§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I may remind the House that it is an entirely new Bill dealing with a very old subject. The demand for the abolition of the plural vote has been one of the stock demands of the Liberal Party for a great number of years. To go back only as far as 1891, in that year Mr. Stansfeld, a well-known Member of Parliament, moved certain resolutions relating to the franchise, included in which was a demand for the abolition of the plural vote, and in the course of that debate Mr. Gladstone made a speech of importance and great interest. The demand for the abolition of the plural vote found its place in what was known as the Newcastle Programme, and in fact one might say without fear of contradiction that it has been one of the regular items in the Parliamentary bill of fare so far as the Liberal Party has been able to compose it.
After the General Election of 1906 there was a strong desire to proceed with a measure of this kind, and a Bill was introduced—most of your Lordships here will be familiar with the circumstances—by my right hon. friend who is now Colonial Secretary. That Bill compelled all persons who 1324 were placed on the register in more than one constituency to declare beforehand—that is to say, on or before September 5 in the previous year—for which constituency they desired to be effectively registered. It was obvious, therefore, that that Bill, if it passed into law, would have had its effect not merely upon General Elections but upon all elections whenever they take place. When that Bill was summarily rejected by your Lordships' House it was objected to on two grounds—first, that it is not proper to deal with the subject of Parliamentary reform in a piecemeal manner, a ground of which we shall no doubt hear something to-day; and secondly, on account of the exceedingly complicated nature of its provisions and the somewhat intricate proceedings, as it was argued, which would have to be taken by anybody who might claim to be a plural voter. Last year an hon. Member, one of the supporters of the Government, now an official, Mr. Baker, brought in a measure which covered much the same ground. In the case of Mr. Baker's Bill the possession of the franchise was limited to those who were able to claim it by residence, except in the case of certain definite declarations which could be made; and it is worth noting that that measure also would have applied to all elections and not only to General Elections. Then the House will remember the Government Bill of last year, the Franchise and Registration Bill, which besides doing other things also covered this field. That measure absolutely limited the franchise to a residential qualification, and thereby would have had the effect of altogether abolishing the vote for the Universities, and in the case of the City of London would have reduced the electorate there to those who regularly reside in the City of London, and who, as we know, form but a small part of the existing electorate for that important constituency.
This present Bill is far less ambitious in its scope, and it can candidly be stated that it does not profess to offer, and ought not to be regarded as offering, a definite and final solution of the question with which it deals. By this measure a man can register his qualification anywhere, as he can at present, but, having registered it anywhere, at a General Election he can only vote at one of the places for which he is qualified. No burden is placed upon him for a decision where he will vote until the 1325 very last moment when he desires to exercise his right. One criticism which may be offered, and I have no doubt has been offered, against this principal provision, and which emphasises what I said as to the provisional character of the Bill, is that by this facility of deferring until the last moment a decision in which constituency a particular man will exercise his right of voting, arrangements by agents will be facilitated for the production at a particular point of a force which is not greater than required to effect the necessary object of winning the seat, and that therefore a somewhat arbitrary result may follow, not altogether consonant with the theory that every Englishman should be able to vote where he pleases provided that he is qualified. It is important to note that this measure does not disfranchise the Universities, nor of necessity does it affect the City of London at all. All those who possess a qualification for the City of London will be able to vote there if they choose, and, speaking personally, I certainly should not expect that the result of an election in the City of London would in any way be affected by the passage of this Bill.
The marked simplicity of this measure is obtained at the cost of the fact that it applies only to a General Election and cannot be applied at by-elections. When a by-election takes place, or supposing such a thing to be probable, as it certainly is possible, that two by-elections take place on the same day, there would be nothing to prevent a man holding a qualification in both to vote at both; but that, as I say, is the price which has to be paid for the simplicity of the Bill. At any rate I should not expect noble Lords opposite to complain of that blemish on the Bill, if blemish it be, because so far as it has an effect the effect may be assumed to be in their favour rather than in ours. Your Lordships will note that there are three provisos to the first clause of the Bill which at first sight appear to detract somewhat from its absolutely limpid simplicity. Those were inserted in another place in order to meet cases which it had been pointed out might possibly be hard. That marked (a) deals with the case of a voter who has been personated, and who, finding that he has been personated, prefers not to vote in the booth which he has entered with the intention of voting but to go away and exercise his right elsewhere— not a very 1326 frequent case but conceivably a hard case. That marked (b) deals with the case of a voter who, being registered in one division of a Parliamentary borough, has inadvertently tried to vote in another. He is also saved from the consequences of a venial error of that kind. The third proviso, proviso (c), covers the case of a possible voting by the returning officer.
The penalties to be applied for a breach of this Bill are not of the gravest kind, although they are undoubtedly severe. But if anybody is tempted to regard them as too severe he should consider that it is practically impossible for any person who is sane enough to be at large to go to two separate constituencies and vote there by inadvertence. It is hardly conceivable that absence of mind could be carried to such a pitch in any rational person. It must be assumed, therefore, that anybody who breaks this law breaks it with the knowledge of what he is doing.
From the Motion placed on the Paper by the noble Viscount opposite it appears that this Bill is to meet the fate of two others which have lately been before your Lordships. One is almost tempted to ask, without any sort of disrespect to the noble Viscount, why the Motion for the rejection of a measure of this importance did not come from the Front Bench opposite. When the rejection of Mr. Harcourt's Bill in 1906, which was then in charge of my noble friend behind me, was moved, it was moved by Lord St. Aldwyn from the Front Bench Opposite. I have no doubt that a time will come when the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, will be able to strap on the official knapsack, supposing he cares to do so, and to lose that measure of independence from Party which has so far distinguished his political career. I can well imagine various reasons why the noble Viscount was selected for this particular task. He has only lately come to us owing to the lamented loss of his illustrious father, and while he was pursuing his career in another place he was the candidate, either successful or unsuccessful, for, I think, three different constituencies in quite different parts of England, and in all of those he had no doubt frequent opportunities of tracking the plural voter through the jungles which he inhabits and devising the best means of adding him to his bag.
1327 Then it is important to note that on this particular occasion the formula of objection is altogether changed. Noble Lords opposite do not ask for a referendum on this question, and I am bound to say I think they are perfectly right. I am no admirer either of plural voting or of the referendum, but if I was an admirer of either, or of both, I certainly should take the most scrupulous care to keep them as far apart as possible. Everybody knows that if the question was subjected to a referendum the maintenance of plural voting would not have the faintest chance in the world. It belongs to that class of institutions which are kept alive for the profit of the few rather than of the many. It would be easy to state a rather alarming list of questions all of which, if they were subjected to the process of a referendum, would not have what is colloquially called "a dog's chance." You might almost as well, I think, subject the Game Laws to the referendum as this question of the maintenance of plural voting; and therefore I quite recognise why, having changed the formula, it has been thought also desirable to take away from the Front Bench opposite the responsibility of moving the rejection of this particular measure. I can devise a third reason for the selection of the noble Viscount for this task. One of the arguments which is always used from the other side is that it is a wrong thing, and may be an unfair thing, to attempt to remove a single anomaly in these franchise matters instead of dealing with the whole.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The noble Marquess cheers that statement, but I confess I do not see how anybody who was connected with Mr. Balfour's Government can applaud a statement of that kind after the action which Mr. Balfour's Government took in 1905, when a plan for redistribution alone was introduced without any attempt whatever to remove the various other anomalies which, by common consent, existed in connection with our franchise system. I do not know whether the House recollects those Resolutions of 1905. They were ruled out of activity by the action of Mr. Speaker, and they were afterwards altogether laughed out of existence by the comments quite as much of the Unionist Press as of the Press which supports the 1328 present Government. That surely is a further reason why the noble Viscount, who was not connected with the Government at that time, should be asked to move the rejection of this measure rather than one of the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite who shared the responsibility for the introduction of those melancholy Resolutions.
I understand that the principal argument against this measure, at any rate on this question of anomaly, is that we are removing hereby one anomaly, an anomaly which is especially damaging to us as it exists, and that we are not attempting to remove various other franchise anomalies. Perhaps the removal of this system of plural voting may be of considerable advantage to us. It is bound, I think, to be of some advantage to us, although I am old enough to remember the falsification of many prophecies which have been made in past times in relation to franchise changes which were supposed to be going to redound to the sole advantage of one Party and it was not found that that Party profited at all to the extent which had been imagined. But, my Lords, in this connection it is, I think, relevant to ask what anomaly is there the existence of which is damaging to noble Lords opposite which could be removed without dealing with the whole subject of registration and the various other items of franchise reform and of redistribution. And even then, what anomalies remain to be removed the removal of which would be specially helpful to the Party opposite. So far as a general redistribution of seats is concerned I do not think that anybody can foretell, looking at it from a Party point of view, as to what its effect would be. We can say quite honestly that we are in no way afraid of such a redistribution, but I do not think that any hopes or fears can reasonably be founded on what the effect of such a general redistribution of seats would be.
I cannot help asking in passing, when noble Lords opposite and their friends talk about the system of one vote one value, whether they really mean that in any system of redistribution in this country all votes are to be of precisely identical value. Do they really mean to divide the country up into equal electoral districts, obliterating all old landmarks and boundaries and conditions—county boundaries and all the rest of it—in order to get a precise equality 1329 of population in each separate constituency? If so, I can only say that the minds of noble Lords opposite have changed remarkably since the year 1905, when they brought forward those proposals to which I have already alluded; because I note that in the scheme of 1905 there were six boroughs I containing 120,000 persons, that is to say, an average of about 20,000 apiece—I am speaking in round figures—and there were six other boroughs under this method of one vote one value which contained 700,000 people and therefore had an average population of 116,000. Well, those figures being so, it is a little hard to credit the Party opposite with a complete devotion to the system of an absolute equality of the value of votes.
But, of course, it will be said that there is the case of Ireland. Ireland in this connection has been one of the favourite battle-horses of noble Lords opposite. It has been delightful to contrast the fact that Kilkenny returns a Member to Parliament with its absurdly small electorate, and that Romford, with its enormously large one, also returns only one Member. But in our Government of Ireland Bill we are proposing for the Imperial Parliament something as regards Ireland which I take it is stronger and goes further in the direction of the desire of noble Lords opposite than anything which I think in common decency they could venture to propose themselves. Our proposition is that there should be forty-two Members from Ireland in the House of Commons representing large areas. On a population basis—noble Lords opposite having succeeded in maintaining the Union Parliament precisely as it is and having set to work to reduce the Irish representation—on a population basis it would be impossible to give Ireland less than sixty-five Members, so that this particular complaint, that the Irish anomaly which noble Lords opposite say works against them is left untouched, cannot be brought against us. It is only right, however, to add, if noble Lords opposite entertain the stern determination to give Ireland the precise number of Members which it ought to possess by population, that to do so is a deliberate and distinct departure from Mr. Pitt's plan at the time of the Union. The number of 100 Members, which was fixed upon by the Act of Union, was not founded upon the proportion of the populations of Great Britain and of Ireland. As a matter 1330 of fact, Ireland at that time had a population of 5,800,000; the rest of the United Kingdom had a population of 16,300,000. The House of Commons consisted of 653 Members, and the proper Irish representation on a population basis at that time would have been, not 100, but 233. Therefore if you attempt to place Ireland upon a formal population basis now, you are at any rate departing from the principles which Mr. Pitt followed when he carried out the Union, and you will find that it is only quite of recent years that the Irish share on the population basis has fallen as low as this. Down to 1891 my impression is—I have not got the figures—that the correct Irish proportion was something about eighty, and therefore the extreme discrepancy is of somewhat modern growth. Our argument, as noble Lords know, is that so long as the Union Parliament remains on its present basis the number of Irish Members cannot honourably be changed, and that the number can only be modified by consent and in consideration of the creation of a subordinate Parliament.
Another anomaly which we do not attempt to touch cannot be said to be hostile to noble Lords opposite. The difficulty of getting on the register is much greater for the poor man who has to move about in search of work than it is for the more well-to-do man, and though I certainly do not attempt to argue that all well-to-do people are Conservatives and all poor people are Liberals, yet the proportion in those cases surely tells against the Party to which I belong. I should like to say one more word on this question of anomalies because it is an important one, and the argument founded on it is perhaps the most plausible that noble Lords opposite can devise. But I would remind you that this is not the only case in which single anomalies have been redressed, or in which an attempt, has been made to redress them, where other anomalies kindred to them admittedly exist. Take the case of rating. The question of rating is surrounded, as we know, with a series of anomalies and with fetters which we should like to remove, but that did not prevent noble Lords opposite from dealing with agricultural rating by itself, with the general agreement, no doubt, of the agricultural community, at the same time leaving unredressed discrepancies and inequalities scarcely less marked than those which affected agricultural ratepayers.
1331 I do not know whether in this House in the course of this debate the existence of plural voting will be defended in se as a desirable institution, or whether noble Lords opposite will lean entirely, or almost entirely, upon the argument of anomaly and opportunity. I have looked at the debates in another place, and I find that there several Members on the Opposition side boldly and categorically defended the existence of the plural vote —I do not mean only in relation to the argument which was also used, that in the case of the possession of a University vote and an ordinary occupation vote you might end by disfranchising the University because every one would prefer to vote for the place in which he lived rather than the seat of learning to which he had once belonged—but the actual possession of plural votes founded on property was seriously defended by a certain number of Members of the Opposition in another place. The argument that is used is, that a local stake in any particular part of England ought to be represented by a vote for that constituency. I confess, again, I do not see how that argument can be entirely reconciled with the desire that one vote should only have one value, and it also leaves out of consideration an argument which is freely used in another connection—namely, that the vote is by no means the only method by which influence can be exercised by property owners or by persons of education. There is no argument which is more freely used by the opponents of the giving of the suffrage to women than to point out that, after all, the vote is not the only method of exercising influence, but quite the contrary. It has also been pointed out that the belief used to be held by a former generation that the possession of a vote was practically everything, and that if you had not got a vote you were a cipher as regards impressing your opinions on the country. That argument has now worn rather thin, and consequently it is argued by the opponents of woman suffrage that its advocates make a mistake in depending so much on the vote and on the vote alone. That argument can also be addressed to the owner of property in several places who conceives that he ought to have a vote in each one of those places. It can be pointed out to him, with exactly the same degree of force, that his personal and social and political influence is by no means limited to the moment at which he writes 1332 a cross on a piece of paper in a polling booth opposite the name of a prospective Member of Parliament.
I may assume that your Lordships intend to reject this measure. I have not forgotten the now famous observation of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition made in 1906, when be stated that in rejecting measures your Lordships ought to select ground favourable to yourselves. That was in relation to the Trades Disputes Bill which your Lordships passed that year. I cannot believe that the rejection of this Bill can be said to be taken on ground favourable to this House, and I cannot believe that the average citizen will be convinced of the equity of the argument that, unless the time and the conditions admit of the creation of an absolutely perfect and flawless measure for the conduct of elections, it is then better and fairer to leave every single absurdity and every single abuse to flourish as it likes until the propitious hour strikes. I cannot believe that the country will take that view, and I venture once more to express the opinion that in rejecting this measure your Lordships are making a mistake.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)
§ *VISCOUNT PEEL rose to move the following Amendment—
§ That this House is not prepared to accept a Bill which deals only with the question of plural voting, and makes no attempt to remove the serious imperfections of the present electoral law.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the noble Marquess in the introductory part of his speech devoted a good deal of speculation, and apparently he had devoted also some research, to the question why I had been selected to move the rejection of this Bill, and he seemed to find in the history of the past a considerable number of sinister arguments. So far as I know there is nothing very mysterious about it, for may I call the noble Marquess's attention to the fact that when the Welsh Church Bill first came before this House its rejection was moved by an occupant of the Back Benches, and I certainly never heard any speculations of a similar character on the part of the noble Marquess on that occasion. It is not of much moment, but 1333 there is also the case of the Home Rule Bill when it was first brought before this House. Its rejection was moved by the Duke of Devonshire, who has never, to my knowledge, been a member of the Cabinet.
