not so much a rateable as a physical qualification which a voter needs for the exercise of the franchise. Then the Ballot will produce lying. This has always struck me as rather a far-fetched accusation. You might as well say that the Woolsack or the Order of the Garter produce political corruption. It is historically true that an eminent man was tempted to desert his party by the offer of the Great Seal. It is rumoured on excellent authority that the Garter has, if not gained over an enemy, at any rate secured a wavering vote. Yet neither the office nor the Order have suffered in consequence. It is quite true that the ballot-box may, as an accident, produce lying, but I deny that it is an inseparable accident. The truth is, that a man who will lie about his vote will lie about anything else, and that if you wish to remedy this you must introduce a measure of a much broader scope than the present, for it will be a Bill for the abolition 1468 and suppression of the corruption of human nature. But "the franchise is a public trust; a vote is a public responsibility? Now, I will not argue against this. I think the franchise is indeed a responsibility to the State. But does that make it necessary that it should be exercised in public? Are you really going to adopt this unbending principle that a public duty should be exercised in a public manner? Take some instances of what your argument leads to. Take the case of the Sovereign, who performs various important functions. If your Monarch were stoned whenever he left his palace, would you insist on his going to open Parliament as usual? Who, indeed, exercise the most important public trust in the State? Is it not the Ministry? Is theirs not a public trust, and a public responsibility? Yet the natural bearing of your doctrine would be that the Cabinet should sit in Hyde Park or in Trafalgar Square. Does not every father owe the most important public duty to the State? Is he not in possession of a most important public trust; the duty of bringing up his child to be a good citizen and a useful member of the State? Yet you would not hear your child his catechism in the street, or his As in prœsenti in Westminster Hall? It is hardly necessary to point out either that in this way you are subjecting the voter, on whom for a certain fitness you have conferred the privilege of the franchise, to the physical power of the person whom, I suppose for a certain un-fitness, you have excluded from the franchise. To some this might seem an anomaly; but to you it is no such thing. You take pride in it. You stand by the polling-booth to watch the progress of the election; you see approach, hustled by a violent crowd, maimed, and stoned, and oppressed, the unfortunate British voter, or rather his remains, and you turn round to that intelligent foreigner, who is somehow always on the spot on these occasions, and you say—"There, see that. That is a sight, I am proud to say, which you will find nowhere in the world except in the United Kingdom." I maintain, on the other hand, that in this duty, as in almost all the higher duties of life, the voter who keeps within the boundary of the law is responsible to his conscience alone. But, on the other hand, I would enumerate 1469 some of the advantages of the Ballot; advantages which have not, I think, been dwelt upon this evening, but to which you cannot shut your eyes. Take the question of expenses. If the Ballot be passed, canvassing and cajolement, and all the arts of corruption, will be rendered labour as vain, and impotent, and irritating, as the work of the treadmill. It is impossible to conceive a more dismal and desperate future than that of the canvasser and briber under this Act: the doubts which will harass him as to whether A voted as his conscience and his fee indicated; as to whether B, who took money and principles from him, did not also accept cash and convictions from the other side. I do not think that anyone will long continue so miserable a profession under such disadvantageous circumstances; although they may be like one of the witnesses in the Norwich Election Petition, who said that he did not wish "to assume a purity which does not belong to politics." Look at the expenses where the Ballot is in operation. The expenses of an election in Victoria, for instance, are absolutely insignificant. They bear the same relation to the expenses of an English election as the cost of a Roman triumph to the cost of an English triumph in Swift's famous lampoon. And, then, what a dearly bought triumph is the triumph of an English or Irish election I remember an eminent Member of the House of Commons being returned for a considerable city. How did he spend the evening of that triumph? In decent revelry, in congratulating his committee, or in thanking his supporters? He spent it on the roof of a housetop, in fear of his life from the fury of the mob. Indeed, if the present system continues, it is clear that candidates will appear on the hustings in Ireland in the armour of the Middle Ages, and that voters on the approach of an election will take refuge in their cellars, like citizens during a bombardment. But not merely will the Ballot save you from the violence of present elections by making the vote secret, but it will also secure the constituencies by concealing the state of the poll till it be closed; thus preventing the mobs which gather on the present announcements, and the distribution of large sums towards the end of the poll when the contest is close. Then, again, it deprives the voter of all excuse for not 1470 recording his vote. That seems to me a fact of crucial importance, if you wish to have a real and not a sham expression of the feeling of the country.
My Lords, the state of the House, if it does not show any great enthusiasm for, does not at any rate indicate any ardent opposition to the Bill. I will therefore, in conclusion, only deal with one last reason for delay, if not for rejection. The Ballot, we are told, is unpopular. Nobody agitates for it. The House of Lords was not attacked last year for rejecting it. This is a plausible argument which admits of a very simple refutation. Why does no one agitate in favour of the Ballot? Because it is not a cause which needs agitation—no one indeed agitates against it. Even Mr. Disraeli and Mr. Hardy on the recent occasions on which they have unfurled the Conservative banner have not mentioned the subject. Yet I cannot but believe that if the Ballot were the noxious and emasculating system which it is represented to be that we should have heard of it from them. But then if the Ballot is not unpopular, it is not popular we are told. Great meetings are not held, monster Petitions are not sent. But let us examine this. Would it be possible for the vast majority of dependents throughout the country to hold meetings in favour of the Ballot? Why, we should hardly need the Ballot if such meetings were possible. But then if we examine this again a little more closely we have to consider three things. One is that the party who most desire the Ballot—that is the weak or oppressed or threatened voter—is the last person who can agitate for it. Public agitation is worse than a public vote. The more the voter needs the Ballot the more he is physically timid or infirm, the more he is morally dependent and enslaved, the less likely is he to be in a position to petition or to agitate in favour of the Ballot. Then, secondly, we have that large class—very numerous and very influential—to whom this Bill will deal a deadly blow. From the pugilist of the nomination day to the "man in the moon" of election petitions they are opposed to the Bill. No man can fairly be expected to suppress his own occupation in life, and when the Bill is passed their occupation will be gone. Thirdly, we have the class again who are independent and do not care personally 1471 whether the Ballot be passed or not. It is no object to them: they can vote as they please; they perhaps rather like the ceremony of a public vote. Anyhow no great demonstration of feeling can be expected from them in favour of the Bill. So then, if we analyze this charge of indifference or unpopularity, we find that one class is from the nature of things indifferent to it, that another class is from the nature of things adverse to it, and that the third class, for whom the Bill is really intended, is from the nature of things sure to be quiescent. So do not let us delude ourselves into the belief that the want of frantic excitement about the Ballot is a sign of indifference or hostility. Nor can it be said, as was alleged last year, that the Session is too old to give birth to so alarming an offspring. I hope then, in the absence of such objections and the weakness of others, that your Lordships will readily consent to give a second reading to this Bill.
