§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, having referred to the circumstance that his speech on Tuesday last had been interrupted by the adjournment of the debate at 7 o'clock, said, that it was necessary that 1226 he should put himself in order by renewing the Motion of the hon. Member for Yorkshire (Mr. J. Fielden), "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair;" the hon. Member also explained that he was in error in stating that his conversation with Lord Palmerston occurred before, not after, the speech from which he had quoted. The hon. Member then resumed his address:—Before proceeding further, I wish to advert to an allegation that has proceeded from the First Lord of the Treasury, to the effect that we, who desire to discuss the principle of this great measure, and take such an opportunity, as that in which I am now addressing you, have pursued a most unusual course with the view of protracting these debates. Now, Sir, I think I can have no better precedent for the course we have pursued than the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman himself when he was in Opposition. I own that I was rather surprised when I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that we ought to be content with three or four nights' debate on the principle of this measure, and speak of the Opposition as having during this Session pursued an unprecedented course, because we have sought opportunities of debate upon a measure which would change the constitution of the Army, and now upon a measure which is calculated quite as much to affect the constitution of this House. Sir, I have been in this House many years with the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and he has several times alluded to the discussions that occurred upon the Ecclesiastical Titles Act in 1851. It was no new subject. The relations between the Government of this country and the Papacy had been discussed in 1848 on the Diplomatic Relations Bill, and again in 1849 and 1850, so that the subject was not then new; but let me call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Committee to the details of the discussions on that Bill. Beginning on the 7th of February, 1851, on leave to introduce the Bill there were four nights' discussion. On the second reading of the Bill, which was proposed on the 7th of March, there were eight nights' discussion. On the Motion for going into Committee there were four nights' discussion. In Committee there were eight nights' discussion. On the Report there was one night's discussion: and 1227 on the third reading there was one night's discussion, making twenty-six nights' discussion in the whole. The right hon. Gentleman was then acting with what he has called a small minority, never exceeding, I think, 90 Members at the most. Well, then, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will judge us more charitably when, having lost the opportunity of discussing this measure on the second reading, the Opposition avail themselves of the legitimate opportunity afforded by the Preamble of the Bill for claiming the right to inform the younger Members of the House of the substance of the discussions which have taken place on the subject long before they were in the House to hear them. This question of the Ballot has been discussed over and over again on the Motion of the late Mr. Berkeley; but those discussions were never full until 1864, because no one expected that Mr. Berkeley would ever be able to bring in a measure, and pass it into law, founded upon the principle of secret voting. The case is now totally changed. Under the pressure of the hon. Members below the gangway—["No, no!]—the Government have taken up this question, and it has been announced to the House that it is the legitimate sequel of the extension of the franchise, carried in the Reform Act introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and under the operation of which the present Parliament has been returned. I have lately been informed that the advocates of the Ballot are already so tired of this discussion—some of them having probably keenly felt the point and force of the able speech made on Tuesday by the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord Claud Hamilton), that they have come to a resolution among themselves, which may be briefly stated in these words—"the least said the soonest mended." I should, perhaps, if in their position, agree with those hon. Members; but is it not singular that the representatives of popular constituencies, who declare that this measure is essential to the free action of those constituents, should come down to this House, and, after three short nights' of discussion, beg not to be further questioned on the subject? Is it not singular that we are about to have a repetition of the tactics of the majority, when they were first returned 1228 to this House at the commencement of the present Parliament, and when, as was stated by the hon. Member for Berwick, their conduct was so strange, their reticence so great, and their silence so little, that it was commented upon in "another place," and commented upon throughout the whole of the country? Their conduct on the Land Bill for Ireland, during the next Session, was equally remarkable. It seemed that those who aimed at being the representatives of democracy came here not to represent the intelligence but the will of their constituents, however ill-informed; and that instead of treating this House as a legitimate arena for debate, as a deliberative assembly, they have entered into a conspiracy to treat it as a legislative machine, a ballot-box on a large scale, into one end of which we are to put the materials of their votes, expecting some legislation to emanate from the other end adapted to their purpose, however unfitted it might be to undergo the ordeal of fair discussion. I trust, and believe, that hon. Members will reconsider their position, for I would beg to inform hon. Members that I am in the habit of communicating with men of all ranks and all descriptions. They must not suppose that I am ignorant of the feelings of the working classes; and the conduct of the Government on the occasion of the Irish Church Bill and the Irish Land Bill, its reticence and fear of discussion on the principles of those measures, produced a very strong effect on the minds of the intelligent working classes. I hold in my hand a pamphlet written by a most intelligent artizan in 1869, and widely circulated, and it ought to satisfy some of the cravings of hon. Members opposite. It is entitled—The Democracy of Reason; or, the Organization of the Press, and on the cover there appears the motto—"Wise men learn from reason, men of less understanding from experience, fools learn from necessity, and brutes by instinct." This pamphlet is written with an ability worthy of the most accomplished scholar. The writer deprecates that this country should be governed by mere popular impulse and the will of ignorance, instead of what he property terms the democracy of reason. The author proposes that the writings which appear in the newspapers should be collected by a commit- 1229 tee of the writers themselves, digested, and furnished to the House as materials for legislation. It was thought that by such an organization of their own, instinct as it would be with life and thought, they would be capable by thus communicating among themselves under certain conditions to promote useful legislation. But I consider it somewhat significant that yesterday the leading organ undertook to silence this House and to make it a dumb assembly. It seems as if the Press had taken a hint from The Democracy of Reason, and felt that we were invading a monopoly of their own by venturing to insist upon our right to debate this question. If the House of Commons is to be a mere delegate of the popular will and impulse; if the Press finds it inconvenient and inconsistent with its arrangements to discuss these great subjects, the writer of this pamphlet asks why do not the House of Lords appoint a Committee to receive written and printed contributions upon great subjects, so that there may be something of philosophical discussion and close reasoning applied to the legislation to which we are hereafter to be subjected? Put the writer of the pamphlet to which I have alluded has been in communication with myself, and he expresses the opinion, which I believe to be well founded, that among the intelligent working men, as well as among the middle classes, if the House of Lords choose thus to gather from the country the opinions, which one section of this House refuses either to express or to discuss, they will find themselves so strengthened, that they need fear nothing in correcting the crude legislation to which the House of Commons is impelled by a dumb majority. I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has forgotten his own antecedents in opposition, or that he would condemn others for endeavouring to rise as he has risen and to occupy his position, when it should become vacant. I can scarcely believe that he would lend himself to a contrivance for converting the House of Commons from a deliberative assembly into a mere legislative machine. But I will now revert to the speech of the late Lord Palmerston, though I will not read the passage again. Lord Palmerston spoke of the Ballot and of secrecy in voting as a mistake everywhere, as a perversion of representative government, even where there 1230 was universal manhood suffrage, and as totally inconsistent with the whole frame of the Constitution of this country. I believe, Sir, that it is so; because, what has the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself said? I am about to quote his words, and will not forget the qualification which he afterwards attempted of their purport. I am about to show this—that, whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it will fall to his lot, and to that of the present Government or not, if you adopt this measure of secrecy in voting, you cannot stop short of manhood suffrage at least; and we have already had indications that womanhood too will claim the franchise, and I hesitate to say they ought not to have it if this system of secrecy is to come into operation. In the debate on the second reading of the Bill for establishing the Ballot, which took place in this House on the 27th of July last, the right hon. Gentleman used these expressions—When we have adopted household suffrage we have, I think, practically adopted the principle that every man who is not disabled in point of age, of crime, of poverty, or through some other positive disqualification, is politically competent to exercise the suffrage; and it is a simple question of time and convenience when this suffrage shall be placed in his hands. To draw a distinction between household suffrage and lodger suffrage, provided the lodger be a person who has a certain permanence in his residential tenure, would be, in my opinion, wholly impossible; to draw a distinction between boroughs and counties is, I think, equally impracticable. I do not enter into the question now, though it is a very important question, whether, over and above the personal franchise, property franchises should be retained."—[3 Hansard, cciii. 1030.]Last year, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman was convinced that if the Ballot—this system of secret voting which he now proposes—were adopted, the establishment of manhood suffrage, at least, is only a question of time; and in his reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), the only qualification which the honesty of the right hon. Gentleman could allow him to make was, that he did not contemplate such a change as likely to be made by the Government of which he was the head. But we have the authority of Lord Palmerston, that secret voting so changes the very nature of the franchise from being, as it ever has been in this country, a "trust," or if you like a "privilege," with public 1231 duty and public responsibility attached to it, that it becomes a "property." Take what definition you please, once enact that the voter shall vote in such a manner as to ensure secrecy, and the vote becomes his property; and, as Lord Palmerston said, you have no justification in enacting laws against a man selling his property; for the voter would under the new system exercise his vote, not according to public principle, or public interest, but according to his own private convenience, as property which he had a right to dispose of as he liked. I have heard it argued in this House—indeed, it was so argued in the last discussion by the hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Stapleton)—that the personal wish and the immediate private desire of the voter at the time of voting would, in the aggregate, afford the best security for the public interests—a rash hypothesis. But I will not stop here. The late Mr. Cobden is a high authority with Gentlemen opposite; and what said Mr. Cobden on this subject? In the year 1852 he said—On the occasion of the introduction of the late Reform Bill, a considerable amount of discussion arose in the manufacturing districts. It was proposed to create a franchise of £5. Now, they all knew that in the manufacturing towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire that would extend the franchise threefold, and would give a vote to a very large proportion of the operatives employed in the mills and in other establishments in those counties. Well, this naturally caused, as he had said, considerable discussion amongst that class of persons. But what was the result? A crowded public meeting was held in Stockport, and those who were present passed an unanimous vote, that if they could not have the protection of the Ballot, they would not have the franchise. They did so on this principle …. what he had just been saying of landlords might probably be suspected to be true with regard to a good many millowners. Well, but he stood there—he had said this in the face of a large body of millowners in Manchester—he stood there to protect people who had votes against influence of all kinds—against all undue and coercive influence, whether it was that of landowners, that of millowners, that of customers, that of priests, or that of mobs; in all cases he was for protecting the voter. These operatives were right in saying, as they did, that if they only gave them the vote, parties might go to Bolton or to Stockport, find out the tall chimneys, and allot the votes to the owners, as was done by the Earl of Derby in the case of land."