§ The noble Marquess is, of course, quite correct in stating that this is rather an aged item in The Liberal programme, and possibly for that reason it might suggest to his mind that it requires a little more revision and a little more defence. I remember very vividly the occasion in 1906 when the Bill was thrown out. At that time I was active on platforms in the country, and I can assure the noble Marquess that not only was there no indignation expressed at the fall of that Bill, but it was hardly noticed in any local newspaper throughout the length and breadth of the country. I should like to allude to the closing observation of the noble Marquess. I will not say it was a threat; I will say rather that he gave a word of kindly warning. He said that he did not think it would be very favourable to the prospects of this House if we rejected this measure. But, my Lords, I understand that the Prime Minister has given notice that he is going to establish a totally new House of Lords next year. These threats fall rather coldly, therefore, on this House, and I think they might more fairly be addressed to the future Chamber which the Government are now lucubrating.
§ I cannot say that the noble Marquess has said so, but it was stated in the other House that this being a matter purely of machinery connected with the election of the other House it is not a question on which your Lordships should venture to have any very strong opinion, hostile or otherwise. All I can say is that there should be some reciprocity in these matters, and I have not noticed during the last few years any very singular or ascetic abstinence on the part of the other House from dealing with the affairs or the composition of this House. Indeed, not long ago the Government were credited with the intention of possibly doubling the quantity of legislators in your Lordships' House. I lay marked stress on the word "quantity." They seem now to want to go to the opposite extreme and remove the hereditary basis from this Chamber altogether. In those circumstances I think we may almost venture to deal with the 1334 affairs, if they are the affairs, of the other House. I go further and say that this is specifically a matter with which this House ought to deal, because every single Member of the other House may be said to be a keenly interested party in electoral reform and plural voting, and I think it is no paradox to say that it is the other House really which ought not to deal with plural voting but that this House ought to have almost exclusive jurisdiction over it. With the exception of the precedent set by the Government themselves in 1906 there is absolutely no precedent in our constitutional history for bringing in a measure of this kind in this way.
§ The noble Marquess, throughout his speech, seemed to refer to this as being a method of electoral reform. I assume that to be so because he referred to "other measures" of electoral reform. I had some doubts when I read the title of the Bill, "An Act to impose a penalty on an elector who votes in more than one constituency at a General Election." I confess that that sounded to me more like some Criminal Law Amendment Bill than an Electoral Reform Bill; but I will do the noble Marquess the courtesy to assume that he was referring to an Electoral Reform Bill. It has not, like some other Bills that have come up to this House, got even the decent drapery of a Preamble to cover its inadequacies or to throw out tantalising suggestions of what is going to happen in the future; although it would be very difficult, no doubt, to construct a proper Preamble to the measure.
§ When dealing with these grave matters of electoral reform and machinery, I submit that there are several principles to which all these measures ought to conform. The first that I venture to give utterance to is this, that the utmost care should be taken in constructing your machinery for electoral reform that no colour should be given to the charge that under the guise of electoral reform you are seeking Party advantage. I think that principle becomes of increased importance at this time, when your elected House of Commons is practically supreme and is in a totally different position from what it was in 1906, or even iii that remote period of 1891, when I understand plural voting first became a portion of the programme of the Liberal Party. I would say, also, that these electoral changes should be made, and made only, with a 1335 view of improving the truly representative character of the various interests and views of the electorate, with full regard to the dignity and stability of the institutions which are affected. The third principle I would venture to lay down is this, that the main principles of the Bill should appear openly on its face, and that the country should not be committed to new principles which are merely inferences from the propositions there contained. They should be explicit and not merely implicit, as was said of the Welsh Bill; and you must not assume, as some noble Lords opposite are inclined to assume, that the electorate is capable of deducing and assenting or dissenting to all the inferences which are drawn by the keenest logicians from Bills presented to this House. I hope to show your Lordships that this Bill contravenes all these three principles, and contravenes them in the most flagrant way.
§ In looking at the conduct of a Government, as of a person, one has to examine their previous record and history, and as regards my first principle some observation should be made on the character of the Government. Take their action over the Parliament Bill and the reconstruction of the Constitution. In that case, as in this, they take the easy part which is an advantage to them as a Party in reconstructing the powers of the House, and they put aside the more difficult part in case they might construct some Chamber which possibly might not support their views at all. In this matter they take the palm without the dust. Home Rule was introduced first, and the introduction and the passing of the Home Rule Bill would be, as has been most clearly pointed out, not only of no assistance but an obstruction to that scheme of federation which has also been suggested. When you come to this Bill the case is very similar. This Bill is a fragment, a plum picked out of the Franchise Bill of last year. Why is it that this particular portion of it was picked out by the Government and is being now pressed on to accomplishment? The noble Marquess dealt very tenderly with the suggestion as to whether there was any Party advantage in this matter. I do not think he alluded to the fact—and it seemed to me a rather curious omission—of the number of plural votes affected, which is about half a million; nor did he give us any estimate as to how 1336 they could be divided among the different Parties. Perhaps he thought it was common knowledge that between three-fifths and four-fifths of those votes were supposed to be cast on the Unionist side. I should like to ask, in passing, whether, if the balance had been the other way and the majority of those votes were usually cast upon the Liberal side, we should be now discussing this measure.
A good deal has been said in other places about Party advantage, and I do not wish to dwell upon it too much, although the noble Marquess seemed to me in the course of his remarks rather to infer that plural voting did tend to the Party advantage of this side. I venture to suggest to him that we should look upon things from a broader basis as regards our political machinery. Mr. Crooks, talking of this Bill, said—
The fact of the matter is, the Government are trying to help themselves. Is that wrong?
That is not a plea of confession and avoidance; it is a plea of confession and justification. After an observation of that kind I think I need not comment on the proverbial inconvenience of candour in your friends. This Bill is very nicely timed, because if the programme of noble Lords opposite goes through the Bill will come into operation a little after the date when a certain number of their Irish supporters will have disappeared from the House of Commons. Therefore I suppose there is a sort of feeling that if the Government are losing support on the one hand they must make it up on the other by disfranchising a considerable number of their opponents. The noble Marquess did not make very much allusion to the fact that you do not have plural voting in the Dominions, and I congratulate him upon that. The circumstances and the responsibilities are so different that I was very glad he did not try and establish any comparison thereupon. He alluded to the referendum and attacked members on this side with inconsistency in supporting in certain cases the Referendum, which, of course, involves to a certain extent as far as it goes one man one vote. So far as I am concerned I confess I should prefer the referendum to be more balanced by plural voting; but, after all, the comparison seems to me a wholly inexact one. It is impossible to compare the opinion on one special question, put, as the noble
Marquess knows, on rare and limited occasions only, to a system under which the whole representation of this country has to be elected to Parliament. Under the referendum, at any rate, the minority gets the full weight of its voice unencumbered by the disproportion of constituency or other electoral discrepancies.
§ The noble Marquess prided himself on the extreme kindliness and indulgence he has shown to the plural voter, but I would point out that in being kindly and indulgent you must not at the same time be ridiculous. This crime, if crime it be, of plural voting, as the noble Marquess pointed out, can be committed only at General Elections once in every four years. Your Lordships have heard that once in every four years young ladies are allowed to put a question to young men which would be considered indelicate on other occasions. The Government have reversed this. This act of plural voting is harmless for four years, but becomes a crime every fourth year when the General Election takes place. I do not understand this leap-year system. I do not understand this periodic intermittence of crime. After all, you may have a man who would be put into prison according to this Bill for committing this crime at a General Election, but as soon as he comes out of prison some by-elections may take place and he may then commit with perfect impunity the very crime for which he was imprisoned six months ago. This is very confusing to the moral sense, a matter with regard to which the Liberal Government, as we know, is peculiarly sensitive.
§ Then, my Lords, this Bill as drawn positively makes redistribution more difficult than it was before, because under this Bill no one can know until the election has taken place how many voters are going to vote in a particular constituency at a General Election. The result is that you put an absolute drag upon redistribution, and until you have repealed this Bill redistribution would be practically impossible. The noble Marquess alluded with satisfaction to the activities of the agents. I agree that this Bill does stimulate the activities of the wire-puller and the agent. Although I am familiar with the operations of those gentlemen and have found them extremely useful on occasions, I have never looked upon this 1338 class of activity as very edifying; but the noble Marquess seems to give them a sort of cachet of distinction as being most eminent gentlemen in the community. There is hardly a proposition throughout this Bill which has not been previously condemned by the Government themselves in some of those previous Bills which were brought in by private Members. That is a singular inconsistency. The noble Marquess suggests that the Bill is transitory. I think it is, but that is the very vice of the thing. In these matters you must not have transitory Bills, but Bills based on some more general and enduring principle.
§ The noble Marquess rather challenged noble Lords on this side as to the question of the plural vote itself. I am one of those who venture to think there is a good deal to be said for the plural vote. We have not had a single argument from the noble Marquess on the question of equality. He seems to think that equality of persons as regards votes is one of those sure principles which can be assumed without discussion. He tells us that the country is in favour of it, but I think, even at this time, we may submit that the will of the people is open to some sort of criticism from the point of view of common sense and knowledge; and considering that this principle is contrary to the whole trend of science and the common observation of ordinary men, I think it does require some explanation from the other side as to why absolute equality should be adopted in electoral institutions. It is based on a purely abstract doctrine, and I thought that abstract doctrines had by this time received sufficient condemnation. I may remind the noble Marquess that it was these abstract doctrines that aroused the fullest indignation and scorn of one of the greatest masters of English prose that ever lived, and I had thought that the passion and reason of Burke had laid these ghosts forever. The only question worth asking is not whether one man is equal to another as regards voting, but whether or not your institutions will be strengthened and your representative system made more truly representative if you adopt the suggestion of the noble Marquess. I could understand your giving one man one vote if Government were merely a matter of largesse, a question of distribution of plunder; but if it is a question of selecting the best men to deal with and govern the affairs of the country 1339 then I submit that equality cannot be maintained.
§ There is nowadays a great and growing fear that minorities may be submerged, and it is only recently that the doctrine that minorities must suffer has been elevated to the dignity of a maxim of State. Moreover, I think that your representative system should to some extent follow the facts of the case and of life around. You will find in your representative system that the minorities which you wish to submerge in this way are tending to secure special representation for themselves. You find an example of that in another place with regard to the teachers, who are combining together to secure a representative for themselves. Then, again, the Labour Party in itself is a class representation which has been growing up, and growing up naturally. The Labour Party's aims have been very often commended by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and they are recognised to such an extent by the members of the Party themselves to-day that if you were to suggest to a representative of Labour that he was anything else but a representative of Labour he would club you in the Lobby. I see that in the new Constitution in Egypt you are going to secure by nomination, if not by other means, for Bedouin and Copt and other interests special representation in the Parliament you are going to set up in Egypt.
§ There are other considerations even more important than the ones I have mentioned. It is common knowledge that practically the whole of your taxation is being thrown on a very limited class. The Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons the other day, dwelt upon this, and objected to the free breakfast table on the ground that those who exercised electoral power must contribute something at least towards the policy which they themselves were able to dictate. But every one knows that the free breakfast table would very soon be proscribed by the Liberal Party in the first heavy weather they had to en-counter; and when you have six-sevenths of the whole electorate now not paying Income Tax, the fact that you are going to enlarge the electorate very soon must make every man who is anxious about the stability of the State consider whether you are really going to treat as an anomaly a system which allows important interests and views to have some sort of represent 1340 ation. It has been said by the noble Marquess, and I have heard the observation before, that these classes are very well able to defend themselves in other ways, but when they do they are severely anim-adverted upon by noble Lords. Are they going to do that in the future? I think the signs are in another direction, and that the force and the position and the situation of wealth is greatly diminished and will be still more diminished before the next generation has passed away.
§ The question is interesting when looked at historically. You enlarged the franchise in 1832, and you retained plural voting when you brought in the middle classes. Then again in 1867 and in 1884, when you included the town and the country householder, even then you retained plural voting. And now when you are bringing in masses of new voters who cannot be said to have great political experience, surely it is absurd to remove that one check and balance which you retained in 1832 and 1867 and 1884. Are you going merely to apply these abstract doctrines to the complicated affairs of State and become pure Pythagoreans, mere apostles of the supreme importance of numbers. I should like to ask this question. Is plural voting as it has been suggested by the noble Marquess and others really an anomaly? I contend that it is absolutely the opposite. I say that the plural voter is a necessary and radical part of our present system of representation. I contend, further, that your system of "one man one vote" is an anomaly itself, and that you bring about by this Bill one of the greatest anomalies you could introduce into your electoral system.
§ The antithesis is generally put by noble Lords opposite as existing between the representation of property and the representation of men. It is nothing of the kind. The antithesis is between the representation of mere individuals and the representation of individuals collected together and associated together in communities. I venture to think that that is a splendid system, and I think we all have the experience that you have to be a good patriot before you can be a good cosmopolitan, and very often you find that a professor of humanity does not hold very inspiring views about the character and prosperity of his own country. When you are 1341 recognising the value in history of ancient institutions, it is a remarkable thing that you are going to discard this spirit now when it is most wanted in your electoral life. I feel most strongly that it is precisely in democratic days and countries that you want more than ever, much more than you did under oligarchally ruled countries, to stir the feelings of all the citizens to a reverence for the institutions and the feelings of the past. I suggest also that your representative system is inseparable from the plural voter. A man is not sent to the House of Commons merely as a representative; he is sent as a representative of a particular locality. There are a great many private Bills introduced into Parliament in regard to which counsel and advice in the locality may be very necessary, of which the locality would be entirely deprived if the plural voter was not able to use his vote and influence in that particular place. We know that many Members retain their seats, not on account of their political views, but rather on account of their personal popularity. I think I may allude to the noble Lord who is going to follow me in the Debate to-night, who sat for many years as Member for South Somerset, not, if he will pardon me for saving so, owing to his political opinions, but owing to his own personal attractions, and the moment he retired that constituency returned a Conservative Member. You must defend, if you support this Bill, the principle of one man one vote, of perfect equality; and that is a principle which I think you apply so far, and only so far, as it squares with your nice calculation of Party advantage. You are not content with attacking only the representation of locality and property; you attack the representation of education as well. The noble Marquess said, "We are not taking away the representation from the Universities." I know. But what is the record of the Government? In their Irish measure they take away the representation of Universities, and also in the Scottish Bill; and in the Franchise Bill of last year, of which this is a fragment, they destroyed the representation of Universities. If anybody supposes that there is any tenderness going to be shown to University representation, all I can say is they will find they are mistaken.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
In the Irish Bill the representation of Dublin University is retained.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Perhaps that was my mistake. It may be good enough for Ireland, because Ireland is put outside the Parliamentary system. But anyhow the noble Marquess will not deny that it is true both of the Scottish Bill and of the Franchise Bill. That is what I complain of. This power of the representation of Universities is taken away indirectly. I would rather it were done directly, if it is to be done at all. The whole of the nine University Members, who are unfortunately Unionists, are going to be abolished as the result of this Bill. That seems to be an amazing paradox when you are insisting more than ever you insisted on the necessity for higher education, and when the Minister for Education, only a day or two ago in another place, said there ought to be a broad pathway fashioned to the University. You select this time to discredit the University by taking away its representation in Parliament. The plain man looks at facts, and if the University is going to be dishonoured by an Electoral Bill the plain man will probably consider that education is not so important in the minds of the Government, and possibly in his own, as the Government would like to make him consider. You are proposing to multiply the number of Universities. Is it not of supreme importance that the high standard of University education in this country should be fully maintained, and that the representatives of the older Universities should be able, from their place in the House of Commons, to maintain that higher standard? For myself I would very much rather that the new Universities got representation than that you should take away the representation from the older Universities.