§ THE DUKE OF RUTLAND
said, that, though he might not be permitted to say how he would vote, he supposed he might be permitted to say how he would not vote—and he certainly would not vote for this Bill. It was a Bill of Pains and Penalties, and nevertheless would fail in securing the object for which it was devised—secrecy of voting. His objections to the measure were entirely based on constitutional grounds, and had no reference to party considerations—for he did not believe it would have much effect one way or the other on the balance of political parties. The question really was, whether this Bill would be effectual to put down corruption and intimidation, and he was convinced you could no more put down dishonesty and unfair voting by legislative enactment than you could put down intemperance by similar means. In both cases you must trust to education, good example, and the influence of public opinion. These had already exercised a wholesome influence on elections, and if we would let them they would exercise a still further influence for good. He entertained the objection, in spite of the ridicule that had been thrown upon it, that the Bill was un-English—by that he meant that it was opposed to our feelings, habits, prejudices, and institutions. An Englishman was not used to concealing his opinion and his vote; and to adopt the 1472 Ballot was to tell Englishmen that the Legislature thought they should not openly avow their opinions. The fact that we had got rid of bull-baiting and cock-fighting, which used to be practised in England, was no reason why we should not continue open voting. He objected that John Smith, who had voted openly for 30 years, who might have been a Liberal all the time, and who might have been so disappointed with Liberal policy that he had changed his opinion and become a Conservative, should be compelled to record his Conservative vote in secrecy. Why were they to force upon the constituencies a system for which they had no desire? The noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) who spoke to-night with so much power, stated what he believed to be the fact, when he said that if the people of England were polled, there would be an enormous majority against the Bill. The only argument he had heard that night in favour of passing the Bill was that the House of Commons had now for the second time sent it up to their Lordships' House backed by considerable majorities, and that therefore their Lordships were bound to accept it. He dissented from that view. No one was more ready to admit than he was that if the House of Commons sent up any Bill Session after Session backed by the real opinions of the people of England, their Lordships would be acting unwisely if they set themselves against the opinion of the House of Commons and of the people of England. But he distinctly denied that the present was a case of that kind. In the first place, with regard to the House of Commons, how did the case stand? Last year the Conservative party did not divide against either the second or third reading of the Bill. This Session a division did take place on the second reading; and how many Members were present and voted on the question of the second reading of this great measure?—this great measure that the House of Commons has set its heart upon, and which the constituencies are determined to have. There are 658 Members of the House of Commons, and of these 658 only 160 voted on the question of the second reading. He was told that during one portion of the debate of the 18th of February only three Members were present—the Speaker, the orator, and the audience. 1473 He asked whether these things supported the contention that their Lordships were not to give a free, unbiassed, and unfettered opinion upon a great constitutional question, because the House of Commons were thoroughly in earnest about it? He was told that on the evening to which he referred there was an important debate in their Lordships' House to which the Members of the House of Commons were listening in the gallery. That, no doubt, was very flattering to the House of Lords, but it did not show much zeal for the Ballot. Even on the third reading of the Bill no more than 490 Members took part in the division—which was not at all a large proportion of the Members on a question which really interested the House. And that was not all—an hon. Member had declared in his place in the other House that if Gentlemen voted as they really and truly felt not 10 Members of the House of Commons would be found in favour of vote by Ballot. Were their Lordships, then, to give up their freedom for these 10 Members? With regard to the country, it was admitted to be in a state of apathy upon the question, and it was to give the constituencies an opportunity of saying what was really wished that he asked their Lordships to reject this Bill. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) had said there were two courses—either to reject the Bill or amend it considerably. There was a third course—to pass it without amendment. He was decidedly opposed to secret voting, and therefore thought it would be a great evil and misfortune to the country if they were to adopt either of the last two courses. He was therefore prepared to vote for the rejection of the Bill. With regard to the second course—that they should pass the second reading, but amend the Bill so as to make it a kind of permissive instead of a compulsory Ballot Bill, he felt that would be neither one thing nor another—it would be regarded as a mere sham Ballot, and would satisfy no one; and their Lordships' House, having once pledged itself to the principle of the Ballot, would afterwards find it difficult to resist an extension of the principle. He therefore thought the only fair, open, and manly course would be to reject the Bill, which had been condemned by nearly every speaker who had addressed their Lordships; and if 1474 they did so he believed they would gain the gratitude of the country.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
said, he quite agreed with the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond) that the question of the Ballot in the Colonies was very different from the question of the Ballot in England, and that the voting for the Education Boards was a very different thing from voting at Parliamentary elections, and could not fairly be considered examples in point. They were like the analogy of voting in Clubs, quite inadmissible as examples. The cases were totally different in circumstances and could not be compared. The noble Marquess the President of the Council in introducing the Bill had gone over the old arguments. The noble Marquess, indeed, was the only Member of the Cabinet who could consistently support a Ballot Bill. Of the other Members of the Liberal party it might truly be said that "the more they looked at it the less they liked it," as the noble Duke quoted Mr. Fortescue. He did not believe that any of their Lordships were admirers of the Ballot, or that they wished the present Bill to pass, and yet it had only been argued by one noble Lord after another that they ought to pass it in deference to public opinion. The noble Duke opposite, for instance, had made a remarkable speech—there could not have been a better speech against the Ballot—but he entirely failed in his conclusion, for he ended his speech by saying that he should vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
Pardon me: I never said I should vote for the second reading of the Bill. What I said was that I should not vote against it.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
said, that was as bad, and the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) came to a nearly similar conclusion;—and, in point of fact, the debate had given rise to the most inconsequential speeches which he (Lord Lyveden) had ever heard—noble Lords declaring emphatically against a thing which they were practically supporting. The noble Duke proposed that the secrecy of the Ballot should be optional and not compulsory. But could any one suppose in voting in favour of a permissive Ballot that there was any chance of the Bill, if altered in that sense, being accepted by the House of Commons? Did it not make personation more easy? Why was it that they were 1475 asked to pass the Bill? Because, it was argued, public opinion desired the Ballot. No doubt, when the public opinion was deliberately expressed through the House of Commons their Lordships could not resist it; but he maintained that the opinion of the public had not been declared in favour of the Ballot; and that when the House of Commons, which had not been elected on the question, had sat for four years, the House of Lords ought not to yield without a dissolution. In all large reforms that had been the rule—when any great constitutional change was sought to be made, there had always been a thorough appeal to the people. But no such test had been applied in reference to the Ballot question. What had happened since their Lordships had last voted upon this subject? Why, the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) who moved the rejection of the Bill last year went shortly afterwards to Glasgow—one of the most democratic of constituencies—and where consequently he might be supposed liable to ill-treatment for his conduct in regard to that measure—but so far from that being the case he was fêted and lionized, and nothing was too good for him. And what had happened since then? Why, all the elections that had taken place had gone against the supporters of the Ballot. There had been no expression of opinion on the part of the public in favour of the measure, and the Bill itself was a very different thing from what the public supposed a Ballot Bill to be. Fortunately the Amendments proposed by Mr. Leatham were not carried, though they were supported by the Government; but if they had been adopted the effect would have been to imprison any man who showed his voting paper; in fact, any man who held up his hand at a show of hands would subject himself to penal provisions. Then the Bill almost created personation; at all events, its provisions were of a character to make the offence a new crime. The fact was that the Government, having passed two sensational measures—the Irish Church Act and the Irish Land Act—had tried their hands at a third, which was to re-unite the Liberal party in a compact body, and enable Sir George Grey to row in the same boat with Sir Charles Dilke—mitis sapientia Lœli restraining the catilinœgladius. But the measure had not had that effect, and it 1476 never would have such an effect, because so many of the Liberal party were really against it, and the country was tired of it. They were no more united than the Opposition this night, or the bench of Bishops on some other occasions. He thought he ought to congratulate their Lordships on seeing them still upon the red benches of this House, for when they threw out the Bill last year the Radical newspapers all cried out that there must be an end of the House of Lords, for they were the only obstacles to Liberalism and progress. But he always found it the case that when the Radical party were at fault they always found an easy vent to their feelings in saying—"Oh! the Lords are responsible for this; if we could only get rid of them we should be all right." But their Lordships were still sitting where they used to sit, and without much notion of being disturbed. Indeed, he believed that, if the truth were spoken, the House of Lords had rather gained in popularity over the House of Commons. Holding the opinion he did as to the danger of the Ballot, thinking it opposed to the Constitution, and likely to have a mischievous effect on the character of the voters, he entreated their Lordships to reject the Bill. For himself, not seeing any other way of getting rid of it unless they rejected it at once, he should vote against the second reading.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