—[3 Hansard, cxx. 428.]Therefore, Mr. Cobden also affirms the principle that the mill operatives were right in refusing the franchise, if they could not with it have the Ballot. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President 1232 of the Council followed in the same strain. That right hon. Gentleman is a pupil of the late Mr. Cobden; and what did he say? He said this—that he prepared the measure now under discussion, because it would correct and prevent all undue influence. Well, it has not been found to do so in the United States. It has not been found to do so when adopted in France. Why, who can forget, particularly in the case of Savoy and Nice, that the plébiscites, which were conducted under the Ballot, became a by-word, and that the Ballot was known to be the mere means of procuring the expression of the will of the Imperial Government. Notwithstanding this, however, the Vice President of the Council says that he proposes this Bill in order to prevent the use of illegitimate influences, particularly upon the operatives in the manufacturing districts; and then he went on to say, this measure will not interfere with the exercise of wholesome influences, with the weight derived from character, the power of persuasion, and the promptings of educated intelligence. I want to know why not? If this is effectual against one form of influence, why should it not be as effectual against another? I say, upon the authority of operatives who have emigrated from my district, have lived in the United States, and after years have returned to tell me, what the Minister, who is the author of that very necessary measure of education which we passed last year, ought to know, that the institutions of the United States are not suited to the people of this country owing to their deficient education. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted as much, and acted upon the conviction; and yet, because it is at the end of the Session, and because the Government seem to be in want of a great measure to enable them to continue, uninterruptedly, their revolutionary course, this very Minister who has proclaimed the deficiency of education among the operative classes, has brought forward a measure which I will show you must, according to the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), inevitably lead to universal suffrage, and to placing in the hands of a still larger proportion of the uneducated classes the power of dealing—the necessity of dealing—with the great interests of this country, which the right hon. Gentleman himself declares they do not understand. 1233 I do not like to refer to an absent Member, my right hon. Colleague in the representation of Birmingham, without giving his words. And this is his opinion. He was speaking on the 19th of July, 1867, in Birmingham, and he said—But when it (the Reform Act, 1867) is passed, when your householders of Birmingham are unfranchised, when the householders in all the boroughs in the kingdom have votes, when the £12 occupiers in the county enjoy the franchise, what then? Everybody must see at once that the whole question of good to the country is still a future question; that the Bill itself is but a weapon, but an instrument, but a means by which, if there be anything good in legislation to be had, you may obtain it if you use your new powers with wisdom and fidelity.Then he tells how the franchise should be used, and says that the only value of household suffrage is to carry the Ballot, and the Prime Minister admits that, if you adopt the Ballot and secret voting you cannot stop short of manhood suffrage. For my part, I believe that you will not stop at manhood suffrage. I believe that the ladies will claim to share, and if it is merely a personal right, I do not see how you can resist their claim. I think that, possibly, minors too will have reason to complain; and I know not where you are to assign the limit. But, at any rate, you have this limit now—you have the limit that, throughout the boroughs, every elder, every head of a family, is invested with a public duty, as he was in years long gone by, with the right to express the conclusions of his own intelligence and will, and not his own alone, but the collective opinion of his district, for he is unlikely to dissent from it. And in the counties, how do we stand? There you have not household suffrage, but the £12 occupation qualification, and freehold qualification. Do you mean to allow the voters in counties to vote in secret; to vote as if they were not representing a trust? Do you mean to treat as serfs all those who are not freeholders, or who do not live in £12 houses? I say that the condition of the population not enfranchised, when the voters have a right to conceal under the secrecy of the Ballot their opinions on public matters, is that of slaves. Think you that the majority of the people who live in counties, and who are not enfranchised, would submit to such a state of things as that? No; pass this measure, and the very men who now 1234 resist you will be compelled to drive you on until you approximate but too closely to the institutions of the United States, which cannot thrive here, as they thrive on that vast Continent, with its boundless expanse for human labour, and the result will be that the situation of this country will have a parallel only in that of France. I have the greatest faith in the character of the English people, and in their capacity for self-government; but I say that if you give to the agitator, the Fenian, the Democrat, and the Jesuit, such a hold as this Bill will give them, if they can go to the counties and say—"Parliament has decreed that the electors shall hide their votes, and you are condemned to the condition of serfs," it will raise a clatter, of which you will not hear the last for many a year. I am confident that many hon. Members who have heard the Ballot discussed as though it were merely a fit subject for a debating club, have never understood the full meaning of Lord Palmerston's dictum that secret voting is inconsistent with and adverse to the whole principle of our free institutions in this country, and if adopted must tend to subvert the whole. I see the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. John Martin) sitting on the benches opposite. The hon. Gentleman is a man of advanced opinions. I believe that the hon. Member wishes that Ireland should govern herself throughout, in Parliament, in the counties, in the boroughs; and I ask him if he is afraid to trust his fellow-countrymen with an open vote? Must they hide their opinions before he will intrust them with power? What did freedom ever gain from secrecy? Has it not created tyranny in the United States? I have been there. I was there when a young man. I was admitted into all kinds of society, and I learned more in the four months I was there than in the rest of my life in reference to this subject. I went there to learn, and I did learn; and I should like to read to the House at length the details of the corruption which I witnessed there. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) has given the substance of Mr. Lawrence's Report to the Congress on the New York election in 1869; but I will trouble the Committee with reading this passage, which I find at page 5, chapter 1—Many hundreds of persons voted in New York City from 2 to 40 times or more, each under as- 1235 summed or fictitious names, fraudulently registered for the purpose.And it is impossible to detect them. I remember myself once travelling on a railway with 50 or 00 Irish platelayers, who boasted to me that they were living the jolliest of lives, and I saw they were living well. They told me they had voted in every State they had passed through two or three times; and this Report to Congress confirms the truth of their statement. I went to see them vote; but I did not vote myself—and I suppose they thought me rather slow because I did not. Again, this Report says—Extensive frauds were committed in canvassing tickets, and names of voters were entered on the poll lists, and democratic tickets counted as if voters representing them voted, when no such persons voted at all.There is no doubt that "extensive frauds are committed in canvassing tickets"—that is, in stuffing the Ballot-box, which is habitual in some of the States, particularly in New York. These frauds are concealed by the Ballot; and at this moment the Congress of the United States is endeavouring to devise the means of preventing them. This is after 30 years' experience of the Ballot! "Well, it may be supposed that there is some corrective power in the United States; that the Government there is not so corrupt as to be without some such power. I will tell the Committee what is the corrective power; and I ask you whether you would like to entail upon this country the necessity for resorting to that species of correction, because its influence upon the institutions of the United States is only skin deep. That corrective is found in Vigilance Committees and Lynch Law. I myself have seen a little of it. True, it was only in a trifling degree. Nevertheless, I saw enough to let me know what it meant. I went out to the United States and Canada with letters from my kind old friend Sir Francis Head. The hon. Member then read a letter from Sir Francis Head, published in The Morning Post and other London newspapers in January, 1859, narrating the dreadful death of a negro under Lynch Law—and the extraordinary charge of the Judge to the Grand Jury. The circumstances were briefly that—Some years ago, a black man named M'Intosh, residing in the county of St. Louis, in the United States, not only killed Deputy 1236 Sheriff Hammond, who was in the act of arresting him, but also wounded Deputy Constable Mull. The American people in the vicinity, incensed at the conduct of the black man, chained him to a tree, and then surrounding him with dry wood, deliberately burnt him alive. The address of the American Judge to the Grand Jury, whose duty it was to investigate the act, was so admired for the sound democratic doctrines which it promulgated, that, at the request of the Grand Jury, the Judge caused it to be printed. In this address, Judge Lawless charges the Grand Jury of the county of St. Louis, that although this Vigilance Committee, this self-constituted authority, had seized this man and deliberately burnt him to death without trial—this Judge, I say, of the United States declares that, because these lynchers represented what he believed to be the mass of the people, they were above and beyond all law, and had the right to adopt this corrective process; lest he himself should have fallen short of his duty by condemning these men for murder. That is the real power which enables the Government of the United States to exist. I can cite instances in which those Vigilance Committees, excited by religious feelings, have burnt as many as 30 families in their shanties. I could produce instance after instance of the exercise of tins power. This is the despotism of democracy, not that true freedom which is influenced by a sense of responsibility. It was but the other day that I told a large body of my constituents that they would find me always ready to stand stiffly and sternly for English freedom, and I say that freedom can only be secured from the despotism of democracy where the elections represent the opinion, not of an indefinite mass of men, without the means of intercommunication, without sufficient understanding of each other's thoughts, but the public opinion of the inhabitants of localities, formed by consultation among neighbours. Let every Member of the House bear in mind that we, each of us, represent an opinion which is public in the respective districts which form our constituencies—an opinion corrected by a sense of the responsibility enforced upon every man by the supervision of those from whose observation he cannot escape who live in his own immediate neighbourhood. That 1237 is true freedom. That is the Government of public opinion; and I say that a Government founded upon universal suffrage and the Ballot is but the representation of the bias of each individual at the moment that the vote is given, uncorrected by any sense of personal responsibility or the influence of public opinion. Universal manhood suffrage and the Ballot have produced in America a state of things which has for years rendered necessary not the permission, but the recognized existence, the habit of resorting to Vigilance Committees and Lynch Law in order to preserve the very existence of the State. If such consequences were inevitable, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in condemning—for he has condemned—the measure for household suffrage upon which this House is returned supposing that he is right in asserting that this extension of the suffrage has rendered the resort to secrecy of voting inevitable, which I deny; but I admit that secrecy of voting does seem logically to entail manhood suffrage. I do not say that must necessarily follow at the next election; but I am convinced that the experiment of elections with a restricted constituency and the Ballot will fail, and then the right hon. Gentleman will be avenged on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire for having ventured to extend the suffrage to householders, because if he were to succeed him in office after the measure, now being considered, is passed, the right hon. Gentleman would have no choice but to adopt manhood suffrage, as the consequence of the secrecy of voting by Ballot, and thus encounter and entail upon the country the evils of democracy. I would, but that I feel I should be trespassing upon the time of the House, appeal to the latest writings of Alexis do Tocqueville and to those of Lord Brougham. Both of them contemplated the changes which have taken place in our electoral system as dangerous upon one ground only—that they might lead to the establishment, as M. de Tocqueville said, of the most irremediable of all forms of Government, that democracy which always forbades, if it does not constitute a despotism. And, Sir, on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, supported by the frequently expressed opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1238 Birmingham, I assert that the silence of that right hon. Gentleman confirms the declaration of the Member for Birmingham—that the certain consequence and the direct inference from this Bill must be so palpable to the Legislature, if it gives consideration to the principle and its consequences, that there is but one hope of its being passed, and that is of its passing without debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Newdegate.)
