§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee (on re-commitment) read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Beauchamp).
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.844
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair].
§ Clause 1:
§ Extension of polling hours. 48 & 49 Vict. c. 10.
§ 1.—(1) The Elections (Hours of Poll) Act, 1885, shall, as respects any parliamentary election to which this Act applies, be construed as if seven o'clock in the forenoon were substituted for eight o'clock in the forenoon, and nine o'clock in the afternoon were substituted for eight o'clock in the afternoon; and accordingly the poll (if any) at any such election shall commence at seven o'clock in the forenoon and be kept open till nine o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, and no longer.
§ (2) This Act shall apply to a parliamentary election, if any candidate at the election or a candidate's agent on his behalf gives notice to the returning officer during the nomination time or within one hour afterwards that he wishes this Act to apply to the poll at that election.
§ (3) For the purpose of giving public notice of an extension of the hours of polling under this Act, paragraph 9 of the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, shall; as respects any election to which this Act applies, be construed as if references to the day on which the poll will be or is to be taken included references to the hours at which the poll commences and up to which it will be kept open.
§ (4) A notice given by a candidate under this section shall not be of any effect for the purposes of this Act if the candidate is withdrawn or deemed to be withdrawn under the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872.
(5) In this section—
The expression "agent" means an election agent within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883;
The expression "nomination time" means the time appointed for the election within the meaning of the Ballot Act, 1872.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN moved to omit subsections (1) and (2) and to insert two new subsections in their place. The noble Earl said: This Amendment has two objects. One is to make the Bill a little more elastic, and the other is to insert the words providing that the notice should be "in writing" which were originally in the Bill and which must have been omitted by mistake in redrafting. As the Bill stands, if due notice is given the poll shall commence at seven o'clock in the morning and be kept open until nine o'clock in the evening of the same day, an extension of an hour both in the morning and in the evening. There may he cases, of course, in which either the hour extension in the morning or the hour in the evening would be what the candidate really wishes and would perhaps he 845 sufficient. My Amendment is intended to meet that point, and to enable a candidate to apply for an extension of either an hour in the morning or an hour in the evening. If there should be any difference of opinion between the candidates upon this, then the poll would be conducted according to the Bill as it stands and the two hours extension would be given.
Clause 1, page, 1, lines 5 to 17, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert:
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
In order to save the right of Lord Haversham, who has an Amendment in subsection (2), it will be necessary that the question shall be first put down to the word "behalf," in subsection (2).
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
The Amendment moved by the noble Earl opposite is, without doubt, an improvement upon the present wording of the Bill in so far as it gives greater elasticity to its working. Therefore on behalf of His Majesty's Government I have much pleasure in accepting not only the particular part of the Amendment which is now before the House but the rest of it when we come to consider the further part.
§ On Question, Amendment down to the word "behalf" in subsection (2) agreed to.846
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
I move to amend subsection (2), after the word "behalf," by inserting "supported by not less than 200 electors in that constituency." I am obliged to trouble your Lordships with this Amendment because the second edition of my noble friend's Bill in no way removes the objections which were stated on the first consideration of it. To my mind it is exceedingly doubtful whether this Bill is wanted at all. I have fought thirteen contested elections and have never heard any wish that the polling hours should be extended. I understand, however, that there is a considerable desire in metropolitan constituencies that the hours should be extended. Therefore I have no objection to the Bill in that sense, but I think it ought to be limited to London. In any case the constituency should be given a voice in the matter. If this power of extending the hours is to be given to one person, the candidate himself is about the worst possible person who should decide the matter. It is obvious that the candidate will be under such pressure that in almost all constituencies the Bill will be acted upon, and if that is to be the case I think it would be far better that the polling hours should be altered in all cases from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. by a separate Bill. But to allow a candidate to decide this matter seems to me an absurdity. You would not even allow it in a London club. How much less, then, should you allow it in the case of a Parliamentary election? Again, it is very unfair on the other candidate or candidates. Let us suppose that there is a three-cornered fight, and that Brown, Jones, and Robinson are the candidates. Brown wants the hours of polling extended, and he gets his way. Jones wants them to remain as they are, and Robinson probably wants a reduction. Why should Jones and Robinson give way to suit the convenience of Brown? Further, this Bill will add considerably to the expense of elections, because you cannot have clerks employed and the polling booths kept open during the extended time without additional expense; but I see no provision in the Bill for this additional expense falling upon the candidate who makes the request to the returning officer. I hope that in a short time the necessary expenses connected with elections will be placed upon the rates, and then any one appealing to the returning officer for this extension of hours will be putting the constituency to considerable expense.