I cannot help referring for a moment to the position of the City of London. We are told again that the City of London is not going to be disfranchised—and here again it is no doubt unfortunate that the City of London should send two Conservative Members to Parliament. But I do think it is very ungrateful of noble Lords opposite to treat the City of London in this way when it is remembered that for centuries the City of London supported the Whig Party and those causes on which the Whig Party laid most stress. When you are talking of a city which has been, and which justly boasts to be, the chief monetary centre of the world, it is regrettable that you cannot make an exception and secure that the City of London shall have direct 1343 representation in the Imperial Parliament. May I, as one last word, remind you on that point that the City itself boasts the right for its two Members to sit on the Treasury Bench in the House of Commons. That right was given and is still maintained, because of the great part which the City played against the tyranny of Charles I, and in protecting the five Members from his illegal attacks. I do not pretend to prophesy about the future, but if you say there are anomalies about the system of plural voting I cannot believe that when this Bill is passed there may not be some system which will give recognition to brains, to success, and to education.
I must, passing away from that question, ask who is the plural voter, because if we are objecting to the plural voter let us be certain that we have got at the right man and are not attacking the wrong one. The noble Marquess referred to certain discrepancies. In the large constituencies compared with the small constituencies those discrepancies are so prodigious that they really relegate the plural voter in this Bill to an insignificant place. Take Romford with its 57,000 electors, Walthamstow with its 43,000, Harrow with its 43,000 and Wandsworth with its 39,000, and compare those with Bury with its 2,800, St. Georges-in-the-East with its 3,000, Pontefract with its 3,700, and Whitehaven with its 3,000. I had the experience of standing for one of the largest and sitting for one of the smallest, and I prefer the comparative repose of the one to the prodigious physical exertions entailed by the other. The disparity between the largest and the smallest is rapidly growing greater. The percentage was 8 to 1 in 1884, in 1900 it was 18 to 1, and now in 1913 it is 34 to 1. I do not like to refer to Kilkenny, for I think the noble Marquess has a special affection for that minute borough. In four constituencies there are 184,000 voters, in fifty constituencies there are also 184,000 voters—four against fifty. One-half of the 670 Members returned to the House of Commons represent 5,500,000 electors; the other half represent 2,500,000. One-half of the electorate send 459 Members to Parliament; the other half send 211. In the face of gigantic discrepancies of that kind is it any use talking of this miserable half-million of plural voters whose rights you want to take away? If representation means anything, if your representative system is to 1344 be put on any sort of basis, surely if you were to appeal to an impartial person—I do not say there are any in this country, but let us take the President of the Swiss Republic or some man of noted impartiality of that sort—would he not tell you that this anomaly is so great that it should be dealt with before anything else, especially at a time when you are bringing about great changes in the Constitution?
Then, again, the injustice is very great as between countries. Take the average number of voters whom each Member represents. The Irish Member represents 6,800 electors, the Scottish Member 11,000, the Welsh Member 12,500, and the English Member comes at the top of the scale as representing 13,200. So that as regards the countries, England, the predominant partner, is most heavily weighted. In one or two instances the stress is very heavy against the Conservative Party. At the present moment in Scotland one Unionist Member represents 25,000 voters, whereas each Liberal Member represents 6,000 voters. Those discrepancies arise by the accidents of the representation. What prodigious changes there would be in the representation if those discrepancies could be corrected! If I may allude to the position of Parties in 1906—that terrible election for us—the Liberals came back 428 strong, that is including the Labour Party of course, and the Unionists 155. If you had had any sort of equal representation—I do not say the sort of mathematical system which the noble Marquess alluded to—you would have had a representation of 327 Liberals and 256 Unionists instead of 155; and if you had had a minority of 256 instead of 155, what a prodigious difference there would have been in the legislation of the House of Commons at that time. These electoral anomalies cry to Heaven. I submit that it is ridiculous to suggest in any dealing with the matter that these anomalies should not be first selected for revision. Of course, I know it is suggested that there is a delicious doctrine of averages—one of those pleasant doctrines which not only are not true but are so terribly false—that what you lose in one way you make up in another. The figures I have given your Lordships show explicitly that that is not so. In these days when Party feeling is so keen and when Party spirit is so much regarded, that comfortable feeling which satisfied our ancestors will no longer satisfy us to-day.
1345 The noble Marquess said, with regard to the case of Ireland, "If you complain about Ireland, we are remedying that grievance because we are giving them only forty-two Members instead of the sixty-five which they deserve." I am considering this on the basis of existing institutions, because, of course, no man can say when those forty-two Members are going to make their appearance in the House of Commons. The noble Marquess seemed to me not fairly to represent the state of things which existed at the Union. He dealt with the Union as if the Members had been based on numbers. They were not. They were based on the mean of two proportions, numbers and contribution. If the principle is sacred, surely its application can be varied with circumstances. But this talk is all idle from the point of view of the Government, because in 1893 they did their best to force through the House of Commons a measure tearing up the Union although at the time there was a majority of the predominant partner in the House of Commons in favour of maintaining the Union. Therefore it does not lie in their mouths to deal with that matter.
We are told that all sorts of things are going to follow, and we are going to have redistribution shortly on the heels of this Bill. We have heard a good many of these undertakings and pledges, but as unfortunately they are all of them conditioned by time and circumstance I think the noble Marquess will not consider me discourteous if I place rather less confidence in them than I should be inclined to do in any other undertakings he is likely to make. He says, Why are you so anxious for redistribution? that is just as likely to be as advantageous to us as to you. From the point of view of the ordinary Member there is a great divergence between this Bill and redistribution. First of all, plural voting is a definite advantage in this way, that the Member of the House of Commons can go down to his constituency and tot up the numbers. He discovers that by the abolition of plural voting he would be 100 or 200 votes to the good, and he comes back to the House of Commons blazing with indignation against the plural voter and burning to redress this terrific wrong. It is very different with regard to redistribution. It is all uncertainty. The Member does not know where there are going to be two constituencies instead of three, whether he will not be the one who is to be sacrificed, 1346 and every Member looks upon his own constituency as being the linch-pin of the universe. He is not certain whether he will be the one who is going to survive, and that is why it is so vastly different to pass a measure of that kind through a representative Assembly from merely cutting away the plural voter, which is such a very simple matter. When is this to be done? It is to be done towards the end of 1915, when, according to the noble Earl on the Front Bench, the Ministers are arriving at that mental phase which is the necessary condition of all ageing Governments. An Amendment was moved in another place suggesting that this measure should not come into force until a measure of redistribution had been passed. That was refused. If the Government had accepted that, I should have placed much more confidence in their pledges as to distribution.
Then, my Lords, there is a mass of other anomalies. There is the question of the returning officers' fees. That is a small matter, no doubt. I had the pleasure once of sharing a payment of £900 with my opponent in the Harrow division, which seemed to me a very large sum, in order that I might be returned or not returned to the House of Commons. Then you have the thirteen different franchises and the nineteen different varieties full of anomalies, as anybody who studies the electoral law knows. The greatest anomaly of all is the length of residence necessary for qualification. Take the last election in 1910. Only those people could vote at that election in 1910 who had been in residence since June, 1908. All those who had changed their residence during that time—and in a London constituency perhaps 30 per cent. of the electors had changed their residence—were disfranchised, which is a gross and monstrous injustice; and if anything is done with the electoral law that matter surely ought to be dealt with at once. In the face of all these anomalies I ask, Why are we asked to deal in this piecemeal manner with the plural voter? I think the proposition is absurd. I ask your Lordships, with some confidence, to reject this measure because it is really directed against the cardinal principles on which our Constitution is based. I want you to give the Government a chance of reconsidering this Bill, and of bringing in another measure based on a fairer and more national basis divorced from the sinister suspicions of Party bias and of Party gain. I beg to move.
To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting the following Resolution, viz., ("this House is not prepared to accept a Bill which deals only with the question of Plural Voting and makes no attempt to remove the serious imperfections of the present Electoral Law.") —(Viscount Peel.)
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD STRACHIE)
My Lords, while I do not intend to follow the noble Viscount over the large field he has travelled. I desire to take exception to his statement that this Bill is an undisguised attempt to take a Party advantage. I agree with what the Leader of the House said, that it is very doubtful if there is much Party advantage in this particular Bill to either side. It may affect a few seats undoubtedly. I have had long experience of Parliamentary elections, I hope the noble Viscount will pardon me for saying a greater experience than he himself has had, for in my time I have fought eight hotly-contested Parliamentary elections; and while I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for the kind way in which he referred to myself and attributed to a large extent my return to the House of Commons to personal grounds—simply because the men in the district knew me and voted for me from personal considerations—I have to inform him that it is very likely that I was returned to the House of Commons on one or two occasions by a greater majority than I otherwise would have had—and perhaps I might not otherwise have retained my seat—owing to the plural voter who came and voted for me on personal grounds even although he would have given a Conservative vote under other circumstances. So that I think the personal argument is rather a doubtful one used against myself.
If I may take another illustration from the county in which I live and which I used to represent in another place, I think I can show that the plural vote is not entirely a Party advantage. You cannot say that a seat may be safe for either Party because of the plural vote. I do not see the noble Lord here who used to sit for the Frome division, but that is a typical case of the plural vote. There are some 400 to 600 plural voters in the Frome division of Somerset. But although on my side we believe that the great majority of those men are Conservatives 1348 and vote Conservative habitually and certainly if they did so it would make the seat safe—yet it is rather remarkable that the noble Lord who sat for that division did not at all have a safe seat, for sometimes he sat for it and sometimes he was not re-elected, showing that the plural voter cannot be said to be an asset which makes it perfectly certain that in that seat at any rate a Conservative would be returned. And it cannot be said that by abolishing the plural vote we should, on our hand, make that seat perfectly safe for ourselves. It is very doubtful indeed, when there is very strong feeling in the country at a General Election, what way the plural voter will vote. There is as much doubt as in the case of any other voter.
The noble Viscount went on to say that the main principle on which this Bill is based is simply Party advantage. I contend that it is nothing of the kind. The main principle of the Bill is to remove an anomaly. I think there are very few noble Lords, and certainly very few who are going to take part in contested elections, who would take the line which the noble Viscount took as to the reasons why you ought to maintain the plural voter. The noble Viscount said it was necessary in these days, especially when you had Income Tax at a high figure, the Super-Tax and Death Duties, that the best men should be able to vote two or three times. What practically he meant was that the richest men of the country who would suffer most by high taxation ought to have an opportunity of voting against that taxation four or five times over at the same election. If the noble Viscount really thought that was desirable he ought to have gone further and said that it should not be a mere question of whether it is an accident that a man happened to have a thousand acres distributed over four or five electoral divisions, but that he ought to have votes according to the actual acreage he holds in any particular county. As the case is now, a man may hold 10,000 or 20,000 acres in one county and have only one vote, while a man with a thousand acres in two or three different counties may have a vote for every single Member of Parliament returned for those different counties. If you press it to an extreme, the ridiculous state of things might arise that a man with £10,000 a year might have merely one vote, while another man who 1349 had property in different parts of the country producing, say, £1,000 a year, would be able, by getting 40s. qualifications all over the country to have, it might be, something like 400 or 500 votes in different constituencies. So it may fairly be said that it is an absolute anomaly that anybody who likes to buy property qualifications of 40s. each should be at once put on the electoral roll, although his interests are infinitesimal as compared with the interests of the people who actually live in the district itself. Therefore there is no justification whatever for saying that we have picked out a fragment from the Franchise Bill simply for the purpose of electoral gain. The only object of the Government has been to do away with this great anomaly. The majority of the people in a locality think it right that they should be able to send their own representative to Parliament, and object to people from, say, Cumberland, or Westmorland, or Northumberland coming down to Somerset, or Dorset, or Wilts and outvoting the man the local people wish to represent them.
Again, this Bill is only following a precedent which was set by the Conservative Government as long ago as 1888. When the Local Government Act of that year was set up it had for its object the election in every county of a local parliament upon which the local interest should be represented, and great care was taken under that Act that it should be impossible for any man to vote in more than nine electoral district if an election was going on for the county council. Although a Mall may be registered on the Parliamentary register in every division in which he has property, yet for the county council election he is able to vote in only one of those areas. If that applies in the case of the local parliament for a particular county, why should it not apply in the case of the Imperial Parliament? I take it that the same rule applies for rural district council elections. A man may own property in every parish in the rural district council area, but when there is an election for the rural district council he can only vote in one of those districts. Therefore there is already set up the precedent recognising that it is not right that a man should have more than one vote for these local purposes; and as regards these local purposes, it is perhaps even more important for a property owner to have 1350 more votes than one and to have larger representation in the various districts in which he has property than in the case of the Imperial Parliament. Those of us who have had to do with local matters know that the increase in the rates is a much more burning question in the various localities of the country than many Imperial questions. A man may suffer much more in his own person in the matter of rates by an extravagant county council or rural district council, yet he has not the protection that the noble Viscount wishes him to have in the Imperial Parliament of being able to use influence greater than that of the other electors in the area.
Then the noble Viscount said that this Bill was nicely timed for His Majesty's Government. I will tell the noble Viscount at once why it is only possible to bring in this smaller Bill now. Last year a great Electoral Reform Bill was brought in, and, for reasons the noble Viscount is aware of, that Bill had to be withdrawn. If a Bill were introduced in the House of Commons at the present moment to deal with the franchise, registration, and redistribution it would be impossible that that Bill could be brought into force unless by common consent; and I do not think a Redistribution Bill would be treated either in this House or in the House of Commons as an agreed Bill. The only thing the Government could do, therefore, was to bring in this Bill, which can be passed under the Parliament Act and which can come into force by the next General Election. That is a possible thing, and it is very desirable that it should be the case.
The noble Viscount said that he had never heard any complaint at all throughout the country when the last Plural Voting Bill was rejected by this House. All I can say as regards that is that my experience has been exactly the opposite. As I have said, I have fought a good many more elections than the noble Viscount has, and I can say without fear of contradiction that in all places there was a very strong feeling expressed as to the unfairness of one man having two or three votes and another man having only one vote at a Parliamentary election. There was a general feeling that it was an anomaly that those living in a particular district should be outvoted by plural voters coming in 1351 from outside. The noble Viscount himself admitted that, because he said that one of the great things was that representation should be based on local principles, and that you ought, as far as possible, to have men to look after local interests. I venture to say that the best way of obtaining that is to see that the only people who vote shall be men who have a direct personal interest in the constituency through living and carrying on their work and gaining their livelihood in the constituency. Surely those are the men who are most interested as regards local matters. I believe that the reason why I myself was fortunate for so many years to retain my seat in Somerset was that a large number of people like to have a local man and a man belonging to the county—a man living in and connected with the county, and voted for by people who also live in and are connected with the county. If a candidate does not live in the county his interests necessarily cannot be so great, in the personal affairs of the county; and men coming in from outside and recording their votes in a particular district will vote, perhaps, for purely Party considerations, and will not allow purely local considerations to influence their vote, as often happens in the case of those who are living in the district.
I cannot see that the noble Viscount has brought forward any argument at all in favour of his Amendment except the one argument, which I do not think he is inclined to push any further, that those who have the greatest stake in the country ought at the same time to have the largest voting power in the country. But, my Lords, the present state of things does not entirely do that. As I have already pointed out, if a man has a large stake in land all in one particular district he has only one vote. His representation is not any greater because he happens to own 50,000 acres, or to possess £50,000 a year; whereas if he happened to have this large sum of money in realty in half a dozen different counties he would probably have half a dozen votes or more. If you are to carry that out you must go backwards and introduce proposals basing the whole representation of the people on the antiquated interest of property. That is what it would, in practice, come to; and I venture once more to say that when the noble Viscount said minorities ought to be represented, it is the argument that the rich man minority ought to be represented. 1352 The real fact is this, that the noble Viscount strongly resents rich men being deprived of their at present immense power of securing a vote in any district in which they like to acquire a 40s. freehold. That, to my mind, is an argument which this House ought not to regard, and I am perfectly certain that it is an argument which would be rejected in nine-tenths of the constituencies in this country, whether Liberal or Conservative.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the noble Marquess in his opening observations drew attention to what seemed to him a change in the recognised procedure from the fact that my noble friend behind me rose to move the rejection of this Bill rather than a noble Lord on the Bench on which I sit. I do not think that the duty could have been placed in more competent hands. I have never heard a more conclusive and from his point of view convincing speech than that which my noble friend delivered. But there is another reason why it was particularly appropriate that my noble friend should have moved this Amendment. The noble Viscount moved an Amendment to the Parliament Bill in the House of Commons on May 1, 1911. He moved that the operation of the Parliament Act should be restricted to one Bill in a session, and he drew from the Prime Minister the assurance that all his fears were groundless. The Prime Minister on that occasion said that my noble friend had drawn an alarming picture of a future Government trying to carry through in a single session a number of first-class controversial pleasures. He pointed out that that would not be the case, and that it was only where there were acute matters of principle in controversy between the two Houses that the Parliament Act would be brought into operation. Yet, my Lords, here we are, within a fortnight or three weeks of the end of the session, engaged on the third measure which is being hurried through by His Majesty's Government under the Parliament Act. That is the position which my noble friend foresaw, and I cannot help feeling glad, therefore, that it has fallen to him to move the rejection of this Bill. But of course noble Lords on the Front Bench on this side take full share of the responsibility.