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he was glad that the hon. Member who had preceded him had vindicated the rights of the House of Commons. The House had been told the other night that there was no understanding anywhere as to when the debate should close, and they were bound to accept that assertion; but he confessed he had never greater difficulty in accepting any assertion. Having already had an opportunity of addressing the House on the subject of the Ballot, he would confine his observations for the present to answering certain remarks made in the course of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, in his speech the other night, made an attack upon those Members who presumed to criticize the conduct of the two front Benches. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the persons to whom his remarks applied were very few in number. Now, as one of those Members who had ventured to advance to that pitch of presumption, he (Mr. Bentinck) might fairly consider himself included in that category. Those remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were somewhat curt, and not very over-strained by courtesy. He (Mr. Bentinck), in his reply, would endeavour to be as curt, and not less courteous. His reasons for venturing on more than one occasion to criticize the conduct of the two front Benches was because he was strongly opposed to political tergiversation and political apostacy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire seemed hardly to be conscious of the position in which he was placed—he did not seem to understand that a long career of political tergiversation had placed him in a position which subjected him—["Order!] He was answering the remarks of the right hon. Gentle- 1239 man. ["Question!] He considered that he was perfectly justified in so doing. He wished to defend the rights of those to whom the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman referred.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
I rise to Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, if that is the Question before the House?
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he was sorry for those interruptions, because he might be obliged, in consequence, to dwell longer upon the subject than he otherwise should have done. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire attacked those who found fault with the conduct of the two front Benches he seemed to place himself in a position above all criticism or reproof in respect to his public conduct. The right hon. Gentleman told the House many years ago, in speaking of the Government of the day, that it was an "organized hypocrisy." But if the late and the present Government were to be properly described with reference to their proceedings, it occurred to him that it should be by the term "disorganized hypocrisy."
said, he was sorry to be obliged to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He understood the hon. Member to say that he was answering the observations that were made in the debate upon this question. But up to this time it did not appear to him (the Chairman) that he had been answering those observations.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he would abide by the decision of the Chairman; but, unless he ruled to the contrary, he (Mr. Bentinck) must maintain that he was in Order in answering the remarks of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, which he held to be offensive to himself and others. ["Question!] That was the Question. He was answering the attacks which had been made upon those who had presumed to criticize the conduct of the occupants of the front benches, and endeavouring to explain the grounds upon which they had dared to do so. He had another ground of objection to the proceedings for many years past of the occupants of the two front benches. He held it to be the first duty of a Member of that House to attend to the interests of his country; but next to that his duty was to uphold the interests of those who sent him there. The strong objection which he (Mr. 1240 Bentinck) entertained to the whole career of the front Bench on each side of the House was this—
The Bill before the Committee was a Bill for Parliamentary and Municipal Elections. Upon the Order of the Day on that Bill an hon. Gentleman moved "That the Chairman do leave the Chair." Now, the Motion was undoubtedly consistent with the Rules and Privileges of the House, although it was somewhat unusual. Of course, it was open to the hon. Member, in speaking upon that Question, to refer to what had fallen from any other hon. or right hon. Gentleman during the preceding debates upon the question. He (the Chairman) was always unwilling to interfere with the right of discussion; but he must say when an hon. Member proceeded to discuss the conduct of different Governments during a long series of years, it appeared to him that it was not quite relevant to the Motion now before the House. He (the Chairman) felt he would not be fulfilling his duty if he did not call the hon. Member to order.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
asked whether he was to understand from the Chairman that it was not competent for an hon. Member of that House in Committee to reply to the remarks made by another Member of that same Committee?
On the contrary; the hon. Member must have entirely misunderstood what I said, because I declared that it was competent for an hon. Member to reply to observations made in the course of the debate; but the hon. Member must confine himself to those observations and to the Question before the Committee.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he would bow to the decision of the Chair, and would proceed to refer to some observations which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government at an earlier stage of the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman complained of the time that had been wasted in the discussions, and uttered a long didactic oration on the bad habit of imputing motives; but the right hon. Gentleman himself had fallen into that bad habit in imputing motives to the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord Claud Hamilton) and to others, whom he accused of making long speeches for the sole purpose of delaying the pro- 1241 gress of the Bill. Now, he (Mr. Bentinck) asked the right hon. Gentleman upon what grounds did he prefer that charge? All he (Mr. Bentinck) would say in reference to that observation was that during the many years he had had the honour of a seat in that House, if any one Member more than another had delayed the business of the House by the number and length of his speeches, it was the right hon. Gentleman himself. The right hon. Gentleman had also made a strong attack upon the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone for having committed an unchivalrous act in naming a gentleman not in the House, without giving notice to a relative of that gentleman of what he intended to do. But that was a complete misconception on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. What the noble Lord did was to call in question the conduct of an hon. Member of the House—the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), who was then in his place, and fully prepared to defend himself. The charge against the noble Lord of being wanting in chivalry or in courtesy therefore fell at once to the ground. Having said this much, he was so sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield was anxious to exculpate himself, and that the House were anxious to hear the exculpation, that he would no longer intervene between him and the House.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, there was a great misapprehension, especially outside the House, that in order to obstruct the progress of this Bill an attempt had been made to talk against time. It was highly desirable that this misapprehension should be removed. He would, therefore, briefly recount the facts of the case. By a wise arrangement, made for the general convenience of the House, there was no debate on the second reading, because it would have been a most unwise proceeding to have commenced the debate just before Easter, and have been compelled to continue it after the holidays had intervened. That arrangement was made with the general consent of both sides of the House, and the debate was taken on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, when it only lasted three nights, which was by no means a long period considering the magnitude of the subject. And even now, with the present debate in Committee, the question would only have received four and a 1242 half nights' discussion, which could not be regarded as excessive, especially considering the interminable debates which had taken place on the question of Purchase and Army organization. He believed that this measure would vastly increase the power of the purse, and extend bribery, for nine out of ten electors who were bribed would vote for the person who gave them the money, as the least return they could make for the gift; and as the House of Commons was the great avenue to social distinction, men would always be found who would be ready to buy seats in it. No doubt the Bill might have a wholesome effect in regard to intimidation; but he believed it would tend to increase rather than to check bribery.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
looked upon the Bill as an exceptional measure and a leap in the dark, and would therefore prefer to see it passed as a merely temporary measure until they could see how it worked. After another General Election Parliament would have had an opportunity of gauging the effect of such a Bill, and on that ground its duration should be limited. He did not see why hundreds of thousands of honest citizens should be compelled to vote secretly, because hundreds of other citizens were corrupt; but he admitted that those who had not the courage to vote openly should be protected, and therefore he would like to see the two systems—the Ballot and open voting—in concurrent operation. No doubt the Bill before them provided an excellent mode of carrying out a system of secret voting; but he would prefer the better and more honourable way of accomplishing the same end by means of voting papers, as proposed by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire.
said, he did not think the Bill was a good one, and saw no necessity for the House to be precipitate in dealing with it. He believed its main object was to keep a party together, and he himself was not afraid of the consequences of any party falling to pieces. The question, at all events, was not an urgent one, and hon. Gentlemen were quite justified in expressing their opinions upon it. One of the clauses of the Bill contained a proposition so monstrous as to justify every opposition that could be given. By the 31st clause, if a returning officer, presiding officer, clerk, 1243 agent, or candidate offered an opinion or afforded any information to any other person as to the vote which he know, believed, or suspected any person to give he would be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years. He never before heard of an Act of Parliament imposing a punishment for the offering of an opinion. The days of the Inquisition would be revived with ten-fold force if a man were to be imprisoned for two years with hard labour for offering an opinion as to a person whom he suspected to have done something. Very much had been made of the authority of Mr. Grote on the question of the Ballot. But what did Mr. Justice Maule say? He said he thought the Ballot might have done some good, and therefore he had voted for it; but he owned he was very much shaken in his opinion by Mr. Grote's perfect demonstration in its favour. In the "Memoirs" of Mr. Nassau Senior a conversation with M. Beaumont was given, in which that gentleman said—We are not good balancers of inconveniences. Nous somme trop logiqucs. As soon as we see the faults of an institution nous la brisons. Unless we greatly improve, we shall never have any permanent institution; for as we destroy every institution as soon as we discover its faults, and no one is free from them, nothing can last.One point which had been very much debated in regard to this Bill was as to whether the franchise was a trust or not. One of the highest authorities among the Liberal party—an eminent Chancery barrister, who had filled the highest position in his profession—he referred to Lord Westbury, late Lord Chancellor—speaking on the introduction of a penal measure for the disfranchisement of voters in Canterbury, and, therefore, speaking almost judicially, said, on the 20th of March, 1854—It was a measure which enabled the Legislature to deal with a species of property which must always be distinguished from private properly, over which a man was held to possess absolute control—namely, a great political and public trust, …. Members would do well to remember the distinction which existed between the use which might be made of private property, for which the possessor could not be held accountable, and the use which might be made of a public trust for the proper exercise of which the holder was morally responsible."—[3 Hansard, cxxxi. 1045.]That was Lord Westbury's opinion. With regard to intimidation, everyone admitted that it was declining. Wales 1244 had been referred to by a gentleman who said he had acted as treasurer of a fund raised to compensate persons who had suffered injury in consequence of having voted in a particular way. But the injury done could not have been very great, for the amount of the fund was only £4,000. He was not sure that the elected did not require some protection from intimidation as well as the electors; and if they wanted to do away with intimidation to the latter, they must do away with personal attendance at the poll. He would conclude with an extract from a speech delivered by a late Member of the Government, and a staunch Liberal, Mr. Moncreiff, who said—They would never advance the interests of a nation by calling upon men to exercise the most important function with which a citizen of a civilized State could be charged, in impenetrable darkness; and they might be assured that they could never turn a knave into an honest man by making it impossible to distinguish an honest man from a knave."—[3 Hansard, cxxviii. 215.]