I wish, my Lords, to offer a few observations upon the course which the discussion has taken this evening. Her Majesty's Government certainly cannot congratulate themselves upon the support which they have received from noble Lords who sit around them—they have received from one or two a rather lukewarm support, while from others who must be recognized as prominent Members of the Liberal party they have obtained very much less. Neither can I congratulate Her Majesty's Government upon the course which they have followed in this matter. This, according to their own avowal, is the great question of the Session—the question upon which Her Majesty's Government stake their reputation; and yet, with the exception of my noble Friend the President of the Council—and from him we have been favoured with only a very brief speech—we have not had any exposition of their views or 1477 any statement of their opinions. We have had constant references to colonial practice, but my noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies has not condescended to enlighten us on that point; and when noble Lords speak of the apathy of the public with regard to this question, I think it would be quite as true to say that there is just as much apathy on the Treasury Bench at this moment. [Earl GRANVILLE made an observation.] Perhaps my noble Friend the Leader of the Government in this House will be good enough to favour us with his views in the course of the evening. For my own part, I cannot conceive a more curious illustration of the feeling which prevails on this question than in the way in which it has been generally treated. Here is the question which a few years ago was avowed as one of the prime articles of the Radical faith. It is now with many Radicals a matter either of doubt or disbelief. In the case of most public questions, as discussion goes on the interest of the public generally grows. This, on the other hand, is a question as to which as it is discussed the public interest languishes more and more. This is not only the case in speeches, but in writing also. The interest seems absolutely to fail. There are very few writers, very few politicians on either side, who support the Ballot now in the way in which it was supported in the time of Mr. Grote. I dismiss entirely the argument as to intimidation, on which so great a strain has been laid. I believe that intimidation really exists nowhere, except possibly in a few places in Wales and Ireland. But in Ireland, at all events, does anybody believe that the Ballot will be a bulwark, except of the most feeble description, against the Confessional? On that point, a most remarkable statement was made the other day by one of the Irish Judges—a man, too, taken from the Liberal ranks, whose prejudices and sympathies were all in favour of Liberal measures. That statement well deserves the attention of your Lordships' House. Mr. Justice Keogh said—It had been reluctantly admitted by Mr. Bernard O'Flaherty, who was taken out of his bed to give the evidence, that Father Cohen had said that priests would use the Confessional under the Ballot Bill if necessary. But the Ballot Bill was not yet law, and Parliament was still sitting, and Ministers and the Legislature ought to know this avowal of Father Cohen.1478 I think, therefore, it is not unfitting that we should consider that avowal. But then, on the other hand, I see that this Bill is to pass, and I ask myself the reason why? My Lords, I can only suppose that it proceeds from some such cause as this—that Her Majesty's Government, who in former days were all individually pledged against this particular measure, have now, for some reason best known to themselves, revolved entirely on their own axis, and come to a totally opposite conclusion. I can account for it only on the supposition that from sheer weariness men at last abandon a cause which they long supported and take up another against which they had struggled in former days. Ten long years of wearisome struggle have at last worn out their resistance. But, my Lords—and this is my strongest argument against the whole of this measure—I am opposed to it because you know very little of the facts and nothing of the operation of this Ballot; what is alleged is conjectural, fancied party advantages are hoped for on either side, and men conceive that it cannot be so bad as it has been hitherto deemed. But wiser men cannot say in what way this Bill will turn out. Against these fancied advantages you have the strong argument of experience. And now what is that experience? My noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond), who made so able and telling a speech in the earlier part of the evening, said that unhappily he had given up references to classical times and practices, because it seemed to savour of pedantry. But if the experience of antiquity went for anything it went against the Ballot. The practice of Greece was that the secret vote should be used not merely in elections, but for offices. I presume Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to accept the principle that the Members of the Government are to ballot among themselves for the offices they are to hold? In Rome, on the other hand, the Ballot was denounced by the greatest and ablest of the Latin orators. It was the glory of the greatest of Roman orators that although the Ballot was in full force he was elected by acclamation by the Roman people, and that the Ballot was dispensed with on that occasion. My noble Friend has said that whereas for 400 years previous to the Ballot law coming into force at Rome there had been but one single 1479 case of bribery, after it became law bribery cases multiplied by hundreds and thousands. My noble Friend might have gone a step further; because, if my memory does not deceive me, the law which enacted the use of the ballot in the election of magistrates was succeeded a few years afterwards by the law that the ballot should apply to the enactment and repeal of what we should call Parliamentary measures. In our case I do not say that we shall fall back on the system so graphically described by my noble Friend; but I do say that the one followed as the necessary consequence of the other. Allusion was frequently made this evening, as on former occasions, to colonial practice; and a correspondence with the Australian Governments which was laid, I believe, on the Table of both Houses, but certainly of the House of Commons, has been quoted. My answer to the argument derived from Australian practice is threefold. In the first place, the conditions of society and of government in the Australian Colonies are so wholly different from the conditions here that no safe or satisfactory analogy can be drawn from them. In the next place, as a matter of fact, the systems of ballot differ in the different Australian Colonies. And, lastly, I will go a step further, and say that this correspondence contains admissions on the part of the authorities of every one of those Australian Colonies which, if true, are fatal to the Ballot. There are five Australian Colonies, and I do not deny that my noble Friend the President of the Council may find arguments in favour of the Ballot in the despatches of all their Governors; but in those despatches and the statements annexed thereto from persons of great authority are admissions which are almost fatal to the Bill. Mr. Cowper, Prime Minister of New South Wales, the author of the Ballot Bill there, and who, if any man, is interested in showing its success, says:—"Personation is not put down." Either Mr. Cowper or some one else in the colony mentions the fact that the pencil has to be secured by red tape to prevent the voter taking it away. Lord Canterbury, Governor of Victoria, says—Desire of secrecy is entertained and acted on by a comparatively small portion of voters; and therefore immunity from bribery is attributable not to secret voting but some other cause.1480 That, if I remember rightly, substantiates the evidence which Mr. Verdon, no mean authority, gave some time ago before the Committee of the House of Commons. Sir James Fergusson, Governor of South Australia, writes—The system has not yet felt the strain of trial." "There is a great indifference in acquiring and in exercising the right of voting.Coming to Tasmania, Mr. Du Cane says—The interest felt by the electoral body in the politics of the colony has of late years been a rapidly decreasing one.…If party spirit ran high, and a wealthy candidate were determined to spend money corruptly, the system of absolute secrecy in force here would not prevent his doing so, but would only tend to throw difficulty in the way of his subsequent detection.Lastly, we have this remarkable statement from the acting Governor of Queensland, Mr. O'Connell—This system no doubt leads to personation, and more particularly where polling-places are at no great distance apart.Is it fair, then, to treat this return as favourable to the operation of the Ballot in the Australian Colonies? I may be told that the system works well in other Colonies. Is the House aware, however, that in Canada for two successive years a Ballot Bill has been brought forward? Last year it was rejected by the Canadian House of Commons; and within the last few days that, or a similar Bill, was contemptuously rejected by 140 to 43—the whole House numbering only 190 Members, so that almost all voted. And yet Her Majesty's Government tells us the Ballot has succeeded in our Colonies. Then take the case of the United States—which has indeed been pretty well disposed of already, but as to which I wish to mention one or two additional facts which deserve attention. Whatever may be the merits of the Ballot in the United States, two things are quite clear—it is quite clear that the Ballot in the United States has not stopped violence and intimidation, and also that it has not stopped that which is almost a greater evil, the suspicion and accusations of foul play. As my noble Friend remarked, riots and faction fights admittedly occur under and in spite of the Ballot; and these things have been thought so serious that they have been referred to Committees by different State Legislatures. Read the Report of a Committee of the Maryland House of Assembly—I think 1481 in 1857—and the Report of a similar Committee of the House of Assembly in Louisiana about the same date, and you will find violence and intimidation recognized as facts on which there is no dispute. As to foul play, a Committee of the House of Assembly of the State of New York reported in 1857 in these terms—The Ballot Bill fails to be a true reflection of the will of the people.