There is something humorous at this stage of the session in the noble Marquess who leads the House twitting the Front 1353 Opposition Bench with not taking an adequate part in the debates. I would ask your Lordships to recall on how many occasions during this session have speeches been made on this side without any attempt at answer from the Front Bench opposite. We have heard a reply made by the Government, and then an absolutely crushing rejoinder with fresh facts in support of it from this Bench; yet not a word have we heard by way of further answer. That travesty of debate is the reason why, in my opinion, the debates in your Lordships' House have been worse attended this session than has been the case since I have had the honour of listening to your debates. The noble Marquess said that he was no admirer of plural voting, and he expressed a desire to get rapidly to work to get rid of it. Well, some of us sit here by our own right and vote for other members of the House as representatives of the Scottish or Irish Peerages. That is a privilege of plural voting which I enjoy myself, but it is one which the noble Marquess has never troubled himself to remember in his zeal for abolishing plural voting. I sincerely hope, therefore, that that may stimulate him to assist the Prime Minister to put in the forefront next session that measure for the reform of the constitution of your Lordships' House which we have for two or three years anxiously anticipated, and which as a matter of honour the Government have pledged themselves to see through. The actual measure which we are engaged upon the noble Marquess told us was really an affair of the House of Commons.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I cannot recall any remark that I made of that kind. I do not think I said that.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I forget the noble Marquess's exact words, but I thought he said that it was rather a domestic question.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I am sorry if I have misrepresented the noble Marquess, but I thought that was his view. However, I was merely going to point out that this House has a particular acquaintance with the business of electioneering; and if our capacity to deal with it is challenged, I should like to remind the noble Marquess 1354 that sitting on this Bench are no fewer than ten noble Lords who, between them, make an average of twenty years' service in another place, and that is a very high average. The acquaintance with the electoral law which we therefore have entitles us, I thick, to be heard on this subject. I will not labour what my noble friend has said so admirably as to the representation of communities, but I earnestly hope that in the consideration of the number of plural votes we shall not mix up two questions which seem to me entirely distinct. I do not think any member of your Lordships' House would be specially concerned to defend a system of faggot votes. So far as the possession by one man of a dozen qualifications in different parts of the country is concerned, no doubt that is a state of things against which much may be said; but of the 500,000 plural votes I believe those who know the subject well will tell you that by far the larger number are legitimate and desirable qualifications, and that, if communities are to be represented at all, you would be abstracting from the communities some of those who have the best right to vote if you deprived these men of their power of plural voting.
Is it in the interest of true representation that a man who has a residence and a vote in the country should be deprived of his vote in a town where he has a large business and a direct interest? In old days to a much greater extent than is the case at present men lived over their business premises or in close contiguity to them. But all that is changed now. Even comparatively small men leave the towns in which they carry on business and take houses in the country. If we consider what the position of such men is— men who employ largely in the town in which they carry on their business and devote their whole time there with the exception of the hours they spend at their residences in the country; men who, therefore, have great interest in the affairs of the town—I venture to say that not merely have they the right to form a part of that consultative community who send a Member to Parliament to represent the town, but that you cannot do a worse thing for the cause of the towns than to say to such a man that the moment he has a residential interest in the country elsewhere he is to resign his vote in the town in which he carries on his business and is to have practically nothing more to 1355 do with the community amongst whom he is making his money than if he were a mere shareholder in a public company.
In this Bill the Government draw a distinction between by-elections and General Elections, as my noble friend pointed out. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, when discussing the Home Rule Bill the other night, pointed out to us on this side of the House that whereas we had based our conception of the rights of Ulster to a large extent on the fact that the majority of the representatives of Ulster were opposed to Home Rule, that argument had been rather cut away from us by the fact that the result of the by-election at Derry had changed that position. But I would point out that the present Member for Derry was returned by a majority of some eight or nine votes. According to my noble friend we ought to have changed our views in consequence of the result of that by-election. But let us suppose that a General Election takes place immediately afterwards, then the present balance will be lost, not because of any change of opinion on the part of the electors in Derry but because certain persons who are eligible to vote at a by-election are withdrawn at a General Election. Could any anomaly be greater than that?
Our electoral laws require to be reformed from top to bottom. The breaches that have been made since the Act of 1884 are so wide that we have gone back to the condition of things which Parliament, by that Act, said should be set aside. It is impossible that the present distribution should be allowed to continue much longer. Shall I weary your Lordships if I mention just one or two cases I have in mind in order that you may see the enormity of the anomalies we are going to pass over as compared with the very modest one, to put it at the highest, which we are going to redress by this Bill. In the first place, as my noble friend said, the returning officer has to be paid by the candidates. What could be a greater anomaly? That might have been considered reasonable when a seat in Parliament was regarded as a service gratuitously given, but when you come to paying Members of Parliament is it not an anomaly to ask a candidate to put down £450 as an investment to obtain £400 a year for carrying out his duties.
Then by the Act of 1884 a special limit was placed upon the charges which were 1356 to be incurred upon elections. It was provided that upon halls and speakers and posters there should only be such a reasonable expenditure as would enable the electors to hear a candidate and his supporters, but that there should not be an exaggerated attempt by the expenditure of money to influence the poll. The result of the system on both sides has been to drive a coach-and-four through that provision. I cannot spend as a candidate more than a certain sum on posters, but an association may come down into my constituency and placard the whole district with the very things I desire to see put up. I cannot pay the fare of a single speaker, yet associations can send speakers in such numbers into it constituency that I have heard in one case of sixty or seventy meetings being held in support of one candidate on the night before the poll: In order that Grimsby might be stimulated by the eloquence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, he was brought from Scotland by a series of special trains, at enormous expense, in order that on the eve of the poll he might rally the electors of Grimsby to the great principles of Irish disunion and Welsh plunder. Who paid for that? I should like to know. Not the candidate; he could not afford it. And as to the distinguished and eminent statesman who was brought there, it would be rather hard on him, after his exertions to get there, to be out of pocket to the tune of several hundred pounds. But thanks to some philanthropic administrator of Party funds an amount was shelled out which in itself probably equalled one-third or one-half of what the candidate himself was allowed to spend on his election expenses during that election. That gross anomaly rouses me a great deal more than the idea of a couple of hundred plural voters who happen to be employers coming into the town in which their business is carried on in order to record their votes.
My noble friend quoted Mr. Crooks, a Labour Member. I would like to quote another Labour Member, Mr. Snowden, who said that in most constituencies twenty or twenty-five per cent. of the workmen moved every year. By the Act of 1884 you are not allowed to pay the railway fare of one of those men to bring him back to vote; you may not send a fly for him, or pay sixpence to bring him back. But since 1884 there has arisen the great system of travel by motor car, and 1357 the intention of Parliament has been frustrated and motor cars are now marshalled and sent off sometimes as far as 200 or 300 miles to bring up voters. Not a farthing may be spent by a candidate in cab fares to bring these voters back; yet they can be brought up at an expenditure three or four times as great as if they had come by train. I know a case of one philanthropic lady who bought ten motor cars just before a General Election and brought to the poll thousands of voters and received the thanks of our Party. There is also the effect upon the voter who sees a large number of men—men who perhaps only came to live in the place for a time in order to carry out a building job or something of the kind and who had left the district and had no further interest in it, men knowing nothing about the trade of the place or the local requirements and perhaps caring less, and men who might have a strong bias in favour of Fair Trade when the voter himself has a strong bias in favour of Free Trade—brought in from outside to out-vote the local electors, a thing which under the law can be done but which is a direct violation of the spirit of the Act. His Majesty's Government propose to allow such an anomaly as that to remain.
On the question of our present registration system I should like to read what was said by Mr. Pease in the House of Commons. He said—If an individual goes into a constituency on the 17th of next month (July), he will not of course obtain a vote for this year. He will not obtain a vote during 1913, and he will not obtain a vote during 1914, but he will only go on the register on the 1st January, 1915.That anomaly in our electoral law cries for redress. We are all ready to redress it. I should think that you could carry an unopposed Bill on that subject. But you leave it alone because that is a thing which cuts both ways; whereas to this measure, Mr. Pease says—I am quite prepared to make the admission freely to hon. and right hon. gentlemen opposite that by the abolition of the plural vote we do expect to gain on this side of the House.With regard to redistribution all the facts have been put before your Lordships already, but there is one fact which brings home the great inequality in the present law. Mr. Snowden told the House of Commons that although he was an un- 1358 successful candidate in 1900 he polled more votes than 650 out of the 670 Members returned at that election of them; and yet there was no second ballot or any of the remedies which are provided abroad in such cases. I am not recommending the adoption of them, although I do strongly say that when we talk of one vote one value we may not mean absolute equality.
It is impossible for the electoral distribution of seats to remain much longer in the present condition. How is it going to be changed? Instead of introducing a Small and partial and one-sided measure, would it not have been more statesmanlike and more practical for the Government to approach this side of the House, as Mr. Gladstone was ultimately forced to do? Surely this is a subject which ought not to be relegated to the Parliament Act and passed piecemeal with all the friction and all the imperfections inherent in a Bill of this character, but which ought to be dealt with in a frank and generous spirit by an interchange of views between the two Parties, such as had to take place in the case of every Reform Bill that has ever been carried into law. There was an enormous amount of concession with regard to the Reform Bill of 1831; the Reform Bill of 1867 was adopted by one Party after it had been put forward by another; and the Bill of 1881 was arrived at by agreement.
The aspect of this House to-night when the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, was speaking was not eloquent of any great feeling in the country for a Bill which he warned us we should be very unwise to reject. When he rose there were fourteen members of his own Party present in the House to support him, and when be sat down there were fifteen. We know that noble Lords opposite are in a minority in this House, but we also know that His Majesty's Government have created fifty or sixty new Peers to support such measures; and I can only say that the interest taken by noble Lords opposite in this Bill is indicative generally of the feeling that exists with regard to it throughout the country. I may say that I have not been asked a single question in the country with regard to this Bill. I believe no constituency has petitioned for the Bill. If it is passed I do not believe a single bonfire will be lit in the country, and if it is rejected I do not 1359 think any man will shed a tear except, perhaps, the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, who will find himself unable to secure the return of those he desires to see in Parliament. That being the position, I think my noble friend is amply justified in the Amendment which he has submitted to your Lordships.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, has drawn attention to the lack of interest shown by noble Lords opposite with regard to this Bill. So far only two noble Lords on the Ministerial side of the House have hardened their hearts sufficiently to say one word in favour of the Bill. I have listened very attentively to their speeches. I listened to the carefully-reasoned speech delivered by the noble Marquess opposite, but I venture to say that nothing that fell from his lips in any way controverted the conclusive arguments brought against this Bill by my noble friend Lord Peel. Lord Strachie has tried to establish a precedent for this Bill. He accused us of inconsistency in opposing it. He pointed to the Local Government Act of 1888 which was passed by a Unionist Government, and said that under that Act we gave only one vote within a county area to any man who had interests in the county. There is no analogy between the two cases. As regards local government, the county council represents broader county questions, and local interests are safeguarded by the borough councils and smaller bodies. A man within a county area has really more than one vote if he has interests within the areas which are under the control of the smaller bodies, and those interests are safeguarded by the vote which he possesses in each of those areas. Then the noble Marquess opposite tried to find some comfort—I felt that he was endeavouring to reassure what seemed to me a somewhat guilty conscience —when he said that, as regards Irish representation the Government by introducing the Government of Ireland Bill would, in fact, reduce the representation of Irish Members to forty-two, whereas under a redistribution scheme we would have to give Ireland at least sixty-five. But if the principle on which our electoral system is based is in any way the representation of communities within certain defined areas, then the interests of the electors of Ireland will be safeguarded by the Members of the Irish Parliament which the 1360 Government propose to set up. So far from taking any credit for their action, I would almost say that in leaving forty-two Irish Members to come over here and vote on all sorts of questions the Government are really establishing a vast number of plural voters represented by those forty-two Irish Members.
The object of this Bill is quite clear. It is to alter the law in favour of the Party at present in power, while leaving untouched the more serious anomalies in our electoral system. In carrying out their object, the Government are going to take away from 400,000 or 500,000 electors rights which have been conferred upon them in respect to representation in Parliament. It is left to a Liberal Government to bring forward the first Bill which has for its main object a restriction of the franchise, a restriction avowedly brought forward to secure a Party advantage. That was admitted by the noble Marquess when he was speaking this evening. He said that the Bill might be of considerable advantage to his Party. It was more frankly admitted by one of his colleagues in another place during the Second Reading of the Bill. Mr. Pease said—Of course I admit that we believe from a Party point of view the passage of this Bill would be an advantage to us; that there are many small constituencies in which by the abolition of plural voting, we should secure a better majority for our candidates than we have at the present time.I can add nothing to those words. I can only say this. If politics were a game, and if members of the Government found themselves on the committee of management, what would any one of them think if they made use of their position on the committee to alter the rules of the game in order to secure an advantage to themselves in the game they were playing? In the private affairs of life we can regard our political opponents as honourable gentlemen, but different rules apparently seem to apply when the object of the game is political place and power.
It is true that the Government have given us a pledge to deal with other electoral reforms during the lifetime of the present Parliament. Mr. Pease, on the introduction of the Bill, unfolded the programme of the Government. He put himself a very pertinent question and then proceeded to supply his own answer. He said—The question, therefore, which I presume they could like to put to me is this. 'Why introduce 1361 legislation merely to help One Party in the State from an electoral standpoint and defer franchise registration and electoral reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords and redistribution—subjects on which there might be a great consensus of opinion in all quarters of the House?' My reply to any such question would be that during the lifetime of the present Parliament we intend to proceed with those reforms.That is a somewhat ambitious programme and, as Lord Peel said, it is a question whether there will be time and opportunity to carry out these things; but in any case we have here a distinct pledge on the part of His Majesty's Government, and I would not for the would cast any doubt on the value of that pledge. It will form a very valuable addition to the numerous pledges which have been given to us by His Majesty's Government in recent years. We on this side of the House might, however, point out to noble Lords opposite that the Government which they represent are pledged to reform our Second Chamber. They are pledged to readjust the burdens of Imperial and local taxation before a certain date, which has long since gone by. They are pledged to carry out a good many measures of considerable magnitude, measures which would take a considerable time if they are to be placed in a satisfactory form on the Statute Book. Surely the noble Marquess, in offering us this new promissory note on behalf of the Government, this Government I O U, is adopting somewhat the attitude of Mr. Micawber when he found himself in a difficulty as regards his obligations. Your Lordships have probably read "David Copperfield." There is a well known passage in that book to which, with the permission of the House, I should like to allude. The passage runs as follows—To leave my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles," said Mr. Micawber, "without acquitting myself of the pecuniary part of the obligation would weigh on my mind to an unsupportable extent. I have therefore prepared for my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles and I now hold in my hand a document which accomplishes the desired object. I beg to hand to my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles my I O U, and I am happy to recover my moral dignity and to know that I can once-more walk erect before my fellow men.I can only suppose that the members of the Government, like Mr. Micawber, having handed us their I O U, imagine that they once more have earned the right to walk erect before their fellow men. I confess I cannot see that this Bill in itself confers any such right upon members of the Government.