§ MR. CHARLEY
said, they had had an illustration that evening of the evil of Americanizing our institutions. In consequence of the caucus which had been held that day, they saw the Liberal party abandon its functions, and Members belonging to the Opposition speaking against the measure from both sides of the House! The fact that the question had been on several occasions before the House was no reason why it should not be fully discussed now that it had become a Government measure, and was in danger of passing into law. If the Ballot would prove advantageous to anyone, it would be so to himself, as the constituency which he had the honour to represent was just such a constituency as the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had referred to—the employers of labour were chiefly Liberals, while the working men were largely Conservatives. He had not received any intimation from his constituents as to what their opinions were on this subject. They knew that he was opposed, on principle, to the Ballot, as they knew that he was opposed to the Permissive Bill: but while he received no letters regarding the Ballot, numerous communications crowded on him with respect to the Permissive Bill—some entreating him to vote for the measure, others threatening that if he did not vote for it he would lose his seat. There was a strong feeling in the country in 1245 favour of abating intemperance by any measure, however Utopian and unworkable; but there was no feeling in the country in favour of abating intimidation by the Ballot. What did that prove? That while intemperance was unhappily increasing, intimidation was happily decreasing. The Prime Minister mentioned three classes of electors, the independent and honest electors; the bad men, including liars; and the honest, but weak and dependent electors. The first class, according to the Prime Minister's own admission, did not need the Ballot; the second, the Prime Minister also admitted, would be enabled by the Ballot to gratify their hatred and spite; the third class could only be protected by passing into the same category as the second. It was alleged that the Liberal employers of labour called up their workmen and asked them how they were going to vote, and that if they did not pledge themselves to vote in favour of the Liberal candidate, or if, having so pledged themselves, they voted in favour of the Conservative candidate, they got their congé. The only difference between the present state of things and that under the Ballot would be, that now interrogatories were put to the workmen before, then they would be put after the election. If the landlord or employer of labour asked his tenant or workman how he had voted, and the tenant or workman declined to say, or hesitated, or stated that he had voted for the opposition candidate, what would prevent the landlord or employer dismissing him, if he could do so now? But then he might call Heaven to witness that he voted in favour of the Liberal candidate. The moment, however, he made that statement he ceased to belong to the third class—the class of honest but weak and dependent voters—and became a member of the second class—the class of liars, whom the right hon. Gentleman did not seek to protect. Thus the Ballot would have a demoralizing influence. The Bill would enact that a Member should lose his seat in case personation had taken place—this being the only novel provision with regard to personation. But the chance of personation being discovered would be very slight, and the scheme of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), if adopted, would not meet the difficulties of the case. When the voter presented himself, 1246 and the agent had reason to believe that he was not the person he assumed to be, then the agent, according to the plan of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton, would have power to cause his vote to be put into a separate packet, and not into the ballot-box, the agent being liable to a penalty of £20 if his suspicions proved groundless. This scheme would put a premium on rich men. Besides, the agent would have no motive for objecting, as the whole design of the Ballot was to prevent his knowing the political views of the voter: and even if the scheme were equal to dealing with the case, the scheme was not adopted by the Government. They might expect that personation would be rife under the Ballot. When they had universal suffrage it would be time enough to have recourse to the Ballot; in America, and the colonies, wherever they had the Ballot, they also had universal suffrage. Uncertainty and suspicion would, however, always attach to the Ballot, as was shown in France, where 8,000,000 votes were recorded for an Emperor, who was almost the next day hurled from power; and in Rome, where 50,000 votes were recorded for Victor Emmanuel, and hardly any for Pio Nono, yet the Catholic world had never ceased to challenge the result. It was often said that the Ballot was un-English, and in this he agreed; he understood the expression to signify that the English people were against what was mean and underhand, being, in the words of the Prime Minister, "a high-spirited race."
§ MR. GREENE
said, he felt it his duty to protest against the species of tyranny attempted to be enforced against that House. It was well known that there had been a preconcerted plan on the part of the Prime Minister and his supporters that none of the latter should speak. He had also observed a sort of telegraphic signal proceeding from one hon. Member to another, intimating that all the hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side should leave the House. That proceeding was disgraceful, and calculated to bring the House into ridicule.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,1247
§ MR. GREENE
If the Prime Minister, whom he now saw in his place, had come down to that House with that spirit of conciliation which characterized Lord Palmerston, and asked them to limit their remarks, he, for one, would not have troubled the House with any remarks; but when the right hon. Gentleman attempted with his followers to coerce the House into a division, he would find that he had got the wrong set of men to reckon with. The subject was one to which another evening might well have been spared. Having listened to the debate throughout, he declared that his opinion against the Ballot had not been changed. How would the Ballot reduce expense unless they went to another stage of tyranny, and prohibited canvassing? He did not see how a Gentleman's election who sat on the opposite side who had to pay £14,000 would be returned for a penny less under the Ballot. People would express their opinions, and therefore the way they voted would be known. There were grave questions ahead, which might affect the English nation at large, and therefore they should be cautious what they did. Bribery under the Ballot would still be carried on, and without fear of detection, the briber paying according to the result. The Conservative party were accused by the Liberals of exercising intimidation and coercion; but if that were so, how could it be accounted for that there was a majority of 110 or 120 on the Ministerial side of the House? He wished to know how bribery could be proved if the votes were not to be traced. Generally a nomination was a good ordeal to pass through; and the knowledge that he had to face the hustings made a man careful in his political conduct. He certainly thought before such a Bill as this was passed the constituencies should be consulted upon it. There was no analogy between the system of balloting for members of clubs and the voting for Members of Parliament. The one involved only social considerations of a comparatively limited range; the other involved the highest national interests. At the same time, he confessed that even in club elections he would prefer not secret but open voting. It had been said that tenants were coerced by their landlords; but he altogether denied the charge, and he challenged any hon. Member to prove that a single 1248 case of that kind had occurred in England. It would be far better to keep to open voting than to pass this wretched measure. Only on the previous day a staunch supporter of this measure had, in speaking of the registration of partnerships, remarked that publicity was honesty and secrecy was fraud. Because he agreed in that view, and believed that secret voting would not succeed, he should oppose this Bill.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he thought that when his hon. Friend (Mr. Greene) referred to the somewhat anomalous line of action pursued by hon. Members opposite, in absenting themselves from their places at the commencement of the debate, he should have made some allowance for the fact that their political labours commenced at a somewhat earlier hour than usual, and that they probably needed some repose after the labours they had gone through not very far from that House. Ever since this Bill was in print there had been a bulky list of Notices of Amendments which had now assumed the form of a separate Paper distinct from the ordinary Paper. A rumour had gained ground this afternoon, which he could not believe possessed any real foundation, that with respect to a great number of those Amendments, although appearing on the Paper, it was not the intention of those whose names were appended to them to proceed with them. He hoped a speedy contradiction would be given to this rumour, for he believed that the object of one of the customs of the House would be set at nought if such a scheme were carried into effect. He had always been under the impression that Notices of this kind were placed upon the Paper for the convenience of Members, in order to avoid a multiplicity or repetition of Amendments. Therefore it would be for the convenience of the Committee that any intention of removing Amendments should be at once announced, so that in respect of Amendments which commended themselves to other Members an opportunity might be afforded of supplying those places which would be left vacant by withdrawals. Without wishing to carry on this discussion, he must enter his humble but emphatic protest against the statement of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government the other night that the Motion of the hon. Member for the 1249 West Riding (Mr. J. Fielden), that the Chairman do leave the Chair, was most unusual and almost un-Parliamentary. The hon. Member for the West Riding rose simultaneously with the right hon. Gentleman on the night of the debate on going into Committee, but was prevented from moving the adjournment, and he thought they were all indebted to him for enabling the discussion to be continued in Committee. On the same night the hour generally devoted to dinner had hardly expired when a Member of the Cabinet rose, and although there arose with him an hon. Member whom a great portion of the House desired to hear, the right hon. Gentleman insisted on his right to address the House. It was the Vice President of the Council who rose before 10 o'clock. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER said, it was a quarter to 11.] That would not affect his argument, that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government should not complain of the humbler Members of the House seeking to continue the discussion when that portion of the evening had been taken up by Members of his Cabinet. But the putting of the Question that the Preamble be postponed was a proper opportunity for stating objections, and the Motion that the Chairman leave the Chair was a mere variation of that form. The second reading of the Bill without discussion could not be avoided, because the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to take the second reading on the Monday in Passion Week; and it would have been impossible to have concluded any debate raised at that time by the Thursday in the same week, while even if that could have been achieved the House would have been sitting two days longer in Passion Week than was its custom. In fact, the habit of the right hon. Gentleman of constantly addressing arguments to the House which appealed either to the personal hopes or fears of Members was scarcely consistent with the dignity of Parliament, while it recalled to the recollections of hon. Gentlemen at any rate their school days, if not a still earlier period of their existence. As, however, they had waived their right to debate on that occasion, he considered that they were justified in the course they had since pursued. Without entering into the details of the measure, he might state that he dissented from the views expressed on that (the Opposition) side 1250 of the House with regard to nominations and declarations of the polls. A nomination was a senseless and idle farce, degrading to all who took part in it; and he should welcome any measure which relieved candidates from participation in them. He did not, however, approve of throwing the expenses upon the ratepayers, because that would tempt persons from motives of vanity to offer themselves as candidates. But his object in addressing the Committee now was to protest against the manner in which the whole subject had been treated by the Government, and to point out that any delay or protraction of the debate was the result of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government.