….the inspector himself or by others putting in unauthorized ballots enough to outweigh those honestly deposited. So skilfully are these frauds perpetrated that the offenders are rarely detected.Next year another Committee sat on the same subject, and reported thus—Of late years fraud and simulation at the ballot-box have become enormous. No sane man will deny this.In 1868 a Committee was appointed by the House of Representatives, and their Report on New York election frauds is most instructive. The facts there stated are that in the Presidential election of 1868, thousands of aliens were enabled to vote—of course contrary to the law—while many hundreds of persons voted from two to about 40 times, under assumed names, and extensive frauds were committed with canvassing tickets, while names of non-existing persons were entered on the roll lists. One of the witnesses, John Clark, says—I voted at the last Presidential election. I voted five times at least in the several districts of the Eighth Ward. I was short of money at the time, and could not find any easier way of getting money.Cornelius Doherty says—I voted eight or nine times at the last Presidential election. I guess there were 20 or 22 in the gang; they all voted the same ticket; some of them voted 18 or 20 times.John Glennon says—I voted at the last Presidential election. Several of my friends came around saying that money could be made easy, and that no one would know anything about it. I voted eight or nine times.Lastly, out of an enormous list, Charles M'Carthy says—I voted at the last Presidential election in this city between seven and eight times in pretty nearly all the districts of the ward. I voted once in my own name, once in the name of Jeremiah Sullivan, once in the name of Charles 'O Conner; the other names I do not recollect.These are undeniable facts, and such things we must expect in this country under a similar system. To sum up the whole question of the Ballot in the United States—first of all, the Ballot 1482 differs in the different States. In Kentucky, at this moment, I believe there is no Ballot at all. In Virginia, till within a few years, there was no Ballot. Again, the Ballot in the United States is certainly not secret—a man votes according to ticket and according to colour. Moreover, it fails to secure immunity from the gross abuses which I have pointed out. While the operation of this measure is conjectural—and on these grounds I mainly object to it—there are some facts absolutely certain, and some results which are probable, which ought to make this House pause before they enter on so grave an experiment. In the first place, there can be no doubt that we are about to change in a very grave manner that which has been the system in England from time immemorial. We Englishmen, rightly or wrongly, have been taught to regard freedom and openness of speech and absolute publicity of action in all public matters not only as our inalienable right, but also as our imperative duty. This, for better, for worse, and, as far as I can judge, upon no arguments of any solid weight, you are now preparing to destroy. It is also certain that you come to an absurdity under this Bill if you push its principles to their fair logical conclusion. You say a man shall vote in secret and shall not disclose how he votes, and you proceed to inflict a penalty upon anybody who induces him to disclose this; yet you have not the courage to say you will punish the man himself if he discloses it. Why? Simply because you know that it is impracticable. Mr. Leatham is perfectly logical in his view, but it carries the whole thing to an absurdity. Again, the Bill is open to all the abuses and dangers of personation. There is no scrutiny in it: and without it your controlling power is at an end, and the election is in the hands of the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer may exercise the duties of his office fairly; but who will say suspicion will not be excited against him and that the gravest evils will not ensue in consequence? No one will deny that interest in public questions is on the decrease, and that it is difficult to get men to go to the poll. Will you find them more ready when they vote in secret and their friends are unable to see which way they vote? I beg the House will remember, in reference to this point, the extracts I 1483 have read in which two Australian Governors declare that interest in public affairs was on the decline, and the number of voters was diminishing. The consequence, I believe, will be that the whole control of elections will pass into the hands of "wirepullers," who will contract at so much a head for the voters, and there will be an almost indefinite extension of bribery in one form or another. We are extremely likely to find as the consequence of this that the quality of the candidates will rather deteriorate than improve. Lastly, one further result will follow from it, and that will be the weakening of confidence in public men and public institutions, which will be dangerous, and which is the first indication of a breakdown of the machinery of Government itself. It is under these circumstances that I have to consider whether I should support the Amendment or abstain from voting and trust to the Amendments which the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) will submit in Committee. If anyone can give me a guarantee that the Amendments of the noble Duke will be satisfactory and will be carried, it will be another thing—there is no one in whom I have greater confidence than in the noble Duke; but I feel also very strongly that the principles of the Bill are such that they can hardly admit of qualifications which will render them desirable to my mind. I have already stated to the House some of the probable results of the Bill; but I do not believe that it is in the power of any man fully to predict them. I doubt extremely whether it will alter the distribution of the power between the two parties in the country; and sometimes I am inclined to think that the Liberal party, who have done so much to bring it about, will not find themselves favoured by its operation. In deference to the opinion of the noble Duke I shall abstain from voting on the present occasion; but I feel that the Bill is a crude, ill-digested, and ill-considered measure; I believe it to be ill-drawn, full of defects and omissions, and that it will fail to secure us against great frauds. I believe it to be a Bill that is illogical, and which it is feared to follow out to its own conclusion. I believe that it is full of snares, pitfalls, and delusions; I believe it to be opposed to the old English principles which we have long recognized—that public duty should be done in the face 1484 of the sun, in the full blaze of public light, and with the consciousness that your fellow-citizens are concerned in your acts; and, lastly, I believe it to be capable of producing great evils, according as the accident of the future may determine.
THE EARL OF BELMORE
said, he wished to state the course he intended to take with regard to the second reading of the Bill. He had latterly had a practical opportunity of seeing how the Ballot worked in New South Wales, and he was bound to say that rioting at elections, which had existed before its introduction, had been put a stop to. It might not, perhaps, be very easy to say why it was; but so it was. No doubt, in the Report of Sir Charles Cowper, the late Prime Minister of New South Wales, it was admitted the Ballot had not put an end to personation there; but, on the other hand, in a private communication he (the Earl of Belmore) had received from him, Sir Charles Cowper stated that it did not exist to a greater degree that before. The opinions of other Governors—Sir James Fergusson and Mr. Du Cane—had been quoted by the noble Marquess in favour of the Ballot; but it was right to say that they limited their views to the Ballot in Australia. There was one point which had been only very slightly alluded to, and that was the subject of scrutiny. In New South Wales the Ballot was absolutely secret, and there was no means of obtaining a scrutiny; whereas in Victoria—although the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) was in error in supposing that the Ballot was optional—there was very little secrecy about voting, and the scrutiny existed. Lord Canterbury, in his Report, gave it as his opinion that the Ballot which imposed a scrutiny was far superior to that which imposed none. Lord Canterbury, who was no mean authority, having for several years been Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, and who had consequently had considerable experience of our electoral system, said—In the first place, I would observe that although the instances in which a 'scrutiny' is demanded in this Colony are comparatively of rare occurrence, I cannot myself doubt that the system of ballot in operation here, which imposes no obstacle to such a 'scrutiny,' is far superior to any system under which a 'scrutiny,' or at least a complete 'scrutiny' is impossible. For 1485 while I believe with the Chief Secretary that the security for secrecy which the law here intends to afford to the voter has not been practically diminished by the power of identification, which, under exceptional circumstances, and for a special purpose, it also provides, I believe (the experience on which I have formed this opinion has not, of course, been acquired in this Colony), that the inability to institute an efficient scrutiny after an election is closed is, in itself, a direct and may become a powerful incentive to the use of illegal means for procuring a colourable majority at the poll.Lord Canterbury having gone on to point out that there was little desire for secrecy in practice; that immunity from bribery was not attributable to ballot, but to the general independent position of voters; and that Government had its full influence, and that the Ballot favoured no particular party, stated, as the general result—But I do believe that the existing system (of which the ballot is a part) under which votes are given and received here, has exercised a continuous and very valuable influence in maintaining order and tranquillity during contested elections.But although he believed in the utility of the ballot in Australia, he (Lord Canterbury) did not wish his opinion pushed so far as to see it introduced into this country. It had been said that there was no analogy between the cases of Australia and of the United States. For his own part—although he (the Earl of Belmore) admitted that there was not a complete analogy—he could not admit that there was none at all. He was not enthusiastic in favour of the Ballot, and he did not believe the Bill would work miracles; yet, at the same time, he was not very much afraid of it. That being so, it might be asked why he was not content to leave well alone? He could not, however, avoid asking himself what the result of their Lordships' rejection of this Bill would be, and he felt perfectly certain that if they rejected it it would come up to them again. They might, perhaps, again reject it, but in the end it would be passed, and that being so, he did not think that such a barren victory as a rejection of the measure would tend to increase the prestigé of their Lordships' House. If there were any doubt about the feeling of the country it might be different; but he could not admit that there was any doubt. He did not, of course, fail to perceive the force 1486 of the arguments employed by those who objected to the principle of secret voting that it had not yet been pronounced on by the electors of the country; but still he entertained little doubt as to what the decision of the constituencies on that point would be, and he could not at the same time disguise from himself the fact that if this Bill were thrown out a very dangerous agitation would be commenced, and that the demand for the Ballot would be made a party cry. For the reasons he had stated he intended giving his vote for the second reading of the Bill.