1362 As I have pointed out, this Bill is drawn up simply with the object of securing a Party advantage to the Radicals when they have to face the electors of the country. A challenge was given to us from the opposite side of the House in regard to the question of plural voting in itself. I dispute altogether the proposition that there is anything wrong in a man under certain circumstances having more than one vote. I deny that plural voting is an anomaly in our electoral system. It is certainly not inconsistent with the representation of localities or communities. But no doubt it is true that a certain number of people, as the noble Marquess said, are opposed to plural voting. I cannot admit that they are so numerous as the noble Marquess imagined, and a good many of those people are opposed to plural voting only because they believe that plural voting means that a man may vote more than once in the same constituency. This, of course, is not so, but whether Radical speakers who condemn plural voting are always careful to explain that fact to their audiences is open to question.
The noble Lord who spoke last on the opposite side of the House dealt entirely with plural voting on a property basis. But I would ask your Lordships to take the ease, which is far more common, of a man who has succeeded by brains and energy and ability in building up a successful business in a district, and whose enterprise has brought in its train prosperity and employment to many people in the district. Surely a man of that hind is entitled to vote in the constituency in which his business is situated, although he may possess a vote in the locality in which he resides. Putting aside that argument, I would like to revert to what was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Peel in regard to education. Are not brains and the trained ability on which the whole future of this country is going to depend worthy of some representation? The members of the present Government talk a great deal about education. I feel inclined to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who, as we all know, takes great interest in educational reform, why members of the Government are so opposed to brains and ability receiving representation in Parliament. Do they really think that these attributes are so common as to seriously imperil the chances of their Party at the polls?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
As the noble Earl appeals to me I would answer that brains and ability are not represented by University constituencies. Those constituencies consist mostly of people who do not live there and who form a dominant majority.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
The University vote is another matter, with which I will deal presently. At present my contention is that the plural voter represents to a very large extent the brains and business ability of the country.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
The noble and learned Viscount disagrees, but I say that where a man gets a plural vote and is qualified to vote in more than one constituency it is because he has built up those interests by means of some inherent quality, in most cases by his energy, his brains, and his ability. If you are going to adopt the principle of making the House of Commons representative merely of numbers, then you are committed to the principle of proportional representation, otherwise your whole theory even of the representation of niece numbers falls to the ground. If you are to have representation of numbers, minorities must be represented. You cannot represent numbers under the system which you propose to set up in this Bill. There are many anomalies which detract, from the representative character of the House of Commons, but you are not going to make that House more representative by bringing in this measure of disfranchisement. The very fact that a man is rated and taxed in more than one constituency does establish his claim to a vote in each of those localities. A large proportion of the time of the House of Commons is devoted to dealing directly with matters of local concern, and I am sure that no member of your Lordships' House who has sat in the House of Commons will contradict me when I say that a great deal of the time of a Member of Parliament in connection with his constituency is concerned with the grievances or the desires either of individual constituents or groups of his constituents. For instance, the local railway service is inadequate, or the postal arrangements leave room for improvement, not altogether an unknown contingency. The Member of Parliament is naturally appealed to. A 1364 glance down the Question List of the House of Commons on any day of the session will show a multitude of semi-private topics raised with regard to the affairs of different localities. A man who has interests in different constituencies has at present the right, if he thinks those interests are being affected by legislation, to approach his Member even if he does not happen to be in political agreement with him. Every elector, irrespective of Party has a right to the services of his Member, but if you abolish a man's vote in all save one constituency you are going to deprive him of the right of approaching a Member of Parliament on the same footing on which he is at present able to approach him, and that to my mind is not in the public interest.
This Bill in taking away these votes contains seeds of further mischief. The Bill provides that at a General Election a man who has more than one vote is only to exercise that vote in one constituency. He is not tied down to any particular constituency. Assuming that a man's interests are affected and he goes to his Member of Parliament, what is going to happen? Will there not be a very strong temptation on the part of the Member of Parliament when he is appealed to for assistance to inquire as to whether that man is going to exercise his vote in his particular constituency at the next General Election? I do not say that the Member of Parliament is going to suggest to the man that in return for his services he should exercise his vote in his favour, as that would amount to bribery; but lie might enquire, and not without some justification, as to whether he is being asked to put himself to a considerable amount of trouble on behalf of a constituent or on behalf of a gentleman to whom he is under no sort of responsibility.
My Lords, this is a bad Bill; it does not even pretend to he an honest attempt to deal with the anomalies in our electoral system, anomalies which prevent the House of Commons from being to-day really representative of the people. It is drawn up with the intention of inflicting an injury on political opponents. The Bill deals with a particular class of voter because the Government, suppose that that class for the most part support Unionist, principles. The last great Bill which was drawn up with a similar object was adorned with a preamble. This Bill is deficient in that respect. If I had been 1365 asked to draw up this Bill for the Government, I could have provided a suitable preamble and one short clause which would have embodied the Government's objects. My Bill would have run as follows:—Whereas the Unionist Party is opposed to many proposals brought forward by the Radical Government: And whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for reducing if possible the representation of Unionists in future Parliaments: And whereas under the Parliament Act, 1911, measures can be passed into law without reference to the people: Be it therefore enacted that it shall be a crime and offence for certain voters at future General Elections to exercise the franchise which by law is conferred upon them.I think that is a fairly concise and accurate method of describing the Government proposals, proposals so contrary to all our ideas of equity and justice that I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Amendment which has been moved from this side of the House.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
My Lords, I wish to say a few words on this subject because there is one point that has hardly been dealt with. No measure is worthy of consideration which does not deal with the most important question of all, the question of making the proportion between the division of opinion in the country and the division of opinion shown by the elected representatives in the House of Commons more real than it is at present. A great deal has been said in and out of the House about the question of one man one vote and one vote one value. I do not think there is a shadow of reality in one or the other as Icing as you retain a system whereby a majority of three or four at an election means as much as a majority of 3,000 or 4,000. You might meet it by the strictly proportional system resting on the basis of a single transferable vote, the basis which was to be adopted in the Irish Bill with regard to the Upper Chamber. That is one method which would require a modification of the single Member system. Where it is admitted that there are many anomalies, it is extremely likely that in correcting one anomaly alone you may do more mischief than good. It is not my intention to go very deeply into the merits or demerits of the plural vote, but I do attach importance to what was said by my noble friend Lord Dunmore, that it is probable that a man who is connected with several districts and possesses votes in those districts may be a 1366 man with a wider view of the wants and interests of the whole country than a man who is only connected with one. What I think you require to do is to consider deeply this question of proportional representation, Reference has been made to what occurred at the election of 1906, and the ridiculous disproportion between the voters and the Members returned to Parliament. That is a matter that requires to be dealt with. It is useless to argue that the representation system cannot be workable unless it is unreal. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, on a former occasion, referred to the old Constitution. When I heard him speak of the old Constitution it occurred to me that there is nothing of the old Constitution left under the Parliament Act. Now that the House of Commons is aimed with powers it never before possessed I think we do need new machinery and safeguards, and this ought to be one of the first considerations of any one who attempts to deal with the subject of electoral reform. I see no considerations of that kind in this Bill. What we require is a broad, comprehensive, statesmanlike measure dealing with the whole of the problems which require solution, and because I think this Bill would rather hinder than help in that direction I trust your Lordships will not give it a Second Reading.
§ [The sitting was suspended at half-past seven and resumed at nine o'clock.]
§ LORD BYRON
My Lords, I should be glad if I might be allowed to add a few words to the arguments that have been used on this side of the House against the charges of inconsistency which have been brought by noble Lords who oppose the Bill. It has been said that it is anomalous pith the feelings of the times that this measure should have been introduced by the Government unsupported by a scheme of redistribution, of Parliamentary reform, or of registration of voters. It has also been said that the Bill is inconsistent with Liberal policy. I propose very briefly to deal with the question of those anomalies. I think I may say that we on this side of the House fully share the regrets of noble Lords opposite that measures dealing with various important matters of electoral reform have not yet been able to be brought forward. They have been accidentally, or perhaps I should say involuntarily, suspended. We know that an Electoral Reform Bill was part of the programme of 1367 the present Government. There is a private Bill for the better registration of electors, and we may be pretty sure that a Redistribution Bill will not be very far behind a Reform Bill. Whether these measures when produced will be more acceptable to noble Lords opposite than the Bill now before your Lordships' House I cannot say. Of one thing, however, I am perfectly certain, and that is that any scheme of electoral reform must contain one element which is present in the Bill now under discussion—the democratic element. I must confess that it surprises me that it is the Unionist Party which has for some time past been calling aloud for these reforms—an Electoral Reform Bill, a Redistribution Bill, and what is more a reform in the constitution of your Lordships' House. All these things have been called for by that great Party which is still in many parts of the country known by its old name of Conservative. This may be a sign of the times and of the pressure of political competition, but, anyhow, there are the facts.
It has been alleged that this Bill, if unaccompanied by a scheme of redistribution, does nothing to change the anomaly of different values for different votes. I admit that that is so; but I do not believe that any scheme of redistribution will do that. It does not matter how you re- distribute your seats, it does not matter what figures you make the basis of population for your new constituencies, there are sure to be some constituencies that will, very soon after the redistribution has taken effect, fall below that unit, while there will be others that will as rapidly rise above it. In addition to that there are many boroughs, especially in the metropolis, where there is a large and continuous immigration of alien people, sonic of whom wait many years, not only before they are enfranchised, but before they are naturalised. As a matter of fact, there is always in these constituencies a floating foreign population who never seem to get the franchise. I do not believe, therefore, that by any scheme of redistribution you can get a system of one vote one value. Whether you can get such a system as the noble Earl opposite, Lord Dunmore, suggested, by a scheme of Proportional Representation, I cannot say. It seems to me, considering all things, to be the most feasible way, and I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Courtney would 1368 have risen to-night, and that we should have heard something on that subject from him.
But if this measure does not affect the value of the votes it does affect the voters. It does not limit the voting power in any way, but it does limit the power of a certain class of voters and prevents many thousands of them swarming into various constituencies besides those in which they dwell at the time of a General Election. I remember some years ago reading an obituary notice of a clergyman who, it was stated, at the time of his decease possessed no fewer than twenty-one votes. Most of them, no doubt, were faggot votes in respect of small properties bought by himself or his predecessors for the purpose, but others were genuine property votes. It was stated at the time, and I can well believe it, that this clergyman was the greatest plural voter in England. I should like in this connection to draw attention to one anomaly. Here you have one elector with the power of exercising no fewer than twenty-one votes, whilst, on the other hand, I think I am right in saying that of all the boroughs and counties of this kingdom your Lordships who are members of this House do not possess a single vote in any one of them. In saying this I am not, of course, alluding to the elections at the Universities, where Peers have the right to vote, although it is, I believe, a right that is very rarely used. It does seem to me to be an anomaly that one person, such as the clergyman I have mentioned, should have a voting power represented by twenty-one votes, whereas some six hundred of the largest landowners in England, with, of course, a great stake in the country, do not possess a single vote between them in all the counties and boroughs of the Kingdom.
This Bill, I admit, does not rectify that altogether, and I suppose it will be necessary to wait until we have a full measure of electoral reform before the members of your Lordships' House obtain the franchise. This measure does not raise the valleys, I admit, but it does something to remove the excrescences and to lower the hills and mountains. May I remind your Lordships that the total number of plural voters in this country at the present time is something like 525,000. What does that mean? It means that at every General Election 1369 something like half-a-million voters pour into various constituencies from every part of the country to the great scandal and grievance of the 'resident voters. My noble friend Lord Strachie alluded to this fact, and said with great truth that in some cases the out-voters literally come in at election times and out-vote the resident electors. It must be remembered, too, in discussing this grievance that many of these out-voters hardly ever visit the constituencies at any other time than during the progress of an election. I believe it is correct to say that in an average county constituency the number of out-voters is about 500, and in as it is stated I hat the number is over 1,000. I am prepared to admit that where at the last General Election the Unionist majority was in some cases under 500 and in others under 1,000—according to the number of plural voters—the possession of those seats by the Party opposite will be jeopardised by the passing of this Bill; but, on the other hand, I am not at all sure that when this grievance of the plural voter is removed it may not have a Conservative influence among the resident voters. It is quite possible then that electors who now vote Liberal or even Radical may take a Conservative turn. I mention that because I do not believe that the Bill is of such a one-sided character as it is generally made out to be.
It has been said that plural voting has become so traditional that it has actually become a part of the Constitution. Lord Peel alluded to this, and seemed to think that it would be almost unconstitutional to abolish it. I suppose that every precedent must have a first occasion, and that there must be a fist tint when every reform is promoted, and I feel confident that when the new system has become law it will come to be regarded as every bit as constitutional as the old system was. We know that by-elections are excepted from the provisions of this measure. I listened to the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, as I wanted to hear an explanation of the reason why by-elections have been omitted. I forget the exact phrase he used regarding this omission, but it is, as I thought, intended as a kind of pax vobiscum, as a peace offering to noble Lords opposite which it was hoped would facilitate the passage of this Bill through the House. I am afraid, however, that it will rather 1370 fail in that sense. I do not believe that any Reform Bill or Redistribution Bill introduced in future, whether in the present or a succeeding Parliament, will retain one vestige of the plural vote either for General Elections or for by-elections.
Before I close I should like to allude to the criticism of inconsistence that has been levelled against this measure. I do not know that it has been referred to during the debate to-night, but I have seen it stated on many occasions by its opponents that the measure is wholly inconsistent with Liberal policy. May I point out one very remarkable piece of consistency which runs through; all these measures of reform, from Lord Grey's Bill to the present one. I say nothing as to the desirability of the policy—there is something to be said on both sides—but the fact remains that there has run through; all these Bills the policy of the gradual elimination of the power of the land. Previous to 1832 in the counties, at any rate, the landowner alone had the franchise. By the Act of 1832 the great middle and commercial classes were enfranchised and the monopoly of the landowners—I do not use the word in any invidious sense—disappeared. Theme was a redistribution scheme at the same thaw, and in consequence of that a great number of the old pocket boroughs disappeared. All that lessened the influence of land in so far as it was used for political purposes. Then came the Act of 1807 and the Act of 1884, by which more pocket boroughs were made to disappear and the franchise was again lowered. All these measures, no doubt, meant indirect eliminations of the property vote. This, perhaps, is the first direct elimination. But, as I say, the same principle is unmistakably to he seen running through all the Reform Bills with remarkable consistency, and therefore the charge of inconsistency brought against this Bill can hardly, I think, be fairly sustained.
I suppose I may say that this Chamber is more representative than any other body of the great landed interests of this country, and that in some way it may be regarded as its trustee. In that case it is alike the duty and, the privilege of noble Lords in this House to defend the interest of the land, and I am perfectly certain that if landowners themselves do not stand up for the lauded interest nobody else will. 1371 But we on the other side see it in a different light. We say that there is a mischievous element in plural voting; we say that we have right on our side in dealing with that subject; we say that the time has come to remove a great anomaly in our electoral system; and we feel certain that in the long run we shall be successful in that object. I must apologise for having detained your Lordships so long, and I thank you for the attention you have given me.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, the noble Marquess opposite, in recommending this Bill to the House, made rather a point of the argument that it was a less drastic measure than some of its predecessors. He pointed out that under this Bill the representation would be left to the Universities, and that at by-elections the plural voter would still he able to wander about the country and record his vote. Those are points which, as far as I am concerned, certainly make this a better Bill than the one which was introduced previously by the Government. But there is one important omission in the Bill which I think is very applicable and which we in this House especially should consider. I do not believe I am wrong in saying that the previous Bill produced by the Government gave Peers what I consider is now their absolute right—namely, the power of the vote. This Bill carefully avoids that. I suppose that the Government thought there would be a majority of Conservative voters in sonic places if Peers were allowed to vote, and so they are carefully omitted from the Bill.
