§ MR. LEATHAM
, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to provide that the poll at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections be taken by Ballot, said: It is a great satisfaction to me to believe that, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the introduction of the Ballot at Parliamentary and municipal elections, I am asking the House to express their willingness to take into consideration a question which is passing, if it has not passed, out of the domain of party. If anyone conversant with the Parliamentary history of the Ballot were to read attentively the evidence which was taken before the Select Committee upon Elections, and to observe the course of the examination, perhaps one of the first points which would strike him would be the progressive softening in their hostility to the Ballot evinced by those who entered upon that inquiry committed to a certain extent by their public utterances against it. I can conceive nothing more creditable to the more prominent Members of the Conservative party who sat upon that Committee, than the skill and patience with which they sifted the evidence in the first place, and the manly candour with which, in the next place, they practically admitted its cogency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University, having distinguished himself throughout by the care with which he examined witnesses favourable to the Ballot, distinctly declined at the close of the inquiry to place any Resolution upon the Paper adverse to the adoption of the Ballot; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire laid before us a string of Resolutions, the general purport of which was unmistakable. It is quite true that he added one which in no very strenuous terms seemed to suggest a vital modification of the Ballot itself, but the right hon. Gentleman is, I take it, far too shrewd a politician, and far too conversant with the practical sagacity of this House, to make any proposition which was intended to be inconsistent with itself. A 269 temporary Ballot is no Ballot at all. I can therefore only accept this last faltering Resolution as a parting shot fired by the right hon. Gentleman either to cover his retreat, or as a salvo of honour over the grave of a long-cherished but deceased opinion. But, Sir, the change which was manifestly taking place in the mental attitude of these right hon. Gentlemen towards the Ballot, was reflected by a similar and simultaneous change in the minds of the great party to which they belong. At first the evidence of this change readied the Committee in an indirect shape. So early as the second day of the inquiry we were informed of it upon good, but second-hand authority, but it was not until the inquiry reached its sixth day that we were so fortunate as to discover a bonâ fide Conservative witness who was in favour of the Ballot. This man's mind was actually in the interesting process of conversion. One eye was open to the advantages of the Ballot; the other was still closed. He was in favour of the municipal but not the Parliamentary Ballot. The same day, however, we discovered another Conservative witness both whose eyes were open; and the ice was no sooner broken than evidence was forthcoming in abundance, which proved that a great ripening had been taking place in Conservative opinion throughout the country with reference to this question. And since this is so, I feel quite sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whatever may be their individual convictions, will not go the length of voting against the first reading of this Bill, with a view to stifling in its birth the discussion of a question in which their own supporters are taking a lively and rapidly-growing interest. And here, Sir, perhaps I may be permitted to remark that under these peculiar circumstances there is a certain propriety in the introduction of this measure by a private Member. A Government, ruling by party, can scarcely touch any part of our electoral system without laying itself open to the suspicion—probably perfectly unfounded—that it does so with party ends in view. As a necessary consequence, such is the jealousy with which each side of the House naturally watches the political manœuvres of the other, that debates upon these questions, when initiated by the Government, assume at the outset more or less of a party character. 270 Party prejudices, which otherwise might have slumbered, are invoiced, awakened, and arrayed against the proposition, and we are thus insensibly but irresistibly dragged away from the simple search after truth into a trial of party tactics, party eloquence, and party strength. But when a humble individual, unconnected with the Government, and not known as a strong party man, submits a question of this character to the House, prejudice and jealousy do not necessarily take alarm, and without the least sacrifice of party strategy or even party etiquette he may receive—as he trusts he will receive assistance from all parts of the House, which may prove more valuable in the direction of its right solution than the most strenuous flagellations on the part of my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury. I appeal, then, to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government to permit this debate, and the whole discussion to take its natural course, and I would ask him, and ask him with confidence, as to his reply—whether he does not believe that there are some questions, and that this has now become one of them, which may be more conveniently and more justly settled by a general concurrence of opinion, rather than by the more usual, but more hazardous process of party debate. And, Sir, I would venture to direct his attention, in confirmation of what I say, to a speech delivered by a right hon. Colleague of his upon this very question in 1860. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty said—The Ballot was not in Victoria, as in England, exclusively advocated by the popular or Liberal party, and opposed by Conservatives. On the contrary, some of its most strenuous advocates sat on the Conservative side of the House, and unquestionably its most formidable opponents were the leaders of the extreme democratic party. And to this I think much of its success is due. For not being a party measure, its details were honestly discussed and settled by the ablest men in the House."—[3 Hansard, clvi. 788.]Sir, this is precisely the kind of discussion which I hope awaits the details of this Bill. And now, Sir, what is the Bill which I move for leave to bring in? It provides that the poll at every municipal and Parliamentary election in the United Kingdom shall be taken by Ballot, with the exception of that at elections for the Universities. It is only very recently that you have introduced 271 a mode of voting well adapted to meet the peculiarity of these constituencies—namely, that the electors composing them are scattered all over the country. It would be inconvenient in the extreme to apply the Ballot principle to constituencies of this character; nor am I aware that any dissatisfaction exists with the new mode of voting, or the breath of a suspicion that those practices which render the adoption of the Ballot desirable elsewhere are known at University elections. Nor, Sir, do I propose to deal with elections for Poor Law or Local Boards. The system both of voting and of suffrage differs so materially from those which we are about to consider that if it be essential to deal with the mode of voting at these elections at all it must be dealt with under a separate statute. But, Sir, no such observation applies to the proposal to modify by the same Bill the mode of voting and taking the poll at both Parliamentary and municipal elections. These two classes of contest run so completely into one another that it is impossible to divorce the consideration of the one from the consideration of the other. Practically speaking, since the reduction of the franchise the municipal and Parliamentary constituencies are identical. With hardly an exception municipal contests are political. As a necessary consequence of these two cardinal facts the same class of persons and the same organization work both, and when we examine that working we find the same corrupt and the same sinister influences steadily pervading each. Indeed, if there is any difference it is in favour of Parliamentary elections, for "there is a general feeling," as one of the witnesses from Bradford remarked, "that you can do anything at municipal elections." So that, if you do not check bribery and intimidation at these constantly recurring contests, you leave the spawn of both untouched; you leave the Parliamentary constituency, which is identical with the municipal, a prey to all those debasing practices when they are resorted to by the same men at the Parliamentary election. And there is such a thing as voting corruptly from sheer habit, for having slowly saturated a man with bribery by the periodical administration of minute doses you may almost trust him to vote with the same corrupt bias upon the comparatively 272 rare occasions when bribery is impossible. If, therefore, as we contend, the Ballot will check bribery and defeat coercion, we are logically bound to apply the same remedy to municipal as well as Parliamentary elections. I may now proceed to state to the House the particular form of Ballot which I propose to introduce under this Bill. The House will, perhaps, remember that a year ago I moved—not as has been stated, for leave to bring in this Bill, but an Instruction to the Committee on Elections in order to insure our taking evidence upon the various forms of Ballot actually in use upon the Continent of Europe and elsewhere, with a view to the selection of that particular form which should be thought the best adapted to the requirements of constituencies in this country. In consequence of an assurance which I received from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that such an inquiry was entirely within the scope of our Order of Reference, I withdrew my Motion, and, in justice to the Committee, I must say that the evidence taken upon this most important branch of the subject was of the most ample and satisfactory kind. When we come to deal with the clauses of the Bill, I shall be prepared by a minute reference to that evidence, to explain and defend the various provisions which they contain, but at this preliminary stage, it will probably be thought sufficient if I simply state those provisions to the House. The form of Ballot which I propose is a modification of what is known as the Victorian system. The voter will present himself, as he does now, at the polling-booth. He will find there, as he does now, the presiding officer and his poll-clerk, and two or more inspectors appointed, one by each candidate, under an existing statute, in order to prevent personation. The powers of these inspectors will be extended by the Bill, so as to enable them to watch the whole operation of the Ballot in the interest of the candidates whom they re-I present. Having identified himself as he does now with the person in whose name upon the register he claims to vote he will receive from the presiding officer a ballot card. Upon this ballot card, besides the name and date of the election, are to be printed in strict alphabetical order, and each in a separate colour, the names of all the candidates. 