847 I have put down 200 electors as the number who must sign the petition to the returning officer because it seemed to me that that was a substantial number who could express the opinions of a considerable section of the community, and also because I thought that if the hours were extended in the way proposed 200 electors might poll in that additional time. At any rate I hope the House will not agree to the clause in its present form, which leaves it in the hands of a candidate, or his agent, which is very much the same thing, to put the constituency to the expense and trouble of extending the hours of polling without giving the constituency any voice whatever in the matter.
Amendment moved to the Amendment—
Clause 1, page 1, line 14, after ("behalf") insert ("supported by not less than two hundred electors in that constituency").—(Lord Haversham.)
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
My noble friend who has just sat down has had experience of thirteen contested elections. I have had experience of ten; and I cannot allow to pass unchallenged his observation that this extension of hours of polling is not necessary. I can speak as an old London Member, for I was for twenty-three years Member for a London constituency and I know the extreme difficulty which men whose work is in distant parts of London experience in recording their votes. Many of them leave their homes at five, six, and seven o'clock in the morning, and do not return until after eight o'clock at night. There is no doubt that a large number of London electors—I am sure it must be the same in other great towns—are disfranchised because they are loyal to the neighbourhood in which they reside and do not move their residence as they change their employment. Their work is of a fluctuating nature. Sometimes it is close to their homes and at other times it is great distances away, and in the latter case they cannot return home in time to poll if the polling booths close at 8 p.m. I was very glad that Members on both sides of the House of Commons came to this amicable arrangement, and that this Bill was unanimously passed by the other House. I once had the honour of representing Colchester. Perhaps in a constituency like that an extension of hours is not necessary, but in London there is no question that there is great need for this 848 Bill. I have ventured to intrude these observations upon your Lordships, because I wished to dispel the notion that this Bill is unnecessary. I say that it is urgently necessary unless your Lordships have a desire, which I know you have not, that a large number of electors should be disfranchised.
§ LORD ST. AUDRIES
I can assure the House that I am as anxious as the noble Lord opposite to enable every working man to record his vote. There are many constituencies in which this Bill is not necessary, but there are many in which it is necessary and most desirable. I think the danger is that it might become of universal application all over the country, and that would give a great deal of extra trouble to the presiding officers and their staffs, and inflict a great deal of extra expenditure on the candidates. I may remind your Lordships that the next General Election will take place under quite different conditions from any which have obtained hitherto, because at the next General Election the successful candidate will have a prospect of a scholarship of £400 a year for five years, and, I understand, certain immunities as regards Income Tax. Therefore it is exceedingly likely that the candidates—I do not like to say freak or bogus candidates—will be a great deal more numerous than at present. In order to safeguard what may be called the real candidate, it is desirable that some such Amendment as that now before the House should be inserted. It is a common thing for twenty nomination papers to be handed in for a candidate, and each nomination paper contains ten names. Therefore there would be no difficulty in getting the request for an extension of time signed by 200 electors. In these circumstances I hope the Government will seriously consider this Amendment.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Southwark as to the urgent need in London for an extension of the hours of polling, though I think that the extension in the evening is more important than the extension in the morning. I remember two experiences in connection with the London School Board. We got the hour of closing the poll extended to nine o'clock in the evening—I do not think there was any extension in the morning—and it was found that a great many persons were able to vote owing to 849 that extension who could not have voted if the poll had closed at eight o'clock. Local conditions vary in different places, but I have no doubt that an extension is needed in every large town and populous district. The trade which suffers most is the building trade. A builder keeps his men on permanently, but he moves them about according to the jobs he secures, and on occasions they may work miles out of town. The men, however, do not change their homes because they do not know where the next job will be. These men very often cannot get back to the constituencies in which they live in time to record their votes by 8 p.m.; and even if they should be waiting with others in the polling booth at that hour, the law is that at the stroke of 8 p.m. the ballot must close. But I feel that there is a difficulty in putting this power in the hands of the candidate. Theoretically I should have thought that the best authority was the local authority of the district, which is more or less impartial and knows the conditions. But after all this is more a House of Commons question than a House of Lords question, and if the house of Commons make a rather clumsy Bill they will have to amend it hereafter. As I say, I should have liked the local authority of the district to have been the authority to decide upon this matter. At present the Bill says the candidate. My noble friend Lord Haversham has moved an Amendment that it should be the candidate plus 200 electors. I rather agree with the noble Lord who spoke last, that the 200 electors would be merely the tail of the candidate. It does not follow because the candidate gets 200 electors to support him that he will be doing anything which is acceptable to the locality. I do not think that the Amendment will shipwreck the Bill, but I do not believe it is very much worth passing.