The noble Marquess opposite seemed to think that there was still left to us a great amount of influence which we could exercise upon our fellow-countrymen. He referred in his speech to those of position and wealth who would still be able to exercise a controlling influence at elections. I must confess that I am very doubtful about that myself. I have fought a good many hotly-contested elections in my time, and I know that when the ballot box has come to be turned out the only vote that I could be absolutely sure was right was the vote I had given for myself. I question whether nowadays so much wealth and influence is possessed by noble Lords as the noble Marquess seemed to think. I have no doubt that the noble Marquess himself and his colleagues on the Front 1372 Bench do exercise great influence, but in other quarters I do not think that, generally speaking, there is very much of that influence left in the country. All the activities of the Gladstone League, I believe, only sufficed to discover a very few trumpery cases where pressure had been put on people to obtain votes, and I was only too pleased to hear of the result of the investigations of that body. As a matter of fact, I think the noble Marquess and other speakers on the Government side largely over-estimate the power which can now be used by people of influence or wealth in the direction of swaying the result of an election. Personally I would rather rely on my own vote than on any power of my voice to bring the unfaithful into the proper fold.
Passing from that, I wish to say that there is one aspect of the Bill which curiously enough has been very much overlooked in all the debates on the measure. This is a Bill which on the face of it has for its object the abolition of the plural vote, but as a matter of fact if the Bill were accepted by your Lordships and in due course became law there would be thousands of plural voters still left in the country. In every constituency which returns two Members of Parliament every one of the electors who happens to reside in that constituency would be in the fortunate and exceptional position of being a plural voter. This works out in a very extraordinary manner. I happened myself to go down a short time ago to assist a candidate in one of the Parliamentary divisions just outside the city of Manchester. I cannot do better as an example of how this would work out than take the case of two divisions situated in Lancashire. I happened to be speaking in the Stretford division in that county. In that division—I am dealing only in round figures—there are 30,000 electors. In North-West Manchester there are 12,000 electors, making a total for the two divisions I have named of 42,000 electors. A man may have business premises in North-West Manchester and a villa residence in the Stretford division; yet according to the noble Marquess it is an absurdity and an abuse that such a man should have two votes. But if that man should happen to move to Bolton a few miles only away, he would find that when he had shaken the dust of Manchester off his feet and breathed into his lungs the 1373 freer political atmosphere of Bolton he, with a place of business in the centre of the town and a villa residence in the suburbs, would immediately have two votes. According to the noble Marquess that is perfectly fair and just; whereas if the same man had two votes in Manchester it would be absolutely wrong. Yet in the divisions of North-West Manchester and Stretford there is a total of 42,000 electors, whilst in the division of Bolton there are 21,000 electors. The Government, therefore, are deliberately leaving thousands and thousands of plural voters in the country, while passing a Bill to disfranchise plural voters because Ministers think these men vote against them.
No doubt the answer will be that this matter will be dealt with when the Government take up—if they ever do—the subject of redistribution. I may remind your Lordships that the Prime Minister, in recommending this Bill for Third Reading in another place, "hoped" that a Redistribution Bill would soon follow this measure. I would ask your Lordships to note that we have now passed from the stage of debts of honour which brook no delay to pious hopes, and there is now a pious hope with which we are to console ourselves that a Redistribution Bill may follow this measure. When the Prime Minister proceeded to deal with this question of redistribution—and, if I may say so, the noble Marquess also used the same argument in recommending the Bill to your Lordships—I was amused because he informed us that the Government had already moved a step forward in the direction of securing redistribution. We were told that if only the Home Rule Bill were allowed to become law a gross anomaly which requires redress in connection with the present distribution of seats—namely, the over-representation of Ireland—would be remedied. I consider that to he really a masterpiece of fallacious argument, for why on earth, I should like to know, should Ireland under Home Rule have forty-two Members? By all the principles on which anybody is allowed to vote in any country, when we come to deal with English matters Ireland is entitled to absolutely no votes whatever. There will be, of course, in I every session of the Imperial Parliament hundreds of occasions on which Members I will be called upon to vote on questions in which Ireland has no interest whatever. 1374 Yet every Railway Bill may be blocked in the House of Commons by these forty-two Members from Ireland on the ground that the London and North Western Railway Company had not provided suitable sleeping accommodation on their trains for the Members who have to hurry backwards and forwards between the Parliament in Dublin and the Parliament at Westminster.
We are told, as I have pointed out, that one of the reasons for passing this very partial Bid is that the Government are already dealing in some measure with the question of redistribution by means of the Home Rule Bill. Leaving aside the question whether Ireland should have any Members voting in the British House of Commons on questions concerning only England, Scotland, and Wales, I desire to point out that both the noble Marquess and the Prime Minister entirely failed to tell the Assemblies which they were respectively addressing that the moment a question arises on a matter in which Ireland ought to have a voice, the moment, that is to say, when the thorny question of the financial relations between England and Ireland is brought up for consideration, Ireland is to have her full representation in the Imperial Parliament. I think on such occasion twenty Members are to be added, the most that, according to population, Ireland is entitled to. I am bound to say that if, under Home Rule, forty-two Irish Members are to sit and vote in the British House of Commons, and that is to be the Assembly in which von intend to carry your redistribution scheme should it ever be presented to Parliament, I do not think the taxpayer, the unfortunate man who has to find the money, will feel any hope that the matter will be dealt with in any very fair or equitable spirit.
The question of redistribution has been dealt with ad auseam in this debate and on previous occasions, and I do not intend to pursue it further. But there is one other point which I should like to mention in connection with one of the arguments used by the Prime Minister in recommending this Bill for the acceptance of Parliament. On the Third Reading of the measure in another place I notice that the right hon. gentleman said—One item one vote is a principle recognized by every other democratic country and also by our own Colonies.I agree that that is perfectly true, and I for one do not in the least, in the presence of so 1375 many distinguished statesmen who have had vast experience in responsible posts in our Colonies and also in dealing with other countries, wish to enter into any lengthy argument as to the power of the democracy in foreign countries or in our own Colonies. But I do not believe it can be said that there is any great civilised country in the world where the democracy is more powerful than it is in this country. It may be perfectly true that in the United States of America, in Germany, and in France the principle of one man one vote is fully recognised; but I do not believe I am wrong in saying that in France, Germany, and the United States of America—the United States I am perfectly sure about—the democracy has far more checks than exist at the present moment in the United Kingdom. There is the President, there is the Senate, and there is the House of Representatives—all with powers far greater than those exercised at the present moment by the Crown and your Lordships' Chamber in this country. Again, take Germany. I am not so conversant with the Constitution of Germany, but I believe the House of Representatives there is not imbued with the same absolute power that the House of Commons is in this country; and I also believe, although I am quite ready to be corrected, that the popular vote in Germany is very largely checked owing to the fact that large industrial districts which vote Socialist or Radical are very poorly represented in the House of Representatives in comparison with other districts which are more likely to vote in a more Conservative manner.
And if we take the country which is, after all, held up as the leader of democratic principles, the United States, not only have they in the Senate and in the President a far greater check on the popular vote as represented by the House of Representatives, but, in addition, when anything is clone which is at all of a revolutionary character they instantly run foul of the written Constitution, and the Constitution of America is frequently in the way of any very drastic proposal which may emanate from a popular vote. Though, as I say, it may be perfectly true what the Prime Minister, in recommending this Bill for acceptance, has told us, that the principle of one man one vote is recognised by the Great Powers throughout the world and also in our own Colonies, at the same time if you take the great countries of the world 1376 you will find that there are far more checks to the popular vote than exist at the present time in the United Kingdom. It may be argued, and I think with great justice, that perhaps that is not the state of affairs in some of our Colonies. I do not intend for one moment to criticise the policy of our great Colonies, but as a humble individual I can say this—and I believe it is an Opinion which is shared by a large number of people—that certainly in Colonies such as New Zealand and Australia this principle of democracy has not worked altogether satisfactorily, and that if capital had only had a little more say in the government of the country both those countries would have progressed more rapidly and would have been greatly developed and had far larger populations. I am rather inclined to think that if you were to adopt the same principles as have been adopted in New Zealand and Australia in this country—an old country with a very limited area—at the end of a very few years You would have a large portion of your population absolutely on the brink of starvation and I do not think it is altogether encouraging to an old country like this to have examples such as that held up for a democratic measure still further to decrease the voting power used by property owners.
Before I leave this subject I may also mention that there is one country in Europe which is also a progressive country and a very prosperous country, and in some ways is very similar to this country, having a small area of land with a very dense population and a large amount of manufactures—I speak of Belgium. What has happened in Belgium? There is not one man one vote in Belgium. In Belgium there are 1,000,000 voters who have one vote, 400,000 with two votes, and 300,000 with three votes; and I am not at all certain that Belgium is not a country which has managed its affairs pretty well. At all events it has one great boon and blessing it has a good Conservative Government in office. I therefore believe that the argument of following the example of our Colonies and of foreign countries is not altogether applicable in our case. I am one of the first to admit that if you give real efficient powers to a Second Chamber—if you like, a proper Second Chamber according to Radical ideas—this principle of one man one vote might be perfectly sound; but I am certain if a country is to progress and 1377 capital is to be invested and employed in the country, it is a grave mistake to do this which you believe is going to give still greater power to what you choose to call the democracy.
In the whole of this argument which you use for this Bill you lay down the law as regards the plural vote as if in this country we had been governed by the counting of heads. Such a thing has never existed. We have never been governed in this country by the mere counting of heads. After a General Election you do not run and find out how many people voted Conservative and how many Radical, and say that according to those numbers there will be so many Conservatives and so many Radical Members in the House of Commons. Before we reach that happy day we must adopt the scheme of the noble Lord I see sitting opposite (Lord Courtney). We have never been governed by these methods. We have always been governed in this country by what is known as the representation of localities, and in spite of every argument, which has been used I cannot see why, if a man has an interest and pays taxes in a locality, when it comes to voting for a Member to represent that locality he is not to have a vote. If we get to the counting of heads, let us do that; but by the Government Bill, that, of course, is not touched in any way. In moving the Second Reading of this measure the noble Marquess dealt with former measures. He, perhaps quite rightly, tried to put upon the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench the charge that on previous occasions they had not always spoken with the same voice. I think the noble Marquess in the remarks he makes upon the Opposition should for one moment consider that the situation during the last three years has very-materially changed. During the last three years the powers of this House have been practically rendered nil, and consequently the argument that property—the capitalist, if you like—should have a little increased voting power in the other Chamber is strengthened.
It is always difficult in dealing with these questions to describe exactly the classes or the people of whom you speak. I hate speaking of the rich and the poor. I think it is much better to divide the classes of electors into direct and indirect taxpayers, and in my own opinion—and I 1378 believe it to be an opinion which would be endorsed by a large number of men who have studied the government of countries—for the good government of the country you do require a certain balance of power between the direct taxpayers and the indirect taxpayers. Sometimes when you listen to member, of the Government speaking on this question you would imagine that the indirect taxpayers were a poor down-trodden class who found it perfectly impossible to make their voices heard in the House of Commons and quite unable to carry reforms that they require. In my opinion nothing could be wider of the mark. It rather reminds me of the story of the policeman who, after a very hot and tiring day and feeling very thirsty, ran a man in for being tipsy. An old lady who was present said, "Do not hurt the poor man, he is ill," and the policeman remarked, "I only wish I was suffering from half his complaint." If the direct taxpayers of this country, as regards the question of making their voice heard in the House of Commons, could exercise a quarter of the power of the indirect taxpayers, I feel perfectly certain they would be extremely happy. One may roughly estimate that there are about 1,000,000 direct taxpayers, who find £86,000,000 of the taxation of this country; and 7,000,000 indirect taxpayers, who find £74,000,000. So that the 1,000,000 direct taxpayers already find a great deal more money towards the expenses of the country than the 7,000,000 indirect taxpayers. In addition to that, as regards the indirect taxpayers, I find that an enormous amount of the money which they provide is paid back to them in the way of benefits—or, as I think in certain cases they rather believe, imaginary benefits—because I find that old age pensions, education, insurance, and labour exchanges eat up some £55,000,000 of that money.
I am old enough to remember a good many speeches made by Chancellors of the Exchequer, both Liberal and Conservative, in the House of Commons, and my recollection is that there was a sort of idea followed that direct taxation and indirect taxation should about balance one another. That was the principle which a great many Chancellors of the Exchequer acted upon. Well, we have departed from that. It is a principle which. I think, modern Chancellors of the Exchequer have entirely abandoned, and, as I say, you find that 1379 the quota paid by direct taxpayers is steadily going up, and, if I may prophesy, will go up a great deal more in the future. At the same time you say they are to have far less voting power. It may be argued that the plural vote only favours investment in a certain class of property. It may be argued that the man who invests in stocks and shares or industries is not hurt much if deprived of a plural vote, but that the man who is helped by a plural vote is the man who invests in land. I think there is very good reason for that, because the man who invests in land runs a big risk. His investment is there for anyone to take, but the man who invests in other things very often invests in an enterprise out of which, if he thinks it is getting insecure, he can clear, and I think it can be easily argued that it is only fair and right that a man who invests in a commodity which can be seized by the Government should have this extra voting power. These are days when prominent statesmen, both Liberal and Conservative, are very busy making speeches upon land reform and upon the future of our agricultural industry. I will only say one thing about that. I am perfectly certain that the greatest disaster that could possibly happen to the agricultural industry is that, owing to fear of interference or confiscation, you should dry up the source of capital going into agricultural pursuits. We have heard a great deal about the security in days gone by for farmers' capital and their investments. I think it is just as important that landlords and would-be landlords who are about to invest their money in the improvement of their property should also feel secure in their investments, and I do not think it is at all unreasonable that a man who invests his money in land in a county and spends money in improving it should have a vote in that county in order to protect that investment.
If we wish the taxpayer in future to pay regularly, willingly and honestly the taxes which are imposed upon him it is absolutely necessary that he should feel he has some power in the spending and levying of those taxes. I am pleased to say that in the past taxes have been paid regularly and honestly in this country, but I am also convinced that if the direct taxpayers believe they are being taxed unjustly, and if they are not allowed any extra voting power owing to the investments that they 1380 have made in this country, you will very likely find a different state of affairs will exist. This argument may not be very convincing to noble Lords opposite, but I firmly believe that, however tight a Chancellor of the Exchequer may draw the strings, a door will be open to evasion. I remember, when this question of one man one vote was being debated in the House of Commons, speaking to a wealthy Liberal Member and saying to him, "I cannot understand a man like yourself who has a great deal to lose voting for a Bill like this." What was his answer? "Oh," he said, "I don't believe very much in the plural vote for saving my property. I know a much better way than that. It is to sell out all your securities which can be got hold of and put them into bearer bonds. Then hire two safes at the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, one belonging to yourself and one to your wife, and when you feel ill you give your wife the key of your safe and tell her to open it and put all the bonds from your safe into hers, and then you die a poor man and do the Chancellor of the Exchequer." I am only quoting that to show that evasion is possible.
I believe that if you begin by giving a feeling that the people of this country are being taxed unjustly and not given proper representation future Chancellors of the Exchequer will find that evasion will grow. I have no doubt that politicians who believe they can get power by confiscatory promises will still continue to get voters to vote for them by open bribes, but I am perfectly certain that anyone who studies the teaching of history or looks at the foundation of good government in any country will see that a country can be as quickly ruined by the spoliation of the—I will not call them the rich; the "idle rich" is the name usually applied to them by noble Lords opposite—by the spoliation of the prudent and the thrifty as by the oppression of the poor. I fully admit that in the plural vote there is a small advantage given to the owners of property in this country, and I, for one, though I have fought a good many contested elections, never hesitated for a moment to stand up for that principle on the ground of taxation and representation going together. And now that you have absolutely destroyed the power of the Second Chamber I can only hope that in this country there may be a feeling that there should be some extra 1381 security and some extra power given to the payers of direct taxation. I am perfectly certain that democratising the franchise, as it is called by noble Lords opposite, will only mean that there will be fresh inducement to politicians, not only on the other side of the House but on this side as well, to try and get office by making promises which would not redound to the future benefit of the country, but which would, perhaps, only secure for themselves a passing popularity and a pass to office.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I support the Amendment of Lord Peel from a rather different point of view from that from which he moved it himself, or from which it has been defended by most of the speakers on this side. I cannot, like others who have spoken from this side, defend the existing present practice of plural voting on its merits. Nor do I think the arguments which the noble Viscount used to defend it constitute any real defence. He said, and said very truly, in the course of the able and eloquent speech which he delivered this evening, that additional representation should be given to intellect, to education, to industry, and, I think he added, to wealth. With all that I am quite prepared to agree; and if we were setting oat to form an entirely new representative system I should be very glad if machinery could be devised to give such additional representation to those particular interests; but this is in no way accomplished by the system of plural voting which we are discussing—a system which is not the deliberate act of Parliament to give additional representation to education or even to wealth, but is purely accidental and incidental to our existing system of registration.