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I am far from resting the case of the Government with regard to the Ballot upon the papers referred to by my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Carnarvon); but if my noble Friend opposite had taken the trouble to read the despatch which I addressed to the Governors of these colonies whose reports he quoted, he would have seen that my object was not to make out a case for the Ballot, but to obtain such information as to its working in those colonies where it existed as was likely to be of service in dealing with the subject. When, however, I say that we do not rest our case upon those papers, I must also guard myself from admitting that my noble Friend opposite gave a fair account of their contents. These reports contain very full and fair and candid statements as to the respective systems. Nothing in the world is easier than to pick out from papers of this kind sentences here and there favourable to particular views; and as my noble Friend has pointed out just those particular passages that suit his purpose, I will trouble the House for a moment or two to listen to one or two passages that suit mine. It is a singular thing that, with one exception, my noble Friend quoted exclusively from the despatches of Governors. Now, I have a great respect for the distinguished men who leave this country to govern our colonies, but I nevertheless attach even more weight, in a matter of this kind, to the opinions of responsible Ministers practically acquainted with the working of the laws. Mr. Cowper's opinion with respect to personation is, I frankly admit, adverse to the Bill of the Government; but Mr. Cowper's opinion is not entirely opposed to the Ballot, for he says— 1487I should be sorry to see any alteration in the law which would destroy the secrecy of the vote given by Ballot, the operation of which has been in various ways very beneficial.Again, Mr. M'Culloch, Chief Secretary to the Colony of Victoria, says—"There is no doubt as to the satisfactory working of this system of voting in Victoria." The next passage with which I shall have to trouble your Lordships is from Mr. Du Cane, who, speaking of Tasmania, says—So far, then, as the maintenance of good order at elections is concerned, I must express my decided opinion that the Tasmanian system of taking votes at elections is a successful one. I have also, as I have observed above, no reason to suspect the existence at the present time of any system of bribery, undue influence, or personation of voters. I trust, however, to point out to your Lordship that the Tasmanian system of absolute secrecy, while securing to the voter the free exercise of his right of voting, and exercising an important influence in the maintenance of good order, by no means, in my opinion, renders the practice of bribery an impossible one when a candidate or his agents are disposed to resort to it.The last extract with which I need trouble your Lordships is from the memorandum of Mr. Wilson, in which he says—"The Ballot has worked well in Tasmania." Therefore, you have evidence, and, as I think, satisfactory evidence, that the Ballot has worked well in New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria. I do not wish to push this argument too far, and I am perfectly willing to admit that the case of Australia differs very much from that of this country. But, on the other hand, I protest altogether against the doctrine that we ought to have brought the experience of Canada to bear upon this question, because the experience of Canada is the experience of open voting. Canada is an open-voting country, and affords us no experience on the subject of the Ballot. Then my noble Friend, passing from modern communities to the history of ancient Greece, hoped we were not about to apply their system of voting to the election of Members and of Ministries—upon which I will only say that, if the Ministers are chosen by lot as they were in Greece, it may have this agreeable effect—that my noble Friend and I may, perchance, find ourselves sitting in the same Cabinet. A great deal has been said about the declarations of particular Members of the Government, and especially of the Prime Minister. I have not at hand the particular passages 1488 of the speeches of Mr. Gladstone; but I think it probable that his opinions may have been somewhat misunderstood. I infer from what has been stated that what my right hon. Friend said or meant was something to this effect—"You have established household suffrage in the towns, and it is not improbable that this may be extended to the counties; when that consummation is reached you will practically have universal suffrage throughout the country, and in the case of the large constituencies which will thus be created vote by Ballot will become almost a necessity." If that was what he said, I entirely concur in the opinion which he expressed, and it does not seem to me too large or extreme a view to take of the matter. It has been much pressed upon us that in this Bill no provision is made for the punishment of a man who discloses his vote if he chooses to do so. But therein lies a fallacy. A man after he has voted voluntarily communicating what he has done is a totally different thing from his showing his voting-paper while still in the booth, and thereby giving distinct and absolute proof of how he voted; but although to this act no special punishment is annexed, it would be a misdemeanour at law; and there is a very severe punishment denounced against all agents and officers who in any way procure the display of a voting-paper, or who seek to profit by any information thus obtained. In the United States the Ballot to a great extent is not secret, and a very vivid description was given by a noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) of the scenes of tumult which sometimes take place. I could not help thinking, however, that he must have been speaking of "caucus meetings" and "political platforms" rather than the ordinary elections, which in America are usually conducted without that violence which attends them in England. I confess that I thought more would have been said in the course of the debate about the probable effect of the Bill in Ireland. The whole working of our Parliamentary system as applied to Ireland is such that no man who thinks soberly on the subject, whatever side of the House he may sit upon, can help feeling anxious as to the results which any change may produce in that country; and if I thought that a change could possibly be for the 1489 worse, I confess I should entertain very considerable apprehensions. But after the scenes which, as Lord Lieutenant, I witnessed—not with my own eyes, but of which I was fully cognizant—after the tumults which occurred, the transmission of troops from one part of the country to the other, the charges and counter charges brought by landlords and priests of intimidation and violence—after events such as the late election in Galway, I confess it would astonish me if any person could be found to assert that the Ballot was likely to bring about a worse condition of things. I think, on the contrary, it will tend to introduce a better state of things. One thing it must certainly do—it must go far to prevent the gross and monstrous system of open intimidation by mobs, which now so generally prevails. For while bribery is infamous, and personation is base, of all the vices of our Parliamentary system the very worst is the gross and open and violent intimidation by a mob, for it is opposed to the very essence of freedom of election. It does not even put on the pretence of virtue by acting in secret, as bribers and personators are bound to do, but acts in open and flagrant violation of the law. If, therefore, the Ballot tends in any degree to prevent this system of intimidation in Ireland, to that extent it affords a complete justification for the passing of this Bill. It is objected that it will facilitate the exercise of influence by priests over their flocks. I do not pretend to say it will prevent it, but I exceedingly doubt whether it will increase it. It may possibly enable the priest to get information as to somebody who is about to vote against his own views, in obedience to the dictates of his landlord;—but even if that were so, I do not think it a very sad result: and, on the whole, I conclude that this Bill is likely to work well in Ireland. As regards its effect in this country, I said last year, and I say again, that I have never been one of those who thought that the Ballot would be either so immensely beneficial or terribly ruinous as its extreme advocates or opponents imagine. I believe that it is a measure which, on the whole, it is desirable to pass, now that you have the very large constituencies which have been referred to. I had almost forgotten one argument of my noble Friend on the cross benches (Earl Grey), the assailant of this 1490 Bill, who after his labours in the early part of the evening is now, I perceive, in a sound slumber. He always differs from anybody else, and he differs most of all from himself in successive years. My noble Friend—who I perceive is now listening to me—has a magnificent scheme in his head. My noble Friend has become much more Conservative in his views than the noble Lords who sit on the benches opposite; but, nevertheless, he has got in view some large measures of reform. He is one of those who believe that this generation is worse than its predecessor; and he describes all the melancholy results that follow from the degeneracy of Parliament, and foreshadows others yet to come. But he has also got a panacea—and this, singularly enough, consists in the adoption of much larger and much more sweeping changes. He probably thinks it a good thing to keep this Ballot Bill still in agitation, because if it is not passed now there will be a certain excitement in the country, a certain demand for reform, a certain amount of indignation excited against this House, and the two parties being stirred up, there will be a great opportunity of re-arranging the whole country, of putting an end to household suffrage, of introducing manhood suffrage—and woman suffrage, too, I suppose—of establishing electoral districts, and ultimately, I suppose, he would be willing to introduce the Ballot. The noble Earl's view is that if we make any change now, we shall deprive ourselves of the opportunity of making great and sweeping changes immediately afterwards. Now, I think it probable that we shall have to make changes from time to time; but while I am as little averse as any man to all necessary alterations, on the other hand I think there is such a thing as altering the Constitution too frequently, and that it may be desirable—to use a homely phrase—instead of having our carriage perpetually at the coacbbuilders, to drive about in it and use it for a certain time. I hope that in the division which the noble Earl invites the number of his following will not be large. The noble Duke opposite stated very frankly and candidly his objections to the Bill; but be added that after the subject had been discussed for 40 years, and the Bill had been twice sent up from the House of Commons by large majorities, he 1491 thought it would be unadvisable that their Lordships should refuse to read it a second time; and in that view I cordially join. My Lords, I am convinced that the time has arrived when it would be prudent for the House to pass the second reading. And as far as my opinion goes, I do not believe that the passing of this Bill will bring about a political revolution—I believe that its effects will be, on the whole, salutary, but infinitely less than many persons suppose.