273 This is done in order to meet the case of voters of very imperfect education. Many men may be unable to read, but it is hardly possible to imagine that any man can be found unable either to count as high as four or sis, or to distinguish colour. Before handing this card to the voter, the presiding officer will place his own initials on the back, in order to prevent what is known as the Tasmanian dodge. Having received his ballot card the voter takes it to a compartment which is so constructed that he may mark his card there without interruption or observation. He then strikes out from the card the name or names of the candidate or candidates for whom he does not intend to vote, and—the card being perforated across the middle for the purpose—folds it across, so as completely to conceal the candidates' names. He then will return with it to the presiding officer, and the presiding officer having observed that his own initials are upon the back, will drop it into the ballot box, which will stand upon a table before him. The operation of voting is then over, and the voter will leave the booth at once. At the close of the poll, the ballot box, which, before the poll opens will be examined, sealed and locked in the presence of the inspectors, is to be opened, the inspectors still being present, the contents are to be examined—informal cards rejected and the poll ascertained, the declaration to follow under existing statutes. As soon as the poll shall have been ascertained, the ballot cards belonging to each booth will be sealed up, and that seal not broken except by the authority of a court of law appointed to try the election by scrutiny. The House will observe that this form of Ballot, so far as we have gone, is absolutely secret. The ballot cards—which are provided by the returning officer—are all alike. It is made a misdemeanour for any voter wilfully to exhibit his card in the polling booth, in such a way as to disclose his vote. This, of course, is to prevent his proving his vote to a confederate and so claiming a bribe. All the officials and inspectors take a solemn declaration of secresy, in order, that if by accident they should discover any particular vote, they may not reveal it, and they are precluded, by a clause in the same declaration, from communicating the name of any voter who has polled. This is with the view 274 of rendering personation still more dangerous than it is now; for any man will hesitate to personate another if he is not sure he has not already voted, for to personate a man who has already voted, would expose the person who attempts it to instant discovery and apprehension. Now, Sir, I should have been quite content finally to have left the Bill where it stands, and to have made no provision for a scrutiny, except upon the point of the numbers polled by any particular candidate. The enormous advantages to be derived from a secret Ballot would, in my opinion, immeasurably outweigh any disadvantage to result from the sacrifice of a right so seldom exercised as that of scrutiny. But, Sir, it is the duty of any honourable Member who introduces legislation to provide that no other change follows the passing of his Bill, except that which is contemplated upon the face of it. We do not attempt to carry changes by a side-wind. This is not a Bill for the abolition of scrutiny, but for the introduction of the Ballot, and therefore I have endeavoured to leave the laws of scrutiny untouched. This has always been considered the crux of the Ballot question—how to combine a scrutiny with a secret Ballot. In Victoria they place the voter's register number upon his ballot card, and are thus enabled to identify votes under a scrutiny. But, Sir, I cannot but think that to adopt this system in its entirety, would be objectionable in a country in which intimidation has run such lengths and worked so persistently, and with such subtlety as it has here. You never could convince the dependant and ignorant voter that the inspectors, notwithstanding their oaths, would not avail themselves of the opportunity of ascertaining his vote which would be presented to them, while the votes were being counted, and freedom of voting might thus be seriously impaired. But it has occurred to us that chemistry which has solved so many other riddles might perhaps enable us to solve this. Why not write the voter's number upon his card in chemical or invisible ink? The secret would thus remain with the card until the ink was developed, and the Ballot would be absolutely secret still. Now, Sir, there is a chemical ink composed of chloride of cobalt, which is invisible at the maximum temperature of the atmosphere, but becomes distinctly 275 legible when the temperature is raised some 30 or 40 degrees, again to become invisible when the temperature falls to its usual height. I propose that the register numbers shall be written upon the cards by the presiding officer in this ink, and that if a scrutiny should take place the court of law, in whose custody the ballot cards will then be placed, should be precluded from identifying any vote which it has not previously adjudged to have been invalid. Every honest vote will therefore remain absolutely secret, and, practically speaking, the assurance of secresy will be unshaken. And, Sir, it is because I am desirous that that assurance should remain unshaken that I discard in favour of a simple and transparent system of balloting, all the ingenious balloting contrivances with which we have been so worried and pestered latterly. I do not know that there is any object of human ambition except, perhaps, the production of a cup of coffee for breakfast, upon which the same