A great deal, I think, might be said in defence of the noble Viscount's point of view, but surely if we are quite candid we must all admit that no one setting out to establish a new representative machinery to-day would bring into existence a system of plural voting such as we have at the present time. That being so, I may be asked by noble Lords opposite why it is that I propose to vote for the Amendment of Lord Peel and not for the Bill of the Government. Well, my Lords, I have had no hesitation whatever in deciding which way my vote should be cast. I do so because of the circumstances in which this Bill is preuented—circumstances which, I believe, 1382 would justify any Second Chamber in the world in rejecting this Bill. For, after all, if we strip the Bill of all humbug, there can be no doubt whatever that it is simply a mere shameless Party manœuvre. It is not based upon any ground of public policy whatsoever. The other night when I was speaking on the Scottish Temperance Bill Lord Courtney took me to task for using the word "insincere" in connection with that Bill. I have no doubt he would equally take me to task to-night for using the word "humbug." He would perhaps retort—I have no doubt the noble Earl who will reply for the Government will retort—that if we accuse the Government of bringing forward this Bill on Party grounds it is on the same grounds that our opposition is based. I do not deny it for a moment. It would be equally humbug for us to pretend otherwise; but there is a difference between the Government and us. We are prepared to consider the general problem of how the representative machinery of tins country can be improved, with a full knowledge that in doing so this system of plural voting, together with a great many other anomalies, will probably be swept away. Our opposition, therefore, is not obstinate. It is merely conditional, whereas your insistence upon dealing only with this particular anomaly is obstinate, and that is the difference between us. In other words, we ate willing to consider the whole question on the grounds of public policy, and you are only willing to consider that particular portion of it which happens to serve the interests of your own Party.
Let me consider for one moment the only ground of public policy on which this Bill can be defended. It can only be defended on the ground that under the system of registration which we know to-day a proper representation of the political feelings of the country is not obtained in Parliament. I agree that the most urgent of all political reforms are those which would improve the representative character of Parliament; but consider for a moment what has been the action of His Majesty's Government upon this question from that point of view. The political Party which supports the present Government was returned to Parliament in 1906 with an overwhelming and unprecedented majority, and what has been their attitude towards this question of defects in our representative institutions? Did they in that Parliament to which they were returned 1383 with this enormous majority say, "Let us first of all try and amend the most serious defects of our system of voting in order that we may be certain that we in this House who exercise power to-day fully represent the people who have returned us to Parliament?" Did they, for instance, say, "We notice, in the first place, that more than half the population—namely, the whole of the womanhood of the country—is entirely unrepresented, and therefore we will in the course of our next Parliament introduce a Bill for woman suffrage?" No, my Lords, they did within of the kind; and yet what is the grievance of the man with one vote against another who has two compared with the grievance of those who have no votes at all.
Again, did they say, "We notice at the present moment that in this Parliament there is not a single Unionist Member for Wales, and therefore clearly there must be some defect in our representative institutions, because we know there is a large Unionist population in Wales, yet that Unionist minority in the Principality is entirely unrepresented in the House of Commons?" I have no doubt that a good Liberal like my noble friend Lord Courtney would at once have brought in some system of proportional representation to correct this anomaly; but that is certainly not what the Government did. Did they examine the defects of the system of registration, or the anomalies of the distribution of seats, to which reference has been constantly made in this House, and all of which are serious blemishes in our electoral system? Nothing of the sort. What the Government did, and the only thing the Government did, was to scrutinise the votes which had been recorded in that General Election of 1906, and finding that a certain number of them had been repeated, and that of those repeated the majority were cast in favour of their political opponents, the very first use they made of their unprecedented majority was to pass a Bill with the object of reducing still further the representation of their opponents, and one of the first Bills they sent up to this House was the Plural Voting Bill of 1906. It was rejected by this House, as your Lordships remember; and now, having strained the Constitution to overcome the opposition of your Lordships, the very first use they make of the Parliament Act, as the first use they made of their unprecedented majority in 1906, is to 1384 bring in a Bill to abolish the plural vote. If that were the whole case it is sufficient justification, I submit, for the Amendment which has been moved by Lord Peel this evening; but it is not the whole case, because there is more and worse behind it, for through all these years since 1906 the Government have been making pledges and promises with regard to the removal of these other more important electoral anomalies, and of all these pledges and promises they have failed in the whole of that time to fulfil a single one.
It was in 1908—two years after the General Election of 1906—that, in answer to a deputation of those who support woman suffrage, Mr. Asquith replied that he and the Government were prepared in the course of that Parliament to introduce a Reform Bill which would deal with the whole question. He took the same view then that we are taking to-night, and he said, "You must not deal with this single question alone. The Government are going to deal with the whole question of our electoral machinery. We are going to bring in a Reform Bill in the course of this Parliament, when it will be open to you to move an Amendment to carry out what you wish." Your Lordships remember that owing to the rejection of the Budget in the following year and the Dissolution of Parliament that pledge was not carried out; and when Mr. Asquith was again asked after the election of that year, which again returned him to power, he repeated the pledge and again promised to pass a Reform Bill in that Parliament. By a deputation in' November of 1911 Mr. Asquith was asked three questions. First, would the Government pass that Reform Bill through all its stages in 1912? and Mr. Asquith replied, Certainly. Secondly he was asked, would that Bill be so drafted as to admit of an Amendment to introduce the question of woman suffrage? and lie answered again, Certainly. Lastly he was asked, if the Amendment so introduced was carried, would the Government become responsible for it and defend it through all subsequent stages as an integral part of their Bill? Once again Mr. Asquith replied, Certainly.
Now I want to ask one question of His Majesty's Government. Does any member of the Front Bench opposite doubt for a moment what would have been Mr. Asquith's reply to this question if it had 1385 been put to him at that time, "Do you consider that the withdrawal of your Reform Bill and the substitution of a Bill to abolish plural voting would be a breach of your pledge and a violation of the whole spirit of the undertaking which you have just made?" Does any one doubt for a moment that Mr. Asquith would have answered, Certainly. Such a question was unthinkable at that time, and it would have been resented as an insult to suppose, after the repeated pledges and promises that had been given, that the Government could fail to carry out what they promised. Yet that is precisely what they have done. When in the end this long-promised Reform Bill was introduced—it was introduced as late as January of this year as your Lordships remember—what was it that happened? The Speaker of the House of Commons on that occasion ruled that the Government was not in a position to carry out the promise it had given. I do not blame the Government for that. I do not suggest for a moment that the decision of the Speaker was in any way under their control; but I do blame them for the manner in which they have dealt with the situation which was thus created. For, my Lords, when they found that the miscalculation was theirs, when they found that it was impossible for them to carry out the promise which they had given, surely they were in honour bound to substitute something which was at least as good as the promise they had previously made.
And what is the substitute which the Government have given us in return for their Reform Bill? This Bill—this little, insignificant, paltry, Party measure; this is what they offer us as a substitute for a great Reform Bill which was to have dealt with all the anomalies of the electoral system of the country and to make our system thoroughly representative. If this is the substitute for that Bill, what is the offer the Government make to the women whom they have deceived with their promises unfulfilled and whom they have exasperated with their pledges unredeemed? The offer is that they should be satisfied with a Private Member's Bill, whose chances of passing into law they have themselves destroyed and which for years past they have constantly deprecated as an unpractical method of passing important legislation. Out of the shipwreck of their 1386 own proposals of last session the one little thing they have succeeded in saving is this Bill, a Bill with no object of improving our representative institutions, a Bill not to remove the faults and anomalies of the registration laws, a Bill not to give votes to those who are without them at the present day, but simply a Bill to take away from their opponents a portion of the votes on which they count at the moment. I repeat what I said before, that there is not a Second Chamber in the world who would not have rejected this Bill when presented to them in such circumstances and I do not think I have ever given a vote with a clearer conscience or with more satisfaction than the vote which I shall give to-night for this Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the subject we are discussing is becoming rather threadbare, and I shall only stand for a few moments between the House and the noble Earl who will no doubt wind up the debate. I wish, in the first place, to notice one or two observations that fell from the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill. He appeared to me to be at first concerned, not so much in a defence of its provisions, as in an attempt to carry the war into the enemy's country, and he asked us a series of questions, to one or two of which I should like to reply. In the first place he expressed some surprise that this Amendment should not have been moved by some noble Lord sitting on the Bench behind me. My noble friend Lord Peel gave it satisfactory answer to that question so far as the precedents are concerned; but, if I may be permitted to say so, he gave a further and still more convincing answer by the manner in which he acquitted himself of the task we had asked him to undertake. I do not think any one of us has had the pleasure of listening to a better expressed or more closely reasoned speech. Then the noble Marquess suggested that this arrangement had been made because we desired to sonic extent to relieve ourselves of our responsibility for the Amendment. That is a complete misapprehension. We take the fullest responsibility for the Amendment. It expresses our views; its wording has our approval; and I venture to think that it expresses in a very succinct and unambiguous form the opinion which most reasonably-minded people would form as to the merits of the Bill upon the Table.
1387 The noble Marquess asked us, when we pointed out that this Bill was a partial measure and did not deal with the question of redistribution, whether we believed in the possibility of so arranging our electoral machinery that there should be no inequalities. I do not suppose anyone ever for a moment conceived that such a solution of the electoral question was possible. All that we are concerned to plead for is that if any attempt is made to touch the present electoral system, its most glaring inequalities should not remain, as they do under this Bill, entirely untouched and unremedied. The noble Marquess asked what our attitude really was with regard to this question of plural voting; whether we are or are not thick and thin supporters of plural voting as it exists at this moment. I say unhesitatingly that the Amendment of my noble friend does not commit us to anything like a thick and thin support of plural voting as it exists at present. We are perfectly ready to have the whole question of plural voting investigated, provided that the investigation extends to the whole of our electoral machinery and is not confined, as this Bill is confined, to a single fragment of it. No one, of course, for a moment could defend plural voting in ifs most extreme form. I think Cord Byron mentioned a case where one individual had no less than twenty-one votes. I have been told in confidence by a member of this House that there was a time when he himself disposed of no less than sixteen votes. No one, I venture to think, would defend any arrangement of that kind, or attempt, as my noble friend Lord Lytton put it, to set up deliberately a system of plural voting corresponding exactly with that which now prevails. On the other hand, where the voter's dual interest is a substantial interest, where the dual vote really means that the voter has a substantial stake and substantial interest in more than one constituency, it does not in the least shock me that he should be allowed to vote in respect not of his qualification in one constituency but of his qualifications in two constituencies. As has been truly said during this discussion, the whole principle of our electoral law is that it is based upon the representation of localities and communities. A voter votes, not because he has so much live flesh and blood, but because he fives in a particular place, and because he 1388 is rated and taxed in that particular place, and has therefore a right to take a part in the choice of a Parliamentary representative of that place.
Two cases which are much to the point have been mentioned during this discussion. There is the case of the voter who owns business premises in a large city and who also has a residence in another part of the country. The effect of this Bill upon a voter thus qualified is obviously most unfair. The effect of it is to hand over the representation of the city to people who have really no concern in its affairs, or, if that does not happen, then to deprive the city man of his share of the representation of the locality in which he has his private residence or home. The same thing is true of the representation of our Universities. I heard with soiree surprise what was said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as to University representation. Surely when these Universities were given the right to return Members to Parliament it was never suggested that that right should be given at the expense of other constituencies, because that is what it comes to. The noble Marquess, speaking on this part of the subject, said, "Oh, but we are not disfranchising the Universities." His Majesty's Government meant to disfranchise them in the Bill they introduced last year; and in the Bill of this session, although they do not actually disfranchise them, they do put a heavy disability upon them. They give them the vote, but then punish the University voter by only allowing him to use his University vote if he sacrifices his vote in another locality. That is not a fair and reasonable way, in my view, of treating the question of University representation.
Then there is the extraordinary discrepancy between the treatment of the question of the dual vote in this Bill and in the Bill of last session. Under the Bill of last session no one could be registered for more than one constituency; but under this Bill you allow the plural voter to retain all his plural votes—he may have several—and he is allowed to use them freely at by-elections. Surely that is a most grotesquely inconsistent way of dealing with the question. We can all recall cases where by-elections have had an extraordinary political importance; and by what train 1389 of thought can you defend a provision which makes it perfectly lawful to use a second vote at any number of intervening by-elections, and under which you punish the same man for using his vote twice when a General Election comes round? There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason in that proposal, and it is one which, as has been pointed out, will certainly have the effect of leading to a great manipulation of votes at the time of a General Election. I remember when I was at the War Office there was a Committee presided over by a very distinguished officer whose business it was to allocate the recruits to the different battalions according to the needs of those battalions. Well, you will have exactly the same thing under the plan of this Bill. You will have the organisers in these matters manipulating these plural votes and using them precisely at those points where they can be used to the greatest effect. You will be increasing the power of the Party machine, which most of us think is quite powerful enough already.
I trust it will not be supposed that those of us who use these arguments use them because we have a sneaking affection for plural voting with its attendant abuses. Our opposition to this Bill is not due to a feeling of that kind. Our opposition to this Bill is due to the fact that in our view there is no justification whatever for the manner in which you fasten upon this one inequality in our electoral law, neglecting the many other and much more glaring inequalities which presents. And we all know that of do so because it suits your book politically to take up this particular question. Will anyone—will any noble Lord opposite—tell us that His Majesty's Government would have taken up this question if the result of the Bill would have been to have helped our side, or to have left things as they are? And I must say I was rather surprised when the noble Marquess, with an air of irresistible simplicity, told us that he really did not know exactly how this Bill would operate, and that very often these changes in the law did not have precisely the effect anticipated from them. If the noble Marquess chooses to make inquiries he will not only be told what the effect of the Bill will be, but I think be will be very likely told within a small number of seats what its anticipated result at a General Election would be.
1390 Our complaint is that you leave untouched the greatest of all the anomalies which prevails under our present system. You desire to have a system under which one man will have one vote, but you are content to sit down under a system which gives to the vote of a voter, according as he votes in one constituency or another, a disparity of value which is becoming with every year that passes more noticeable and more intolerable. It has been said with truth, and by a supporter of His Majesty's Government, that the real plural voters are not these 500,000 electors who vote in more places than one, but the men who have votes for the small constituencies in which every vote given counts, it may be, ten, twenty, or thirty times what each vote counts in another constituency.
If I remember rightly, it was the noble Marquess who took us to task because in the year 1905 we attempted to deal with the question of redistribution without dealing also with plural voting or any of the other anomalies of the electoral law. But, my Lords, there is surely a little difference between our conduct on that occasion and the conduct of His Majesty's Government at the present time. We, at ally rate, had sufficient courage to deal with the larger anomalies, although, perhaps, we did not show sufficient courage in attacking the smaller ones also; but you are selecting the smaller ones and leaving the larger untouched for the obvious reason that it suits your book to do so. I will not take up your Lordships' time by illustrating the manner in which these anomalies work in different parts of the country. My noble friends have given sufficient instances. There is no part of the kingdom in which the present system of distribution does not work with gross unfairness. In Scotland 40 per cent. of the electors are Unionists, but only 8 Unionist Members of Parliament out of 74 are returned. In Wales there were 17 contested constituencies. The Radical candidates polled 91,000 votes and the Unionist candidates 52,000 votes, or more than half that number; and yet not a single Unionist member of Parliament sits for any of those 17 constituencies. So much for Scotland and Wales, I will not say anything about Ireland, because the noble Marquess let us see at the beginning of this discussion that the mention of the word "Kilkenny" gave the utmost offence to his ears.
