HL Deb 17 June 1872 vol 211 cc1845-7

proposed an Amendment in sub-section 26, which provides that "the declaration of inability to read" shall be made "before a justice of the peace," and on the production of that declaration have their voting papers filled up by the presiding officer, a provision giving the presiding officer that power on the declaration being made in the first instance before himself. He did not believe it possible that the voters who desired to vote under this provision would be able to find the necessary time to visit the magistrate, even if they knew where to find him. In all probability, too, the demands made upon the magistrate would be beyond his ability to perform, and as working men could only devote certain portions of the day to such work, the magistrate might be called upon just as he was handing a lady down to dinner to attend to these declarations. He proposed the Amendment, because he believed that the proposal contained in the Bill would practically disfranchise a large number of working voters.

Amendment moved, page 24, lines 25 and 26, to leave out ("produces such declaration as hereinafter mentioned,") and insert ("declares.")—(The Duke of Richmond).


opposed the Amendment. He did not believe that any very large number of voters would find it necessary to avail themselves of the provision, nor could he see that it inflicted any hardship upon those who would vote under it.


said, the object of the Amendment was to enable as many voters as possible to exercise the franchise. On the other hand, according to the noble Marquess, the Government were so enamoured of the principle of secret voting that in order to carry it they would willing run the risk of disfranchising any number of voters, who, if they voted at all, could only vote openly. The declaration was not a declaration of inability to spell, but of inability to read, and he desired to know why the working voter who could not read should be placed in a worse position than a Jew, for whom the presiding officer might fill up a paper on a declaration being made before him that the voter was a Jew and had conscientious objections against writing on a Saturday. The poor elector, moreover, had to make this declaration before a magistrate between the day of nomination and the day of polling. How was that to be done? He was told that at the last election at Manchester 77,857 persons recorded their votes, and he did not believe he was exceeding the fair proportion if he estimated the voters out of that number who could not read at 10,000. He should be glad to know how it could be expected that these 10,000 voters should be able between the day of nomination and the day of polling to find time to go before magistrates for this purpose, or find magistrates sufficiently numerous and disengaged to attend to these declarations. The Bill, too, made no provision for the distributing of these declarations, and did not state where they were to be obtained. In fact, everything was to be done by magic. An honest man could have no object in making a false declaration; but the Government, rather than run the risk of destroying the symmetry of the scheme of secret voting, preferred to make the disfranchisement of a large number of voters certain.


believed that if even 10,000 voters out of the number referred to by the noble and learned Lord opposite were unable to read, it would be too much to assume that they must necessarily avail themselves of this clause; for, as the list of candidates would be numbered, it would be no difficult matter for a voter who could not read to place his cross opposite to the number of the candidate for whom he desired to vote. No doubt, the question was one of considerable difficulty. He thought the best course would be to maintain the clause in its present form, because, if voters were put to some little trouble in order to make their declarations, the probability of the responsibility being shirked and the declarations being lightly or fradulently used would be diminished.


referred to the fact that in a previous clause it had been decided that voters should not be required to go more than two miles to poll. Now, if the present clause was adopted the "illiterate voters" might, in thinly-populated districts, have to go five or 10 miles in order to find a magistrate to take their declaration.

On Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 59; Not-Contents 91: Majority 32.

Resolved in the Negative.

Words struck out.

Then the word ("declares") inserted.

Further Amendments made.


said, he had placed Amendments on the Paper to exclude agents from the polling-places to secure greater secrecy, but as the Bill had been amended in a contrary direction he would not press them.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.