amount of mechanical ingenuity has been lavished. Even the magnetic telegraph has been pressed into the service, and it has been proposed to introduce the terrified elector alone and unprotected into the awful presence of a piece of mechanism so elaborate and imposing, so full of wires and balls, of wheels and dials and needles, that the unsophisticated bucolic mind, if it were able to form any conclusion as to what was going to happen, must have concluded not only that the vote was about to be registered, but the voter's portrait taken, his vote telegraphed to his landlord and to his agent, who probably would be waiting in the street, summoned by ring of bell. Sir, the fatal demerit of all such machinery is its ingenuity, for where there is the exhibition of great ingenuity there is the inseparable suspicion and suggestion of fraud. Now, there are two systems of Ballot, each of which can be made sufficiently simple to impress the voter with his absolute security—the ticket Ballot, which is the Ballot of this Bill, and the ball Ballot, with one variety of which we are all familiar at our clubs. I have preferred the ticket Ballot for this reason—with very few exceptions, this is the system of Ballot which in one shape or another is actually in use upon the Continent of Europe, in America, and in Australia. We have, therefore, at our command a vast experience of its 276 working. We know all the tricks to which it is exposed in operation; we know precisely what to guard against and what to prescribe. But about the ball Ballot, as applied to political elections we know comparative little, and what little we do know is not much in its favour. It stands to reason that there must be greater opportunities for fraud when it is an essential feature of the operation that a man's hand and part of his arm should be buried in a funnel than when the whole process takes place in the light of day. It can scarcely, therefore, be a matter of surprise that we hear of gross fraud in Greece, where this particular system of Ballot is in vogue, or that the ticket Ballot was adopted in preference in Australia after a long and careful investigation. Sir, I do not know that it is needful for me to detain the House. They will find, I think, when this Bill comes into their hands, that it has not been drawn without some degree of care and forethought, and that the system of Ballot which it embraces is simple, easy, expeditious, and thoroughly efficacious. For the provisions to this end, I am greatly indebted to suggestions arising out of the thorough and conscientious sifting to which the evidence was subjected by members of the Committee on Elections, and especially by those who sit upon the opposite side of the House. With great skill and ingenuity they exposed all the weak places in existing systems of balloting, and I think I may say that there is no weak place exposed by them which has not been covered by provisions in this Bill. I trust, therefore, that this measure may be regarded by the House not as my measure, or the measure of any number of hon. Members who sit near me—but as a measure resulting from the conscientious labours of hon. Gentlemen who, as they sat upon that Committee, seemed to vie with one another in probing the system of secret voting to the bottom, and thus furnishing me with an analysis of everything which we must strive to attain, and everything which it was essential to prevent. I trust that in the same spirit—having read this Bill a first time to-day, and thus expressed their willingness to take their subject into their consideration, and having on a subsequent occasion adopted the principle of the Bill after due and serious discussion, the House will proceed 277 to revise, and, if need be, amend this measure in Committee, and thus finally to present the nation with a means of frustrating electoral crime more powerful, as I believe, than all the penal but futile legislation of the last two hundred years. I beg to move that leave be given to bring in the Bill.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he rose, not for the purpose of discussing the relative merits of the the ball and ticket system of Ballot, but to state that he had an innate and invincible hatred to all systems of secret voting, which he always had opposed, and which he always should continue to oppose to the utmost of his power, wholly apart from any consideration as to whether its adoption might favour one or another political party. The course the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Leatham) had thought fit to adopt was a most unusual one, and it should not be allowed to pass without some remonstrance. The Committee which had been appointed by that House to inquire into the mode of conducting Municipal and Parliamentary Elections, of which the hon. Member was a most active member, and to which, among other questions, that of the Ballot had been submitted, was not an ordinary Committee. It had been appointed last year and it had been re-appointed this year, with the full sanction of the Government. It was presided over by an able Member of the Government (the Marquess of Hartington), and it had not yet made its Report. The House was waiting to see what the recommendations of that Committee would be, and it was a most unusual thing for a leading Member of such a Committee, without waiting for the Report to be presented to the House, to move for leave to introduce a Bill dealing with one of the most important questions which had been submitted to it. He hoped the House would not countenance such a proceeding, and that they would refuse to allow the Bill to be brought in, on the ground that the proper time had not arrived for its introduction.