§ MR. WARD JACKSON
proposed to defer expressing any opinion upon clauses until clauses were under consideration; but he would say, in passing, that he thought it desirable to do away with declarations of the poll, although he was not quite so decided in his view of nominations. He wished to call attention to an important part of the Preamble which had never been discussed—namely, the municipal part of the measure. The alterations affecting the constitution of the corporations were embodied wholesale in the clauses relating to Parliamentary elections; but he was sure the provisions of the Bill never could be carried out in that form, and he would suggest that the Government should divide the Bill into two parts. He had heard no objection on the part of corporations to the election of aldermen and councilmen according to the present law. He cited the case of Hartlepool to show how practically inoperative the Bill would be. Hartlepool was divided into two parts; one was governed under a law dating from the time of Elizabeth, and the other was under Town Improvement Commissioners. Now, this Bill did not provide any rules for the election of the Town Improvement Commissioners. According as the Bill was drawn, Liverpool, Manchester, the ancient City of York, and many other large corporations, would all, in fact, be disfranchised, so far as the mode of electing members of the corporation was concerned. Parliament was not at this moment prepared to legislate on the question of municipal corporations. The Bill would require 1251 very great alterations, and he submitted that it should be divided into two parts, one part being made applicable to Parliamentary elections, and the other to municipal corporations. The provision in the 17th clause that any rules made in pursuance of that clause were to be laid before Parliament within three weeks after they were made, if Parliament was sitting, and if it was not sitting, within three weeks after the beginning of the next Session of Parliament, was a fatal objection. He also took exception to the clause which required that a municipal candidate for the office of alderman and councillor should have a proposer and seconder, and that his nomination should be assented to by eight electors. Again, many important towns in this country were regulated by Improvement Commissioners, and he had to ask why were they not brought within the scope of the Bill? As to the Ballot, he was opposed to it, except as a mere experiment; but as the time had arrived when that experiment must be tried, he was not desirous that it should be tried in the first instance as a permanent measure. It would be far easier to make the Act expire after a specific period, if it was found not to work satisfactorily, than to repeal it if passed unconditionally as to time. Looking to the whole circumstances of the case, he recommended that the Bill should be withdrawn for this Session, that it should be split into two parts, and that Government should take into consideration before next Session all the Amendments, nearly 300 in number, which had been proposed. He recommended this course to Ministers, as he did not believe the Bill could be passed this Session, and in order to give the municipalities time to consider its effect on their present constitutions. It would be well for Ministers to adopt the well-known maxim "Stoop to conquer," and also to remember bis dat qui cito dat.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he was anxious that his constituents should know what his opinions were in reference to this question of secret voting. As to the abolition of nomination, he thought that it was but scant justice that the candidate should not have the opportunity of openly and publicly stating what his principles were, and that the electors should not be able to question him upon any doubtful point. In his opinion, 1252 both the candidates and the electors had a right to their privileges in that respect. He quite agreed that candidates should not be pledged to details, but what were his principles should be distinctly understood by the electors. The electors also should have the opportunity, on a second appearance, of ascertaining how far the candidate had carried out his principles. The candidates had also a right to know, by public nomination, who his opponents were, and to judge from what took place at the nomination whether he would be justified in incurring the expense of a poll. The only objection raised was that there were frequent disturbances at elections. The remedy for this was in the hands of the candidates themselves; if they forbade the payment of money to induce persons, very often non-electors, to be present at the nomination ostensibly to secure the prestige of a good show of hands, but too often for the express purpose of creating a disturbance, nomination days would cease to be characterized by noise. He would not go into the details of the Bill; but he believed that secrecy as to voting would be a delusion and a snare. He did not think that secrecy could be maintained. Many hon. Gentlemen might be aware of the circumstances under which he sat in that House; and all he would say was that straightforward conduct was the right course to pursue. Though in the first instance he was only elected by a small majority, yet because people came to know that he had certain opinions and was not likely to change them, he had been re-elected without difficulty or opposition in every election that had occurred during the last 28 years. He fully advocated the principle enunciated on the other side of the House, that publicity was honesty and secrecy was fraud.
observed, that the conduct of Members on that side of the House, in desiring a full expression of opinion on this measure, had been vindicated more than once by reference to the course which the present Prime Minister had formerly taken, when opposing the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill and the Divorce Bill, which were supported by the vast majority of the House; but they need not go so far back as that, for during the present Session of Parliament they had the experience of the Protection of Life and Property in certain Parts of Ireland Bill. On that oc- 1253 casion a minority which only numbered 11 on division, discussed the Bill hour after hour and day after day, and the Prime Minister had not a word of reproach for them; and now they, who represented an important part of the House and of the country were asked suddenly to change their opinions, or agree with those who had so recently adopted the principle of the Bill. Was it very extraordinary that they should wish to hear the question thoroughly discussed, and to hear some satisfactory reasons for assenting to the Bill before the House? There must be sitting on the other side of the House 150 hon. Members, at least, who had hitherto opposed the principle of secret voting for years, and who the other night voted for the measure for the first time; and this, he thought, bore out the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) that the measure would be carried by what he called a mechanical majority. What new reasons, then, were there for such a wholesale conversion, and for submitting to what the advocates of the Bill allowed was an "humiliation" and a "choice of evils?" It had been urged that the argument of trust for the non-electors had been removed by the large extension of the franchise which had taken place within the last few years; but Lord Palmerston had shown that this would not arise from any extension of the franchise which was not universal, for that there would still remain the trust to be exercised in favour of the women and children and all the other unenfranchised. The facts were these—before the last Reform Bill about 1,000,000 persons performed the trust on behalf of the rest of the community, and that number had by the late extension increased to more than 2,000,000; but there still remained a vast majority for whom the comparatively small body of electors still exercised the trust. The argument that we should be guided by the conduct of foreign countries and our Australian colonies on any such question had been demolished by the Marquess of Salisbury in "another place," who, on another occasion, denounced the notion of being so guided, and gave to this mode of reasoning the nickname of "the intelligent foreigner argument." It was clearly not for us to take our opinions from intelligent 1254 foreigners. It must first be shown that in foreign countries there was a more intelligent mode of conducting public business, and that law and order were better maintained there than at home. As far as France and America were concerned there was no analogy, as it was admitted that there was no secret voting in either of those countries. As to the practice in our colonial possessions, he might remark that the Ballot might be very well in the colonies, and still not suitable to the mother country. It would be unfair for us to be guided by the opinions of the Governors of Australia. Even their opinions in favour of the Ballot were given with so many modifications, and the difference of circumstances was so great that they ceased to be an argument in its favour. One important difference between the mother country and her colonies was the value set upon membership in the two places. The value of a seat here might, by-and-by, be depreciated; but so long as there was a desire on the part of those whom the hon. Member for Waterford called the "successful capitalists who sit around him" to enter the House of Commons, the weight of the money-bag would tell, and he believed it would tell with increasing force if the Ballot were adopted. No new argument worthy of the name of an argument had been used to induce the House to change its policy with regard to the Ballot. The Premier had admitted that the adoption of the Ballot was only "a choice of evils," and the House had a right to look for something more than the miserable apologies for arguments which had been set up in favour of the measure. With reference to the question whether bribery had increased of late, he believed it would be admitted on all hands that there never was a fairer election, as far as regarded bribery and treating, than the last General Election, and he could see no reason why a violent and uncalled for change should now be made in the electoral system of the country. As far as intimidation was concerned, that was a question on which hon. Members would differ; but he could find no evidence of a great increase of intimidation. He did not know that even the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) held that intimidation had increased, although he based his argument in favour of the Ballot on the existence of 1255 intimidation. On the other hand, they had the emphatic testimony of the Judges who had tried the late Election Petitions to the contrary. There were many cogent reasons that might be advanced in favour of the proposition that the Ballot was not required for the protection of the voter; but he need only mention that the increase in the number of electors had rendered bribery difficult, and, as everyone knew, it was now capital which was seeking labour, and not labour in search of capital, so that the growing independence of the working classes decreased the chances of seducing the voter from electoral purity. On the other hand, the inevitable result of the Ballot would be that there would arise a system of hypocrisy greater than ever existed in this country. If a man was not to become a hypocrite there would be no use in giving him secret voting. He must tell a lie in order to make secret voting any protection at all, and this was what an Englishman would not do. It was not in the nature of an Englishman to conceal his vote; and eventually his opinion would be as well known as it was at present. Then, again, the detection of bribery and personation would be rendered more difficult, if not absolutely impossible, if, as under this Bill, there was no means of tracing the vote when once given; and, what was even worse, elections would be reduced to stump oratory, and many of the best men—the sober and the thoughtful—all, in fact, who were not prepared for political agitation, would be excluded from that House. There were two points in the Bill of which he approved; and those were the abolition of nominations, and the rendering it illegal to issue hourly returns of the poll, a practice which had in times past caused much rioting and disturbance of the peace. Entertaining, then, the opinion that this measure was against every reason which had hitherto been adduced, and that there was no new reason adduced which could justify them in registering a decree at the instance of a dictator on the Ministerial bench, he, for one, should refuse to follow him in the course which he had proposed.
said, he had been requested by his small but varied constituency of farmers, commercial men, shopkeepers, and mariners to vote against the present Bill, and for this, among other reasons—they failed to see 1256 why, having only recently, so far as the majority of them were concerned, been placed upon the electoral roll, they should not be treated with the confidence that had been reposed in the former voters, who were allowed to record their suffrages openly in the sight of their fellows. As to the operation of the Ballot in Ireland, he would remind the Prime Minister that the Irish were now comparatively a united people, and would return the men they wanted, as the experience of the last few months proved, whether they had the Ballot or not. He (Colonel Jervis) had seen the working of the Ballot in most parts of the world where it was in operation, and could bear testimony as to its utter inefficiency. In regard to America it was well known that no man went to the poll whose vote was not known months beforehand. In fact, the results of elections were always known some time previous to the Balloting, and the funds in Europe rose and fell accordingly. When the Prime Minister went to the Ionian Islands he found the Ballot in operation. Notwithstanding that, the right hon. Gentleman reproved the whole population, including the Bishop and clergy, for their want of allegiance to British authority. It was in consequence of the Ballot that the English Government had lost their influence of the people, who came in consequence under the control of the Greek priests and the Russian Government. Again, it was well known that in France the Government controlled the Ballot, and in Greece whenever the elections went against the Government, the Government party seized the Ballot-boxes and burned the voting papers. Her Majesty's Government were trying to burke this question by carrying a mere Ballot Bill—a measure which was a direct insult to the population of this country. If what rumour said that day were true, the proceeding referred to was most discreditable to the party connected with it, and the English people before long would lot the Government know what they thought of it. It was reported that a meeting of Members took place that day at the official residence of the Prime Minister. If it were true that the Prime Minister induced the Members at that meeting to pledge themselves not to discuss this question, and not to proceed with any of the Notices which they placed on the 1257 Paper respecting this Bill, the people of England would very soon let the right hon. Gentleman know what they thought of such conduct. If such a proceeding had taken place it was a direct violation of the solemn pledge which the right hon. Gentleman made before Easter, that in the event of the House assenting to the second reading without discussion, ample opportunity should be afforded for discussing the Bill afterwards. They (the Opposition) were twitted for the course they were pursuing in respect of this Bill, which was described by the right hon. Gentleman as a factious and disorderly opposition; but he would remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this measure (Mr. Forster) was one of about 30 Members who had perseveringly opposed the Cattle Bill some few years ago, ultimately succeeding, after weeks of opposition, in their object, that Bill having then been withdrawn. It might also be remembered that the present Prime Minister opposed the Divorce Bill on the ground that in the month of July it was impossible for a Bill of such magnitude to be considered by the House, much less carried, and he was bound to admit that the right hon. Gentleman was quite justified in making that assertion. Well, he (Colonel Jervis) asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he could expect to carry such an important Bill as the present this Session? Individually, he did not care whether the Ballot was established or not, as he felt convinced that a vast majority of the people would vote rightly and conscientiously; but he believed that if the Government dissolved Parliament and appealed to the country on the subject they would fail to carry their Bill at the hustings. The change which had taken place within the last two years amongst the working classes was very great. They no longer skulked into holes and corners for the purpose of expressing their political sentiments, but proclaimed them openly at meetings held in Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square. He hoped that before they came to a definite resolution upon this question the Government would re-consider the great changes which had taken place in the country since they came into office, and would appeal to the people upon this question of the Ballot.