1391 Our complaint is that you tolerate what we regard as a wholly indefensible condition of things, and that you do so in spite of the fact that you are pledged up to the neck to deal with the question of redistribution. Those pledges have been given again and again ever since the Government came into power. They were given in 1908; they were renewed in 1910, and again in 1911. You brought in a Bill, very different from this Bill, though still an imperfect measure, in the last session of Parliament. In the present Bill only one plank of the platform survives. The rest, including redistribution, is to be dealt with, according to Ministerial language, "whenever opportunity offers." I should like to ask noble Lords opposite when they think the opportunity is likely to offer? I sometimes wonder whether they ever seriously reckon up their legislative commitments. They are committed to a measure dealing with the reform of this House. The Minister for Education has already presented Bills dealing on a vast scale with that question. The noble and learned Viscount is dealing with land transfer in all its branches. We know that the question of agricultural reform is to be dealt with, and Irish land purchase. All this in addition to arrears of legislation running their course under the Parliament Act.
Do noble Lords opposite seriously desire us to understand that they have the slightest hope of bringing in, in the midst of all this accumulation of business, a measure dealing with the great question of redistribution. I, for one, am thoroughly incredulous upon that subject. It does not seem to be the least likely that a Parliament which certainly will no longer he in the plenitude of its vigour will be able to attack with success so colossal a task. My Lords, what is the explanation of the sidetracking of this question of redistribution, and of the manner in which this one little imperfection of the electoral law is being treated by His Majesty's Government? We can be in no doubt as to the explanation. In our view it is an attempt—I would almost say a cynical attempt—to load the electoral dice in their favour, and I feel quite certain that your Lordships' House will not be a party to so discreditable a manœuvre.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down 1392 will, I hope, allow me to say that the interest with which we on this side of the House listened to what he had to say upon the subject of this Bill was heightened by the expectation that, we should hear from him something more upon the new Constitutional proceedings which have been foreshadowed in this House during the course of the last two weeks. The noble Marquess will remember that what he foreshadowed himself was amplified by the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, on Tuesday of last week. We had from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, something further upon the subject when he moved the rejection of the Welsh Church Bill; while Lord Lansdowne himself said something more upon it on Tuesday last. Therefore it seemed to us natural that he would have explained to us this evening whether or not he thought your Lordships' House should treat this Bill differently from the Bill on the same subject which was introduced in the year 1906. Unfortunately, the noble Marquess does not think that this Bill should be treated differently from the Bill which was then put forward by His Majesty's Government, although I venture to think that this Bill, similar in its purpose to that one, deserves more consideration from your Lordships than a summary rejection.
Let us remember how thoroughly this Bill fulfils the conditions which the noble Marquess laid down last week. The Bill of 1906 received from, I think, every member of the majority in another place approval before the General Election of that year took place. It was in the forefront of the programme of, I think, nearly every member of the then Opposition; and therefore it came to your Lordships, supported as it was by a succession of very large majorities in another place, with particular sanction and particular force. I venture to think that it exactly met the conditions which were laid down last week as being necessary before your Lordships passed a Bill into law. Once more your Lordships are going to treat this Bill with summary rejection, although in our opinion it has behind it the full force of that sanction which the noble Marquess demanded before Bills were passed by your Lordships' House. It illustrates once more the very different way in which the noble Marquess advises your Lordships' House to treat measures which are introduced by His Majesty's present Government, as compared 1393 with the treatment which measures receive when they are introduced by a Government which the noble Marquess himself supports.
We were left in some little doubt as to the exact position of the noble Marquess opposite. He was not committed to support the plural voter, and in that respect there was a very distinct difference between him and the noble Viscount who moved the Motion for the rejection of this Bill and also the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, both of whom, I think, were thorough and wholehearted supporters of the principle of the plural vote. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, said it deserved investigation, and we can only conclude that in the end the Bill would receive—perhaps after yet another General Election or a referendum—,sufficient treatment to make it what the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, called "palatable" to your Lordships' House. Much complaint has been made of this Bill because it deals with only one part of the whole scheme which is necessary for the thorough reform of the laws referring to this subject. The noble Marquess alluded to the redistribution scheme of 1905. Let me remind noble Lords opposite that that also only dealt with one part of the whole scheme; it dealt with the scheme of redistribution, but by no means with the full measure of reform which I think on both sides of the House we admit to be really necessary. And there was, at any rate, this to be said in favour of dealing with the question of redistribution in 1905, that we were then at the end of a Parliament—obviously, and by law, nearly at the end of a Parliament—whereas that is not the case at the present moment. I hope your Lordships will not think me ungrateful if venture to refer to the Polling Hours Bill, with which your Lordships were good enough to deal a -fortnight ago. Your Lordships were good enough on my suggestion to pass that Bill, and yet very much the same objection applied to that Bill as has been urged against the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House—it only dealt with one point among many considered necessary to be dealt with. I confess that I refer to that Bill with some hesitation in view of the willingness which your Lordships showed to pass it into law during the present session.
There have been naturally during the course of this debate several admissions 1394 of which we took note for future use. The noble Viscount who moved the rejection told us he thought that this House was better able to decide questions of this kind because it was less interested than Members in another place, and he thought it was a good thing that those who were not interested in measures of this kind should have decisive influence in the passing of such measures. We shall remember that when a Bill for the reform of this House is before your Lordships, and we shall ask whether that does not equally apply to Members of another place, and whether their opinion upon a Bill for dealing wall the reform of your Lordships' House may not be of equal or even greater value than the opinion of your Lordships' House. Then the noble Viscount opposed the passage of this Bill upon the ground that there was no reason why there should be equality of votes, and he called in aid the inequality of the intellect of different individuals and the latest discoveries of science, and what he thought was the desirability that the professions should be more largely represented in another place. The plural vote does not mean, as the noble Earl, Lord Dunmore, thought, that brains or ability are represented, nor wealth or intelligence. The plural vote is really the outcome of a series of anomalies which has crept in because the laws relating to our representation are full of difficulties, full of pitfalls and full of legal anomalies, with which the ingenuity of lawyers has dealt with considerable success.
Let your Lordships remember what some of these circumstances are. Take the case of three places of business in a borough which is divided into three constituencies. The owner of three places of business only has one vote when they are situated within the borough, although the borough is divided into three constituencies; but let him have one place of business outside—quite a small place of business—and also one place of business inside, and he then has two votes. The plural vote does not for a moment mean that riches or energy necessarily get an advantage. It is purely the accident of an anomalous law. And I may remind your Lordships that one of the easiest ways to gain a plural vote, certainly in one of the constituencies in the North of England, is for a man to buy a site for his grave in one of the cemeteries there, and he thereupon becomes a freeholder in that constituency. That really 1395 is a ridiculous and anomalous position. And we say that just as the present state of the law does not fairly represent wealth, so it does not represent intelligence or intellect.
Take the case, so frequently quoted, of the Universities. Probably the most brilliant men in the University have just the one vote for the University and for nowhere else; whereas the people outside who have paid whatever is necessary to get their degree—I do not know from experience what that amount may be—have their votes not only for the place where they reside but also for the University in which they have purchased a degree. These men, who have been taught by the professors, have two votes, whereas the professors who have taught them, men of far the finer intelligence, have only the one vote for the University.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
That certainly would be the case if they have the further qualification for the town, but it does not always follow that they have that further qualification. Therefore what I say holds good. The people who have the highest intellect would not necessarily have so many votes as the people whom they themselves have taught. There was one argument to which, if it were established, we on this side of the House should attach a great deal of importance—the argument that this Bill would delay redistribution. That, I think, was the argument addressed to your Lordships' House by the noble Viscount who moved the rejection of the Bill. I think I must call in aid for His Majesty's Government on this point a passage from a speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, in 1906. When we were discussing the Plural Voting Bill of that year, and I myself had tried to make a point by saying that in so far as that Bill gave liberty for choice to individuals it was necessary that that choice should be exercised before redistribution took place so that those who were concerned in dividing the constituencies should know what size they would ultimately be, the noble Viscount 1396 disagreed with me and told me on that occasion that—All our Redistribution Acts have been based not upon electors but upon population, and I believe that whenever the question of redistribution is taken up by Parliament the allocation of seats will be dealt with as before, on population and not on the basis of electors.I think it is not unfair to quote that as showing that at any rate so far as this Bill is concerned it cannot really delay the redistribution proposals for which Lord Peel is so anxious.
The noble Earl who spoke later this evening, Lord Ancaster, spoke of the assimilation of the law of this country to the law of the Dominions, the law in Germany, and the law in the United States of America. My Lords, we are not concerned to-night with the various checks which may or may not be necessary upon the action of the democracy; we are dealing only with a plain and simple measure of electoral reform; and I would venture to point out to the noble Earl that this reform is in existence both in our self-governing Dominions and also in the United States of America. The other reference which was made to a foreign country was to Belgium. I admit that there are cheeks with regard to the elections in Germany, to which I need not refer; but with regard to Belgium I think I may fairly point out that it is not very long ago that there was a strike in Belgium in favour of "one man one vote." Though it is true that in certain circumstances you may get three votes in Belgium, it depends, not upon the mere accident of your possession of property, but upon whether you are the father of a family, whether you have obtained a certificate from certain educational establishments, or whether you belong to a profession. Those, I venture to think, are perfectly clear-cut, logical, demonstrable propositions, whether you agree with them or not, very different in character from the anomaly with which we are trying to deal in the present Bill.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether the ownership of a certain amount of land does not entitle one to another vote in Belgium?
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I understand that in Germany it is as the noble Earl states; but the three instances I have quoted are the only ones that exist in 1397 Belgium for giving another vote. Into the further points to which the noble Earl referred, and the inviting suggestions as to the different methods in which we might "do" the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I cannot follow him upon the present occasion. We may have a more suitable opportunity when we are dealing with the Revenue and Finance Bills of the year. We heard a remarkable speech from Lord Byron this evening. He is, if I mistake not, a noble Lord not generally to be found in support of His Majesty's Government, and we therefore value the more the expressions of opinion we heard from him to-night upon this subject. After all, when noble Lords opposite tell us that we support this Bill for Party purposes, we are entitled to ask them why it is they oppose this Bill? Is it from a love of abstract justice alone, or is it from a passionate desire to revive the redistribution scheme of 1905?
We have heard a lot about the other various reforms which are desirable. As to most of them we heartily agree. We think that they are desirable, and that we should probably gain by the introduction of all of them. We believe that all these anomalies work against the Liberal Party, but we are dealing with this one anomaly and not with another which we think would give us at any rate an equal advantage, because this is a quick and an easy reform to make. Noble Lords opposite must remember that we think we should gain at least as much by the introduction of one vote and one value. We certainly have nothing to fear from the thorough democratisation of our electoral system. It is a curious fact that, whilst a majority of the seats which have only 5,000 voters are represented by Members who support noble Lords opposite, three-fifths of the seats with 20,000 voters and over are represented by Members who support His Majesty's Government. We are, therefore, entitled to conclude that if these smaller boroughs were to disappear and the larger constituencies were given representatives His Majesty's Government would gain a large measure of support. We fully admit that the figures which the noble Viscount gave us as to the inequalities in 1906 were very striking. We believe they were equally striking in the year 1900. Therefore we say that we have nothing to lose by a thorough reform.
1398 There are a great many reforms which ought to be dealt with and which we should like to see dealt with. Many of them have been mentioned. There is redistribution, with which we mean to deal. There is franchise reform; there is the payment of returning officers' expenses, and the question of the absent voters; there is the system, on which I regret we heard nothing from my noble friend behind me, Lord Courtney, of proportional representation which must be very seriously considered in connection with any general scheme of reform. There is the scheme of the alternative vote; and the noble Earl below the Gangway (Lord Lytton) showed us by his speech that the question of votes for women must also be seriously considered both in this House and in another place. Many of us are firmly convinced that when we come to deal with all these questions we cannot possibly leave out an amendment of the law relating to corrupt practices. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, mentioned the question of carriages and posters. Well, I congratulate noble Lords opposite upon their anxious desire for an autumn session, which would inevitably be necessary if we were to deal with all these questions during the present year; but if they are anxious for that autumn session I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope or expectation that either His Majesty's Government or Members in another place are likely to give it to them during the present year. We are content to deal with the reform which is before us, and these larger questions will have to be dealt with when they arise at a future period. For myself, I am inclined to agree with what was said by one of the noble Lords opposite who told us that the Bill did not affect a very large number of votes, and the half-million whom it concerned was a comparatively negligible quantity. It is not so much for the sake of the number of votes concerned that we are dealing with this subject, but because of the fact that as long as plural voting exists there is a real sense of injustice on the part of the voters of this country.
§ On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-contents, 166.1401
|Haldane, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Sandhurst, L. (L. Chamberlain.)||Islington, L.|
|Morley of Blackburn, V. (L. President.)||Aberconway, L.||Loch, L.|
|Acton, L.||Lyveden, L.|
|Crewe, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Airedale, L.||MacDonnell, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Blyth, L||Pirrie, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Byron, L.||Pontypridd, L.|
|Channing of Wellingborough, L.||St. Davids, L.|
|Chesterfield, E. (L. Steward.)||Charnwood, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Colebrooke, L. [Teller.]||Southwark, L.|
|Brassey, E.||Courtney of Penwith, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Craven, E. [Teller.]||Eversley, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Farrer, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Granard, L. (E.Granard.)||Tenterden, L.|
|Haversham, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Knollys, V.||Hemphill, L.|
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Morley, E.||Carew, L.|
|Beaufort, D.||Morton, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)|
|Bedford, D.||Orford, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Devonshire, D. [Teller.]||Pembroke and Montgomery, E.||Clonbrock, L.|
|Leeds, D.||Plymouth, E.||Cloncurry, L.|
|Portland, D.||Rosslyn, E.||Colchester, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Scarborough, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Doune.)|
|Somerset, D.||Selborne, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Shrewsbury, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Digby, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)|
|Bath, M.||Waldegrave, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Wicklow, E.||Faber, L.|
|Camden, M.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.||Farquhar, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Forester, L.|
|Winchester, M,||Bridport, V.||Gwydir, L.|
|Chilston, V.||Hare L. (E. Listouel.)|
|Abingdon, E.||Churchill, V. [Teller.]||Harlech, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Colville of Culross, V.||Harris, L.|
|Ancaster. E.||Falkland, V.||Hatherton, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Falmouth, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Brownlow, E.||Goschen, V.||Hothfield, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Hampden, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Camnerdown, E.||Hill, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hood, V.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Kinnaird, L.|
|Dartrev, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Peel, V.||Lamington, L.|
|St. Aldwyu, V.||Latymer, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Tredegar, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Essex, E.||Leigh, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Abinger, L.||Llangattock, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Addington, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Aldenham, L.||Lovell and Holland, L. (E. Egmont.)|
|Harewood, E.||Alington, L.|
|Howe, E.||Allerton, L.||Ludlow, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Ampthill, L.||Lurgan, L.|
|Innes, E. (D. Roxburghe.)||Bagot, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Lanesborough, E.||Balfour, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk.)||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Lichfield, E.||Berwick, L.||Monck Bretton, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Blythswood, L.||Mostyn, L.|
|Londesborough, E.||Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)||Newlands, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Lytton, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Ormathwaite, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Brave, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Ponsonby, L. (E. Besaborough.)|
|Mayo, E.||Camoys L.||Rathdonnell, L.|
|Revelstoke, L.||Seaton, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Sempill, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Rosmead, L.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)||Torphichen, L.|
|St. Audries, L.||Sinclair, L.||Vivian, L.|
|St. Levan, L.||Southampton, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Sanderson, L.||Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)||Worlingham, L. (E.Gosford.)|
|Sandys, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Savile, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative accordingly, and the said Resolution agreed to.