said, he was not surprised to hear the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Liddell) say that he should oppose the introduction of the Ballot at all times and under all circumstances. For his part he should as invariably give it his support. A Committee was all very well to make a soft fall for right hon. and 278 hon. Gentleman who had often pledged themselves to vote against the Ballot, but he (Mr. Gilpin) had no such pledges to redeem. The hon. Gentleman would recollect that the question of the Ballot had been debated in that House over and over again before the appointment of the Committee over which the noble Marquess presided; and therefore there was no reason why it should not be dealt with in the present Bill, notwithstanding the circumstance that the subject amongst others was being inquired into by the Committee up-stairs. He thought the hon. Member (Mr. Leatham) was mistaken last year when he consented to allow the direct question of the Ballot to be referred to the decision of a Committee. He should certainly support his hon. Friend in bringing the question of the Ballot before the House during the present year for decision, irrespective of the recommendations of the Committee. He was glad to know that many Members on the opposite side of the House who had hitherto voted against the Ballot, would now be found supporting the measure, and he believed that in the event of the hon. Member opposite forcing the House to a division upon the question more Members than had ever done so before would be found voting in favour of the introduction of the Ballot system.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I rise, Sir, to state that I do not propose to offer any opposition on the part of the Government to the Bill; but I hope that the hon. Member (Mr. Leatham) will pay some attention to the observations which have fallen from the other side of the House, and that he will not altogether ignore the Report of the Committee of which he has been so active a member. Now, although the Government do not intend to oppose the introduction of the Bill, yet we trust the hon. Gentleman will allow some time to elapse before the second reading is taken, as there is a reasonable probability that the Committee may agree upon their Report. As to the observations made by my hon. Friend in introducing the Bill, I think I need not take notice of them on the present occasion, but there is one which I cannot altogether pass over. The hon. Member stated that he thought this was a subject which might be more appropriately dealt with by a private Member than by the Government. On that point 279 Her Majesty's Government wish to reserve their opinion. When the Committee which was appointed last year, upon their recommendation and with the sanction of the House, have made their Report, it will be the duty of the Government to consider the proposals they may make not only on this point of the Ballot, but on other points connected with the conduct of Elections; and it Mill then be for the Government to decide whether they will take up the whole or any portion of the subject dealt with by the Committee, or whether they will leave one portion of the subject to be dealt with as the hon. Member proposes. The hon. Member made frequent allusions to the Committee, and I am sure he did no more than justice to hon. Members opposite when he recognized the fair spirit in which they had conducted the inquiry; but I appeal to my hon. Friend, as he has been met in so fair a spirit on that Committee whether it is quite respectful or proper conduct utterly to ignore as he has done the approaching end of the deliberations of the Committee, and to propose his measure just as if that Committee had never been appointed. I am indeed perfectly aware that my hon. Friend had some hesitation last year in postponing the introduction of his Bill, and some reluctance in assenting to the appointment of the Committee; but he did assent, and he sat on the Committee, of which he was a very active Member. Let him, therefore, wait a short time longer, let him wait till that Committee has been re-appointed. As I stated the other day, the Committee agreed to a resolution last year that more evidence should not be taken. They will consequently meet merely to consider their Report, and, whatever may be the desire of any Member of the Committee, that is a process which cannot be indefinitely delayed. The time my hon. Friend would lose could not be very serious, and I think, therefore, I may not unreasonably appeal to him to fix the second reading of the Bill at such a time as will give the Committee an opportunity of previously agreeing on their Report.