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should be inexcusable if I detained your Lordships with any long argument upon a Bill the subject matter of which has been discussed ad nauseam both in this House and in the country. The argument upon which much of the discussion this evening has turned is founded on the experience of the working of the Ballot in our Australian Colonies and in Canada; but I may remark that whichever way you may please to decide, this argument is practically worthless for the object which the supporters of the measure have in view. It may be that the Ballot has succeeded in Australia—it may be that it has been cast out with contempt in Canada—and still the facts may not bear much on the manifold difficulties of the problem we have to solve in this country. In the colonies there are no great differences of fortune—there is no poverty—no great accumulated wealth on the one hand to induce the demagogue to raise up the lower classes of society against the upper, while there is nothing on the other hand to stimulate the poor man to seek in change some lot better than his own. All these things which are not true of the new country are true of the old; and whatever of the experience of the new country you may apply to the legislation of the old, you cannot apply it to the machinery of Government. In an old country problems of a different character have to be solved, and to old countries alone ought we to look for a solution of them. Why is it that in the course of this discussion we have heard so little of the experience of foreign countries? The Ballot has been a great favourite of foreign countries. I believe that paragon of well-governed States the Kingdom of Greece has been remarkable for its assiduous cultivation of the Ballot. The same has been the case in Italy, France, and, I believe, Spain; and I am told 1492 that after every election in those favoured countries there always arises a discussion as to how much and by whom the electoral urns have been tampered with. I can give some testimony on the subject of personation under the Ballot. There is a certain Member of one of the Houses of Parliament—I will not say which—who has a large acquaintance abroad, and who informed me confidentially—and this is why I tell the fact to your Lordships—that it was his habit whenever he was present at an election abroad always to go in and vote in order to try whether he could do so, and that in no single instance had he failed in attaining his object. Now, it seems to me that if we are to judge by experience, we should turn our attention more to this foreign experience than to any other—because we, an old country, differ from the other old countries in this remarkable circumstance—that we alone have been able to preserve liberty and society without in any degree resorting to the instrumentality of despotism. We alone have done that, and we alone have cultivated open voting. We have been able to maintain our very peculiar institutions—in which authorities are perpetually clashing, and by which a merely theoretical politician would say that everything is perpetually in danger of going wrong—simply in consequence of this fact, that publicity has been the pervading spirit of our institutions. From top to bottom, in every kind of public duty, whatever its origin—whether it sprang from an Act of Parliament or from the tradition of ages—this thing is true—that our duties have been performed in the light of day, and that each man has been checked and prevented from extending his power so as to endanger the safety or hinder the working of the State by the constant criticism of his fellow men, who watch his every act. A noble Earl who spoke earlier in the debate with an ability which gives great promise of his future as an orator (the Earl of Rosebery) dealt with this question, and told us there were many other public duties which were not performed in public. He named only two, mentioning in the first place the deliberations of the Members of the Cabinet, who, he said, ought to deliberate in Hyde Park if every public duty were to be performed in public. Now, we do not object to the Members of the Cabinet talking over and preparing their measures in private, 1493 nor do we object to voters consulting privately, nor to candidates talking over measures beforehand; but as the Cabinet has to perform all its acts in public so all the electors in the country ought to perform their duties in public. Another illustration given by the noble Earl was, I think, that every father was bound to educate his child, and that on our principles the child ought to be whipped in the streets publicly.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
What he said was, that publicity did not require that a father should have his child say his catechism in the streets.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If it should ever be proposed in Parliament that a father should be required to take his child into a small box to teach him his catechism, and that he should be punished with six months' imprisonment if he discloses what catechism he has taught the child, I shall agree with the noble Earl. If the noble Earl had said this I should have thought there was some relevancy in his illustration. But, my Lords, I feel that it is trespassing on your indulgence to argue this question, for the truth is we are all agreed about it. The real question we have to discuss this evening is—"Why should not the House of Lords vote according to its opinion?" Last year the House did vote according to its opinion; why should it not do so again? I am told that the House of Commons has twice by large majorities decided on the measure, and that therefore it is our duty to pass it. That proposition has met with a just and indignant repudiation from the noble Earl who moved the Amendment (Earl Grey). If it be true that the House of Lords is a mere copying machine for the decrees of the House of Commons, the sooner its duties are remitted to that useful instrument the better. It is obvious that the object of the Constitution in providing two Houses was that there might be two opinions—it being the belief of those who had a share in founding the Constitution that two opinions were more valuable than one:—but if the second opinion is always to be the same as the first, it is clear that the second opinion will not be of much use. My Lords, I do not think that the argument deduced from the fact that the House of Commons has expressed its opinion has much relevancy to this subject:—for I draw the widest possible distinction between the 1494 opinions of the House of Commons and the opinions of the Nation. Several of the speakers this evening have admitted what is the fact—namely, that neither this House nor any authority in this State or any other State can resist the deliberate and well-settled opinion of the Nation over which it rules. But that the House of Commons is the expression of the opinion of the Nation is a constitutional fiction which it is convenient for practical purposes to respect; but which is only literally true on certain occasions and on certain subjects. It is true literally when a question on which the House of Commons has been elected is under discussion—then it is undoubtedly true that the House of Commons represents the opinion of the Nation:—but when four years have gone by, and the memory of all the questions on which the House of Commons was elected has passed away, and when an obvious change has taken place in many opinions of the Government which the House of Commons was elected to support, the House of Commons represents only theoretically and not literally the opinions of the Nation. My Lords, I attach much importance to the fact which has been already alluded to in this debate—that this matter has never been before the constituencies at all. The Members of the Government are not the same as they were when they went to the country—they were then mainly non-Ballot politicians. Mr. Gladstone, whose name really was the name to which the electors looked, had up to that time voted against the Ballot, and had given no hint that his opinions were undergoing a change. Again, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, who was especially prominent at the last election, because the question of Ireland was the one problem with which the new Ministry was to deal, and he was the trusted instrument of the party which gained the majority—Mr. Chichester Fortescue not only by voluntarily expressing a solemn opinion, but by a solemn recantation, avowed his horror of the Ballot. Therefore, I maintain, the country has never had a fair opportunity of considering whether it likes the Ballot or not. Remember, my Lords, what a peculiar Constitution ours is. In other countries there is a Constitution which is above the hands of the Legislative Assembly, and which can only be altered by the Nation itself. If 1495 we were living in America or Switzerland, before we touched anything which deeply concerned the election of the representative body we should have formally to consult the opinion of the people. We have no such institutions here—and I am glad we have not—but the absence of them imposes upon us informally the duty of carefully abstaining from altering the constitution of the representative body until those who elect its Members have had a chance of expressing an opinion on the change. It is evident that the greatest danger might on any other principle arise. The House of Commons might entirely change the suffrage on which it was elected, and transfer the power to a different class, or take the power to itself, as it did in the case of the Long Parliament, while the constituencies would have no chance of interfering; and it is precisely because there is no constitutional necessity as in other countries of appealing to the people, that the check of this House is so important in controlling the legislation of the House of Commons on subjects of this kind. So far from admitting that because it concerns elections to the House of Commons we ought to obey the behests of that House, I should say, on the contrary, it is rather our duty to regard ourselves in this matter as the agents of the Nation, and to see that the House of Commons, in thus tampering with the laws under which it was itself elected, has not transgressed the mandate it received. Only one word more—for I am haunted by a fear lest the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack should become exhausted—I wish to say one word with respect to the slight difference of detail which exists between some of us and my noble Friend near me (the Duke of Richmond). My noble Friend proposes not to vote on this issue, because he thinks the object we have in view—the prevention of compulsory secret voting—can satisfactorily be attained when the Bill is in Committee. I confess my main difficulty in adopting that proposal arises on the consideration whether my noble Friend's Amendments will be really found incorporated in the Bill when it becomes a statute. I am not an old Member of this House, but I have already survived some hallucinations, and one is a belief in your Lordships' Amendments in Committee. They are 1496 proposed with the greatest sincerity, carried by enthusiastic majorities, and sent down to the other House, where they are received with bluff refusal. When the Bill is sent back to us, those who moved the Amendments sincerely are still desirous of importing them into it, but the moment has passed by, the majority has gone to the four winds, only a few of your Lordships are in town, and under the exhausting pressure of an August sun one-half the Amendments are given up and the other half are clipped down so that the authors of them can scarcely recognize their own children. It is not anybody's fault, but this is what is apt to happen. I trust in saying that I may not be thought to be speaking against the Amendments my noble Friend is to move in Committee. I shall support them earnestly and stand by my noble Friend to the last; but I cannot feel that in the resolution to propose the Amendments we have any guarantee they will pass. When I have an important end to reach I would rather reach it by a vote on the second reading, from which there is no appeal, than by voting for Amendments which may not be accepted. My noble Friend and other speakers have been a little disturbed by the fear of that agitation which is always coming and never comes, and