reminded the Committee that some 25 1258 years ago, when he was in the House, the then great Conservative Government and a large portion of their political party changed their opinions upon a most serious question of public policy. The explanation which that Government, gave for such a change was, to his mind, satisfactory. Having heard that evening so many speeches on the one side, he should express a hope, as an independent Member, that the Government would be allowed to proceed at once with the clauses of the Bill, and to explain what they had to say in respect to them. After the animadversions which had been made upon the occupants of the two front benches that evening, it was scarcely to be expected that any of them would intervene at the present moment.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
appealed to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) to withdraw his Motion—that the Chairman do now leave the Chair. If, however, any blame were to be attached to any one Member in regard to the proceedings of that House, it was to be attached to the Prime Minister himself, who fixed the second reading for a time that was most inconvenient for hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman persisted in fixing the second reading of the Bill in Passion Week, when there could be no discussion. He hoped that what had happened would be a lesson to him not to depart from the usual course pursued with reference to important matters, and that hon. Members might always be allowed to express, both on the second reading, and in going into Committee, the opinions which they entertained, particularly with reference to a Bill that they believed to be unnecessary. Discussion having now taken place, he hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he feared that he violated a maxim of that distinguished Diplomat, M. Tagleron, who in the choice of his employés said—Sourtout point de zete, for he (Mr. Newdegate) was in earnest; a feeling which seemed wanting on the other side of the House, where no zeal existed except to keep together. For his part, he regarded this great national measure as one that was pregnant with future changes, and he thought it right to take the opinion of the House upon his Motion, for he was opposing the Bill, not from any 1259 fancy of his own, but in belief that it was at variance with the feelings and interests of the people of this country. He based his opposition, not upon his own authority, but upon that of the late Leader of the party on the other side—one of the greatest men who ever occupied the position of Prime Minister. The conduct of the supporters of the Government represented either the apprehensions of the plutocracy, that want of courage which was the curse of wealth, or that subordination to party objects which wholly ignored national interests.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 154: Majority 91.
§ Clause 1 (Short title).
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he thought that this clause should be postponed as well as the Preamble, because it only related to the title of the Bill, and on the next clause he proposed in line 12, after "every," to leave out the words, "Parliamentary and," with the view of confining the operation of the Bill to municipal elections.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he hardly thought the hon. Member seriously meant that this clause should be postponed. Of course, the hon. Member was perfectly aware, as the whole Committee were aware, that the Bill was introduced mainly in reference to Parliamentary elections.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Nomination and Election.
§ Clause 2 (Regulations as to election and nomination of Members.)
§ MR. FLOYER
moved in page 1, line 11, after "this Act," leave out to "such Elections," inclusive, inline 13, and insert—All nominations for Members to serve in Parliament shall continue to be held as heretofore provided by law, save and except where any riot or serious disturbance shall take place, or may reasonably be expected to take place, at the nomination; and in every such case the returning officer shall, at his own discretion or upon the representation in writing of any ten electors of the place for which the nomination is intended to be held that a riot or serious disturbance may reasonably be expected, adjourn the nomination to a future day to be by him appointed, so, however, that such day be not more than (two) days later than the day originally fixed for such nomination; and on such day he shall proceed with the nomination of candidates and the Election of Members 1260 according to the regulations, and in the manner following.The hon. Gentleman said, the question involved in this Amendment had received scarcely any attention in the course of the recent debates, and it was one which might be considered without any reference to party views. It had been said that those hon. Gentlemen who supported public nominations made an unnecessary profession of courage—the inference being that such hon. Gentlemen were not likely to be exposed to much riot or disturbance at their election, while others might be exposed to very unpleasant occurrences. But, for his own part, he disclaimed the appropriation of any courage of that sort—he was as fond as any man of a peaceful and quiet life, and he hoped he was quite free from the imputation of any desire to expose candidates unnecessarily to riot and disturbance. The object of his Amendment was to preserve for the future public nominations of Members to serve in Parliament: but his proposition was accompanied by the provision that in case of serious riot or disturbance, or apprehension of riot or disturbance, the returning officer should have the power of adjourning the nomination, and should then proceed in the manner pointed out in the clause. He had desired that his Amendment should proceed on the lines of law and precedent as already laid down and acted upon. The 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 36, provided that in case of riot or disturbance at a nomination or at a poll, the returning officer should adjourn the nomination or poll to the following day, and, further, if necessary. In a few instances the provisions of that Act had been carried out; but as it provided only for an adjournment it was necessary that the proceedings should go on, and the result was that those who desired to cause a disturbance had only to wait until the nomination was resumed, when they could again cause a tumult. He proposed to obviate that difficulty by providing that in such a case the election should be held in accordance with the Bill. He, however, desired to extend the application of that provision to cases in which there was only the apprehension of riot. It might be said that the object of his clause was indefinite; but in his Amendment he followed the provisions of an Act that had already been put in force—namely, the Special Con- 1261 stables Act of 1 & 2 Will. IV. c. 41, which referred to cases where it was made to appear that there had been a tumult or might be reasonably apprehended in any parish, the only difference being that he placed the power in the hands of the returning officer (either at his own discretion or on the representation of any ten electors), instead of with the justices, who did not stand very high in the estimation of some hon. Members. This plan, he believed, would give real discouragement to disturbances at elections, if it did not lead to their total cessation; because when it was found that an end could be put to riotous proceedings, candidates might, perhaps, be allowed to express their political opinions on the hustings. This part of the subject had been well-considered by the Committee on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, who, in their Report, pointed out the various advantages of public nominations, which they were decidedly in favour of retaining. Nor was this a qualified expression of opinion on their part since that portion of the Report was carried in opposition to a Motion which would have recommended the abolition of nominations. The clause in favour of their being retained was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), and it was carried by the vote of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey). Was it not most unjust to the large number of boroughs and counties where elections were conducted in an orderly and decorous manner that they should be deprived of the privilege they had enjoyed for centuries of hearing those who aspired to represent them express their political opinions on the matters on which the public welfare depended before they confided such an important trust to them? That part of the Bill proceeded on the principle which was the radical fault of the whole measure—namely, that of condemning in penalties large numbers of unoffending men and unoffending constituencies merely because certain other men and certain other constituencies had disgraced themselves by their conduct. It would compel honest men to give their vote secretly, because a certain number of dishonest voters had turned open voting to a bad purpose. He was aware that other reasons had been alleged in favour of doing away with nominations. 1262 The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) had spoken of candidates having to pay for the show of hands; but experienced judges of those matters thought the candidate who got the show of hands was most likely to lose the election. The same hon. Member also told them that he had to pay for an audience to listen to his oration; but that, too, was rather a foolish expenditure; it could not be regarded as necessary, and formed no good ground for abolishing nominations. For himself, when he hired a servant, he liked to see him, and fancied he could detect a difference between the look of an honest man and that of a rogue, and was it less important that the electors should see those who sought to represent them in Parliament? Voting by Ballot might be carried on in the dark; but he liked men to stand on the hustings in the open light of day. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) said he had never canvassed and never would, and perhaps his great abilities enabled him to dispense with a process which less able men were fain to adopt; but if candidates were not to canvass and not to appear on the hustings, when were the constituents to see them? True, at the last Election in some cases letters recommendatory, written by men of high authority, were despatched from London in favour of particular candidates; but he had never heard that those letters were very successful, although perhaps that might be one of the modes resorted to if canvassing were done away with. It was, however, far better that a man should speak for himself, and should state his views not in any hole-and-corner meeting, where all present were, perhaps, of one way of thinking, but on the hustings, where there was that conflict of opinion by which alone they could hope to get at the truth. Again, the hustings was the proper place for the opposing candidates to meet each other face to face and clear up those little misunderstandings which often grew out of the heat of an election contest. The hustings enabled opponents to bring their differences to a final issue, and as an hon. Member had said, on the hustings the victor and the unsuccessful competitor should shake hands and be friends. Again, at the nomination questions were often asked that elicited useful answers, and decided doubtful voters. 1263 Further, it should be remembered that at the hustings, and on nomination days, the non-electors—still a numerous body—were able to take part in the proceedings. But the strongest ground on which he supported the continuance of nomination days was the broad one of their publicity. If there was one thing which he had hitherto admired more than another in the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite it was their consistent belief in the power of public opinion; but this Bill endangered the confidence he had in their views in that respect. This was a Bill for the suppression of public opinion, and put a penalty on a man for saying how he was going to vote. How, then, was he to discuss public questions? This furnished another reason why he advocated the retention of the nomination. How were the political opinions of candidates to be communicated to constituencies if they were not to be expressed vivâ voce on the hustings? By an address? If a candidate wrote a short address it would be read, though not very widely. But were it a long one it would share a different fate. Thousands of men would go a long distance to hear a speech from the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne). They might read a speech of his reported in the newspapers; but if he wrote a long address, the number that would road it would be very few indeed. He (Mr. Floyer) had attempted to treat this subject in a Conservative spirit, for he liked to preserve what was good and wholesome and real in our constitutional observances. The right hon. Gentleman appeared in a very different character now from what he did last year, when he with so many others were only too glad to give him their warmest support. Then he appeared in a Conservative character. He was preserving the good, sound institutions of the country. But now he came before the House as a destructive, as a total abolitionist. It might be said this was a small matter. But he could not think anything a small matter which was connected with the national customs, the political life, and the national character of the country. Few things, he believed, had exercised more effect on English character than our political institutions, especially those connected with the mode of electing Members to serve in Parliament, and he feared that attachment to the Constitution would be seriously impaired by the measure. 1264 Even if secret voting should be carried some portion of that spirit might yet be preserved by retaining public nominations. If secret voting was introduced and nominations abolished, how could they enlist the sympathies of the people on the side of the institutions of the country? It was with these feelings that he ventured to place the Amendment on the Paper. He hoped he would be supported from both sides of the House, and with some confidence of success he begged to offer his Amendment for acceptance by the Committee.