§ LORD GEORGE MANNERS
said, he would take the opportunity of alluding to an inaccuracy in a Return which had been laid upon the table of the House. It had reference to Election Expenses, and I stated that the number of electors which 280 sent him to that House was 4,772, whereas, in fact, the number was 9,512. He mentioned this in order to show the worthlessness of the Return, as some hon. Members opposite might refer to that Return in their arguments on the question of the Ballot.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he thought that the conclusions arrived at by the noble Marquess did not piece in with the premises from which he started. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) had pointed out that the introduction of this Bill by the hon. Member was premature, and he stated that such a course was hardly respectful to the Committee, of which he (Mr. Leatham) was a distinguished Member, but that being the case the noble Marquess's conclusion was that the Government should not oppose the introduction of the Bill. It was not for the Opposition side of the House to intervene between the lovers' quarrels of the Government and its supporters, but he would suggest that the Government ought to have moved the adjournment of the debate. If the Government, on one side, wished to see the Bill introduced, if they had a tender feeling towards the Ballot—for which he did not blame them—and if they did not wish to oppose so staunch a supporter of theirs as the hon. Gentleman; yet if, on the other side, they felt that the introduction of the Bill would be disrespectful to the Committee, why did they not boldly ask the hon. Gentleman to adjourn the debate to some day after the Committee had reported? Supposing him to consent to such a request his Notice would still be on the Paper, and when the Committee had reported, he would be in no way damnified in the eyes of the House or of the country in trying to push on his measure to further stages.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he could well understand that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) felt some delicacy in asking the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Leatham) to allow his Motion to stand over, but he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) thought that would be the proper course for him to pursue. That would be the course most in accordance with the practice of the House and the deference which the House always paid to the decisions of a Committee, especially of a Committee constituted like that appointed to consider this subject. He spoke with- 281 out much prejudice in this matter, for though he had always, like his hon. Friend the Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) voted against the Ballot, he did not mean to say that he should always continue to do so. But he agreed with his hon. Friend in feeling the greatest possible objection to secresy of voting. He deemed it un-English, and thought the noble Viscount, who so long presided over the counsels of the other side of the House, was never more right than when Session after Session he laid down that doctrine. The Committee which was about to reassemble would do so exclusively for the purpose of considering its Report, as the noble Marquess had stated the other day that no additional evidence would be taken. The hon. Gentleman would not lose much by the trifling delay which might take place, and he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) concurred in the suggestion of his hon. Friend below him (Mr. Beresford Hope) that the debate should be allowed to stand over for a few weeks. He was sure that both with regard to the Government and the Committee that would be the more respectful course.