by a desire—very natural and praiseworthy—to conciliate the House of Commons. But suppose we pass these Amendments—to which I give all praise—making the Ballot optional, and suppose the House of Commons refuses them, and the Bill in consequence falls to the ground, how are these two objects of avoiding agitation and gratifying the House of Commons to be attained? I am afraid we shall be as far from them as ever. Therefore, we are in this dilemma, either we shall fail to pass these Amendments—in which case my noble Friend will be as disappointed as I shall be; or we shall succeed in passing them, and then we shall incur these very grave dangers of irritating the House of Commons and provoking this terrible autumn agitation. It is with great doubt and difficulty that I have resolved to vote against this Bill. There is no one upon whose judgment I rely with more absolute confidence than I do on that of my noble Friend who tells me he shall abstain from voting against this Bill; but I feel that his position as 1497 leader and ours as the ordinary rank and file of the party are somewhat different. I think his mind is a little biassed by the responsibility resting upon him; but to us may be granted the luxury, not open to him, of expressing our opinions by a straightforward vote. Do not imagine that this is a wholly unpractical question. As regards England it will not produce any immediate effect on the balance of parties. It is very likely the rivalries among various classes may so operate that the balance of parties may not be changed, or even that there may be a slight inclination towards Conservatism. But if there is one thing to be feared, it is the dangerous vice of this day, political abstention. Ballot has had that effect on the Continent. There are numbers of people who only go to the poll to please some friend, and when you take that motive entirely away, I am afraid you will have a much smaller attendance at the poll, and consequently a much weakened moral authority in Parliament. Still, it is not these apprehensions which press immediately on my mind. I confess it is Ireland that alarms me. It is said, one object of the Bill is to prevent the terrible scenes which occur at nominations and polls at which mob violence is used. But if I am not mistaken the Government have always persistently refused to apply to Ireland that system of numerous polling-places which exists in England, and which would have prevented in Ireland those scenes my noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley) deplores, and would have paralyzed that mob power by which the supporters of my noble Friend are returned to Parliament. It is something to reduce the number of bloody heads at an Irish election; but if you pass this Bill, you will withdraw from the Irish elector the moral influence of the educated classes above him, and you will in the next Parliament have to meet a demand for separation from a majority of the Irish representatives. It is a demand which you cannot grant, and which you can resist only by altering your whole system of government and breaking the traditions of a free and peaceful Union which have lasted so long. It is a frightful prospect that the Bill opens before us, and some of us may appear too eager to resist it. If you are induced to condemn us because we are not guided at this crisis by the 1498 councils of my noble Friend, at least do us the justice to remember it is a fearful constitutional danger which is opened out by this ill-considered Bill—a danger to avert which it is worth while risking something of private attachment and confidence, and risking something of constitutional agitation. Therefore it is, my Lords, that I shall give my hearty support to the Amendment.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long in speaking on a subject which has been so fully discussed here and elsewhere; but I would say that on this occasion the House and the Government may be congratulated on the fulness of the discussion which has taken place to-night—because it is not right or seemly that a Bill sent up by the other House, affecting mainly the position of its own Members, and the interests of those by whom those Members are returned, should be a second time disposed of without patient consideration. For this reason I do not think your Lordships will accept the advice of the noble Marquess who spoke last—to vote against the second reading of the Bill, because the effect of that course will be to prevent the further consideration of the Bill in Committee. I was disappointed at not hearing from the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill (Earl Grey) a well-considered argument against it; but not one word of such argument did we hear from him—it dealt principally with what might possibly happen should this Bill pass into law. He found fault with Ministers for postponing other public measures to this; but I challenge him to point to any three Sessions within his own recollection in which so many important Bills have been passed as have been passed in the three Sessions of the present Parliament. If we are to wait for the Bill until the noble Earl is pleased with the Parliament and with Her Majesty's Government, I am afraid we shall have to wait a long time. The noble Duke who followed him (the Duke of Richmond) was willing to allow the Bill to go into Committee; but he disparaged the Bill on the ground that it was now supported by some among Her Majesty's Government who recently were among its opponents. For myself, so far as I am personally concerned, I can say that 24 years ago I spoke and voted in favour of the Ballot; and even if 1499 others have changed their views, that only shows that this measure has made that progress in public opinion which has been common to all important measures—such as the repeal of the Corn Laws, the repeal of the Test Acts, Catholic Emancipation, and Household Suffrage, which last I voted for 24 years ago, and which was finally carried when Mr. Disraeli was Prime Minister. This Bill, then, is simply another illustration of how public measures make their way upon their merits; and the fact of present supporters having formerly been opponents only shows how well considered the subject has been. A measure affecting the way in which Members of the other House are chosen should be something of a very frightful nature to justify your Lordships in rejecting it. The alleged apathy on the subject may arise either from want of interest or from certainty that the object will be attained; and it is the latter description of apathy that prevails. During the last month or two, in every single instance in which candidates have gone before constituencies, every candidate, whether Conservative or Liberal, has been obliged to declare himself in favour of the Ballot. My Lords, there are two remarkable instances of this. There was the constituency of North-West Yorkshire, numbering some 14,000 electors; the Conservative candidate could only be returned by declaring himself in favour of the Ballot. Mr. Powell, I believe, was a convert on the occasion. The other case was in Oldham, where the result was not less remarkable. My noble Friend (Lord Lyveden), who spoke with some degree of paternal interest on this subject, as if he had inherited a dislike to the Ballot, in alluding to the effect of the step taken last year by your Lordships in rejecting the Bill, mentioned what had occurred in the case of the noble Earl who then moved the rejection of the Bill (the Earl of Shaftesbury). He went to Glasgow on the invitation of the working men, and instead of being torn to pieces, the only result was that they received him with hearty and triumphant acclamation. But surely that fact cannot be used as an argument against the Ballot? It would be perfectly absurd. I contend, therefore, my Lords, that the facts I have mentioned really show there is no apathy 1500 on this subject. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) says the House of Commons does not on this subject represent the people of England. Why, we know they are represented by a greatly enlarged constituency under the Bill of the late Government. The Members who were returned at the first General Election under that Bill have all voted pretty well according to the wishes of those who returned them on this subject. The noble Marquess says they were elected four years ago, and they do not now represent the constituencies. The argument of the noble Marquess, therefore, resolves itself into this—there should be annual Parliaments, in order that we may see whether the Members elected really represent their constituencies or not. You are entitled, my Lords, to accept the verdict of the country, as expressed by the House of Commons, until it is otherwise expressed. You cannot rely on any other doctrine than that. I must now, my Lords, state briefly what I conceive to be the essence of this question. You have invested a large number of persons beyond those who formerly possessed it with the suffrage. These people believe that Parliament were in earnest when they changed the suffrage—the wish to exercise it; they do not wish to do so under the dictation of their landlords or employers, or the corporation under which they may have appointments—they wish to represent their own sentiments—they say let us do it quietly in our own way. But it is said, forsooth, this mode of secret voting is un-English—that it is against all our institutions, and against the Constitution itself—that it is a large and sweeping change of our constitutional system, and there ought to be a fresh verdict on the part of the country on the subject. America was referred to; but I believe when the Ballot was established in America it was adopted without any fresh appeal to the country. The Ballot has been adopted by our Australian Colonies, who love and carry out everything English—surely that does not show it to be un-English. They reverence every recollection of the old country, and how they should adopt an essentially un-English custom is a mystery which resolves to be explained. It is a perfectly English habit not to like to be interfered with—it is a perfectly English habit not to like to be patronized; 1501 and the English people do not wish to be kept in leading strings, or be told—"We know much better than you do what is best to be done, and how you ought to exercise your rights." I say that is not the way to secure the esteem and affection of the people. And, on the other hand, there is no fear of any of those tremendous consequences which the noble Marquess deprecated if you leave those whom you have intrusted with the franchise to exercise it in their own way. I do implore your Lordships as you regard their affections, as you would win their hearts, do not now spoil all you have done in enlarging their franchises by saying you cannot trust them to exercise them as they wish. We have heard a great deal to-night about everything being done in this country with publicity. My Lords, I read the other day a very admirable article, exceedingly well reasoned, in the leading public journal of this country, which spoke of the mischievous effect of secrecy, and the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) said something of the same kind; but the writer of the article did not appear to recollect that he himself was an instance of this very secrecy which he deprecated, because he was writing anonymously. I say, therefore, that the argument about the Ballot being un-English is an idle contention, and you must trust to the people to whom you have given the franchise how they should exercise it, for they are, after all, the best judges. I apprehend that your Lordships will not say that this measure is to be ignominiously rejected without further discussion.