said, he regretted the introduction into the Bill of the clause at present before the Committee, because it was not at all necessarily mixed up with the question of secret voting, and a matter of so much consequence as the immediate question might have been discussed more dispassionately and with greater advantage if there had been an opportunity of dealing with it standing alone. The Amendment was intended to raise the question in as unobjectionable a form as possible. So far as candidates, electors, and expenditure were concerned, he believed the present system was better than the one proposed by the Bill. It was hard upon the electors, who had most right to be considered in the matter, to deprive them of the opportunity of meeting candidates for their suffrages face to face, and of putting questions to them. Anyone who had his experience would know that when a man came on the hustings very many questions were asked him, and it was a great comfort to be able to answer them. It would be the greatest possible discomfort not to have an opportunity of meeting everybody face to face, answering everything they had to say, and thus not only keeping oneself straight with one's constituents but preventing what would be ten thousand times more mischievous than any disturbance to everybody—one's character being whispered away behind his back without an opportunity of knowing what was said, or any opportunity of making an answer. It was no exaggeration to say that men of experience could very often tell from the show of hands whether it was worth while to go to the poll, even though half of those who attended were non-electors. Expense had been saved in this way; but if public nominations were abolished, there would be absolutely no 1265 opportunity of forming any opinion as to what might be called the "trim" of the public on the occasion. The only reason he heard assigned against nominations was that now and then there was a row, and no doubt they were a little lively sometimes. But that did not do much mischief to anyone. Mischief, doubtless, did occur at times in some places where roughs were hired. But it was a great hardship to punish constituencies generally—for he regarded it as punishment—because in a few places such practices obtained. These were some of the reasons why he thought the existing law much better. One serious objection to the clause was that it left a discretion to the returning officers to fix the day on which the poll should be taken. If there was one thing more desirable than another with regard to the conduct of elections it was that the returning officer should be free from suspicion of bias in favour of either candidate, and this would be impossible if the clause were allowed to stand in its present form. It often happened that a day made all the difference to the candidates, whether the day was fixed early or late. If two days were not sufficient, it would be far better to fix the number of days in the Bill, for in many cases the fixing of a day by the returning officers would turn the scale in favour of one candidate or the other. In counties especially it was most important that the constituencies should have afforded to them every reasonable opportunity of meeting and hearing the opinions of gentlemen seeking to represent them, or otherwise, they might be ridden over by some wealthy person who sought by his riches to overshadow the county, or by the mere nominee of some London club sent down to snatch the representation for the advantage of the political party to which he belonged. If hole-and-corner meetings were held the electors would be powerless, because they would know nothing of the party, and the election might be over before the news spread over the county. A great deal had been said about rows and excitement in connection with election meetings; but he thought there was more danger of rows, and a succession of them, at meetings held in the "Pig and Whistle" than at a public nomination, where the candidates would come face to face with the electors, and, after perhaps a gentle breeze, all persons concerned 1266 would have an opportunity of becoming acquainted, and the opinions of the candidates would lie open before those whose votes they sought. Instead of giving this publicity to electoral proceedings, it was sought to shut up the candidates in a box, where they would be perfectly safe from all cross examination by the electors. He hoped that the clause would be withdrawn, and that the nomination would be allowed to be taken in the old way.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he could not support the Amendment, the effect of which would be to retain in the electoral system a relic of a time when all the circumstances of social and political life were different from those of the present day. It had been said that it was desirable that candidates should face the electors, and submit to be cross questioned. Now a candidate would be open to all sorts of cross-examination by his constituents at the meetings which must be held prior to the election, and there would be ample opportunities of buttering them in the Journal, lampooning them in the Gazette, and placarding them in different colours over all the dead walls in the town before the election came on. What occasion, then, was there to have a last day of row and rioting among the free and independent electors? The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Melly) would remember the nomination day in which he (Mr. Hope) and that hon. Member took part. The first exhibition of playfulness which took place was a rush of the mob, which swept away the reporters, who had to take refuge on the hustings. The hon. Member made some charge against him, of which he could not hear one word, and when it came to his turn to speak he simply stood gesticulating for about 20 minutes. At intervals of a few minutes he contrived to whisper something into the ears of the reporters, who stood near him, and it was stated in the newspapers that the confusion was so great that only a few scattered sentences could be heard. Such exhibitions tended to create a great deal of ill-blood, and he should be glad to see them put an end to. As one of the representatives of the only two constituencies in the United Kingdom where nominations were unknown and elections perfectly orderly, he should oppose the Amendment with a clear conscience.
§ MR. A. EGERTON
admitted that there were objections to open nominations, and said the only question was, whether they were strong enough to induce the House to abolish the system altogether. The Committee must remember that in a majority of the constituencies no complaints of the existing system could in reason be made. In Scotland, where nominations were held in closed buildings, there were abominable practices, and candidates were obliged to go clothed in macintoshes, though he could hardly state for what reason. But there was a great advantage in a man appearing before his constituents, so that he might answer their questions, and if open nominations were abolished the constituencies would not be satisfied without seeing their Members. Then the system of holding meetings at which a Member could meet his own supporters with, perhaps, a sprinkling from the other side, as followed in Lancashire, would come to an end, for there would be a fight at the doors for admission. Thus, instead of one confused meeting there would be a large series of them, where nothing sensible could be done. He did not believe that they would gain at all from the abolition of public nomination, which had many recommendations, and would be improved by the qualifications proposed in the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Floyer).
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
observed, that every Member worthy of a seat in that House ought to have the courage of his opinions, and supporters of the Ballot would require no apology from one who wished to act with freedom, and he must say he had not the good fortune to agree with his own party with regard to this clause, for he could not think it was a wise proposal to abolish nominations. He feared that it would have a tendency to lower the character of the House. Suppose, for instance, a man came from the colonics, or from the East, with £20,000 a-year, but with a character which was not too good. Nobody would know anything about him; and, by going to a solicitor, he might secure arrangements by which he would gain a seat in that House, on condition that a sum of money should be paid after his election. As no opportunity for inquiry was given at the election, a person of no character might thus get into the House, and as Members would naturally be inclined to 1268 treat a new comer kindly, he might be enabled to rehabilitate himself. He was surprised that his hon. Friends should allow hon. Members on the other side to outdo them in supporting one of the most open of our election proceedings. In constitutional matters everything should be as plain, simple, and perspicuous as possible. He found fault with this measure in several respects. One serious objection to this clause was, that the returning officer might be subject to local pressure in an inconvenient manner with regard to the mode of conducting the election. For example, he was to have a discretion as to the number of persons to be admitted to witness a nomination. Would not the local newspapers complain of him, if persons favoured by editors should be excluded? If the clause acted at all it would be imperfectly and unfairly, and unless he heard some good reason from the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council he could not support it.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he regretted that the hon. Member (Sir John Trelawny) could not support the clause, but he thought the hon. Member's reasons insufficient. He (Mr. Forster) thought the power of the rich man to get into Parliament was greater under the present system than it would be under the new one contemplated by the Bill. If a man had £20,000 a-year, he might easily secure at a public nomination that nothing he said need be heard, and that nothing said against him should be heard. Nor was the nomination day a time at which the candidate was subjected to any real and effectual questioning. With regard to the Amendment which the hon. Member for Dorset (Mr. Floyer) had brought forward, in a fair, candid, and able manner, he thought its terms were open to some objections which could not have been urged againt a mere negative of the abolition of open nominations. The hon. Member left it partly to the returning officer and partly to the representations of a small number of electors to say whether there should or should not be nominations. That was a discretion which, notwithstanding the precedents he produced, would be most inconvenient to the returning officer. It was also desirable that the constituencies should know how an election was to be conducted, and that the question of an open nomination should not be left to the re- 1269 turning officer or any of the electors. The real issue before the Committee, however, was whether open nominations should be abolished or not. The chief argument in favour of maintaining the present system was that it was necessary to secure publicity for the candidate's opinions. But that might be fully secured through the Press, and by means of advertisements. Then it was said that it was desirable that the candidate should be seen by the electors, and some hon. Members seemed to suppose that a candidate would be prevented by the Bill from meeting his constituents. But there would be no prevention whatever. The fact was that for the future very few would have a chance of being returned unless they did meet their constituents. Open nominations were in reality public meetings of the worst kind, because they were more noisy and disorderly than any other public meetings. The hon. Member for the West Riding and himself had attended many meetings in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and, with the exception of nominations, he had scarcely ever known a disorderly public meeting. At the hustings the general experience was not the gentle breeze spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), but a stormy breeze, arising from the simple fact that nomination meetings were not really held for hearing opinions or obtaining information, but for the purpose of obtaining the show of hands. That took away from it all its intelligent character, and was a great temptation to the candidate and his friends to try to obtain the show of hands. The nomination, too, was generally a public meeting of a very partial kind. How was it possible that in a county the electors of the different divisions should be represented at the nomination in proportion to their numbers. It was the inhabitants of the immediate neighbourhood that were present. One great reason why the Government had brought in this Bill was to make elections as orderly as possible, and to induce the peaceful portion of the voters to take as large a part as possible in the return of their representative. But it was well known that quiet people had the greatest objection to the disorder of nomination days, and were very likely to stop away.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he moved the Amendment in Committee to which his 1270 hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Floyer) had referred. The objection to the wording of the Amendment would be entirely removed if the Committee adopted the first part of it—namely, that—All nominations for Members to serve in Parliament shall continue to be held as heretofore provided by law.That commended itself to his view, and he hoped his hon. Friend would be satisfied with it. He had a very strong feeling in favour of publicity at nominations. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forster) had said that the day had gone by when they should trust to speeches at nominations for explanations of candidates' opinions, but that they were to have recourse to the expensive process of printed addresses and advertisements, instead of the simple process that had for so many years satisfied their forefathers. He (Mr. Hunt) would give an illustration of the utility of the present system. At the last Election he never addressed his constituents except at the nomination. On that occasion he went fully into the question of the Blackwater Bridge, with respect to which he thought an attack had been made upon himself and the late Government by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and he believed he fully satisfied every elector and non-elector who heard him. Every elector should have an opportunity not only of hearing the sentiments of the candidate, but of putting to him any questions that he chose. Then, under the new system, it was said that canvassing would cease. In that case the electors would not have an opportunity of colloquial communication with the candidate. Then, candidates were to content themselves with private meetings of the electors, to which admission, for the most part, would be by ticket. ["No, no!] Hon. Members might say, "No, no." He did not say it was universally so; but he believed it was a common practice now to hold meetings and admit by ticket. ["No, no!] He had always declined to attend ticket meetings himself, and always made it a condition, when asked to attend a meeting, that there should be no tickets. At all events, where tickets were used the meetings would be one-sided. With regard to printed addresses, it was well known that many of them emanated from kind friends; but 1271 the electors had a right to know not only what were the candidates' opinions, but what were his powers of expressing his and their opinions, and it might be they would not return him to Parliament unless they had some knowledge of his power of oratory. Under the proposed plan constituents would not have the opportunity of forming an opinion of his oratorical power. One of the sentences in the Report of the Select Committee was, that though the evidence of the majority of the witnesses that came before them was in favour of a change, no practical substitute was proposed by anyone. In order to get a sufficient security for the bonâ fide nomination of candidates, the Government were obliged to violate the whole principle of their Bill, which was secrecy from beginning to end; secrecy during the poll, which he approved, and secrecy after the poll, which he disapproved. If they compelled ten gentlemen to declare in the face of the world that they would give their votes in favour of one particular candidate, what became of the principle upon which the Bill was supposed to be founded? So far he had been treating of electors only; but he had to say a word on behalf of non-electors, who had a perfect right that their feelings and opinions should be given publicity to; and it was quite a proper thing that a candidate should run the gauntlet of the expression of opinion on the part of electors as well as non-electors. He did not see because a few constituencies had been guilty of default that that was a reason for doing away with the advantages of public nominations. He thought it probable that this proposal was due to the reminiscences of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but on the occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman was, to the great regret of all who knew him, so ill-treated, it should be remembered that he went down as the private friend and nominee of the patron of the borough. Such a thing could scarcely occur again, although if the right hon. Gentleman presented himself to a popular constituency, a few lucifer matches might, perhaps, be burnt in his honour. He hoped the Committee would not, for the sake of a very few constituencies which had disgraced themselves, and whose manners were in process of reform, consent to part with the present system of public nominations.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he had, unfortunately, had some experience in nominations, and could only say that it was a remarkable mistake to suppose that they in any way tended to diminish the expenses of candidates. In boroughs they might possibly add but little to the expense; but in counties it was quite different. A candidate living near the town where the nomination was to be held usually attended, accompanied by a large body of his friends and supporters, and his opponent, who might live many miles away, was compelled, at the instance of those who managed his affairs, to bring a large body of his supporters, at great expense, for the purpose, if possible, of securing the show of hands. It was urged that to do away with the nomination, as at present conducted, would be to do away with the opportunity which now existed for the electors to ascertain the opinions of the candidates; but there was no doubt that the candidates would make it a point to be in the town on the day of the nomination, and that they would address the electors from the windows of their committee-rooms or elsewhere. The alternative proposed would substitute for a very lively proceeding one of the dullest ever invented by human ingenuity. A candidate would go into the town-hall, accompanied by 10 or 12 friends; they would sit there for two hours, waiting to see if any fresh names were proposed, and at the end of that time would march solemnly out again. At present it was the practice at the declaration of the poll for the candidates to speak a few words of thanks to their supporters, and it might, he thought, be as well if at the conclusion of the nomination as now proposed the doors were thrown open and the candidates permitted to address a few words to those present. At all events, such a plan would do away with the complaint that the collective constituency had no opportunity of hearing the opinions of candidates.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
objected to a proposal to abolish the mode of nomination which had prevailed for more than a thousand years. There was a great distinction to be drawn between mere noise and dangerous riot, and when the former developed into the latter it was usually due to the inefficiency of the police arrangements. The real remedy, he believed, lay in the Amendment be- 1273 fore the Committee, and he, for one, saw no reason for so violent a change in a mode of election well suited to the people of this country.
§ Motion negatived.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, that he should not object to retaining nominations as they now existed; and if it was thought desirable, he would adopt the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), and would so alter his Amendment that it should stop at the word "law."
In page 1, line 11, to leave out from the word "Act," to the word "Elections," in line 13, inclusive, and insert the words "all nominations for Members to serve in Parliament shall continue to be held as heretofore provided by law."—(Mr. Floyer.)
§ MR. A. EGERTON
said, he thought that, as a rule, nominations might be allowed to proceed under the present system, and that, under certain circumstances, they might be conducted privately.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
observed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council argued that because when the show of hands was taken the meetings became disorderly, therefore nomination days should be abolished. He thought that argument most extraordinary, because the Bill abolished the show of hands.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, that nomination meetings for counties were frequently held in boroughs which returned Members of their own, and the decisions really did not express the public opinion of the county. If this were so, the sooner the nominations were abolished the better.
§ MR. J. HARDY
wished to know how they were to compensate the non-electors for the loss of the opportunity of expressing their opinions by the show of hands, and asked whether, as it was stated by the Prime Minister that household suffrage led to the Ballot, the abolition of nomination days would lead to universal suffrage?
§ MR. J. FIELDEN
observed, that he had not found that the ordinary candidates' meetings were as quiet as could be wished. They were considered mere 1274 party meetings, and the only meeting at which the public was fairly represented was that for nomination. He objected to the abolition of nomination meetings. The importance attached to them was shown by the fact mentioned by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) that the candidates brought up their supporters to the nomination meetings.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he thought there might be some reason in what his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) had said why they should get rid of nominations in counties; but there was no reason why they should get rid of nominations in boroughs, where Members might be "turned inside out." If they did away with nominations in boroughs, especially in large boroughs, where the constituency had no means of seeing or knowing the candidate when he submitted himself to them for examination, they could not have what he considered to be the real English freedom of election. He had been anxious to hear hon. Members opposite on this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had held a "caucus" at his official residence to-day; his supporters had been struck dumb, and the multitudinous Amendments of which they had given Notice, occupying some 29 pages of print, were to be withdrawn. Was the freedom of public opinion thus to be stifled? It would be necessary that other Members should take up those Amendments which were withdrawn, and argue them before the Committee.
§ Words of Amendment after "law," by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put, "That the words 'the following regulations shall have effect' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 296; Noes 113: Majority 183.
§ Moved, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)
§ MR. PELL
said, there was a rumour that certain Amendments which stood on the Notice Paper might be withdrawn. He did not wish to ask the Vice President of the Council whether he was cognizant of the arrangement; but he hoped those Gentlemen who had entered into this plan—he would not say conspiracy—would take the earliest op- 1275 portunity of formally withdrawing their Amendments, in order to give other hon. Members an opportunity of replacing those which they approved. In the name of common honesty and straightforward dealing, he appealed to them to take that step to night, in order that hon. Members might know how the matter stood in the morning.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he felt in candour bound to support the view just expressed on the other side of the House. He tried to express that opinion that day in another place, but did not succeed. He was not going to commit any breach of private progress; but what he did in one place he was prepared to do in another. Advice had undoubtedly been given and largely accepted on this side of the House that the Amendments which stood on the Paper in the names of Liberal Members should be withdrawn. ["No, no!] If what he stated was considered incorrect, he must say that that impression was distinctly produced upon his mind. What he now wished to say to the Chairman was this—that the Notices of Amendment which stood on the Paper were distinctly and clearly the property of the House. ["Order!] With regard to some of them—
The Notices which are on the Paper are in no sense the property of the House. They are simply Notices that on a future day hon. Members intend to make certain Motions; but that by no means binds those Members to make them. They are in no sense the property of the House, and they cannot be discussed by anticipation.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he quite understood the Chairman's correction, and he would try to speak in order. Those Amendments, no doubt, according to the interpretation which had been given, were not the property of the House. But the point which he wanted to put was this—supposing an hon. Member had an Amendment on the Paper, and did not move it, 20 other Members might be prepared to do so. What he wished to ask of hon. Members who had charge of these Amendments was that if they did not intend to propose them they should give fair notice to the House. If that was not done the Bill never would, and never could pass, because everyone of the Amendments to which the House attributed importance, if withdrawn, 1276 would undoubtedly be brought up on the Report or as a new clause. Some of the Amendments on the Paper were quite as important in the estimation of many as the carrying of the Ballot Bill itself; he, therefore, earnestly appealed to those who had placed Amendments on the Paper to withdraw them at once if they intended doing so.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, it appeared to him that there was nothing less involved in the subject under discussion than the honour, the credit, and the dignity of Parliament. He understood that certain Amendments which had been put on the Paper were about to be withdrawn ["No, no!]—were not going to be proceeded with; and he contended that, although they might not be formally in the possession of the House, they were virtually so, and that the House should be put in a position to deal with them.
stated, in explanation of his former ruling, that the fact of an hon. Member having given Notice of his intention to move an Amendment did not bind him to move it, nor did it prevent any other hon. Member from placing a similar Notice on the Paper.
pointed out that the same Amendment had been placed on the Paper by several Members as it was, and the process could be repeated if hon. Members wished. The appeal made by Gentlemen on the other side had not been addressed directly to the Government, but had been made under the supposition that some influence had been used by the Government with their supporters for the withdrawal of Amendments, and likewise to secure the reduction of the Amendments on the Paper at the time when the discussion was about to arrive, so that their withdrawal might have the effect of a surprise. Now, seeing that there were 173 Amendments on the Paper the Government need not, he thought, be at all ashamed of being anxious for a diminution of their number, and they did not shrink from saying that as far as was consistent with the respect of Members of this House, they should be glad if it should be their pleasure to reduce that goodly list. With regard to the appeal made to Members on that—the Liberal—side of the House, that that withdrawal ought not to have the effect of a practical surprise, he was not concerned in that ap- 1277 peal, because he had no Amendment on the Paper; but he must say that, as coming from those hon. Members, it was a reasonable appeal, and he presumed it would be fairly considered.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.