§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord President.)
, who had given Notice that the Bill be read a third time this day six months, said, it might appear a somewhat unusual course to oppose the third reading of a Bill which had been passed with great labour and care by the other House, and, in some measure, adopted by their Lordships' House; but when he regarded the candidates, he did not think that any man should object to appear personally before the constituency he desired to represent to explain the political opinions he held, and to answer such questions as the voters might put to him. There 158 had been a clause against holding committees in public-houses in the Bill of last year, and he believed that such a Bill as that for bribery and corruption, and the clause for closing public-houses, would have greatly secured quiet at the polling stations. As to the voters, he was sure the present Bill could not work unless some considerable time was devoted to its further consideration, and on these grounds alone he felt justified in taking this course; but besides, he saw before their Lordships a Bill of the principle of which he and many of their Lordships—who had not, like him, voted against the second reading—disapproved; and he had his noble and learned Relative's opinion, given in 1830, that bribery would not be diminished by the Ballot—intimidation was to be put down by public opinion. In the same letter that noble and learned Lord expressed his abhorrence of the doctrines as to tenants votes, that a landlord might do what he would with his own, and thought that undue influence ought to be exposed and frustrated. And, as regarded the Returning Officers, he thought the multiplication of polling stations—even at a distance of four miles—in counties was so great that it would be difficult to find gentlemen to fill the office of High Sheriff—for, so far as he could learn, no one was bound to pay for those polling stations; at all events, the Sheriff, in the first instance, had to incur expense, and instead of having a deposit from the nominators, he had to look to the precarious chance of recovering a verdict against those who might ultimately be liable. He was quite sure if their Lordships passed this Bill—without amending it in the Bribery and Corruption Bill formerly a part of this Bill—they would repent it, and he earnestly entreated them to reject it in its present shape. With regard to the Amendments proposed, they had caused much anxiety to the noble Duke, and he was sorry that he could not support more than one of them at first; but as they afforded half publicity he would support them if they were returned from "another place." But why should their Lordships consent to change—even for eight years—a good open manly system of voting for one of which they disapproved? He believed that the feeling of a large portion of the people of this country was adverse to the scheme of secret voting.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, he differed completely from the noble Lord. He did not believe that even the opponents of the measure would think it advisable to reject the Motion for the third reading. He retained very much the same opinion with regard to the Ballot as he had done while a Member of the House of Commons, and he regarded the present measure as one of a very unimportant character, that would equally fail to produce the good effects anticipated by its supporters, and the bad ones predicted of it by its opponents. When first returned to Parliament, in 1841, he told his constituents that he considered the Ballot a very unimportant question; but that as, in his opinion, it would do little harm and less good he felt bound to oppose it. He represented large constituencies for 15 years, who always returned him, notwithstanding his declared opposition to the Ballot. As long as he had a seat in the House of Commons he had acted consistently with the views he had thus avowed; but within the last four or five years he had changed his opinion. He now considered the Ballot more unimportant than ever, in consequence of the altered position of the employers and employed in this country, but should support it because he thought it would do a very little good and still less harm. He believed that the mass of the constituencies attached very little value to the Bill now before their Lordships, and he could not but regret that measures of real importance, such as the Public Health Bill and the Mines Regulation Bill, had not been given precedence of such a measure as this. But as the Ballot Bill had been introduced by the Government and passed by the House of Commons, he thought it was unwise of their Lordships to have adopted Amendments which certainly would not be accepted by the other House of Parliament. It was too late on a third reading to ask their Lordships to withdraw those Amendments; but he hoped that when the Bill came up from the Commons, as it certainly would, with their Amendments struck out, their Lordships would not insist on them.
§ On Question? that the Bill be now read 3a.
§ Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Bill read 3a accordingly, with the Amendments.160
§ THE MARQUESS OF BRISTOL moved to insert after Clause 2 the first of a series of 15 clauses, proposing a complete scheme for the adoption of voting papers.
Moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following clause:—
Any voter may, in compliance with the provisions hereinafter contained, give his vote by a voting paper instead of personally."—(The Marquess of Bristol.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
said, he hoped their Lordships would not entertain an Amendment which was entirely outside the scope of the measure before them. When the Reform Bill introduced by Lord Derby's Government was before their Lordships, an Amendment for the adoption of voting papers was sent down by their Lordships to the House of Commons; but though the Government of the day might have been supposed to be favourable to such a system, the Amendment was rejected in the House of Commons by a large majority. It would be useless to send such an Amendment down to the other House. But his objection to it did not end there. He thought it would increase the facilities for bribery and intimidation. He believed that those facilities would be increased by any system which would serve to disconnect the voter from his vote, and therefore he opposed the Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, that while agreeing in the course taken by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon) he could not agree in his remarks. He should be sorry it should be supposed that their Lordships were prepared to accept the doctrine just put forward by the noble Marquess. Their Lordships had on former occasions expressed in distinct language their approval of the system of voting papers, and he believed that from that opinion their Lordships had never changed. Their Lordships held that the system of voting papers would prove advantageous to a great many of the constituents who were at present practically disfranchised, and would provide against a far greater amount of real intimidation than any provision contained in the Bill of the Government with that object. In respect to this question, he confessed he could not believe that the opposition of the Liberal party to this system of voting 161 papers was quite free from a touch of selfishness. There were two classes of the people who were deeply interested in the adoption of voting papers—namely, the tranquil quiet people, and those who lived in remote rural districts far from polling places. There was, however, a large party in the other House of Parliament who studiously opposed every proposition to enfranchise these classes of the constituents by the adoption of the system of voting papers. And why? He believed because quiet people, and people living at distances from polling centres, were generally Conservatives. Although, then, he believed that their Lordships had not changed their opinions on this subject, he also believed that the majority of the other House, who had rejected this proposal by a majority of upwards of 40, had not changed theirs. Under such circumstances, he did not think that any useful object could be gained by flashing this Amendment once more in their faces. In his opinion, it would be better for their Lordships to wait until the minds of those who were now averse to this system, had become wiser by experience.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
protested against the summary condemnation of the proposal pronounced by the noble President of the Council. What the noble Marquess meant by disconnecting the voter from his vote he confessed he was unable to understand.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
advocated the system of voting papers upon the ground that such a system would cure many evils that now existed. It would prevent the necessity of infirm and timorous people having to travel to the poll and to encounter bad weather and the noise and disturbance of the polling place. Even although the principle of having voting papers was not embodied in this Bill, he trusted that at some future time the good sense of the people would cause it to be adopted.
§ On Question? Resolved in the Negative.
§ Amendments made.
§ Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.