§ LORD CAIRNS
My Lords, the only argument that I have heard from the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down which requires notice is that because a person writes anonymously in a newspaper, therefore we should have the Ballot; and I must say that if writing anonymously in a newspaper had been a public duty, the reasoning would then have been somewhat closer. I rise, however, for the purpose of stating to your Lordships the reasons why I cannot give any active support to this measure. In the first place, I find this most alarming statement on the part of the Prime Minister, that he had become a convert to the Ballot for this reason. He said that formerly he was opposed to it, because he thought that the giving a vote 1502 was a public duty which ought to be publicly performed on account of the limited number of voters who formerly possessed the franchise; but now, he stated, the whole thing is changed, as there has been established such an extended suffrage that it is tantamount to universal suffrage; or, at any rate, the adoption of universal suffrage is now only a matter of time and convenience. If that is to be the result of the present measure, the consequences are most alarming. Because, what must be the reasoning of those who do not possess the suffrage? They would say that formerly they had the right to see those who possessed the suffrage exercise their functions before the public; but now that protection was taken from them by this Bill, on the ground that it was only a matter of time and convenience when they would have the suffrage themselves. They would, therefore, say that Parliament when it deprived them of what was a protection must at the same time give them an unlimited suffrage, which is declared to be only a matter of time and convenience. Again, it appears to me that this Bill must inevitably have the effect of disfranchising one-half the constituency of the country. If you enact that all votes must be given secretly, you will find that a very large proportion of the electors will become utterly indifferent to the exercise of the suffrage, and that it will be utterly impossible to bring them to the poll and induce them to record their votes. Again, it has happened to all your Lordships to have to fill up papers with which you receive full directions. Your Lordships are persons educated and qualified for this work; but remember the kind of persons with whom you are now dealing. I speak now only of those who can read and write; and I ask you, do you believe it possible that as to a very large number of these persons they will ever be able to find their way through the complicated and embarrassing directions in this Bill in reference to the mode of voting? If any of your Lordships were to sit down at a table, you would find that it would take you considerably more than an hour to make yourselves masters of them. Do you believe that an ignorant or moderately-educated man, in the excitement and agitation of an election, when put into one of these secret booths, armed with a pencil or pen, and one of 1503 these unintelligible forms—do you believe that the chances would he equal in favour or against his filling it up correctly? Then, only think next of those who cannot read or write—we are told that they amount to a very large proportion, in some places to one-half of the constituency; and how are they to vote? They must before the election go to a magistrate and make a solemn declaration that they cannot read or write, and afterwards present themselves at the polling-booth armed with the declaration in order that they may record their votes. I venture to say that the result of that would be such that if this Bill were to pass it would disfranchise one-half of the constituency. It has been said that a portion of the constituency requires special protection against intimidation and bribery. I ask what portion of the constituency is it that requires protection—the higher or the lower grade—the better or the less educated portion? No doubt it must be said that it was the lower and less educated part. But what would be the protection for them? Secret voting is to be only the privilege of the educated; the uneducated are to have no protection; they are to be compelled to vote openly. Every man who is an enemy to an extension of the suffrage should vote for this Bill; but for the reasons I have stated I can take no part by way of voting in favour of the Bill.
, who was almost inaudible, was understood to say that if he had not been allowed to express his opinions he should have gone behind the Throne; but as it was, he could only give his reasons, justifying the course he should take. He had heard the whole debate on both sides, and considered that he had a right to be heard. The Bill of last year, brought in on the 10th of August, contained 57 clauses. He voted against that Bill on principle; but it contained a provision against the use of public-houses as committee-rooms, under a penalty of £20, which was entirely omitted in this Bill of 33 clauses. Many Petitions were presented last year for that Bill; there being 9,339 Petitioners in its favour, and only 2 Petitions against it, with 49 Petitioners; but this year there were 3 Petitions against this Bill with 2,752 Petitioners; only 28 in its favour with 559 Petitioners, and 17 Petitions for alteration with 2,213 Petitioners. One Petition from Liverpool 1504 contained excellent reasons for throwing out this Bill, showing that bribery, intimidation, and undue influence were the evils sought to be corrected by ballot, but that under the present state of the representation these evils were no longer formidable. He also alluded to a Petition from Manchester—which desired that public nominations might be continued—and he declared that he supported the Motion of the noble Earl (Earl Grey) against the second reading with much satisfaction.
§ On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 86; Not-Contents 56: Majority 30.
§ Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.1505
|Hatherley, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk.)|
|Devonshire, D.||Barrogill, L. (E. Caithness.)|
|Saint Albans, D. [Teller.]||Bateman, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Bolton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.]|
|Airlie, E.||Carew, L.|
|Belmore, E.||Chelmsford, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Chesham, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Clermont, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Clifton, L. (E. Darnley.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Cloncurry, L.|
|Cowper, E.||Congleton, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Dacre, L.|
|Devon, E.||De Tabley, L.|
|Ducie, E.||Dinevor, L.|
|Durham, E.||Dunning, L. (L. Rollo.)|
|Ellesmere, E.||Eliot, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Fitzhardinge, L.|
|Granville, E.||Foley, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Greville, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Gwydir, L.|
|Morley, E.||Hastings, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Hawke, L.|
|Rosse, E.||Heytesbury, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Bangor, V.||Kildare, L. (M. Kildare.)|
|Leinster, V. (D. Leinster.)||Leigh, L.|
|Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Ossington, V.||Meredyth, L. (L. Athlumney.)|
|Sydney, V.||Methuen, L.|
|Torrington, V.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Ripon, Bp.||Mostyn, L.|
|Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Acton, L.||Robartes, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Romilly, L.|
|Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)||Stratheden, L.|
|Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)||Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Sandhurst, L.||Wharncliffe, L.|
|Seaton, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Hood, V.|
|Norfolk, D.||Sidmouth, V.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)|
|Bath, M.||Colchester, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Delamere, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Denman, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Digby, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Dunsany, L.|
|Abergavenny, E.||Lilford, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Lyttelton, L.|
|Brooke and Warwick, E.||Northwick, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Harewood, E.||Ormathwaite, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Macelesfield, E.||Redesdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Malmesbury, E.||Sheffield, L. (E. Sheffield.)|
|Selkirk, E.||Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)|
|Sommers, E.||Sondes, L.|
|Tankerville, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Talbot de Malahide, L.|
|De Vesci, V.||Tredegar, L.|
|Hardinge, V.||Wynford, L.|