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I am sure noble Lords opposite will not be surprised if I say, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that we are unable to accept the Amendment moved by Lord Haversham. Indeed, I think from the tone of what Lord Haversham said to your Lordships that his position would have been almost more in place, if he will allow me to say so, in opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill, rather than in the form of an Amendment which would go very far to destroy the value of the Bill. At any rate I think I may fairly tell my noble friend that his 850 Amendment would stand very little chance of meeting with acceptance in another place. One thing I confess did to some extent surprise me. My noble friend behind me who has moved this Amendment stated that if the Bill became law it ought, instead of becoming local in its application, to become general. The Amendment to which your Lordships have just agreed, on the proposition of the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, goes in directly the opposite direction. The whole object of Lord Camperdown's long Amendment, which I am glad to accept, is to allow local authorities to meet local conditions. Here there may be a desire for an early poll; there there may be a desire for a late poll. The noble Earl's Amendment adds those facilities to the Bill where they did not exist before. He admits, as we admit, the desire and the necessity of allowing local conditions to prevail, whereas, on the other hand, what is at the back of the mind of Lord Haversham in moving this Amendment is, as he frankly told your Lordships, a desire that there should be a general acceptance of this Bill rather than a local one. I do not know that it is necessary for me to point out the complications which that would introduce in the working of the Bill, because they must be apparent to your Lordships. The proposal as to the support of 200 electors would need amendment in the future as to who should decide whether there were 200, and also as to the authority which was to take charge of the consideration whether these 200 were properly qualified electors, and so on. I am inclined to congratulate Lord Haversham on having represented a constituency which is satisfied with the present hours of polling and regards them as sufficient. The suggestion has been thrown out by the noble Lord behind me that the local authority should be allowed to decide in the matter. The idea of the promoters of this Bill is that a candidate is sufficiently well acquainted with the needs of the locality to ask for what is necessary. He will be so far penalised, in the matter of votes, by the general inconvenience which he causes that he is not likely to ask for facilities which are not really required. Now that we have amended the Bill in the direction desired by the noble Earl opposite and given greater facilities, I venture to hope that that Amendment will satisfy your Lordships and that Lord Haversham will be content after the discussion which has taken place and withdraw his Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think, after the speech of the noble Earl, that we can advise your Lordships to accept Lord Haversham's Amendment. Nevertheless I have great sympathy with the noble Lord's object, because I do think, in spite of what the noble Earl has just said, that there is considerable danger under this Bill of a candidate who has very little support in the constituency putting everybody to the great inconvenience of having the poll kept open for another two hours, thus throwing much extra labour upon those engaged in the work without any extra remuneration being provided. That certainly is an evil. I should have thought that this Bill ought to have provided in some way or other that the demand for an extension of the poll should be a bona fide one supported by a substantial number of persons. But then I turn to the noble Lord's Amendment, and I think he must be a very poor candidate indeed who could not get 200 electors to support him. He would not come forward at all if he had not 200 electors to back him, and those would be available to support his request for an extension of the hours of polling or anything else. Therefore the noble Lord does not accomplish anything by his Amendment. But if we were to increase the number to an effective one, the working of the Amendment would be very unwieldy. I think in this matter it is for the House of Commons to suggest some method of preventing this from being otherwise than bona fide. Inasmuch as the noble Earl opposite has accepted Lord Camperdown's Amendment and that will form part of the Bill, there will be abundant opportunity when the Bill goes back to the House of Commons for that House to reconsider the decision to which they have come. If they think that some such check as Lord Haversham has proposed is necessary, it will be quite open to them to amend the Lords' Amendment, and we shall be very glad to accept any properly devised check which they may send back to us. As the door is still left open for the House of Commons to act and as Lord Haversham's Amendment would not accomplish the object he has in view, I do not think we can ask your Lordships' House to support the Amendment.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
After what has fallen from the noble Marquess, I see no use in proceeding to a Division. At the same time I was struck by the argument used by Lord 852 Beauchamp when he said that the House of Commons would not accept this Amendment. I think it is very possible that they would. I specially guarded myself by saying that I had no experience of metropolitan constituencies, and that the Bill might be required there. What I said was that if it is going to be generally accepted, as I think it will, we should have greater authority for the extension than the candidate or his agent.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Then the remainder of Lord CAMPERDOWN'S original Amendment was, on Question, agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Clause agreed to.
§ The Report of Amendment to be received on Monday next, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 112.)