§ SIR WILFRED LAWSON
said, he hoped there would be no adjournment. The debate had now been adjourned for about forty years, as it was originally intended that the question of the Ballot should be introduced into the Reform Bill of 1832, and it was only by a sort of sidewind that it was eventually withdrawn. For his own part, he much regretted that the Committee had been appointed last year. He thought the subject was ripe for the consideration and decision of the House, and he consequently felt renewed regret when the noble Marquess, a few evenings ago, moved its reappointment. The principal members of that Committee had already given their opinions on the evidence, and those opinions were incorporated into the draft Report printed with the Evidence. He would point out, too, that the House was not about to nominate the same Committee that sat last year. The President of the Board of Trade, for instance, would be unable to attend its meetings, and another Member had, he believed, been unfortunately removed by death. All the evidence had been before the country for two or three months, and anyone who chose to read it might make himself master of the 282 whole facts of the case. He might remark that he was expressing not only his own opinion but the opinion of other hon. Members who represented other largo constituencies, when he stated that there was a feeling of uneasiness—he would not say of distrust—at the unnecessary delays which the Government had introduced into this matter. One word about the Bill itself. It happened that in the county he came from, in several local governments in the small towns the Ballot was already in operation in substantially the same manner as was proposed by his hon. Friend's (Mr. Leatham's) Bill. He might mention in particular Maryport, where it had worked so well that, although there had sometimes been excitement at the municipal elections, the common remark of all the gentlemen he knew in the town, many of them staunch Tories, "innate and invincible" like his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Liddell) was that they could not do in Maryport without the Ballot. The same system was also in operation at Workington and Whitehaven. He thought, therefore, he was entitled to express his opinion that his hon. Friend proposed to introduce good machinery for effecting the object he had in view. He hoped the Government would no longer hesitate and dally with this question, in which more interest was felt than in any of the measures mentioned in the Government programme for the Session. He asked the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government, who had been generously trusted by the people, to trust them in return, and to give them that protection in voting which he believed had been granted to every other civilized nation in the world.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he thought that something might be urged in justification of the hon. Member's (Mr. Leatham's) introducing his Bill at the present time. It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the hon. Gentleman thereby showed disrespect to the Committee, but let them reflect on the position he would have been placed in if he had waited for the Report. If the Report were in favour of the Ballot, the hon. Gentleman would have been unable to bring in his Bill at all, because, had he done so, he would then perhaps be said to show disrespect to the Government. If, however, this Bill were 283 now read a first time, the Government would, in the event of the Committee reporting in favour of the Ballot, have the advantage of the well-considered clauses contained in this measure, and would be able to decide whether they would adopt the proposed machinery, or whether they could frame a better Bill of their own. On these grounds he hoped the Bill would be allowed to be read a first time to-night, though he trusted his hon. Friend would agree to postpone the second reading until the Report of the Committee had been laid on the Table.
§ MR. EYKYN
said, the Committee last Session held 27 sittings, examined 80 witnesses, and asked upwards of 13,000 questions, and he thought it would be paying that Committee a very bad compliment, after their very laborious work, not to await their Report. He should, however, be glad to hear the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), who presided over the deliberations of that Committee, state when he would be in a position to place that Report before the House. He believed that if the Ballot were not adopted before the next election, those who occupied the Liberal Benches would find that they had lost many supporters, and he should, therefore, do all in his power to aid in its speedy adoption. He regretted very much that the Ballot was not mentioned, in the Speech from the Throne. Recently in his own county an election, though only of a coroner, had miscarried, and much bribery and corruption had been exercised, in consequence of the absence of some such provision as that proposed.
§ MR. MELLY
said, that as there were no doubt considerable mechanical difficulties in the way of working the Ballot, its speedy adoption would be a great advantage, because they would be enabled to judge before the next General Election, by the elections which might be held during the nest two or three years, of the efficiency of the system they might think it right to adopt.
§ MR. LEATHAM
, in reply, said, hon. Gentlemen opposite must forgive him if he declined to take advice as to the conduct of this measure from those who prefaced their observations by the declaration that they never had voted and never would vote for the Ballot. Nothing could be further from his intention than to act disrespectfully to a Com- 284 mittee of which he was a Member. On the contrary, he believed the labours of the Committee which had been engaged upon this question to be exceedingly valuable, but he could not shut his eyes to the fact that for all practical purposes that Committee had already reported. They had the Report of his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) and the Report of the President of the Board of Trade, as well as four strings of Resolutions to be moved by Members of the Committee. In fact, the Committee had reported everything which anybody was anxious should be reported. The only reason why they had not hitherto presented a formal Report was because of the other matters which were referred to them for consideration. At the same time he thought that under the circumstances he should best meet the wishes of the House by acquiescing in the proposal of his noble Friend, and at once assenting, if the House would allow his Bill to be read a first time, to the postponement of the second reading until the Report of the Committee had been presented. He did not propose to take the second reading for at least a month from the present time.
Motion agreed to.
Bill to provide for taking the Poll at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections by Ballot, ordered to be brought in by Mr. LEATHAM, Mr. HARDCASTLE, Mr. HIBBERT, and Sir HARCOURT JOHNSTONE.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 23.]